It seemed like two minutes ago the Cowboys were closing out a 3-0 win against the Raiders. Well, here we are in week two of the preseason and the Cowboys have emerged out of this contest on the losing end. But fear not, the Cowboys did show some vast improvement in this game and that started by taking a 10-0 lead into halftime.
The Cowboys' first units on both sides of the ball outplayed the Chargers, and that was the most encouraging sign of all. But regardless of the outcome of this contest, the preseason is still all about getting better, evaluating players, sorting out position battles and figuring out who the best 53 men are to go to war with.
So what did this game tell us about the Cowboys? Here is what we learned.
Brandon Carr can play: The Cowboys' crown jewel of the offseason free-agency haul showed why he was worthy of a king's ransom. Carr had two interceptions of Phillip Rivers on the night and really showcased the skill set the Cowboys have been lacking at cornerback. He was physical in press coverage, he played off-man well and really goes after the ball.
A lot of cornerbacks have trouble locating and catching the ball, but Carr is a true ball-hawk. He will have a profound impact on this defense and this team. Help in the secondary has arrived.
Tony Romo looked sharp: Romo had plenty of time to throw tonight and it showed in his play. He was patient, he worked the entire field and showed his usual ability to elude defenders. What I liked about his performance was that he didn't force too many passes and he utilized DeMarco Murray out of the backfield. I like the way Murray works in space and he could be a nice safety valve for Romo.
Jamize Olawale has a chance to make this team: This could be the big, thumping running back the Cowboys can use for short yardage situations and possibly even goal line plays as well. At the very least, he has put himself in the mix for the No. 3 running back spot. He has a nice combination of size and deceptive quickness, and he does a nice job of following his blocks while using his strength to gain yardage.
Kevin Ogletree has stepped up: Ogletree finished with four catches for 60 yards on the night, including a 35-yard reception from Kyle Orton that setup a touchdown. On that reception, he went up over two defenders and really made a tough catch, but it was the kind of play that could cement his spot as the No. 3 receiver. This could be a big statement from Ogletree but he needs to continue making plays.
Penalties are still a problem: I know it's preseason but the Cowboys have to clean up their mistakes or this will mushroom into a discipline problem. David Arkin is someone that comes to mind in this category and that can't continue if he will see significant playing time. I wouldn't push the panic button yet, but the mistakes need to be mitigated.
The kickoff return game is non-existent: Again, I know it's preseason, but Teddy Williams and his track speed are simply not an option on kickoff returns. Ultimately, the plan might be to use Felix Jones, but right now, this unit has shown very little in the way of anything.
The first team defense looks solid: I was impressed with the first team defense tonight and not just because of Carr's two interceptions. They now have six shutout quarters through two preseason games and are showing dramatic signs of improvement from last year already.
With DeMarcus Ware absent from tonight's contest, Victor Butler was able to get a sack on San Diego's first possession. He made a nice outside, inside move on the left tackle and sacked Rivers. That possession was a three-and-out for the defense. Morris Claiborne looked fine for his first action and Barry Church continues to show why he cost Brodney Pool his job.
Cole Beasley and Dwayne Harris will make this team: Harris started tonight's game alongside Dez Bryant and he responded with four catches for 42 yards and a touchdown. He ran solid routes, he looked comfortable and he made some tough catches.
Beasley simply took advantage of his opportunities tonight and he finally gave the fans something to get excited about. He looked really fluid, he had some nice yardage after the catch and you can just see the type of skill he can bring to this offense—a la Wes Welker. He finished the game with seven catches for 107 yards.
Suddenly, the wide receiver corps is starting to sort itself out.
Mario Butler has clamped down on the fifth cornerback spot: Butler has continued his solid play and it was on full display tonight. What impressed me was that twice he showed great run support and shot up the field to make two nice tackles. He was solid in coverage and also took some reps at safety. He did miss a tackle on a deep pass-play but that happens in preseason.
His versatility could really be an asset for this defense, and overall, he really looks comfortable out there.
Stephen McGee had a rough, rough night: The Stephen McGee project was derailed in this game but it wasn't totally his fault. His protection was poor and defenders had some clear shots at him, but he struggled with accuracy and turned the ball over. He still might emerge as the third quarterback but this game did not help his chances at all.
Conversely, Rudy Carpenter played pretty well and finished with 78 yards passing and a touchdown to Dwayne Harris. The third quarterback spot will come down to the wire, but we did learn a valuable lesson tonight—the Cowboys are in good hands with Kyle Orton as the backup.
The good news for the Cowboys is that two preseason games are now historical events. Two events that are the first two building blocks for the season.