For the first time this season, some post-game notes. Here are my top 12 impressions immediately following the Cowboys' 20-18 win against Arizona in the Hall of Fame Game.
- Nice job by Brice Butler carrying over his start in those training camp practices into the first preseason game. There is no receiver on the club that is able to accelerate like Butler when it comes to running from 20 to 40 yards. Once he is able to get going, he has the ability to separate, which gives him a great advantage down the field. Where he's improved his game is his ability to finish, which is an area he had struggled with in the past. He is doing a much better job of gaining that separation but also locating the ball -- which he did for two big receptions.
- I have been ultra-critical of Kellen Moore and his spot on this roster as the backup to Dak Prescott. I think that Moore lacks the physical gifts to be successful in this league, but it's likely that Scott Linehan knows more about his limitations than me. Moore is never going to be impressive with his arm strength but you cannot dispute his accuracy. I was impressed with the way he was able to slide in the pocket and deliver the ball where it needed to be. Other than the interception thrown in the direction of Noah Brown, who did a poor job of fighting for position, I thought he threw the ball well.
- I never had any question of Rico Gathers' potential ability, but I did question the stiffness with which he tends to execute his routes. There have been snaps in these practices where he just doesn't have a feel for how he needs to clear defenders as he is going up the field. It's almost like Gathers is a pin ball banging off the bumpers and it slows him down. His touchdown reception in the first quarter is a great example of the type of player that he could be when he is able to successfully get up the field without issues. I need to study how the blocking turned out, and I will do that later this week. But my early thoughts were that he wasn't poor. His only mistake I felt like during the game was his illegal motion penalty.
- I need to take a closer look to what was happening in the middle of the field against this Cowboys defense. There were too many snaps where the Cardinals' receivers and tight ends were able to find that space when they needed to make a play. What was concerning about those plays was that Byron Jones and Jeff Heath were the starting safeties in the game. My thought from what I have seen in these practices and previous games is that it might be a different story with Anthony Hitchens and Sean Lee dropping in those areas to help in coverage.
- I still saw a few snaps where La'el Collins was off with his hands, but he didn't hurt his footwork. He appeared to be in good position off the line and into his set. He wasn't overextended and his power was where it needed to be. Where he had been getting into trouble was when he was too aggressive and it caused him to miss with those hands. Lucky for Collins, the rushers were not able to take advantage of those misses in order to put him in a poor blocking position.
- Alfred Morris and Rod Smith were able to rush for a combined 106 yards against the Cardinals. When I previewed that position battle in our Position Battle Blog, I felt like it was going to come down to these two for that final running back spot -- and I still believe that. There is no question that Morris is in the best shape of his career. He looks quick and explosive. He worked extremely hard in the offseason in order to find a spot on this roster. It's going to come down to special teams, and that is where he is lacking. The more Smith shows his ability to successfully carry the ball like he did against the Cardinals, the more I could see the front office and coaches leaning his way.[embeddedad0]
- If Chidobe Awuzie gets another shot at a ball like he did before half, I don't see him missing an opportunity like that for an interception. Awuzie has better balls skills then what he showed there. Next time, he will settle himself and not lunge at the ball. I believe he got caught in between making a play on the ball and trying to intercept it. I think there might have been some nerves involved, as well.
- Nice job by Cooper Rush keeping his head on the fourth down play for the touchdown to Uzoma Nwachukwu. Rush could have panicked and tried to rush that throw, but the protection was outstanding and it allowed Nwachukwu to clear and gave him a catchable ball -- which he was able to finish. I have seen veteran quarterbacks miss that play before, so it wasn't as easy as it appeared.
- I haven't seen much from Kavon Frazier during this camp, but he made an important stop on third down to hold the Cardinals to a field goal. Frazier, playing at depth, was able to successfully read the toss sweep to Penny and then come flying forward to put a form tackle on him for no gain. If Frazier doesn't make that tackle, Penny is going to get around the corner with the Cardinals in business just outside the red zone.
- I saw a little wrinkle from Scott Linehan on third down, using the read-option with Cooper Rush for a 12-yard gain secure a first down. I believe I had only seen Dak Prescott execute that play during practice, but with the very same result -- which was a sizeable gain.
- I wish Andy Jones could have come down with that ball in the end zone from Cooper Rush. It's the exact same route that Jones was able to execute in the Blue-White practice, extending for the ball. I thought the throw was there and was ready for Jones to come down with it but it appeared that he got tied up with the cornerback and couldn't extend.
- Give Sam Irwin-Hill some credit for the way he handled all of the kicking duties in this contest. Other than the kickoff out of bounds, Irwin-Hill did a great job saving the wear and tear on Dan Bailey and Chris Jones. I can't remember the last time I saw a game where one kicker/punter took all the reps and was productive as what Irwin-Hill was.