The easy part of Sunday's Cowboys vs. Titans watching experience was identifying what looked good. The run game, the blocking that led to that run game, the commitment to run even when that’s what the defense that shut down Jamaal Charles was expecting, and the defense spoiling the Titans offensive 3rd down conversion ratio - to name a few - were hard to miss and harder still to not get overly giddy about.
The hard part is stepping away for a moment from the bliss of victory and being honest and objective about where this team is still a work-in-progress.
For instance, Romo still doesn’t seem to be the Romo of old. His release seems slower. His balls don’t have the same zip. He threw several under thrown deep balls in-game one against the 49ers and the Cowboys didn't look deep at all in Sunday’s game against the Titans.
We would be remiss in our fan-ship not to recognize the Romo Houdini act may have made its final disappearance alla abra two back surgeries cadabra. You have to wonder - how much of the running game Sunday had to do with the game plan and how much it was to disguise Romo’s limitations going forward as the Quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys?
Granted, I think all can agree that was the game plan to go with, regardless of Romo’s health – the proof is in the pudding – but given this team’s tendency to ignore conventional wisdom throughout the last several years, it does make one wonder if there is more to this change in philosophy than what meets the eye.
If there is more to it than sound game planning, then opposing defenses will game plan to take our new-found adored run game away. It could simply be rust Romo needs to knock off, but nevertheless it is something worth watching. The Rams, armed with two games of film, will likely be the first to jump on that potential grenade and if they do, it will be crucial for Romo to blow up on them by connecting deep and as often as they test him. If he doesn’t, it’s going to be a long season for our beloved Cowboys.
The Titans offense helped the Cowboys win as much as they possibly could with dropped passes, penalties, lack of execution, missed opportunities and what looked to be a poor job at times of play calling and game management. Were the helmet on the other head, so-to-speak, the local/national media, blogs and fans abroad would be calling for Garrett’s immediate termination. Fortunately, for one week Garrett has a reprieve in that regard.
But he won’t be resting on his laurels either. The film does not lie, as they say, and prepared with that knowledge, Garrett will have several issues to address on a day where many players might be expecting a vacation in the film room, compared to last weeks comedy of errors.
The Titans failed miserably in capitalizing on the Cowboys issues/mistakes and ultimately succumbed to what the Cowboys collectively did well. Teams such as the Saints, Seahawks and Bears will not be nearly as forgiving and cleaning up the following issues will be critical to their future success:
- Pass protection – Beyond the question of whether Romo suffers from a long-term issue or just rust, several players upfront struggled to keep the pocket clean Sunday. Keeping Romo healthy is the most important thing to this organization – not just for this season, but for contractual reasons that extend well beyond this year. If Romo cannot continue to be an effective Romo, and Romo stubbornly refuses to say goodbye to that sweet good night, the Cowboys are on a serious cap-hook that will have far-reaching negative effects for years to come.
- Tight End coverage - Both Church and Wilcox struggle in coverage, especially against big Tight Ends. I honestly don’t see a fix to this given it is their size difference as compared to the giants they have faced that makes them a mismatch; nevertheless, much of the Cowboy’s success this year hinges on their ability to remove that option from the reliable list.
- Front four pressure - The overall defensive pressure was okay. But the defensive line needed a lot of help from their linebackers and secondary to help turn up that pressure. Otherwise, the Titans offensive line was stonewalling the Cowboys front four and giving Jake Locker too much time in the pocket. The Cowboys absolutely have to have the ability to send four and get pressure; the better QBs will pick the Cowboys secondary apart if the Cowboys blitz on every down. The blitz must remain a mystery, not a given; otherwise it will become useless the more film the Cowboys opposition has to study.
- Zone coverage - Fortunately, the Cowboys were not as apt to play zone against the Titans because Jake Locker is not the threat that Kaepernick can be to run. Having said that, the road to the Championship game will likely be guarded by QBs that can run and therefore, if the Cowboys have any post-season and beyond aspirations, they must correct their collective deficiency in zone coverage.
- Spread the wealth - There are only so many balls, I understand. Nevertheless, it is critical in the interest of tape teams will study in their preparations for the Cowboys that Romo not get locked on feeding Bryant, Murray and Witten. A concerted effort has to be made every week to ensure the ball touches every set of hands possible and, furthermore, that those hands get the most out of their prospective opportunities. The Cowboys need Lance Dunbar to realize his potential and stop being tentative in his cuts and decision-making.
These are just a few of the many issues Garrett and his staff will be working on correcting as the season progresses. Supplemented with game tape, Garrett will have a much longer list that includes specifics on technique for each player to work on and address.
Hopefully, youth will serve and the majority of the team will make adjustments accordingly. Nevertheless, as Jones so poignantly pointed out prior to the season beginning, these Cowboys have an uphill climb, made all the more steep if the aforementioned issues cannot be fixed quick, fast and in a hurry.
