The Cowboys finally got back to some "real" game action on Thursday night. While you can't really predict how good a team will be based on a preseason performance, you can evaluate individual players and get a feel for what the coaches are working on for the regular season. It was exciting to get a good look at what Rob Ryan's defense will look like this year.
You immediately notice the change in the defense before the snap of the ball. Guys are moving, talking and causing confusion for the opposing offense. But you also see the boom or bust nature of the defense. When you bring players on blitzes from all over the field you are gambling that you will get to the quarterback before he finds the weakness in the coverage. It seemed that some of the starting defense is still trying to learn their assignments.
The starting run defense needs work against the running game. The running backs for the Broncos weren't getting hit until they were 5 or more yards down the field on most plays. Sean Lee had a chance to make a big play on a run blitz but missed the tackle that would have resulted in a 4 yard loss.
It was hard to get much of a feel for the passing defense for the starters. The majority of the Broncos offensive play calls were runs since they were so successful every time they ran it. But they did come up with a couple of nice stops on the goal line to force a short field goal by the Broncos.
The starting offense looked sharp. Romo looked very comfortable in the pocket...no happy feet or bailing out to avoid contact as a result of last year's injury. Felix Jones had a nice run up the middle and broke a tackle for an 18 yard gain. Felix Jones looked much more comfortable running in the middle of the field than he did last season. I saw about 10 straight screen plays at the only training camp practice I attended. And it looks like all the work paid off.
The kicking battle is fun to watch. Dan Bailey kicked the ball through the end zone on the opening kickoff and got the ball at least 5 yards deep in the end zone on every kickoff except the very last one. David Buehler just snuck a field goal inside the left upright from 42 yards that sure looked wide to me.
It seems like the defensive players are much more aggressive about going after the ball to force a fumble. Maybe that is something Rob Ryan preaches because guys were clawing and punching at the ball on almost every tackle.
The Cowboys don't seem to have much at punt returner behind Dez Bryant. Akwasi Owusu-Ansah dances around too much after he field the punt instead of getting up the field. Dwayne Harris ran backwards on his first two returns.
With Martellus Bennett missing the game with a sore hamstring, John Phillips picked up where he left off last preseason before he was injured. It looks like Marty B. needs to start looking over his shoulder again.
I didn't notice Tyron Smith very much which is a good thing. He was solid in pass protection although I thought he might have been partially responsible for a sack of Stephen McGee. From what I noticed he got the job done in the running game as well. I was happy to see the coaches get him a full half of playing time.
It will be interesting to see if David Arkin has any real shot at starting this season. The coaches gave him a full half of playing time at left guard.
I was hoping to get a good look at Lonyae Miller, but every time he got the ball it seemed like there was a breakdown in the run blocking. Either the blocking was really bad or he just isn't as good as some people thought. Phillip Tanner showed a lot more in his playing time than Miller did without a doubt.
I'm glad that the Cowboys signed Abram Elam and Gerald Sensabaugh because Barry Church looks like he still needs some work. He made Tim Tebow look great by biting on a run fake and letting a receiver get behind him for a big gain.
We aren't going to see many kick returns in the NFL this season based on this game. Most of the kickoffs resulted in a touchback.
I was hoping to see something from Dwayne Harris and he didn't disappoint. He had a nice kick return and a monster game catching the ball. His best play was a short pass over the middle that he took 76 yards for a TD. But he also made a great play with 15 seconds left in the game to score his second TD of the game. He has a lot more speed than I thought but he certainly isn't a speed burner. With the Cowboys lack of depth at wide receiver he needs to be ready to play this season and he appears to be.
I don't know what it is about Stephen McGee but the guy is just a winner. He plays average to poor for the majority of the game but when the clock hits 2 minutes in the 4th quarter he turns into Joe Montana. His pass on 4th and goal to win the game was awesome. He is really progressing into a decent backup quarterback.
The only significant injury in the game appears to be a left shoulder injury to Danny McCray. No word yet on whether it will be a lingering problem but his X-rays were negative.