No Romo. No Dez. No Witten.
As is custom with the final preseason game for each NFL team, stars and most starters sat this game out, as the Cowboys reserves proved to be lesser on this day than the Broncos subs, by the final score of 27-3. The Cowboys will now have less than 48 hours to make their final roster spot decisions, as they have to be down to 53 players by 4pm Eastern this coming Saturday.
Most fans were hopeful to get their first glimpse of FA signing Henry Melton, but he was held out of the contest despite the fact that VP Stephen Jones said that he would be active. A halftime interview with head coach Jason Garrett revealed the team decided to play it safe with all guys that had injury concerns. That mentality caused Morris Claiborne to miss out on the entire preseason.
For all of the accolades given to Garrett and Will McClay for their building of the roster over the last couple of seasons, this game showed there is still plenty of work to be done. Dallas battled with reserves and third stringers, and were overmatched in basically every phase of the game.
The Cowboys were unable to mount any kind of consistent offensive attack and very little defensive resistance. The special teams didn’t look spry in the return game and gave up big returns on the coverage side. All in all, it wasn’t a pretty night at AT&T Stadium.
There were a few individuals who stood out for their efforts. Rolando McClain got the start at middle linebacker and again showed why the team is hopeful his head and heart are into football. McClain had some nice run fits, and showed great speed on a delayed blitz where he rocked the quarterback.
Jamar Newsome continued to make a case for six receivers, making a couple nice catches on the evening, while Laron Byrd caught four of his seven targets for a team-leading 54 yards. Ken Boatwright, a midcamp signing from the Seahawks camp, got consistent pressure, as did Davon Coleman and occasionally Zach Minter. Dartwan Bush had some nice flash plays as well.
Rookie Ryan Smith, subbing in for Hamilton, didn’t fair badly, sticking his nose in on a couple plays and coming close to registering a sack on a blitz.
On offense, third-string QB Dustin Vaughan didn’t do enough to think that he’ll be snatched up by another team should he be exposed in an effort to get him to the practice squad. He did, however, show flashes of why so many like him; his pocket presence is eerily familiar of another UDFA quarterback that stuck with the club. He also showed the ability to get up after hits, as he was sacked four times on the evening.
Overall team-wise though, it was a disappointing evening for the Cowboys. On 11 possessions, they were able to score but one field goal and had drives of more than six plays just twice on the game. Dallas’ defense allowed three touchdown drives, two field goals and another two missed field goal attempts in their 11 chances. They did have a series of third and short stops throughout the game that were the cause for some hope.
Nothing seemed to work when they had the ball, amassing a paltry 165 yards over the course of the game. Dallas’ offense was a disappointing 2 for 11 on third down conversions over the course of the game, a result of having third and long situations throughout the contest.
Fans have known for a while that the offensive line, behind the starters, wasn’t very good. It showed tonight, as there was little running room for DJ Adams and Phillip Tanner, making his return to Dallas in his bid to catch on to a team. The Cowboys earned just 47 yards on the ground for the contest.
CowboysHQ learned that Tanner was in contention as a fullback, but spent the majority of the game with a lead blocker or as a single back. He also wasn’t very impressive on special teams.
If Dallas was looking for Brandon Weeden to ease any concerns for the evening, he didn’t, as his up and down preseason continued. Very simply, Weeden has looked calm and composed with the first-string offensive line, and anything but with the reserves. The combination of his and the line’s play, left little evaluation to do of rest of the personnel.
Weeden would start the game 1/6 for 13 yards and a pick, but would climb to 6/12 for 75 yards and a 35.1 passer rating.
The Cowboys received the ball first, with DJ Adams set to return a kickoff that went through the back of the end zone. Starting from their 20, Dallas came out with Ron Leary, the only projected starter at left guard. Jeremy Parnell got the start at left tackle, with Ron Patrick at center, Uche Nwaneri at right guard and UDFA John Wetzel at right tackle.
Fifth-round pick Devin Street got the start opposite Laron Byrd, who was called for a holding on the second play of the game, a Phillip Tanner run that didn’t go far in the first place. Tyson Clutts started at fullback along with James Hanna at tight end.
The first two official plays were minimal QB runs by Weeden after nothing developed downfield, sandwiched around the holding penalty. On 3rd and 14, RT John Wetzel was called for an obvious hold as he was beat to the inside. The penaklty was declined, as the pressure still forced a throw away by Weeden, and Dallas would punt.
Cowboys opened up on defense with a mixture of first, second and third team players. Corners Brandon Carr and Orlando Scandrick started on the outside; Carr missing most of camp dealing with the loss of his mother and Scandrick getting his last action for a month due to impending suspension. They were joined in the defensive backfield by Ahmad Dixon and UDFA rookie Ryan Smith. Smith is set to capitalize on the four-game substance abuse suspension that was handed down to second-year pro Jakar Hamilton.
At linebacker, Bruce Carter got the night off and was replaced at Will LB by fourth-round rookie Anthony Hitchens. Rolando McClain got the start in the middle with Kyle Wilber at the Sam.
