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Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Defense Leaves Lasting Impression in Loss to Cardinals

As far as team performances go, there isn’t much to say about the Cowboys third preseason loss in as many weeks. Falling 27-3 to the Arizona Cardinals at AT&T Stadium last night, the Cowboys all but conceded this game on offense by resting Quarterback Dak Prescott and Running Back Ezekiel Elliott while Left Tackle Tyron Smith, Center Travis Frederick, and Right Guard Zack Martin all sat out.

Early on, this gave the Cowboys first team defense plenty of opportunities to continue doing what they’ve done best – get opposing offenses off the field by containing the run and pressuring the quarterback.

The longest Cardinals scoring drive would come out of the locker room to start the third quarter, as the Cowboys ran out their second team defense while T.J. Logan capped a three play drive with a 59-yard touchdown run. This would be the only touchdown the Cowboys defense allowed, as the Cardinals took advantage of a Lance Lenoir muffed punt and poor decision by Quarterback Cooper Rush to put up two other scores on special teams and defense.

As always, here are my initial takeaways from the Cowboys penultimate exhibition game before wrapping up the preseason on Thursday in Houston.

  • Randy Gregory’s counter move that resulted in a third-down sack of Sam Bradford might have been his most impressive play of the preseason. 

When you think of Randy Gregory rushing the passer, you immediately jump to the ability he has to bend the corner off the right edge. This has simply been a missing component to the Cowboys defensive line without Gregory in the lineup, and his consistency bringing pressure with it has been a top story this preseason for Dallas.

Gregory’s strength here also made his sack that much more impressive. Starting to the outside on his rush, Gregory used his length to initially keep the left tackle away from his frame. Once he caught his blocker leaning, Gregory knew he could counter to the inside, doing so with a powerful spin move that put him right on Bradford’s back.

Randy has added weight to his upper body in preparation for this season, and he’s simply been a more disruptive player as a direct result.

  • Kavon Frazier continues to add skills to his game that make him a legitimate candidate to start at safety.

Every time the Cowboys safety unit is doubted by fans and media alike, Kavon Frazier finds a way to step up. An ideal fit for the third safety spot, the Cowboys should feel comfortable turning to Frazier as their starting option alongside Jeff Heath if Xavier Woods misses any regular season time.

Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard has used Frazier to his strengths, playing him down in the box as a contain player against the run. All of the Cowboys defensive backs have taken strides in run defense thanks to Richard, but this is Frazier’s most noticeable trait.

Unfortunately, it was his last play in this game as he injured his shoulder, but Frazier carrying a slot receiver up the field in man coverage to force an incomplete pass was a fantastic sign for the Cowboys passing defense.

Chidobe Awuzie and Byron Jones have understandably received a lot of attention for their play as the boundary cornerbacks in this defense, but opposing quarterbacks are really going to struggle against the Cowboys if players like Frazier can take away routes all over the field as well.

  • Really poor angle from Safety Marqueston Huff on a long run from Chase Edmonds that set up a Cardinals field goal. 

The Cowboys had to be hopeful that a few of their depth options at safety could take advantage of their extended playing time last night, but this wasn’t really the case. One of the more experienced safeties on the roster, Huff was the only defender in the hole that had a shot on Edmonds’ longest play of the game.

Instead of breaking down and at least forcing Edmonds to change direction, Huff was late getting to his spot and caught flat-footed against the runner in the hole. I don’t think Edmonds had to hesitate for a second to avoid Huff and break a big gain to the outside.

This was not the only instance in this game where Huff was sloppy with his technique, and the ball seemed to find him each time to make matters worse.

  • Nice showing from UDFA Cornerback Charvarius Ward, who should get plenty of looks in the Cowboys final preseason game as well. 

It still may be too late for Ward to make the Cowboys roster, but the young defensive back has done a nice job separating himself from the rest of the field as a depth option at cornerback. With the ideal length and ball skills to play in Richard’s defense, Ward has taken a bit longer than expected to play with any consistency, but for the most part he did just that against the Cardinals.

Always around the ball, Ward contested everything at the catch point and was credited with two passed defended. Not the most fluid athlete when it comes to turning his hips and running in coverage, Ward still finds ways to be effective in man coverage at his size, and it just might be enough for him to hang around after roster cuts with Dallas – be it on the active roster or practice squad.

  • Finally, a note on the offense, where I’m starting to come around on Running Back Bo Scarbrough being the team’s third running back ahead of Darius Jackson.

Again, my overlying thought on the Cowboys backfield is that Rod Smith has done more than enough to earn nearly all the carries this team doesn’t give Ezekiel Elliott. This was once again the case against the Cardinals, as Smith carried the ball seven times and hauled in three passes.

Even if it’s only for a few carries a game, I like what Scarbrough gives the Cowboys as a downhill runner more than what Jackson provides in the passing game – a level of play the team can replicate in Smith, Tavon Austin, or Lance Lenoir.

Finding another 6’2″, 228 pound running back that continues to create yards that simply haven’t been there is difficult. Scarbrough has had to bounce a number of runs to the outside thanks to suspecting front sevens loading the box, punishing smaller defensive backs each time he does.

Working his skills into a game plan that involves a heavy dose of Elliott is something the Cowboys should be preparing for, as they can absolutely trust Rod Smith to be the primary, all-around backup to their star running back.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

If it looked like the Cowboys were just going through the motions at times against the Cardinals, the bad news is that there’s still four more quarters of preseason football to be played. Even fewer potential starters should see the field against the Texans, leaving this game to the roster long shots making their last impressions for either the Cowboys or another team after cuts.

The Cowboys loss to the Cardinals was much more about the impact their inactive players are expected to have, but with some tough roster decisions still looming, there were a number of players on defense that helped their stock.

With the first team defense playing a stellar first half, any spots on Rod Marinelli’s side of the ball will be hard to come by, as the Cowboys are now just two weeks away from fielding this defense in support of a (close to) full-strength offense at the Panthers.

Tell us what you think about “Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Defense Leaves Lasting Impression in Loss to Cardinals” in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

What do you think?

Sean Martin

Written by Sean Martin

Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Boro Panther, Montclair State Red Hawk, and most importantly a proud member of Cowboys Nation! I host "Upon Further Review" on 90.3 WMSC FM and wmscradio.com every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. Twitter: @SeanMartinNFL.

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