The Dallas Cowboys first game of 2018 is in the books. Although it goes as a loss on the scoreboard, last night was a win for the Cowboys in the important areas. Above all else, the team avoided any major injuries, and navigated Quarterback Dak Prescott through his first scoring drive.
There’s plenty for the Cowboys to like about what they left on the field in San Francisco before returning to Oxnard, as well as plenty of room for improvement. Here is my first official Sean’s Scout of the season, on some takeaways from the Cowboys performance against the 49ers.
- Great block from Tight End Dalton Schultz to seal the corner for Rod Smith’s first run of 15 yards.
The rookie was able to come off the ball with good explosiveness, using his quick hands to sustain the block downfield. This relentless blocking ability is Schultz’s best trait, and if he can continue to show it off on the second and third level of the defense, he’s going to earn snaps in this offense.
- Dak Prescott continues to be a “gamer”, finding rookie Wide Receiver Michael Gallup for a 30-yard touchdown on the Cowboys first drive.
Prescott had been struggling to connect on deep passes like this one in practice. As we know about the Cowboys third-year starter though, Prescott continues to be better in real game situations. The protection was perfect for Prescott to deliver this ball to Gallup, but his small window of opportunity to do so didn’t allow Dak to step up in the pocket.
The throw was still perfect to Gallup, who uncovered right as he ran under the scoring pass — his first of what the Cowboys can expect to be many more receptions this season.
- Jaylon Smith’s first signature “swipe play” of the game was really set up by Linebackers Joe Thomas and Damien Wilson.
Take nothing away from Smith, who looked fantastic running around last night, but the Cowboys got everything they could ask for out of their veteran linebackers in this game too.
As a defense, the Cowboys excelled at containing the edge all night long. On this play it was Wilson motioning down from his SAM position before the snap to do just that. Joe Thomas also stayed home to meet the runner in the hole and Smith was there to finish off the play.
Later in the same drive, on a third and long, Smith carried a 49ers tight end down the seam to force the ball underneath. The Cowboys got off the field, and it was an even better sign seeing Smith plant and flip his hips in coverage.
- I really wish we got to see Defensive End Taco Charlton at LDE since the start of his rookie season.
The Michigan product always projected best as a left end. Drafting for need at 19th overall though, the Cowboys felt the need to try Charlton at right end at the start of 2017. This was a less than ideal position for him to begin his career, and it made his strong push at the end of the season from the left side even more impressive.
Above all else, Charlton looked like he had a plan for every rush off the strong side in this game. With Taco off one edge and Tyrone Crawford on the other, the Cowboys deep defensive line has a chance to be great against the run.
Charlton looked much more comfortable turning the corner and avoiding blocks with quick change of direction ability, which led to him being in the quarterback’s face multiple times.
- That’s a perfect angle from Kavon Frazier on the blitz to tip a pass that was intercepted by Joe Thomas.
I already mentioned the Cowboys ability to play contain defense very well, and this was an area that Frazier brought some juice to. Reading the eyes of the QB on this pass play, Frazier avoided a low block to time his run and leap for the ball.
If Beathard held onto the ball for another second, he likely would have been sacked by rookie Defensive End Dorance Armstrong, who also did a nice job collapsing on the play. Instead, his pass resulted in one of two turnovers Dallas came up with last night — both on deflected balls.
- Nice job by Blake Jarwin to look back for the ball as he converted a third down in the red zone to set up a Bo Scarbrough touchdown.
Jarwin ran wide open on the wheel route underneath. It would have been easy for him to continue the route up the field into the end zone. With Cooper Rush needing to throw the ball under pressure, Jarwin turned back at the perfect time and presented his quarterback with a big target.
Jarwin’s athleticism and size really stands out at TE, catching this pass easily and turning up field to move the chains.
This drive ended with Bo Scarbrough crossing the goal line from one yard out, pushing behind rookie Left Guard Connor Williams. Though it was nice to see Scarbrough score in a short yardage situation, I thought Rod Smith had the much better overall game, and is nearly a lock to be this team’s second running back.
I don’t know how far Scarbrough has to rise up the depth chart to make the Cowboys roster, but spots behind Ezekiel Elliott and Smith should be at a premium given both backs completeness.
- Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli has to absolutely love Defensive Tackle Brian Price running down a screen pass to knock Ricky James out of bounds.
The Cowboys play caller on defense is all about effort from his defensive line, and there’s no better example of this than Price’s effort here. Playing without a true 3T in David Irving’s absence to start the season, the Cowboys are more than prepared to still hold up at defensive tackle thanks to their depth at 1T.
Collectively, this group has the size and range to hold up on the interior for Dallas. Brian Price — whose first season was cut short due to injury last year — deserves a chance to start at 1T over Richard Ash and Antwaun Woods.
Ash did push the pocket with a spin move that put him in position to tip a pass that was intercepted by Cornerback Duke Thomas in the fourth quarter.
Not only is Price hard to move off the spot, but he is freakish in his pursuit of the football once disengaging. As the 49ers failed to get a seal on Price for this screen play, the 318 pound DT flew to the sideline and made the play 21 yards downfield.
San Francisco would score their first points of the game on this drive, but that shouldn’t matter when the team reviews the tape to see Price’s effort.
- Lance Lenoir’s awareness in a tight space set up his touchdown reception from Rush.
We’ve said all along that a talented wide receiver is going to miss the Cowboys final cut, and Lance Lenoir continues to do everything he can to assure it won’t be him. Not on the active roster in 2017, Lenoir did show enough as an undrafted rookie to stick around on the practice squad, and has shown significant improvement this year.
Lenoir is the type of route running technician that Sanjay Lal is looking for. With his defender planted in the back of the end zone at the stem of his route, Lenoir knew he would have little room to work with in selling the route to the inside before breaking out.
It was a violent and quick move from Lenoir that gave him some separation towards the sideline, gathering himself to tap both feet in bounds and score. It’s hard not to be impressed with the way Lenoir shows up and competes every day at training camp, and it was great for the whole Cowboys offense to see his efforts rewarded with a touchdown.
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The Cowboys will return to Oxnard to prepare for the second week of the preseason now. A home game at AT&T Stadium against the Cincinnati Bengals awaits them – another opportunity for the players fighting to make this team to prove themselves.
The Cowboys should be impressed by their depth at OL, TE, and DL based on this performance against the 49ers. Having depth in the trenches has gone a long way for this team before, as competitions for playing time are sure to heat up this week.