Dartwan Bush opened at closed DE, with Ken Bishop at 1-tech, Davon Coleman at 3-tech and Ken Boatright at RDE. Coleman and Bishop could be considered second-teamers, above the other two that are fighting for roster spots.
Denver’s offense was able to move the ball on their first series, with Dixon making a big hit on a run that gained seven. The next play, Davon Coleman was able to knife into the backfield for a tackle for loss. They couldn’t get off the field however, when TE Jacob Tamme find a huge hole in the zone for the first down across midfield.
On the subsequent first down, McClain made a good diagnosis and shot the left C gap, came to a quick halt and found the ball carrier at the line of scrimmage. The infamous preseason defensive holding call reared it’s head on the next play, called on Kyle Wilber and giving a free first down. Ryan Smith would combine with Ken Boatright to stop a running play for a gain of five, then Smith would shut down the next running play for a 3rd and 2.
The Cowboys defense stiffened with a run blitz that clogged the middle and forced a 52 yard field goal attempt that was missed.
On their second offensive series, the Cowboys again tried to get Tanner going, but there was little room and he only gained two on the left side. A quick tunnel screen to Byrd on the right side saw nice acceleration by the young wideout as he zoomed for 13 yards and a first.
Another failed Tanner run was followed by a deep pass to Byrd that Weeden overshot, bringing up third and 13. Weeden zipped that pass over the head of Jamar Newsome, another receiver fighting for a roster spot. That throwaway brought up another punt. DJ Adams made it down field with a chance to pin it inside the 5, but was oblivious to where the ball was as it bounced into the end zone after landing at the 2.
Dartwan Bush blew up the first play from scrimmage by pushing his man deep into the backfield into the running back, where McClain and Hitchens cleaned up. On the next play, apparently broken, McClain broke free of the block by the LG and was able to bring down the QB on a failed scramble. 3rd and 10, and pressure again forced an incompletion, but on the back side of the play, Terrance Mitchell was called for illegal contact giving the Broncos a fresh set.
Rolando McClain came through like a wrecking ball on the next play, untouched and creamed QB Brock Osweiler on a delayed blitz, but the QB got the pass off. Hands to the face penalty brought up 1st and 20. A short run and a dropped pass brought up third and long, and a delay draw was not able to get the necessary yardage.
Weeden tried to find Street on the backside rollout drag route, but didn’t account for the corner on that side, Tony Carter. Carter peeled off from his man cut in front of Street for the interception.
On the second play from scrimmage, Andre Caldwell beat Mitchell on a post-corner route and hauled it in just shy of the end zone. The Broncos would punch it in on the next play for the 7-0 lead.
The Cowboys would end the first quarter on a beautiful adjustment and snag by Jamar Newsome, barely avoiding another Carter interception. In the fresh quarter, after a few completions, Weeden let the ball go as he was getting crushed, Laron Byrd undercut the cornerback and leapt, bringing in the ball for the completion inside the 10 yard line. Dallas was unable to push themselves to a touchdown, settling for a Dan Bailey field goal and a 7-3 deficit.
When Denver’s O returned the field, the Cowboys defense quickly returned them to the sideline. On third and short, Zach Minter, star of the Ravens second half, was able to stuff the run attempt for a loss and get his Cowboys off the field.
Rookie UDFA Dustin Vaughan took over at quarterback on the next drive, handing it off to Phillip Tanner who had his best run of the night with a spin move for 9 yards. Of course, a false start on the next play negated the quick start. Tanner was stuffed for a loss of one after the penalty.
Vaughan had a couple pocket escapes on the drive, invoking memories of a young Tony Romo in the years before he worked his way up the depth chart. He was able to march Dallas out of the shadows of his own end zone and across midfield, but a tipped pass on third and short would end the drive.
Dallas’ two minute defense wasn’t able to keep the Broncos from scoring a field goal before the half. Tyler Patmon was called for unnecessary roughness after the returner muffed the fair catch and Patmon hit the ball out of his hand. A very, very short shoving match is apparently worth 15 yards to the quick-trigger ref crew.
The penalty led to an immediate downfield strike that Patmon was late on breaking on that got Denver to midfield. Patmon would try to redeem himself as he was credited for breaking up a pass down the sideline later on, but that wouldn’t keep the Broncos from scoring. A deep completion with under a minute left negated the pressure Dallas was able to create on this drive.
Zach Minter and Ken Boatwright were able to harass Osweiller but to no avail. Boatwright’s has a QB hit as well as a sack, with Minter getting pressure as well, After the sack, though, the Broncos completed a nice pass that took them to Dallas’ goal line with enough time to spike the ball and trot out the field goal unit.
The Broncos used a crossing pattern (and bad tackling) to create a big play on their first drive, and a huge punt return on the third drive, to score touchdowns on two of their first three second half possessions.
After that point, the rest of the game was simply putting performances on tape for the coaches to review over the next 24 hours. Even though each team would love to win during the preseason, none of that matters now. The Cowboys record is set to 0-0 for 2014. Now all they need to do is make decisions on which guys, are actually Cowboys.