OXNARD, Calif. – I spent the Cowboys' off day getting familiar with the game tape from Thursday night's loss to San Diego. As you'll soon see, I came away with quite a few impressions from the action.
Here's a handful of notes that stood out to be upon further review:
- The offensive coaching staff had to be pleased with the way Terrance Williams was able to step up and provide a spark early in this game with Dez Bryant on the sideline. Williams' route running and finish during the contest was some of his best work of training camp. His slant was executed at perfect depth and his run after catch on the curl to secure a key first down on the opening drive was even better. Film showed that he had a chance for an even better finish on that "9" route up the sideline by getting his hands on the ball initially, but he just wasn't strong enough to pull it down to secure it.
- Don't be surprised if Tyrone Crawford leads this defense in tackles for loss this season. Crawford has a unique ability to become small when he attacks the gap from his under- tackle position. People think he is just all power, but his quickness, in my opinion, is his best trait. In his limited work his two tackles were just that – sliding down the line, avoiding blocks and finishing the play in the backfield. On one of those tackles, he received a nice assist from Greg Hardy, who was able to hold the point of attack -- which stacked up the blockers and gave the ball carrier no room to move.
- Of the starters along the offensive line, Travis Frederick was the one that played as if he was in midseason form. There was a time early in his career where he would struggle with a man on his nose, but that wasn't the case at all. Frederick was athletic in his reach blocks, which allowed him to sustain position. When he reached the second level, he played on his feet and showed the balance and power to carry out his assignment. His pass sets were on point and when working with Zack Martin, they were able to adjust and keep the front of the pocket where it needed to be.
- The Chargers first touchdown was an outstanding call for the situation and was executed well – where on the Cowboys' side of the ball, it was not. When this defense gets in trouble, it usually has to deal with players that put themselves in poor position to react to the play. In this particular situation, I felt like this was the case. Jermey Mincey has a tendency to jump around blocks and in this case he did just that. By his path hard inside and Greg Hardy going wide, there was a crease for Danny Woodhead to run the ball. What did help matters is that Anthony Hitchens stepped inside – then tried to fight to the outside, but was cut. Jeff Heath didn't scrape over the top and got caught up in the Hitchens block, so that took him out of the play -- which left J.J. Wilcox to fill and his angle gave him no chance.
- It might sound simple for a quarterback to keep his eyes down the field, but under duress, that can be a very difficult proposition. I really liked what I saw from Dustin Vaughan and his ability to do just that. There were several key situations in this game where things broke down in the pocket, and by just keeping his head up and focusing on the routes, he was able to make a play or two. His throw to Devin Street down the middle of the field to set up the touchdown was pretty, but his third down throw to Gavin Escobar earlier in the game was even better. On that particular play, Vaughan -- by sliding to his right and out of the pocket -- allowed Escobar to head for clear space out of the middle of the field. Once he picked up Escobar's move, he delivered an easy ball for him to handle, keeping the drive alive. It was a nice adjustment by Escobar but a heads up finish by Vaughan to make it work.
- Coaches had to be encouraged by what they saw from Randy Gregory in his first game. I think he's an ideal fit for the role they are asking him to play as that nickel rusher. To Gregory's credit, he played with high effort -- but more importantly, he played with technique. It would have been easy for him, with all the snaps that he took, to just rush up the field and try to beat the offensive tackle with quickness, but he didn't do that. He continued to try and set up moves off the edge, and when he was required to work a game, he was able to execute that well. Gregory also once again showed the ability to play with power, when on his sack he was able to run over the guard on his way to the quarterback to finish the play.
- La'el Collins' games didn't start off as well as it finished on the tape. I thought that once Collins got into the flow of the game, his technique improved and as a result he played with more confidence. Early in the game his balance was not where it needed to be and he struggled to maintain his positioning on his blocks. But as the game wore on, he was more square. When Collins gets in trouble it generally is when his base gets wide, which keeps him from moving his feet and then he becomes over extended. When I did see improvement from the practices was his ability to play on the second level and secure those blocks. There are times where he tends to be a step slow on the move, but he was much better in this area against the Chargers.
- I continue to like what I am seeing from Corey White and his effort to find a spot in this secondary. White took the majority of his snaps at corner, but he also lined up at safety as well. What is interesting about White, other than his versatility, is his ability to also play well, whether he is in press man or in off coverage -- which he showed the ability to do both. When in press, he was right there not allowing much space at all. Then when playing off or in zone you saw him driving from depth to knock the ball away. Even the catch that was made by Inman along the sideline was a contested play and had to be reviewed – it was that close.
- Coming out of the game, I felt like Darrion Weems' issues were more technique-driven than physical problems. The film confirmed that this was exactly the case. You can also throw in there that Weems, from an awareness standpoint, was not where he needed to be, either. I can understand how young tackles think not to get beat outside and are always guarding against that, but Weems took it to a whole different level. There were snaps where just by the rusher's alignment, that he should have never set the way that he did. By doing this he never gave himself a chance to recover and his power step inside is just not strong enough at this point to help him if the rusher takes that inside path. What was also troubling was how out of position he was in blocking on this twist stunt. This is nothing new to him because he sees it every day from his own defense, which makes his lack of handling it puzzling.
- I am never quite sure where Ken Bishop fits in this defensive line rotation, but with the way that he showed up against the Chargers, there might be a place for him. It didn't surprise me that he was able to play with power at the point in the running game, but he was disruptive as well when the Chargers attempted to pass the ball. His ability to get push in the middle didn't allow the quarterbacks to step up, which allowed these defensive ends to collapse the pocket from the outside. I would have to say that he was a driving force in this defense's ability to shut the Chargers passing game down in the second half.
- It was nice to see Devin Street finally show some consistency in his game. There have been too many times in these practices where he lacked that. His ability to separate in routes but more importantly finish on Thursday night was what this front office and coaching staff were looking for. The big question is can he continue to build on that? With practices against the St. Louis Rams and a game in San Francisco – we will soon find out.
- I haven't had much of an opportunity to see much of linebacker Jonathan Brown's work in this camp, but in the second half of this game against the Chargers, I sure took notice. Brown finished the game with four tackles and was all over the field in the opportunity that he got. Brown was slipping blocks, filling holes and finishing plays. He was physical at the point of attack playing with solid technique and being right where he needed to be on his run fits. His play was so solid that I wouldn't be one bit surprised if he were to get more of a look at practice and earlier in these preseason games.