ARLINGTON - Today the Cowboys return to the scene of some Saturday night success with an evening practice at AT&T Stadium. Before we turn to a new chapter, let’s leaf through 10 pages from Vikings-at-Dallas: 10 Cowboys Game Observations:
Observation 1. This defensive line is going to be fun to watch this season. … and fun for Rod Marinelli to assign funny nicknames to.
Randy Gregory had yet another sack, extending his preseason total to 3. He also had 2 QB hits on top of that.
“The lights are bright, but they’re not too bright for him,'' owner Jerry Jones said. "He’s going to be a big part of our success this year.”
While Gregory will get a lot of the praise - and rightfully so - other guys showed up as well.
Demarcus Lawrence helped flush the QB out on Gregory's sack and was a split second away from getting the sack on his own. Greg Hardy also flushed out the QB later on which led to another Randy Gregory sack that was called back due to defensive holding. Tyrone Crawford and Jeremy Mincey also had some disruptive plays in the backfield in limited playing time.
Observation 2. The defensive line has gotten a lot of recognition for generating pressure, but they were impressive against the run as well - holding Minnesota to 85 rushing yards on 32 carries (an average of just 2.6 yards). Terrell McClain and Greg Hardy teamed up for a big stop on 3rd & 1.
Davon Coleman also continued to dominate in terms of energy, recording 3 solo tackles, including 2 tackles for a total loss of 12 yards.
Observation 3. The Cowboys pass defense has given up a few long catches, but they have yet to give up a single passing touchdown through 3 preseason games. This secondary has shown that they'll bend but they're extremely tough to break. Much of this unit's success is due to an improved pass rush. However, a few of the defensive backs deserve some credit as well.
Corey White continued to impress, recording 3 tackles - including a tackle for a loss - and showed his ability as a blitzing CB by forcing a quick throw that resulted in another TFL. Brandon Carr gave up a long catch and had a pass interference call early in the game but made up for it with an interception and a pass breakup towards the end of the 1st half. Morris Claiborne nearly had an interception of his own if not for an offensive pass interference call. Rookie CB Byron Jones was beat for a 2-point conversion but made some nice tackles and continued to show his willingness to get physical and stick his nose in there. He made a really nice tackle in space on 3rd down short of the marker. Jones played some snaps at free safety, cornerback and even linebacker. The rookie has a lot on his plate but he has yet to back down from the challenge.
Observation 4. Another Cowboys defensive back who had a solid game was veteran safety Barry Church. He had 4 total tackles, including one rush that he stopped for no gain. Church is so good at recognizing the run and attacking. He has great vision of the ball and tremendous closing speed.
Observation 5. While we're talking about the defense - it sure was nice to see the leader of this group back on the field again. Of course, I'm talking about Sean "The General" Lee - who finished with 3 tackles and looked as sharp as ever. As good as it was to see No. 50 back out there, two other linebackers stood out big time. Andrew Gachkar and Jasper Brinkley. Gachkar finished the game with 5 total tackles, tied with Damien Wilson for most on the team. He made a big 3rd-and-1 stop to set up a punt as well as another 3rd down stop towards the end of the 1st half. Brinkley had 4 tackles, a 3rd down sack and a run stuff. It was definitely Brinkley's best game so far this preseason.
Brinkley might be an on-the-bubble guy; he battled that here.
Lee might be a Pro Bowler; he showed that here, though as he told Fish, “Adrenaline rush through the pregame, through the warmups, then you get out there and you take the first hit. It’s football, something you’ve done a lot. … At times, a little bit rusty. I think as I got into the flow of the game I got better and better, but I only played 15 to 20 plays. It’s about playing 60, 70 plays, being able to do that effectively.”
Observation 6. Now on to the offense. The first unit started out slow - ending their first two possessions in punts - but keep in mind that they were without Zack Martin and Dez Bryant. However, Tony Romo and the starters finally got into a groove and scored two 2nd-quarter touchdowns. The first was a 60-yard touchdown pass to Terrance Williams - who showed off his speed and ability to run after the catch. The second was a short touchdown to Lucky Whitehead in which Romo worked his magic by avoiding pressure, bought time in the pocket and allowed Whitehead to get open in the end zone.
Observation 7. Speaking of Whitehead, the rookie wideout didn't start this week as the primary kick returner, but he did make several nice plays. The play right before his touchdown catch, Whitehead made a key block on McFadden's 15 yard rush to put the Cowboys in the red zone. Whitehead also had a 37-yard kickoff return in the 4th quarter.
Will the Cowboys keep five receivers, Whitehead among them? Will they keep six, with Jenkins a candidate? (KD Drummond supports this idea, as he shows here in his 53-man projection; Bryan Broaddus suspects Dallas might find something better on the coming waiver wire).
Observation 8. Fans and media alike were quick to say that Darren McFadden should be the starter after his impressive performance vs the Vikings. After all, McFadden had 37 yards on just 4 carries (a 9.2 average) while Randle had a mere 15 yards on 6 carries (2.5 average).
“I think that what you saw was vintage McFadden,” Jerry Jones said. “You saw that acceleration. You saw his abilities.''
However, do you remember last week against the 49ers when Randle had more yards and a higher YPC average than McFadden?
Don't get me wrong, McFadden looked good, showing off his burst and speed, but Randle didn't look bad by any means. In fact, fans should be happy with Randle's performance. While the numbers aren't as "flashy" as McFadden's, Randle picked up some dirty yards - which is something that many fans wondered whether or not he was capable of. Sorry, #TeamMcFadden, but Randle is still in all likelihood the leader of the Cowboys RB by committee attack - and rightfully so. (Fish has more on "Dirty Randle" & "Flashy McFadden" here, in this CowboysHQ premium piece).
Observation 9. I like Dustin Vaughan. I mean, on a personal basis. He’s an extremely smart, hardworking, nice guy, but he's just been downright bad lately. Vaughan didn't throw any interceptions on Saturday, but he was 5 of 13 for just 38 yards and looked lost all night. He was consistently throwing behind people and didn't look comfortable in the pocket at any point. He was kind of like a squirrel in the middle of the road that panics when it sees a car and just runs around in circles until it gets hit.
If Vaughan wants to sneak onto the 53-man roster again, he'll have to cut out the mental mistakes and figure out a way to slow the game down and stay calm. With only one preseason game, his time is running out - if it hasn't already.
Observation 10. Special teams was once again pretty bad. They gave up a 107-yard kickoff return for a touchdown as well as a 23-yard punt return. However, there were some silver linings on special teams as well. Cole Beasley had a 40 yard punt return and Lucky Whitehead and Lance Dunbar each had 35+ yard kickoff returns. Dunbar also made a nice tackle on a kickoff to stop the returner short of the 20.
But concerned? Yes. In previous weeks, we could make the excuse that the coverage teams were a stitched-together bunch. But that wasn't the case here. The Paterson KO return, for instance, looked to come against 11 candidates to truly be on that unit Sept. 13. So this is one area that we can't just say "turn the page''; they need to turn the tide.