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DAL 20, ARI 18: Brice Butler, Rico Gathers Shine in Preseason Win

Jess Haynie

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DAL

The preseason isn't about wins and losses but players trying to either make the team or solidify their spot on the depth chart. Even without the best supporting cast around them, Cowboys Brice Butler and Rico Gathers made the most of their opportunities in the team's 20-18 victory over the Arizona Cardinals in the 2017 Hall of Fame Game.

On just two catches, Butler reminded us why he's a potentially dangerous receiving option for the Cowboys offense. Using his pure speed on both plays, Butler got past his man and hauled in two lob passes from Kellen Moore for 46 and 32 yards each. One ball in particular was almost thrown too far ahead but Butler reached out and snagged it for an impressive catch. He might have had a touchdown on the other throw if Moore had put a little more heat on it.

Some, including me, have speculated that Butler might not make the roster if younger guys like Andy Jones and Noah Brown came to play. It's still early, but good reports from training camp and games like this one will keep Brice in Dallas and perhaps even earn him some more opportunities on offense in the regular season.

Rico Gathers

TE Rico Gathers

If you went into the game with Rico Gathers as one of your most interesting players then you were not disappointed. The tight end prospect had three impressive catches for 59 yards and a touchdown. His scoring catch was on a jump ball and the former basketball player looked like he was taking a rebound out of the air over the defender.

Rico's other two catches showed that he has some natural hands as a receiver. Both passes from Cooper Rush were off target but Gathers adjusted and secured the ball. On one player, Gathers had to go to the ground to complete the catch but had the presence of mind to realize that he hadn't been touched. Rico got up and rumbled for a much larger gain, showing good football awareness for such a novice player.

The Cowboys sat both James Hanna and Geoff Swaim tonight so Gathers got to play the entire game. He probably won't get as many snaps in other preseason games, but Rico did his part tonight to maximize the opportunities he had.

Other Notes

  • Alfred Morris had a strong showing with 42 yards on just seven carries. His experience shined through with good reads behind zone blocking, and Morris finished runs with both power and athleticism for big gains. Even if he doesn't make the team, more good preseason play could help Dallas find a trade partner.
  • The reason Morris could be expendable is Rod Smith, who dominated the second half offense and put on a great display of both his power and athletic ability. Smith had 64 yards on 18 carries and also 25 yards on three catches. Where Rod really impressed was with some vision and improvisational running, taking nothing plays and making things happen.
  • Kellen Moore put in a solid outing, playing the entire first half. He rallied back from a disappointing 3-and-out on the first series and moved the offense well the rest of the way. Moore finished with 182 yards on 12-for-17 passing and threw the touchdown pass to Rico Gathers. Kellen's night ended with an interception on an endzone throw to Noah Brown; a jump-ball opportunity that wasn't really on the QB.
  • The second half was Cooper Rush's time at quarterback and the undrafted rookie wasn't bad at all. Under fire from several all-out blitzes, Rush didn't turn it over and made some heads-up plays in some chaotic situations. He threw a touchdown to EZ Nwachukwu and also showed some good wheels with a few big runs to pick up first downs.
  • DE Damontre Moore looked beastly throughout the night, disrupting the pocket numerous times and sending the quarterback scrambling. He never registered a sack but his impact was obvious.
  • FB Keith Smith caught three passes out of the backfield and looked good with the ball in his hands. The Cowboys haven't had an offensive weapon at fullback since the days of Richie Anderson and it's a nice wrinkle for a run-heavy team. If he's developing as a receiver on top of his strong blocking, Keith's roster spot is almost guaranteed.
  • It was not a standout night for the Cowboys defense, who allowed the Cardinals to move the ball easily in the first half. Blaine Gabbert looked like a former 10th-overall pick, and not Blaine Gabbert, during the first half as he carved Dallas up for 185 yards. Things got better in the second half as the Arizona offense stalled, but Damontre Moore was really the only defender who was making his presence felt consistently.
  • Before the game, it was nice to see Orlando Scandrick embrace Jerry Jones when the Cowboys owner was introduced as one of the Hall of Fame inductees. There was a little friction this offseason around Scandrick and trade rumors during the draft. Clearly, there's no lingering animosity like we had a few years back with Mike Jenkins.
  • The Cowboys now return to Oxnard and get a nine-day break before resuming preseason play in Los Angeles against the Rams.



Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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3 Comments
  • George_Johnson

    Jess: Good analysis and comments. I would add I was surprised that the game went as well as it did with few penalties and not too many mistakes instead of being a really sloppy game. It seemed to be an abnormal game in the sense the top players did not play at all which is usually not the case in a preseason game. As you know I am a Kellen Moore fan so was glad to see this abnormal game get behind us and K Moore to play well. I look forward to the next four preseason games.

    • Jess Haynie

      Thanks, George. I think the fact that this was an extra preseason game is why you saw the personnel decisions that we did. I imagine they’ll back to the typical use of players in the Week 1 game.

