Dak Prescott. Micah Parsons. Zack Martin. CeeDee Lamb. Trevon Diggs. DeMarcus Lawrence. Ezekiel Elliott. Tony Pollard. Anthony Brown. Jourdan Lewis. Dalton Schultz. Jayron Kearse. Malik Hooker. Leighton Vander Esch. Dorance Armstrong. All of these players sat. Barely that happened in the Dallas Cowboys’ preseason opener against the Denver Broncos on Saturday night could be considered an indicator for how the regular season will look.
Thank goodness for that, because it was all bad for the club in a stinker of a performance. The Cowboys picked up where they left off in 2021, committing a mountain of penalties that stymied offensive drives and continued opposing ones. The Broncos, playing the same number of backups as Dallas, were able to capitalize on those opportunities and held on to a 17-0 halftime lead to send the Cowboys back to the Pacific Coast 17-7 losers in their opener.
Here’s 10 notes from the game.
QB Will Grier didn't play but his case for QB2 improved
The Cowboys got the ball to start the game, but didn’t do much with it thanks to some errant passes from Cooper Rush. Locked in a battle to be Dak Prescott’s backup, Rush missed a wide open Jalen Tolbert on the first third down. On the second series Rush was almost pick-6’d and then made an overthrow on third down again.
On their third drive, Rush did connect with Dennis Houston on a 3rd-and-12 for a conversion, which may have settled him down. Or not, as the Cowboys went for it on 4th-and-2 instead of trying a 55-yard field goal (with shaky kickers who need to prove themselves) and Rush threw a pick.
Rush finished his day after one drive in the third quarter. He was 12 fo 20 for 84 yards and the one interception with a 48.8 passer rating.
Ben DiNucci, who is seen as a camp arm trying to hold onto a career at this point, came in and the offense looked much better. He led the only scoring drive, a touchdown pass to Simi Fehoko.
Tyler Smith starts off his pro career
All eyes are on the Cowboys’ first-round pick Tyler Smith, who got the starting nod at left guard while his camp competition Connor McGovern went in at right guard while Zack Martin took the game off.
Smith had great push on a rush on 2nd down, moving the Broncos’ D-lineman into the second level. On the next play, he wrestled his man to the ground in pass protection.
Nice pass pro by LG Tyler Smith. Takes his defender down pic.twitter.com/sIm1001yiN
— Billy M (@BillyM_91) August 14, 2022
Another solid rep in pass pro from Tyler Smith. More good than bad from him tonight pic.twitter.com/dRsKR1ULuR
— Billy M (@BillyM_91) August 14, 2022
Cowboys DL getting great push
Both Neville Gallimore and Quinton Bohanna started off the game strong. On the Broncos’ opening snap, Gallimore was in the backfield in an instant for a three-yard loss.
Bohanna followed with a tackle for no gain and then on Denver’s second possession he had another short-gain stop.
Battle for 3rd Tight End
There’s been rumbles that UDFA Peyton Hendershot out of Indiana is pushing for a spot on the 53-man roster. If the club is only going to keep three, then Sean McKeon is likely that guy behind Dalton Schultz and Jake Ferguson. But if they keep a fourth, veteran Jeremy Sprinkle being called for a hold on a 3rd-and-2 run in the first quarter isn’t going to help his case.
Hendershot had his number called several times and while his biggest play was called back due to a penalty, he certainly is looking like there’s an NFL player there.
Weird special teams decisions
The Cowboys received the opening kickoff. Normally, the preseason is about two things, avoiding injury and evaluating talent. Special teams get such little amount of opportunities it was stunning to see Kavontae Turpin, making his NFL debut, take a fair catch here.
Turpin also fair caught the first punt return, despite having a bit of space.
Later in the first quarter, another strange decision.
Dallas had converted a long third down but found themselves with a fourth down on the next set of downs. It was short, and instead of going for a 55-yard field goal attempt, head coach Mike McCarthy went for it.
The Cowboys cut one of their two kickers earlier in the week.
Why would they not have the kickers attempt in-game kicks at every opportunity?
Put a pin in this thought… the Cowboys didn't give their FG kickers a chance to try a 55-yarder in altitude, when they don't know what they have.
McCarthy better be adopting my go-for-it-all-the-time edict come regular season time…
— KD Drummond (@KDDrummondNFL) August 14, 2022
You get a flag, you get a flag, everybody gets a flag
One of the Cowboys’ biggest offseason focus areas was keeping the aggression but cutting down the penalties. Welp, that went out the window. Dallas was called for numerous penalties yet again. Once again some were phantom calls, but others were bad plays, including Dante Fowler getting a personal foul for pulling a Broncos’ player off a goal-line pile. On the next drive on a 3rd-and-13, Tarell Basham speared the QB on an incompletion and received his own personal foul.
Kelvin Joseph was offsides on a 58-yard end-of-half missed field goal, and the next kick was good. Two penalties directly led to 10 Denver points.
Cowboys' nine first-half penalties were most by any NFL team this preseason. Worth noting: Alex Kemp is tonight's referee. His officiating crew called the third-most penalties last season and led league in 2020.
— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) August 14, 2022
The Cowboys had 4th and 1 to start the second half and were called for a false start. They converted 4th-and-6 but it was called back for a hold on RT Aviante Collins.
Rookie Tyler Smith appears to be suffering from his collegiate and former LG Connor Williams’ reputation, as he was hit with one bad and one iffy holding penalty in the first half.
This was the iffy one:
WHERE IN THE FUCK IS THE HOLDING pic.twitter.com/Qj5trPCi64
— Burgers and Blitzes (@NotToBeTrite) August 14, 2022
In all, the Cowboys set the week high for penalties by a team in the preseason, with 17 called on them.
Josh Ball struggles
The Cowboys shouldn’t have been counting on fifth-round, small-school pick Matt Waletzko to be the swing tackle, but them not having anyone else on the roster besides Ball to backup Tyron Smith makes less and less sense by the day.
Ball gave up numerous pressures which resulted in sacks and batted passes as he was beat in a variety of ways. The bullrush got him, the spin move got him, as did the jab step. It was a bad performance and Will McClay better have a plan to put in place soon, or after Week 1 when veteran contracts aren’t guaranteed for the year.
Tyler Smith had many good plays and a couple of bad ones, but it looks like Connor Williams’ 2021 performance could be the first-round rookie’s floor with a much higher ceiling.
Sam Williams had a couple of good rushes and was called for a really bad roughing the passer penalty. No stats recorded.
Jalen Tolbert had a rough game, as he and Cooper Rush couldn’t get in sync. Rush missed him a couple times and then Tolbert dropped a slant on a fourth down when he heard footsteps. 2 catches for 10 yards on 7 attempts.
TE Jake Ferguson caught all three of his targets for 29 yards.
Daron Bland and Devon Harper showed up a handful of times each on defense.
The Cowboys appear like they will shift to more of a running offense this season, and that phase of the offense was on point. They ran the rock at above a five-yard-per carry clip for much of the game.
The best of the bunch was UDFA Malik Davis who made several nice runs in the second half. He may have a chance to be RB3 after all.
Nahshon Wright started off with good coverage but with each pass attempt that came his way his play deteriorated. He gave up a couple big plays and over 100 receiving yards.
Kelvin Joseph gave up a one-yard touchdown, but it wasn’t because of bad play. In fact, Joseph had a pretty good day which reverses trend from how things have been in camp and were on Thursday in the joint practice.
Fans should keep an eye on Daron Bland, who showed good coverage and nice tackling.