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Spagnola: No Kidding, There Really Was Good News


ARLINGTON, Texas – Let's go with the bad news first.

The Cowboys got whipped by the Arizona Cardinals 27-3 Sunday night here at AT&T Stadium.

They turned the ball over eight times. Eight! Eight is too many. Five of those fumbles lost and three passes intercepted.

They lost safety Kavon Frazier to a shoulder dislocation, meaning of the top three safeties to start training camp, only Jeff Heath was left standing at the end of the day since Xavier Woods already has been out with a strained hamstring and seems unlikely to be ready for the season opener.

The Cowboys better not suffer many more injuries to front-line players because this game HIGHLIGHTED the severe lack of depth on this team.

The proposed backup swing tackle Cam Fleming continues to show he struggles playing left tackle, getting beat for a sack/forced fumble/ fumble recovery by some guy named Cap Capi, a third-string Cards defensive end.

Backup quarterback Cooper Rush was intercepted twice, once by coy veteran Patrick Peterson for a pick-six and the other in the end zone.

And Lance Lenoir, trying to force the Cowboys to keep either seven receivers or cut one of the top six to make room for him on the 53-man roster, fumbled away two punts, one forced when teammate Byron Jones ran into him while catching the first punt and one he should never have tried to field that the Cardinals recovered in the end zone for a touchdown.

A big bag of yuck.

Now for the good news.

This was a preseason game, and thank goodness only one more remains, Thursday at Houston.

Dak Prescott didn't play. Nor did Ezekiel Elliott. Nor did Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and of course Travis Frederick, fighting an uphill battle against Guillain-Barre Syndrome but at least after several treatments this past week he was feeling well enough to join the team on the sideline for the game. Nor did Sean Lee play.

Other than Frazier, the Cowboys didn't appear to suffer any other serious injuries in the game to front-line players, but if you can believe this, with Frederick out for the unforeseeable future and backup Joe Looney taking over at center and playing well against the Cardinals, the now backup center Dustin Stanton goes down in the fourth quarter with what appears to be a serious knee injury, likely to cause the Cowboys post to a Want Ad for centers, and yes, plural.

And while they are at it, might as well post one for offensive tackles and safeties, although the club seems optimistic since Frazier's X-rays came back negative and his shoulder was popped back in place, leaving some level of optimism pending Monday's MRI results he will at least be ready for the season opener on Sept. 9.

Also, tight end Rico Gathers continues on this path to make the 53-man roster, finishing with five catches for 30 yards, four of those in the fourth quarter.

And . . . and . . . this Cowboys first-team defense continues to dominate, in one quarter and one possession into the second quarter shutting out the Cardinals. The closest the Arizona came to scoring was missing a 55-yard field-goal attempt, a creditable job since the Cards recovered one of Lenoir's fumbles at their own 49 for a new set of downs.

"We have to go out and perform before we get ahead of ourselves," Lee said of what the first-team defense has been able to do.

But we sense a trend, don't we? In this game, with the first-team defense playing one quarter and one possession, the Cowboys held the Cardinals to 37 yards in four possessions – 24 rushing and 13 passing.

Now then, if you add those totals to the previous two-game totals, encompassing three quarters, you have four quarters of football, along with one possession, and the Cowboys have given up no points and just 156 total yards – 62 rushing and 94 passing.

Plus, if you can get over what the backups did the rest of the way, and the unworldly number of turnovers – 8 – how ecstatic must you be over the continued impressive performance of Randy Gregory. Think about this now: Until playing 10 snaps last week, Gregory had played in only two games over the previous 32 months. Only two weeks of practice, too.

But he flashed, and if not for a penalty on the Bengals offense, he would have had a sack.

Well, boys and girls, Gregory did more than flash in this game. In the first quarter alone, he had two tackles, one sack, one QB hit, one tackle for loss. By game's end, probably playing right at a scheduled 20 snaps, he added another tackle and another QB hit. And this playing against Cardinals starting left tackle D.J. Humphries.

Plus, think about this: When Gregory recorded his sack, not only did he spin away from Humphries, but he also avoided a chip block by running back Chase Edmonds.

"You saw tonight and you saw in his other work – really this entire training camp – that he gives us that additional pressure," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said.

Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli did not want to over-do it with Gregory, trying to build up his stamina. Mainly he was playing Gregory on nickel downs. But Gregory's ability to rush the quarterback has allowed Marinelli to move previously starting right defensive end Tyrone Crawford inside to the under-tackle spot that David Irving would have been playing, where he is a mismatch player because of his speed.

And with Taco Charlton playing better and better, to go with Gregory's pass-rush threat, opposing offenses will have their hands full with DeMarcus Lawrence on the other side of the line.

On top of that, the Cowboys seem sure third-year tackle Maliek Collins, being brought along slowly after undergoing foot surgery this off-season, will be ready for the season opener. And since Collins has played the under-tackle spot along with the one-technique, couple that with what first-year tackle Antwaun Woods is doing, along with Crawford, that gives the Cowboys a strong three-man rotation inside. Even defensive end Kony Ealy has stepped up his play, also rushing inside from the tackle position on nickel downs.

This has the making of a pressure defense.

But again, it's preseason.

"If we can continue to improve," Lee says, "and I don't like to get ahead of ourselves, we have to put the stats down and the wins and the turnovers. Until we do that, we can't say anything."

For sure. No room to talk.

Just yet.