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Scout's Notebook: Grading Taco & Tapper, Other Standouts From The HOF Game

OXNARD, Calif. – My apologies for a bit of a delay, but the rest of the Hall of Fame weekend activities took precedence over game film for a short time.

I have had a chance to re-watch the 20-18 win against Arizona, though, and there was plenty to write about as the Cowboys' began their preseason schedule in style. I'm going to hit on some of the obvious points, for sure. But there were plenty of hidden moments worth mentioning, as well.

Here are my notes:

One of the big problems that Rico Gathers has had running routes, is that he tends to run into defenders as he is going up the field. When it happens to him in practice, it tends to slow him down and the quarterbacks have to wait on him or go in another direction. On his touchdown reception, things got a little tight for Gathers, but he did an outstanding job of not only avoiding Haason Reddick but Johnathan Ford, as well. Once he was clear, it was a matter of just using his body to shield Ironhead Gallon from the ball, which he was able to do. Kellen Moore put the ball in a perfect spot and Gathers was able to finish.

Alfred Morris generally doesn't get much credit for his pass blocking, but if not for his blitz pickup on Johnathan Ford -- Kellen Moore doesn't hit Brice Butler down the left sideline for a lay-out reception. Ford tried to attack the middle of the pocket, but Morris was assignment-sound and technique-sure to get the job done.

Arizona did a nice job of attacking the middle of the field against this Dallas defense early in the game. John Lotulelei got caught in one of those situations where he was too aggressive stepping up and Ifeanyi Momah was able to get behind him. Lotulelei bit on the play fake and then went into scramble mode to catch up. His depth was just not good enough and Blaine Gabbert took advantage of his being out of position.

On my first watch, I thought Noah Brown didn't do a very good job of helping Kellen Moore on his interception right before the half. After studying the play, Brown did try to knock the ball away from Brandon Williams, but Williams was just in better position underneath. Brown couldn't get over the top of him and the direction in which the ball came down, there was nothing he do to make the play or defend it. Give Williams credit, he kept Brown from the ball.

I haven't talked much about Blake Jarwin during these practices, but it was his route that allowed Uzoma Nwachukwu to score on that fourth down call in the third quarter. Jarwin lined up inside of Nwachukwu. At the snap of the ball, he worked up the field, then hooked. The Cardinals were in man coverage. Nwachukwu crossed behind his tight end and carried his man into Jarwin's man -- which caused Johnathan Ford and Ryan Lewis to collide. With both defenders out of the picture, Nwachukwu had no one handling him in coverage. Cooper Rush, facing three free rushers, kept his eyes on Nwachukwu the entire time and gave him an easy ball to handle, which he was able to push into the end zone.

Loved the sack by Damien Wilson where he destroyed Andre Ellington, but give a big assist to Byron Jones to allow it to happen. Blaine Gabbert wanted to throw the ball to Ifeanyi Momah -- but Jones was right there in coverage. Gabbert had no choice but to pull the ball down and live to fight another day.

If I had to pick out the Cowboys' best pass rusher for the game, Charles Tapper would be that guy. Tapper might not have had the sack numbers in this game, but the Cardinals had a hard time blocking him. What was encouraging about his rush was how active he was up the field. He was relentless in the way he attacked the Cardinals' offensive tackles. The more he was on the move, the more difficulty they had in attempting to stop him. I was impressed with his ability to bend.

The big hit in the game by Jameill Showers came off a poor read by Kennan Gilchrist. The rookie linebacker went the wrong way and it opened up a huge hole in the middle of the defense. Xavier Woods rallied to help on the play, but it was Showers who threw his right shoulder into T.J. Logan, knocking him to the ground.

What a tremendous second effort by Rod Smith to keep the drive alive after Rico Gathers allowed Ironhead Gallon inside on a 3rd-and-short. Smith not only avoided Gallon but Alex Bazzie, as well, to somehow lunge forward when it appeared that he was going to end up being trapped behind the line of scrimmage. Smith was a determined runner the entire game and was also able to contribute in the passing game as a receiver.

Film always tells me a different story after a game. I came away with the impression that Taco Charlton was not as good as he needed to be -- but that's not the case. His effort and desire to play with technique was where it needed to be, but his balance was poor. There were too many snaps where, as he was fighting the blocker, his body position was poor and it affected his ability to disengage. He also showed bad balance on the read-option that the Cardinals ran to his side. On the play, Charlton was unblocked on his rush. Blaine Gabbert saw how far Charlton was up the field and started inside of him. If Charlton could have redirected back toward him, then he would have tackled him for no gain. Instead, Charlton lost his balance and found himself on the ground. It was a game of missed opportunities for Taco Charlton, but it wasn't as bad as folks might have thought.

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