Sean’s Scout: Starting Front 7 Sets Tone Early, Cowboys Depth Falters in Loss to Bengals
The Dallas Cowboys are halfway through their 2018 preseason. Given the injuries they're left to deal with to Zack Martin, Xavier Woods, and Jameill Showers, the Cowboys were happy to see their first home game of the season come to an end when it did. Despite the 21-13 loss, the Cowboys starters made another strong impression before exiting for backups that once again failed to hold the lead.
This is a game I'm looking forward to getting another look at on film, but for now here are a few thoughts the first time through.
- Rookie Connor Williams is still a work in progress at guard, as he'll get himself in trouble trying to catch rushers too often.
This "catch blocking" is not uncommon for young offensive linemen, particularly ones learning a new position in preparation to start on the league's best front. On the Cowboys second drive of the game, Williams was caught back in his stance dealing with a twist from the Bengals with Left Tackle Tyron Smith.
The result of the play was an incomplete pass on third down from Dak Prescott. With Williams' footwork being as consistent as it has, I wouldn't worry too much about his upper body technique and strength improving greatly before week one of the regular season. Perhaps most importantly, Williams has looked smooth playing in space, something the Cowboys are prepared to ask the second round pick to do plenty of.
- With Randy Gregory back in the lineup, the Cowboys potential to have a great rotation of defensive ends was on full display.
The play that stands out is a tackle for loss by Safety Jeff Heath. On the play, Defensive End Tyrone Crawford did a great job setting the edge against the run, allowing Heath to come down and make the aggressive play.
Crawford created penetration against a tight end, staying disciplined in his rush lane from the right defensive end position to force the run outside.
On the Bengals' offensive series prior to this play by Heath, the Cowboys forced a punt following a missed Andy Dalton throw to A.J. Green. Despite not being tight in coverage on third down, Randy Gregory looked sharp coming off the edge to rush Dalton slightly.
With Taco Charlton also looking strong against the run, and rookie Dorance Armstrong continuing to develop as a weak side pass rusher, the possible match ups the Cowboys can create up front are seemingly endless.
Almost all of them will include last year's sack leader DeMarcus Lawrence, who was also disruptive on nearly every snap in this game.
- Give credit to Joe Looney for handling the reps he did at center, but the backup interior lineman left a lot to be desired from this position.
It should come as no surprise that Looney is a better guard than center, or that the Cowboys would look significantly worse at center without Travis Frederick in the lineup.
Overall, this was a disappointing game for the Cowboys thin offensive line depth. Paul Alexander's unit was unable to give quarterbacks Cooper Rush and Mike White a fair chance to settle into the game.
Looney's contact balance was suspect throughout the evening. Not the most powerful player, it's important for Looney to play with leverage and balance, which he did inconsistently last night.
Awaiting news on Zack Martin's first quarter injury still, the Cowboys should have already been concerned about their backups at tackle, with the guard position becoming a late concern now.
- This is becoming the standard for Jaylon Smith, but I did not see one Bengals blocker effectively slow him down.
The power that Smith is playing with is an outstanding sign for continued success. Not only is Smith physically up for the challenge of starting at MIKE for the Cowboys, but he's physically dominating opponents with strength, speed, and range.
Whether he was running laterally and avoiding blocks with great awareness, or attacking the pocket, Smith's path to the ball was rarely impeded against the Bengals.
No matter who the Cowboys lined up in their front seven, the group did a great job setting a strong tone. Antwaun Woods was once again impressive at the one technique position inside, and Brian Price made a flash play from this position late in the game as well.
Thanks to Smith's gap shooting ability, and the Cowboys willingness so far this preseason to be creative with the Notre Dame product, the team's defensive tackles don't have to be asked to do too much. Holding their spots while drawing blockers will be more than enough to free Smith and the rest of the Cowboys linebackers to make plays.
- Chidobe Awuzie's interception in the second quarter is a reminder of just how high the second-year cornerback's potential is.
Sure, Awuzie's length put him at an advantage to take a leap into year two once Kris Richard arrived as the Cowboys passing game coordinator.
Being productive on the ball, as Awuzie was here, is a testament to just how athletic he is as a boundary cornerback though. A beat late recognizing the ball coming his way, Awuzie remained in perfect position to get a hand on this pass.
Doing so with an explosive leap off the ground and full extension, Awuzie snagged the ball with one hand before bringing it into his body to secure another turnover for the Cowboys first team defense.
The Cowboys cornerback depth proved suspect beyond Awuzie and Byron Jones in this game, but being as good as they already are on the boundary is a huge step in the right direction for Rod Marinelli's defense.
I also thought that UDFA Tyree Robinson did a great job answering the bell at safety, showing up a number of times in run support with the Cowboys in desperate need of depth at his position.
