Cowboys QBs Review: Only 1 Disaster
Brandon Weeden looked poised and tactical in the Cowboys' opening series of a Thursday preseason opener it would eventually lose, 17-7, at San Diego. He hit third-year wideout Terrance Williams, who was the go-to guy because Dez Bryant was sitting out, in stride to convert a first-and-10 and a third-and-11. Weeden also hit Cole Beasley for a first down on third-and-6. When the Cowboys were sitting with first down at the Chargers 32-yard line, as a Cowboys fan, you had to believe for a moment Dallas' run to the playoffs could continue if Romo had to miss time.
Then, it happened.
Travis Frederick hiked the shotgun snap to an unprepared Weeden, who bobbled the ball and let it slip away. When Weeden caught up to it, Chargers defensive tackle Ricardo Mathews was there too. Maybe it was preseason and Weeden didn't want to get injured over an inconsequential play, or maybe Cowboys fans have been spoiled by Romo's Jedi skills in those disastrous moments. Whatever the case, Weeden's halfhearted slap at the loose football reinforced Dallas fans' worst nightmares of when 9 goes down. The team simply doesn't have a chance.
"I didn't catch it,'' Weeden said later. "It was a disaster after that.''
The sad thing was Weeden had a respectable outing on the stat sheet. He finished the game going 4/5 for 42 yards and a 101.7 passer rating. Aside from the fumble, he was pleased with the performance of the "first team" that didn't feature Romo, Bryant, Jason Witten, Tyron Smith, Doug Free, or even one of the top three running backs from the Committee to Replace Murray
"I thought overall we functioned extremely well," said Weeden. "The communication was really good; everyone was on the same page. We converted some third downs and had some pretty good chunks on first downs. Overall, we did some good things, and if you take away the last play, it was a positive drive."
Contrast Weeden's slap with second-year quarterback Dustin Vaughan out of West Texas A&M. On a second-and-8 from the Dallas 10, Vaughan dropped back near the goal line and sustained pressure as backup left tackle Darrion Weems let Chargers pass-rusher slip by. Rather than panic, take a sack, fumble, or loft up an easy interception, Vaughan used Romo's patented spin-left to evade the rusher, take a slide, and pick up a personal foul call for a late hit on a sliding quarterback.
That wasn't the first time Vaughan used some Romo-esque moves in the pocket. On the second drive -- Vaughan's first of the game -- he scrambled away from defenders all the while keeping his eyes downfield. He saw the open man, tight end Gavin Escobar, and converted a third-and-4 with a 21-yard pass.
That might've been a wrong read or a slow read. But it was a big play. That's what I'm talking about.
Vaughan finished the night going 12 for 18 for 106 yards and an 82.2 passer rating, but he wasn't the only young Dallas quarterback to show mature traits last night. Undrafted free agent Jameille Showers from UTEP also showed collection and good footwork in his two series against San Diego. Statistically, Showers had a 55.1 passer rating, only completing five passes out of 11 attempts for 40 yards, which hardly looks impressive. But make no mistake: some of those passes were routine drops by George Farmer, Deontay Greenberry, and A.J. Jenkins, guys who need all the good plays they can get to make this roster. Showers put the ball in spots for his receivers to make plays. It's a team sport after all.
"For me, as a free agent,'' said Showers, who even played as a kick returner and also made a tackle in special-teams coverage, "every opportunity I get is gold.''
2015 may be doomed if Romo goes down. But under the guidance of Scott Linehan and Wade Wilson, the philosophy of Garrett, and playing with All-Pro talent, Showers and Vaughan just bought themselves more time to examine how close they could become to being real NFL players especially if Romo doesn't play until his forties.
With the talent on the Cowboys offense right now, all a quarterback has to do is not turn the ball over. A quarterback with great ball security, a la Russell Wilson, would flourish throwing to Dez, Williams, and Beasley with Tyron, Travis, and Zack Martin providing that time to through the progressions.
There are some "bugs'' to work out ...
... But if Vaughan and Showers continue to demonstrate good ball security and making good decisions with their second, third, and fourth team units, then serious consideration needs to be given to let at least one of these young signal callers have a shot with the first team just to see what the Romo-down scenario of 2015 and the Romo-retired future of beyond will look like.