It’s one game — that is what Dallas Cowboys fans should tell themselves after one preseason game. One game won’t define the Cowboys’ preseason or their regular season, even if there were plenty of things to feel good about in the 28-24 loss to the Los Angeles Rams. So as the Cowboys prepare for preseason game No. 2, here are five things not to overreact to coming out of the Rams game.
Don’t overreact to … Dak Prescott’s big night. Should you feel encouraged and pleased by what you saw? Absolutely. I saw a quarterback that was far more comfortable in an NFL pocket than I expected in his first preseason game. There’s a term we like to use — “the game wasn’t bigger than him.” I think that aptly describes Prescott’s game against the Rams. He went 10-for-12 for 139 yards and two touchdowns. He made basically two mistakes, and neither had serious impact on the game. Plus, I like how the Cowboys tweaked their offense to fit Prescott’s skill set. That’s one question I’ve always had about head coach Jason Garrett and his offensive staff — could they make that adjustment if they found a quarterback with that run/pass skill set? That was encouraging. You should also be encouraged by Prescott’s touchdown pass to Terrance Williams. He was patient in the pocket, looked off the defense, used a pump fake and made a perfect throw to Williams. And after that second touchdown pass, I tweeted this:
Yep, that’s the temptation. One game does not an NFL quarterback make. In fact, I expect Prescott to struggle a bit when he faces the Miami Dolphins on Friday for a couple of reasons. First, that’s being a good student of the NFL for a decade talking. Rookies tend to have more problems as the preseason and regular season go along. Second, the Miami Dolphins now have a half’s worth of film on Prescott, a luxury the Rams did not have in terms of preparation. You better believe the Dolphins will sic a couple of quality control coaches on that first half of film, dissect it all and have a game plan for Prescott. I always like to say the NFL has a way of figuring you out, and there’s an easy way to figure out who the great players are. How do they adjust when you take away what they do best? I get the feeling we’ll see a little of that on Friday, whether Prescott starts the game or not. And if Jameill Showers starts over Prescott, don’t blow your top. The Cowboys have to figure out what Showers can give them with the first-team defense, too.
It will help, of course, when Ezekiel Elliott is part of the backfield. He did walkthrough work on Monday morning but isn't scheduled to fully practice yet. We're betting Tuesday is that day ... and CHQ is in Oxnard watching, of course.
And by the way, nothing about what happened on Saturday night has changed my mind about the need for a veteran backup quarterback. I say you still make that move at some point.
2. Don’t overreact to ... Geoff Swaim’s and Andy Jones’ drops. It’s not good, of course, especially for players that are fighting for jobs. But it’s one game and there’s a solid chance that Swaim makes the team anyway, as the Cowboys kept four tight ends last year and two of the current tight ends — Gavin Escobar and James Hanna — have fought injuries this offseason. As for Jones, he had a tough road to make the final 53-man roster to being with. But it’s still possible because Jones has had such a good camp to this point. The Cowboys aren’t likely to overreact to Swain’s and Jones’ drops … yet. But another game like Saturday’s and both could be in real trouble.
3. Don’t overreact to … Lucky Whitehead’s kickoff return for a touchdown. OK, you can overreact a little. In fact, let’s watch it again shall we?
I mean that’s a great way to start a football game, right?
I say don’t overreact because Whitehead, in my opinion, wasn’t in much danger of not making the team. Yes, our Mike Fisher has been reporting that Whitehead has had a case of the “dropsies” in training camp. But there clearly isn’t anyone else on this roster that blends Whitehead’s speed, experience, field vision and elusiveness into one package on kickoff and punt returns. Frankly, he’s supposed to do things like he did on Saturday night. I also say don’t overreact because he’s not going to do that every time he returns the ball, probably because most teams are going to kick it deep for the touchback, even though offenses get the ball at their own 25. It’s a better value proposition for the defense. Whitehead returned 16 kickoffs last year. It might be fewer in 2016.
4. Don’t overreact to … the Cowboys blowing a 24-7 lead. It’s the preseason. It’s the first preseason game. In the second half the Cowboys were playing a large number of players that won’t even be on the team in a month. If it was the first-string defense, I’d be highly concerned.
5. Don’t overreact to ... the lack of a pass rush. At least not just yet. The Cowboys managed just one sack, coming from Shaneil Jenkins, a player the Cowboys signed just a week ago. They hit the quarterback seven times, but only two of those hits came from players that our Mike Fisher projects in his Final 53 — David Irving and Jack Crawford. Jenkins came out of the game with the biggest boost with his sack and two quarterback hits. But all of the stunting and creativity from defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli didn’t yield a lot of numbers on the stat sheet.
So why not overreact? Because we all know what the Cowboys are trying to do right now. They’re trying to figure out how to manufacture a pass rush without Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence for at least four games. That’s not something you figure out in one game. But, fast-forwarding to practice today: Benson Mayowa (along with fellow defenders Maliek Collins and Damien Wilson) have been moved off injury lists and to the eligible-to-practice roster.
"It's a great opportunity here,'' Mayowa said this morning. "I just gotta keep working hard. Starts today for me."