HONOLULU – Glimmering glimpses, that’s what Saturday night was about.
Definitely nothing to do with the Cowboys entertaining an overabundance of their fans among the 49,936 at Aloha Stadium in the first NFL game to be played here not named the Pro Bowl since 1976 with a 14-10 victory over the supposedly home team Los Angeles Rams.
And no need to focus on who played and who didn’t play since Rams coach Sean McVey chooses to dry dock his starters. These games are about you. How you play. How individuals play. How young guys play. Heck, for that matter, how the old guy can still play.
Nope, this was about providing enough preseason snippets into the future this 2019 Dallas Cowboys team to turn up the optimism, and maybe hold those at bay who were dumping on this team for losing to the San Francisco 49ers, 17-9, a week ago Saturday with the starters playing a bare minimum. Prematurely harsh for not scoring a touchdown. For struggling on third down. For struggling inside the red zone.
Hey, it’s practice. That’s why they play these games.
Consider, too, the Cowboys played this game in a five-hour time zone difference from home without Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith; without Pro Bowl right guard Zack Martin; without Pro Bowl linebacker Sean Lee; without Pro Bowl defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence; without Pro Bowl cornerback Byron Jones; still without Pro Bowl running back Ezekiel Elliott.
So not like they were missing just some everyday Joe’s.
But still, the glimpses of what just might became pouring in..
Take Dak Prescott, leading the first-team offense on a 12-play, 97-yard drive for an opening touchdown to satisfy head coach Jason Garrett enough to put those guys on ice for the rest of the game.
Take Michael Gallup, one of the stars in training camp, going up high to make that 31-yard catch, running a 9-route against single coverage the Cowboys, and you, too, drool for.
“Me and Dak got that work in in the off-season,” Gallup said. “I pretty much knew it was going to me.”
Take the third-down conversions. The Cowboys were three-for-three on that touchdown drive, including the throw to Gallup, another one on a Jamize Olawale run and then a 10-yarder to Jason Witten, catching his first pass in an NFL game of any kind since the final game of the 2017 season.
Take twice scoring touchdowns inside the red zone.
Take the 14-yard Tony Pollard touchdown run, simply gliding through traffic between the tackles for the Cowboys’ first touchdown of preseason, along with the first preseason touchdown, period, since last summer’s second game.
“TP is a play-MAKER,” Gallup anoints.
“Just an athlete, a good football player,” Prescott proclaims, as Pollard continues to diss that perception he’s not a guy to run between the tackles.
Take wide receiver Devin Smith continuing to mount his argument for making this 53-man roster, especially after putting his hand up in the air a week ago against the Niners by catching three passes, a total that easily could have been more. Well, this time he caught three more passes, including the eight-yard Cooper Rush spot-on throw for what turned out to be the winning touchdown.
“Devin has been making plays the last few weeks,” Rush said, “and had confidence in him.”
Oh, take Rush, too, and not meaning to, uh, rush into anything, but don’t you think this battle to win the backup quarterback job is just about over? There is no need to merely base this assumption on stats, either, Rush completing 10 of 16 passing attempts for 83 yards and a touchdown, factoring out to be a 96.6 QB rating, compared to Mike White’s 7 of 13 for 64 yards and an interception, a 27.4 QB rating.
The fact of the matter is when Rush drops back to pass, he does so with some authority, this sort of I-got-this body language. And he is making good decisions, good throws. White still doesn’t seem confident. He’s still not seeing the field very well. And on his interception, Jon’Vea Johnson had broken open on a 9 route, but a double clutch on the throw allowed Dont’e Deayon to catch up to the underthrown ball.
“I thought Coop was comfortable in his time,” Garrett said. “Did a good job on the touchdown drive. Really just delivering different kinds of balls time and time again, and ultimately the touchdown to Devin was the big throw. Thought he handled himself well.
“He’s a little more experienced than Mike is right now and I think you’re seeing that.”
And if White doesn’t pick up the pace over the next two weeks, the Cowboys might decide there is no need to keep three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster.
As for the wide receiver battle taking place with all those young guys, Johnson’s inability to play consistently, suffering a couple of more drops, is negating his speed the club covets. Reggie Davis didn’t do himself any favors with the muffed punt the Rams recovered and turned into their only touchdown on the short field. And Jalen Guyton doesn’t seem to gaining any traction.
So keep an eye on Smith, showing consistency the others aren’t, and certainly opening the door for Noah Brown to retain his spot in the wide receiver room if the Cowboys decide to keep six even though he’s spent the entirety of camp so far on PUP.
Oh, sorry, forgot about defense. We see you Joe Jackson, the rookie defensive end pushing the pocket, collecting one tackle and a pass batted at the line of scrimmage. You, too, Taco Charlton, collecting two tackles for losses, a couple of serious QB pressures and one pass deflected away. That’s two good games in a row for the Cowboys’ 2017 first-round pick. And then there is cornerback Donovan Olumba, starting to resemble gum on a shoe. Just can’t shake him off, finishing with five tackles, one tackle for a loss by blowing up a smoke screen and two passes defensed, certainly making a bid for becoming the fifth corner.
And if Jerry Jones keeps mentioning Jackson’s name, then what we, too, are seeing must not be a mirage. Same with Charlton’s play. Looks as if he’s hit the consistency button. He’s making an impact, as did second-round pick Trysten Hill.
And as a group, the first offense so far has now driven for 10 points in its only two series. The defense, which gave up just 28 yards and no points during its only quarter of play against the Niners, likely would have had a repeat performance if not for Davis’ fumbled punt that gave the Rams a short field for their only TD. To that point, the Rams had gained just 26 yards and one first down in nine plays.
Again, encouraging. Steps in the right direction.
Glimpses for sure, and to think the Cowboys had to go all the way to Hawaii playing in the sweltering heat for these insights.
Still, a huge mahalo for that.