Some were surprised by the fact that Darren McFadden started over Joseph Randle in the Dallas Cowboys Sunday night preseason loss at San Francisco. Former Cowboys WR Jesse Holley even took to Twitter to suggest that this means that McFadden is "the guy" for Dallas and even called him a better runner than Randle.
I disagree with this completely.
Randle is a perfect fit in this Cowboys zone blocking scheme because of his vision, quickness and elusiveness, which is why I believe he's "the guy" for this team. They've already seen Randle work with the starters and know what to expect from him. Could it be that the coaches started McFadden because they just wanted to evaluate him behind some of the starting o-linemen since he's spent the majority of training camp rehabbing off to the side? McFadden finished the night with 3 rushes for 4 yards. It was a small sample size, but it wasn't exactly impressive.
Jo Randle changing direction https://t.co/VGjsB44VeA— Patrick Conn (@DraftCowboys) August 24, 2015
Randle, on the other hand, had a solid game, recording 7 rushes for 30 yards. On one play, he took the ball to the right but had nowhere to go. But instead of getting tackled for a loss, Randle broke a tackle, ran to the other side of the field and gained 6 yards. Randle also showed some physicality and ability to pick up some dirty yards. He did have a holding penalty in pass protection but is showing some improvement in that area at times. Oh, and just for fun, Randle averaged 4.3 YPC and forced 4 missed tackles. In the Eagles 2nd preseason game, DeMarco Murray averaged 3.4 YPC and forced 1 missed tackle.
"I needed it,'' Randle said of the work. "I didn't just want it. I needed it."
@cowboynation8 I think all backs are in play that might be available if price is right.— Bryan Broaddus (@BryanBroaddus) August 25, 2015
Of course, the front office will keep working, too ...
Jack Crawford's success from last week carried over into this week. Crawford had a sack/forced fumble vs San Diego followed up by a big tackle for a loss in the red zone vs San Francisco. After a very solid camp and an impressive preseason, Jack is a lock to make the team as the backup 3-tech DT, in my opinion. His versatility is key too. Another weapon for Marinelli to play with.
Corey White was arguably the most impressive player on the field last week - recording 2 pass breakups and allowing a passer rating of just 47.9 against the Chargers. On Sunday, he had another pass breakup, this time on 3rd down in the end zone to hold the 49ers to a field goal. Quite a way to celebrate the birth of his daughter that happened just last week.
Rookie DE Randy Gregory was even more dominant in his 2nd preseason game. He recorded a sack and a QB hurry last week. Against the 49ers, Gregory had yet another sack and would've had 2 more if the offensive tackle hadn't held him twice. Still, he was able to draw two holding penalties so still a win. Gregory also made a nice run stop by quickly getting off a double team and quickly getting to the running back to make the tackle for a short gain. If Gregory continues his upward trend, the Cowboys may have come away with the steal of the draft in this young man.
Randy Gregory gets the qb. https://t.co/AtEsaL6Udy— Patrick Conn (@DraftCowboys) August 24, 2015
Gregory wasn't the only young Cowboys defensive lineman who had a solid game, Ryan Russell, Ben Gardner and Davon Coleman were all impressive as well. Russell had a sack, a QB hurry and 3 tackles. He also had a tackle for a loss that was wiped out by a face mask penalty. Gardner also had a sack, a QB hurry and 2 tackles. Coleman was especially impressive vs the run, recording 2 run stuffs, including one on 3rd & 1 in the red zone to hold the 49ers to a field goal. He's also the one who set up Gregory's sack by getting the initial pressure on Kaepernick.
Speaking of young pass rushers, Efe Obada has consistently gotten better and better. Obada had 2 QB hurries to go along with a tackle on Sunday night. The native-Brit is still extremely raw, but he is taking his coaching and applying it and it's showing. If he continues to do this, he might start to reach his enormous potential much sooner than expected. Keep working your magic, Marinelli!
"I thought he's really shown his rush ability,'' Rod said of Randy, adding, "The first couple of groups are starting to rush a little bit."
While guys like White, Gregory, Gardner and Jack Crawford carried over their success from last week's game, there were some guys who weren't able to do that. Damien Wilson recorded 4 tackles, but he missed several tackles as well and didn't seem as confident. The player who struggled most after having a solid game last week, however, was Dustin Vaughan. Vaughan completed 7 of 16 passes for 84 yards and 2 interceptions. Vaughn showed extremely poor decision making when under pressure.
