LOS ANGELES – At long last, the Cowboys have played a preseason game, and we've got some (sort of) real football to talk about.
It obviously wasn't all pretty. The Cowboys lost the game, 28-24, and they didn't score in the second half. But there was plenty of stuff to feel good about, and plenty of things we'll have to talk about going forward.
For now, here are some of my top impressions from Saturday's game against the Rams – the first NFL game back in Los Angeles in quite some time.
- It couldn't have been a better start for the Cowboys in this game than what they got from Lucky Whitehead on the kickoff return. When Whitehead settled under the ball, you could see the blocks start to develop in front of him. There were two blocks that I thought were key on the play -- Keith Smith was able to seal his man inside, which got Whitehead to the lane, and a double team block from James Morris and Rodney Coe broke him into the clear. I am sure when I study the tape, there are likely others -- but those two grabbed my attention.
- Gary Brown has been working hard with Alfred Morris to become more of a complete player -- especially with his blitz pickup. Early in camp, Morris far too many times would hit half-man or shoulder block, which would cause him to lose sustain on his man. This week we finally started to see Morris hit his man square and his results were better. During a play on the Cowboys' opening driving, Morris picked up a blitzer square that gave Dak Prescott just enough time to find Dez Bryant for an 18-yard gain and a big first down to keep a drive going. If Morris doesn't execute that block, Prescott get hits and there's no telling where the ball might end up.
- Terrance Williams continues to run outstanding routes in this camp. His touchdown catch was more about the route than it was the finish. His ability to move Lamarcus Joyner was textbook. He completely sold the "In," and that bought him the necessary space in order to get up the field. Once he got that separation, there was no way for Joyner to adjust back to him to defend the ball. It was a beautiful route with a ball by Prescott that was thrown in the perfect spot for Williams to adjust.
- Once we get home, I am interested to see the tape on how well Travis Frederick handled Michael Brockers. I got the feeling that Brockers got him off balance a couple of times in the running game -- especially when he had to make those reach blocks when the ball was moving to the edge. Brockers is a load to deal with when he is on the outside shoulder of the center and moving with the ball. He plays with so much power that he tends to compress the blocker into the backfield.
- I believe we are going to see more plays where Scott Linehan puts Cole Beasley on the move before the snap. I liked what he did on the 3rd-and-1, bringing him across the formation. It appeared to put Lamarcus Joyner on his heels and provide all the space Beasley needed to make the reception from Dak Prescott to get the first down.
- Cedric Thornton has a chance to be a special player in this defense. I can't begin to tell you how many times he came off the ball before the offensive line had a chance to react. His quickness and power are unique and ideal for this scheme. If they can get him and Terrell McClain going at that nose tackle spot, there is no question that it will help Tyrone Crawford and this pass rush, as well. Getting that push in the middle is what gives these quarterbacks the most problems and he can provide that.
- The question in the offseason was: how does this defense create more turnovers? You create those turnovers by pressuring the opposing quarterback. Rod Marinelli dialed up a blitz that even Jared Goff said caught him by surprise. Marinelli brought Barry Church and Derek Akunne off the left side. Church got picked up, but Akunne didn't. Akunne smashed into Goff as he was trying to deliver the ball. On impact, the ball fluttered out of Goff's hand and into the waiting arms of Mark Nzeocha -- who was able to finish the play.
- I counted three times where the Dallas defense was able to make a play to get off the field on third down – only for a penalty or coaching error to allow the Rams to extend their drives. Two of those errors came on the same series and the final one was a defensive holding by Arjen Colquhoun that resulted in a Rams touchdown.
- Rough night for Andy Jones and his attempt to make this squad. The coaches are trying to put him in position to make plays, whether it is at receiver or on special teams -- and he drew a blank. To be targeted three times and only come up with one catch is not where he needs to be. Jones also had a chance to play as a flyer on the outside for the punt team and missed a tackle that resulted in a sizable gain, as well.
- The Cowboys might have caught a break with Shaneil Jenkins. I spoke with people at the Broncos, and they told me that he looked good in OTAs and minicamps. But when the pads came on, he wasn't the same player -- some days that happens. What is interesting is that this staff is playing him inside instead of out, but it appears that they have found the right spot. He was a powerful player on college tape and that has carried over to the pro side. His sack of Jared Goff was an explosive move and finish off a twist stunt to drive the Rams out of field goal range before the half.
- Not sure why the coaching staff didn't burn a time out in that final 2:00 minute drive where Jameill Showers scrambled for 17 yards. They had three of them to use and the ball was now at their own 41. Give Showers a chance to catch his breath as well as his teammates. Call a play you feel good about and operate from there. Instead the clock went from 1:26 to 0:47 before Showers threw incomplete to Rod Smith. It just appeared to be a poor use of the timeouts and the clock.
- I have to admit: it was crazy to hear how loud this stadium was during those final moments of this game. I wasn't sure that these fans had it in them, but it was special to once again have professional football in this city even with the Cowboys came up on the short end. I just hope they fix the press box elevators before we once again return here.