That was a long 8 months. From the January loss to the Packers until last night's preseason game we've been waiting anxiously for some Cowboys football. And anxious is the best word to describe what's been a fairly tumultuous offseason in Dallas.
The Dez catch, DeMarco Murray joining the Eagles, the talk about Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice and Chris Johnson joining the Cowboys, suspensions for both Rolando McClain and Greg Hardy… the list goes on and on. But all of that matters less now.
Sure, it's just a preseason game. I get it. It's not like it's real football or anything. It was just damned good to see the Boys out on the field again.
I wanted to talk a little about what we saw from the Cowboys last night.
Mistakes Are Little More Than Opportunities To Learn
The Cowboys made it through the first preseason game with just a couple of penalties in all. I don't think people are understanding how huge it is to see so few penalties in the first week of the preseason.
It was the first time out for about a dozen guys last night, and even more were experiencing their first game in a Cowboys jersey, and yet the focus and lack of mental mistakes was greater than most coaches expect from seasoned veterans during the regular season. You know, when the games actually count.
That's an outstanding accomplishment.
The Good, The Bad &The Ugly from Cowboys @ Chargers
The game started out alright. Brandon Weeden looked pretty sharp in his completions to Terrance Williams and the rookie out of Stephen F. Austin university in south Texas, Gus “The Bus” Johnson looked solid.
Then came the botched snap.
Weeden told reporters on the sideline afterward that he has always enjoyed an adage about quarterback's having the best hands on the team; that they have to catch the ball on every play, and he took the blame for that snap-turned-turnover. Rightfully so.
Crowd noise was minimal and he had a real pro in Travis Frederick to snap the ball… That was just a boneheaded play by our pending #2 QB.
The defense came onto the field for their first series and they didn't look too sharp. There was almost nothing of note in that first defensive series. I'm excluding the failure to stop the Chargers from assembling a 5-play, 33-yard touchdown drive, of course.
That was the end of Brandon Weeden's action last night. One series that ended in a turnover at his hands and gave the Chargers a short field was all he got.
Quarterbacks At Play
We saw 3 different quarterbacks take the field for Dallas in week 1: Jameil Showers, Brandon Weeden, and Dustin Vaughan, in that order. Showers, the newest of blood, demonstrated an unusual ability for a QB to play on special teams as the up man on the opening kickoff return.
I know a lot of people around Cowboys Nation were looking to see what he had but I don't think him contributing on special teams is what anyone had in mind.
These Cowboys suffered greatly in 2014 while Tony Romo battled his injuries. Brandon Weeden was predictably inadequate under center and played a huge role in an early loss to the Arizona Cardinals. So we've all been looking at this year as a chance for an upgrade to our primary backup QB.
Dustin Vaughan showed flashes of potential last year during the preseason, and last night he finally expanded upon those flashes with better instincts, pocket presence, and accuracy.
I couldn't help myself. Every time the pocket collapsed and Vaughan took off I was guessing which Charger would come away with the sack, and I was pleasantly disappointed each time. His mobility extended plays and allowed him to deliver strike after strike to keep the drive alive. In spite of his ill-advised month of rest before training camp, his arm looked good, at times successfully threading a needle to inexperienced receivers.
The drive to start the second quarter was all Vaughan and Johnson. I was impressed.
The question still lingers about the backup QB spot. Vaughan started showing signs of having an answer last night, but he still has a ways to go. Coaches value experience a great deal in this league and Weeden is the man with it right now. But Vaughan might have put him on notice. We'll see next week against the 49ers if he can deliver that notice home.
Rookie running back Gus Johnson showed some skill. I would not go so far as to say that he earned anything more than another chance in San Fransisco just yet, but he filled the void of the absent Darren McFadden, Joseph Randle, and Lance Dunbar.
Stats speak volumes when they boast a measly 2.7-yard average on 13 touches. No one is denying that. But Johnson being responsible for the only points the Cowboys scored also counts for something.
The announcers on the Dallas broadcast were quick to label him Gus “The Bus” Johnson and I can't argue with that logic either. But much like a bus, his running was very much north-south with little agility or ability to make guys miss. He opted instead to go through many defenders or get stopped trying.
What impressed me most was his motor. The guy just didn't quit. That was evident on his scoring run and a bit earlier on 4th-and-1 where it was his second and third effort that got the job done.
Johnson was the lone RB – along with Fullback Tyler Clutts – for much of the game before Lache Seastrunk got a chance to show his stuff.
Seemingly in complete opposition to Johnson, Seastrunk danced around the field at will, juking and shaking defenders off his path for marginal gains.
Overall, I thought Gus Johnson was stiff when he ran the ball and Lache Seastrunk was fluid. I know there's a lot of hype about Johnson already and it's probably unwarranted. The biggest thing he brought to the game was smash-mouth running the likes of which we haven't seen in Dallas since Marion Barber departed. Seastrunk was very much an elusive and quick back with decent vision and burst, just like McFadden and Randle.
Time will tell what becomes of either of these two players and only time. Injuries at the position may yield some unexpected results come time to set the 53-man roster, but I didn't see anything to say that either running back will supplant the top three yet.
Other Rookies of Note
Byron Jones was pretty quiet most of the night, save for that sideline miss on the first Chargers drive, and that's really a good thing. When a player's name gets called, it's usually because he did something wrong.
Randy Gregory ended the night well, although I thought he looked worn down – more so than his teammates – a bit early near the end of the first half. He filled his gaps and did what he should, also having a quiet night. He did manage one sack late in the game.
Damien Wilson picked up a key block at the line and a perfectly read dump-off to Melvin Gordon, stopping him in the backfield.
Among the players who did not see a snap during week 1 were:
- Dez Bryant
- Tony Romo
- Orlando Scandrick
- Jason Witten
- Tyron Smith
- Doug Free
- Darren McFadden
- Joseph Randle
- Lance Dunbar
Those sits were expected.
It was a loss in the end, 17-7. But all was not lost in the effort. We saw some good things from rookies and vets alike. We even saw a much-improved pass rush over last year's offerings and that looks to be a sharp edge on a sturdy sword already.
For even more analysis of the Dallas Cowboys @ San Diego Chargers, be sure to check out Cowboys Cast this Saturday. If you're in or around Marshall in east Texas, then you can catch it on our new affiliate KMHT 1450 AM at 7 am Saturday morning, while the podcast will be available online in the usual places later that afternoon.