He tried to force several throws tight coverage and was extremely inaccurate. Lucky he didn't have 3 or 4 interceptions. He also needs to work on his velocity. Every pass is a bullet. On one play, Vaughan didn't have anyone open down field, so he tried to throw a dump-off pass to Ben Malena - who was just 6 yards away from him. However, he threw the ball as hard as he could and about 3 feet over his head despite not facing any pressure. To Vaughan's credit, he did make a very good throw on 3rd down to move the chains despite getting hit hard as he was throwing.
While Vaughan struggled, rookie QB Jameill Showers was once again somewhat impressive. Their numbers were pretty similar, Vaughan had a 43.75 completion %, 84 yards and 2 interceptions. Showers had a 47.05 completion %, 80 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception. The main difference between these QB's is that while Vaughan seems to panic under pressure, Showers remains extremely calm and poised, keeping his eyes downfield looking for an open target at all times. Showers still has a lot to work on, but the rookie QB is off to a nice start.
One guy who was pretty bad last week did a much better job vs the 49ers. OT Darrion Weems gave up a sack and 4 QB hurries vs the Chargers, which got fans worried about him being the team's swing tackle. However, Weems showed some nice improvement this week. He still gave up a sack but didn't allow any QB hurries. He even held his own against Pro Bowler Ahmad Brooks.
Look who blocked a pro bowler again? https://t.co/ke1lE16q6p— Joey Ickes (@JoeyIckes) August 24, 2015
La'el Collins gave up a sack and a couple of QB hurries, but did a nice job staying in position throughout the game. Wasn't as dominant as he was at times last week vs the Chargers, but was more consistent overall.
While the spotlight was on Joseph Randle and Darren McFadden, a couple of other running backs had solid performances too. Gus Johnson, who dislocated his shoulder vs the Chargers, fought through it and made the most of his opportunities - recording 3 catches for 24 yards. He also made a nice block in pass protection. Michael Hill, who was signed by the team earlier in the week, had 3 carries for 16 yards. He gained 11 yards on his first carry, breaking 2 tackles and showing really good balance.
A couple of Cowboys tight ends made some nice plays on Sunday. Escobar dropped a 3rd down pass early on but bounced back with back-to-back tough catches for 18 yards. However, the real star was rookie TE Geoff Swaim. The 7th round pick was mostly viewed as a blocking TE coming out of college, but he is showing that he is much more than that. Swaim led the team with 4 catches and 57 yards, including a 16 yard catch on 4th and 15 to put the Cowboys in position to score their lone touchdown of the night. He also made a couple really tough catches in tight coverage and took some big shots while coming down with the ball. Swaim is starting to show folks why the Cowboys traded back into the 7th round to grab him.
Speaking of pass-catchers: With Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley and maybe even Devin Street as locks to make the team, it'll be very difficult for these young WR's to make the roster - especially with one spot likely reserved for Lucky Whitehead. However, two guys to keep an eye on are AJ Jenkins and David Porter. Jenkins - a former 1st round pick of the 49ers - had 2 great catches for 40 yards. Porter, who was signed by the team just last week, also had 3 catches for 30 yards.
Some are concerned with the fact that the Cowboys allowed 158 rushing yards, but keep in mind that they didn't have any of their top 3 LB's on the field in Lee, McClain or Hitchens. Their starting defensive linemen didn't play much either. However, while the Cowboys struggled against the run, they've been solid against the pass. The Cowboys haven't allowed more than 75 passing yards in their first two preseason games and haven't given up a single passing touchdown.
Another area that fans are worried about is special teams. The Cowboys gave up several big punt returns, had a blocked punt that was returned for a TD and a missed FG. However, don't worry too much about this. Teams experiment with special teams in the preseason. They try different combinations of player and mix up personnel to evaluate all of the young guys. Half of the guys on the special teams coverage unit won't even be on the team when the regular season starts. One guy that most likely will be here when the season starts is Lucky Whitehead - who had 2 kickoffs and 1 punt return of 25+ yards - and he didn't fumble either!
Danny McCray ain't the special teams demon he used to be. Outside my 53 . Don't give much play at safety ei... https://t.co/rcbBqQtX7H— Dustin Laratonda (@DaBigEasy24) August 24, 2015
“We weren’t consistent in our execution in any of the three phases. Just really didn’t play well,” coach Jason Garrett said. “It wasn’t a very good kicking game.”
Want to shrug this off as "just another meaningless preseason loss''? It is that ... But Fish, fresh from the locker room, is working on a deeper, Premium take ...
No need for overreaction. But coaches + team leaders seeking precision and excecution were disappointed v SF https://t.co/N3xHPg2ev8— mike fisher (@fishsports) August 25, 2015
For now, though, as it relates to special teams for sure: Remember that these Teams groups won't be together come Sept. 13 against the Giants ... or, at least, based on the groups' work here ... I hope not.