Contrary to last week's dissection of a win against the Saints, the less than stellar side of this Sunday with the Cowboys hosting the Texans was fairly easy to discern, for even the most casual of fans. Clearly, losing the turnover battle stands out above all other blemishes on the Cowboys performance; in the NFL teams are rarely able to out-execute being placed behind that brand of 8 ball. But these Cowboys did it, once again showing fight to stay in the game and walk away with the win.
But there were several other issues throughout the game that - despite the win - raise serious questions about the Cowboys' ability to sustain their current win streak.
As has been harped on throughout the season, the mistakes the Cowboys made Sunday cannot continue if they have any postseason aspirations. From the not-so-Special Teams play to the late-game disappearance of defensive intensity to clock-management issues garnering a delay of game penalty following a time-out, the Cowboys will have yet another hard day watching film, even though they were able to pull out the win in the end.
Yet over all of the aforementioned issues, the one issue surfacing following the game that concerns me the most is the re-injury of Rolando McClain. Less his addition in the off-season, if we are being honest, these Cowboys would have been exactly what we thought they were – a sub par to horrible defense. Once thought a long shot to even make the final 53, Rolando is slowly proving to be the most valuable cog in the defense.
Beyond his ideal physical prowess and attributes, he has incredible instincts to sniff out the ball and attack with violent and precise tackles. Below the surface of that ability, and yet not lost on the esteem of his teammates, he has emerged as a quiet-spoken lead-by-example captain of the defense. He is not a loud trash talker, like you might expect given his sordid legal issues in the past, but he certainly carries a big stick that opposing offenses must respect. And his play is infectious; his intangibles may actually outweigh his visible contributions. The less than stellar side of this is if he is unable to play, his impact will be felt far beyond his individual performance as it seemed to be late in the game versus the Texans.
Romdini's latest act
Romdini, who has now been discussed ad nauseam, once again made an appearance with a spectacular reverse-pivot spin out of a would-be sack by none other than JJ Watt and throwing a perfect bomb to Terrance Williams for a touchdown. Unfortunately, with Romo one must accept the good with the bad and understand for every brilliant and magical play, he will from time to time force an ill-advised pass.
My understanding of Romo’s nature aside, against teams such as Seattle, those types of mistakes cannot happen because Russell Wilson does not make those types of mistakes very often. Call him a bus driver who lucked into being surrounded by a great team and head coach all you like, his strongest attribute above and beyond his ability to throw and run is his tendency to make good to great decisions with the football. While I understand Romo has had a very different situation here in Dallas, I unfortunately cannot say the same about him. Romo’s competitive spirit can get the best of him and that is one demon only he can exercise.
First line of defense
The defensive line has been solid and at times - that seem to be too far in between - disruptive. The Cowboys are going to need more help from that side of the trench as the season progresses.
Point blank, this very well could prove to be the Achilles Heel to the Cowboys season.
Granted, the value of a sack can be inflated, particularly those that occur on early downs for minimal loss. With that being said, if the Cowboys' defensive line is unable to figure out how to generate pressure without the aid of linebackers/defensive backs, as the season progresses, the Cowboys defense will struggle against the better QBs who are able to diagnose where the pressure is coming from and put the ball where the blitzer would otherwise be.
Nuts & Bolts
Bringing the focus down to details a bit, I'm troubled by Terrence Williams’ inclination to body-catch rather than catch with his hands. Granted, he is a pretty high percentage receiver, but it is difficult to trust players who trap rather than catch in situations where the QB has to get it out of their hands faster than normal. Unfortunately, I’m not sure this is something the team will want to address mid-season as attempting to make at change in his catching-habit at this point would likely do more harm than good.
In a previous addition, I mentioned the Cowboys need to make a more concerted effort to ensure the ball touches more hands, both on the ground and in the air.
Players like Lance Dunbar, Gavin Escobar, Cole Beasley, Joseph Randle, James Hanna, Dwayne Harris, and Devin Street have largely been ignored through the first five games.
Some may argue, "Why complain, the Cowboys are winning!" Believe me, that point is not lost in my considerations. But I'm concerned about what the Cowboys are putting on tape and even further concerned about the maturation process of the aforementioned.
With each game, the Cowboys add another chapter to the cleft notes in their playbook. While I can understand an offensive coordinator not wanting to show all of his hand this early in the season, he should be concerned about getting his down-roster players involved because skill players need the ball in their hand in live-game action to evolve. Furthermore, diminishing the top-tier players' exposure to potential injury should be a big part of this consideration, especially given DeMarco Murray's medical history and his necessity to the ground and pound approach.
Overall, it was a good win for the Cowboys. In seasons past, this is one the Cowboys would likely have let slip through their fingertips and in hindsight would be the loss they would point to when being one win short of making it to the postseason. For that and the addition of some heroics from beautiful plays made by Romo, Dez and Murray, I will give the team an overall passing grade.
But grades are subjective; against Seattle, for instance, their efforts would have likely garnered them a fail. And that is what concerns me with the Cowboys going to the Seahawks' house on Sunday.
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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