It's in the slot, where Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis continue to feel the pressure of competition, that the Cowboys are struggling to find the right starter - even trying Lewis on the outside well into the fourth quarter of this game.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
The Cowboys will remain in their home state to conclude their training camp and preseason. Needing to see more out of their second and third team, practices will resume at The Star on Monday before another preseason game at AT&T Stadium.
This time, it will be the Arizona Cardinals coming in for a Sunday Night Football tune up. The Cowboys starters could very well see even more playing time than they have through the first two weeks, giving them a better chance of sustaining success and coming away with a preseason win.
CIN 21, DAL 14: Dak Prescott Continues Strong Preseason in Loss
The games may not count yet, but Dak Prescott looks ready for the 2018 season. The Dallas Cowboys quarterback continued his strong preseason play in the team's 21-13 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
Prescott played three series, going 10/15 for 86 yards and a touchdown. He got the offense out of trouble a few times with his feet, avoiding sacks and ultimately getting the scoring pass off on a redzone scramble.
Dak's strong play has coincided with shutdown performances from the starting defense. The Cowboys' first-team defenders have yet to allow a score in two preseason games. Tonight, the Bengals were forced into four punts and two turnovers on their first-half possessions.
Overall, the Cowboys are a combined 24-7 in the first halves of their first two preseason contests.
The second half has been the problem, and for two weeks now Dallas' reserves have squandered halftime leads and given up losses. Thankfully, most of the responsible players will not be on the final 53-man roster.
- There were several concerning injuries for the Cowboys tonight. None was scarier than when All-Pro guard Zack Martin went out with a knee injury, but it does not appear to have been serious. Starting defensive backs Byron Jones and Xavier Woods also got banged up; Byron returned to the game but Woods did not. Defensive lineman Datone Jones also left with a knee injury.
- Even more concerning was the play of the second-team offensive line. Chaz Green was typically awful, but we also saw swing tackle Cam Fleming struggling and just an overall lack of protection for the backups quarterbacks. Green got benched in the second half and may have finally played his way off the team.
- Credit to Terrance Williams for getting open in the endzone to give Dak Prescott a receiver for the touchdown throw. Even with his warts, Williams' two years of experience playing with Dak can't be ignored in deciding who makes the team.
- Tight end Blake Jarwin continues to run with the starters on offense and may have quietly taken the job away from Geoff Swaim.
- Darius Jackson took advantage of some extra playing time tonight after Bo Scarbrough left with a hip injury. He broke off a few nice runs to amass 42 yards on just six carries, plus had four receptions.
- We finally get to see Dan Bailey kick a field goal again, and it was an easy 35-yarder with no issues.
- Shout out to Chidobe Awuzie for one of the pretty interceptions that a Cowboys DB has made in some time. Awuzie had to bend like Beckham (Odell, that is) to get a hand on the ball, then tipped it to himself for the pick.
- Preseason fun continues for the Cowboys next Sunday when they host the Arizona Cardinals on NBC's Sunday Night Football.
#DALvsCIN: Can WR Lance Lenoir Continue To Impress?
Entering training camp projecting who would make the final roster from the Dallas Cowboys wide receiving room was a crapshoot. The combination of misfits from other teams, unproven young guys, and a couple of Cowboys veterans makes this position group the most questioned across the entire roster.
But while Cole Beasley, Allen Hurns, and Michael Gallup were stealing headlines, Lance Lenoir was making a name for himself among the Cowboys faithful.
After serving on the practice squad for the Cowboys a year ago, Lenoir seems to have entered 2018 with one goal in mind: to make the official game-day roster. And even if he falls short of this goal, it won't be due to any fault of his own.
Day in and day out Lance Lenoir has been a consistent wide out, catching nearly everything thrown his way and running some of the crisper routes on the team. Under new receivers coach Sanjay Lal, Lenoir has become a technical route runner and dangerous receiving threat.
Maybe most importantly for his future with the team, Lenoir has developed an obvious chemistry with starting quarterback Dak Prescott. Prescott has continued to compliment Lenoir throughout training camp, and you know that the Cowboys front office is well aware of Prescott's trust in Lenoir on the field.
During the preseason opener against the 49ers, Lance Lenoir caught his first touchdown of the season, dazzling with his toe-tap ability. If he is going to steal a roster spot away from one of the more seasoned wide outs, however, he will have to remain that consistent target.
This Saturday, Lenoir gets another shot to prove why he's not only deserving of a roster spot, but of a starting spot. Sure, it might be a bit of a stretch, but if he continues to play like he has during camp and preseason, Lenoir could find himself working with the 1's more frequently.
Look out for Lance Lenoir against the Bengals this week, as he makes it harder and harder for the Cowboys to cut him by the second.
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