ARLINGTON, Texas – Halfway done with the preseason, and it was good to be back in the friendly confines of AT&T Stadium.
From my vantage point in the radio broadcast booth, here were some of my biggest reactions to this outing against Cincinnati. I'll have more when I've had a chance to look back over the game.
· In my postgame comments with Brad Sham, I mentioned for the second consecutive week that the Cowboys' first units, both on offense and defense, were clearly better than their opponents --which is the most important. The offense continues to move the ball with balance even though Ezekiel Elliott has been out of the lineup. Defensively, they've done a nice job of finishing plays by getting bodies to the ball and tackling well.
· Taco Charlton needed a big game and he pulled it off. His get off, pad level and technique were outstanding. He played football with a plan and that hasn't always been the case. Hopefully going forward he can sit down, study this game and build on it. They need him to play like this each week and leave those previous inconsistencies out his game.
· Tremendous athletic interception by Chidobe Awuzie on that ball thrown to John Ross. When Ross broke behind Awuzie, I didn't think he had a chance to recover -- but he did. To Awuzie's credit he was able to track the ball the entire way and somehow manage to get his hand just in the right position to tip it to himself.
· Like Carl Lewis can roll out of bed and run fast, Randy Gregory can roll out of bed and rush the passer. It is natural for him to do that. There were a couple of snaps where I felt like he was really close to getting Andy Dalton. As a matter of fact, I recall a moment where Gregory was walking to the sideline and he had this look on his face like he missed an opportunity. His time on the field gave me some hope.
· Andrew Billings was not an easy matchup for Connor Williams. There is no question that Billings tested the rookie each and every snap. Williams was able to hold his own for the most part, but there were also snaps where Joe Looney had to slide over and help when Billings got too much penetration on Williams or when he became top heavy and lost control of his block. Overall, it was a great learning experience for Williams. This is where he'll need to improve as we get to the regular season, where tackles will try to bully him.
· Speaking of Joe Looney, I have to give him a get deal of credit for playing over 50 snaps in this game. While the backup offensive line had their issues with the Bengals' front seven, Looney appeared to be holding things together and doing the best he could when things around him were badly falling apart.
· Good to see Terrance Williams get back into the end zone, even though it was just the preseason. I said this on the broadcast: one Williams' best traits is his ability to find space in the end zone when there is none. Williams has a feel for how to stay active and work with the quarterback as he moves. The play looked dead as Prescott rolled to his left, but once I saw Williams to that side, I knew there was a chance that Prescott would find him.
· I wrote about this while we were in Oxnard. I expect to see more of these Cowboys offensive linemen pulling on running plays. It's not just the guards, but the center and tackles that are involved, as well. When you have athletes along the line, you need to take advantage of that -- especially when you have a back like Ezekiel Elliott, who is difficult to bring down in the open field. If you seal defenders to the inside and get him behind blockers on the edge, this offense is going to open up things in the middle of the defense.
· I will be interested to see if Bo Scarbrough's injury will open the door for Darius Jackson. I thought that Jackson ran the ball with vision and toughness. There were some snaps where he was able to find space when there appeared to be none. Jackson also showed that he is a capable receiver out of the backfield. He did a nice job of positioning himself in order to give his quarterback an option when the protection broke down.
· I have been waiting to see Xavier Woods make a range play from the middle of the field, and he did just that – only to hurt himself in the process. This hamstring injury will likely keep him out for a spell, which is unfortunate not only for the defense but for the player. He's not this six-year veteran that already knows the ropes. There are things that he struggles with, but he was growing. Unfortunately, it appears that's now put on hold.
· Last week, I noticed Antwaun Woods more at defensive tackle. This week, Brian Price caught my eye. Like Woods, Price played in the Bengals' backfield. The staff had him lined up at that cocked nose, which put him in position to attack the gap and put the center in some poor blocking positions. Price was able to take advantage of that, as he made several hits behind the line of scrimmage.
· We'll know the full extent of Zack Martin's injury, likely on Sunday. Jason Garrett said in the post game press conference that he felt the initial diagnoses was favorable. I am not going to attempt to play doctor here but the fact that Martin was back on the sidelines with his teammates I thought was a good sign. Again, we'll get the official word Sunday.