      Kellen definitely had a good night towards solidifying his place as QB2. Any rust he had early was forgivable considering his time away with injury. Obviously, you wish he could put a little more zip on his throws but what really matters is recognition and going to the right spot. Moore does that well.

  • Russ_Te

    I also thought Cowboy Nation got a lot out of Gathers, a lot more than you could have figured. Unless he’s just awful as a blocker, he probably did enough last night to make the team. Looks like he applied himself during the practice squad year.

    Physically more imposing than Hanna or Swaim, he has to be penciled in as the Witten heir IF he keeps looking like he did last night. You’d like to see defenses deal with that through the 1st 8 games, while Witten gets some downs off and is more fresh for the stretch run.

    For all these bubble guys it comes down to who wants it, who won’t be denied. The way Gathers took that ball away from the defender on the goal line, that was big.

Player News

Zack Martin, Xavier Woods Suffer Preseason Injuries, Cowboys Down 2 Starters

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Cowboys' Eyeing Training Camp To Extend Zack Martin's Contract

Last Saturday night didn't end well for the Dallas Cowboys, who saw multiple players go down throughout the game, most notably Zack Martin and Xavier Woods. Preseason injuries are always the more painful ones, and when we're talking about someone like Martin, it just makes it worse.

Martin suffered a knee injury and was ruled out after going down. ESPN's Todd Archer tweeted out that a source had claimed the injury was a hyper-extended left knee. This surely would be great news considering the fear right now is a season-ending injury.

Todd Archer on Twitter

A source said the initial diagnosis of Zack Martin is a hyperextended left knee, but he will undergo an MRI on Sunday. The Cowboys do not practice again until Monday and play Aug. 26 against the Arizona Cardinals. Depending on the severity of the... https://t.co/1MPbJfQph8

Zack is set to have an MRI on Sunday and the team is hopeful the injury isn't that serious. We probably won't see the All-Pro left guard return in the preseason but could see him back on the field as soon as September 9th when the Cowboys kick their season off at Carolina.

Besides Zack Martin being the best offensive guard in the NFL, the Cowboys' offensive line depth is definitely not good. If his injury proves to be worse than what the front office believes, this offense will have to play without arguably their best player.

As we nervously await more news on Martin's knee, there are more injured players to talk about.

Xavier Woods injured his hamstring as he made an effort to intercept the ball and was also ruled out for the game. We still don't know about the severity, but we do know it's the same hamstring that he dealt with last year.

Although Woods isn't anywhere near Zack Martin as a football player, his injury comes at the team's weakest position in depth. Jeff Heath, Kavon Frazier and Xavier Woods are the Cowboys' only legitimate safeties that will earn a roster spot.

If the hamstring injury is serious enough to keep him sidelined for multiple weeks, we could see the Cowboys getting outside help for the defensive backfield. Whether that means trading for Earl Thomas, some other safety or looking at the free agents available, I don't see the team going into the season with two safeties on the roster.

For now, we need to wait for more results regarding both of these players who will be detrimental to this team's success in 2018. The Cowboys suffered more injuries than these ones, though.

Saad Yousuf on Twitter

And the injuries continue... Jameill Showers is down on the Cowboys sideline with what looks like a knee injury. Still down. Duke Thomas Datone Jones Bo Scarbrough Xavier Woods and the big one, Zack Martin That's the injury list for the Cowboys tonight.

Datone Jones has been impressive during his stay in Dallas and is a quality DT and was ruled out for the game after getting tangled up with the Bengal's offensive line. Seventh-round draft pick Bo Scarbrough suffered a hip injury and is apparently not severe either.

Compared to Woods' and Martin's injuries, these ones won't keep Cowboys' fans up at night. However, hopefully they all turn out to be okay and ready to play as soon as possible. The team's starters make this team a legit threat in the NFC, but when it comes to depth, they're not in a good position.

Tell me what you think about "Zack Martin, Xavier Woods Suffer Preseason Injuries, Cowboys Down 2 Starters" in the comments below, or tweet me @PepoR99 and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



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Game Notes

Sean’s Scout: Starting Front 7 Sets Tone Early, Cowboys Depth Falters in Loss to Bengals

Sean Martin

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Sean's Scout: Starting Front 7 Sets Tone Early, Cowboys Depth Falters in Loss to Bengals
(Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports)

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.

Sean's Scout: Starting Front 7 Sets Tone Early, Cowboys Depth Falters in Loss to Bengals 1

Dallas Cowboys CBs Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

  • 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.

Tell us what you think about "Sean’s Scout: Starting Front 7 Sets Tone Early, Cowboys Depth Falters in Loss to Bengals" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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Game Notes

CIN 21, DAL 14: Dak Prescott Continues Strong Preseason in Loss

Jess Haynie

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Dak Prescott, Bengals

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.

Other Notes

  • 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.



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