It’s been a rough and tumultuous offseason filled with disappointment and frustration. The Cowboys were able to confront that tonight and walk away feeling confident and sure. The first team was exceptional, and as a group, they can feel like they’re headed in the right direction.
However, the preseason isn’t about wins or losses, and it isn’t about scores or records—it’s about individual performances. There are concerns about players, roster spots and hype. After all, this is a game about winning and losing, not just as a team, but also as an individual. Here are the Cowboys' winners and losers.
Morris Claiborne was incredible this evening. After struggling through most of camp, he seems to have reestablished his swagger.
Claiborne wasn’t targeted too much at the beginning of the game, but that was due more in part to his good coverage. The Rams did get testy, though, and tried to get Claiborne twice in the end zone in the second quarter.
Claiborne accepted the challenge, playing physical with Austin Pettis along the sideline to break up a leaping attempt by Pettis. Then he was targeted along the back of the end zone and had a beautiful diving swat on a pass attempt to Steve Smith.
This comes as great news to Cowboys fans, as a once nauseating secondary is now extremely dangerous. Claiborne proved why he worth trading up for and has the fanbase excited after a good showing in his first game at Cowboys Stadium.
Doug Free has been extremely hard for us to figure out. Sometimes he’s very good, and sometimes he’s very bad. Against the Rams, he was very bad.
Free consistently gets beat; he plays at a 1:1 ratio of blocking (one good block, one bad block).
At times, he looked clueless off the line. He was slow at the snap, but even more notable, he just didn’t seem to have power.
On one particular play, I watched Free get knocked on his butt by Chris Long.
I get that Chris Long is an elite defensive lineman, but I expect Free to be able to at least be able to initiate blocks. I think this is something to watch closely, because Free could be gone next season if he keeps playing this poorly.
DeMarco Murray has been playing limited minutes this offseason. The Cowboys are giving him the “Emmitt” treatment.
Limited snaps doesn't mean limited production. Murray has made the most out of every snap and assured Cowboys fans that he’s ready for the season. Murray looked quick, decisive and smooth in the Rams game, often times seeing cut lanes before they even developed.
If Murray is a great runner, he is every bit as great of a pass-catcher. He looked smart in route-running, locating soft-zone coverages and making the easy catches. When in the open field, he’s deadly with his ability to make players miss.
This could be a great season for Murray.
Felix Jones is every bit the explosive runner the Cowboys always thought he was. The problem? That’s all he is.
Felix has virtually no ability to impact a game in any other level. As a kick returner, he gets too focused on breaking the big one and seems to forget that getting to the 20-yard line is important enough.
One of the most important things stressed to running backs is picking up the blitz. This is Jones’ most deficient area. He doesn’t understand what defenses are doing, and his inability to pick it up is going to get Romo hurt.
Against the Rams, Felix Jones' inability to locate the blitz contributed directly to the Dunbar sack and forced fumble on Kyle Orton. This isn’t acceptable, even for a former first-round pick.
John Phillips was magnificent on Saturday. Forget the meager stat line, the guy straight-out balled tonight. I would even call him Witten-esque.
Phillips had two great catches that were negated by questionable calls by the referees. One was a jumping catch in the red zone over Ram’s defenders. The second was a catch in traffic that ended up being ruled incomplete because he didn’t finish the motion of the catch.
Nonetheless, Phillips looked sure-handed and competent in every aspect of the game.
Additionally, James Hanna has proven that he can be a weapon in the passing game. He runs good routes and has good hands. Hanna has every bit the chance to be a heck of an Aaron Hernandez-type tight end, and he’ll flourish in this offense.
The Cowboys' kick coverage was outright horrid. When you allow over 25 yards per return, you’ve failed in your job. Period.
Isaiah Pead averaged 31 yards per return over three returns.
To make matters worse, the best special teams player on the Cowboys' roster, Danny McCray, left in the second quarter with an apparent neck strain.
Tonight, I saw a ton of missed tackles and players getting held up on blocks. The Cowboys will need to fix this quick. It’s a game of field position, and this isn’t a place to lose it.
With Dez Bryant and Miles Austin out, the Cowboys looked slim at receiver. Dwayne Harris and Kevin Ogletree got the start, with rookie Cole Beasley playing in the slot.
They didn’t disappoint.
Dwayne Harris exploded this game and showed what kind of receiver he can be. He displayed excellent speed and disciplined route-running. Harris scored two touchdowns, from 38 yards and 61 yards, and seems to have locked up his roster spot.
Most impressive was his 38-yard touchdown, where he ran right through the gap between the corner and safety and scampered all the way down the sideline.
Cole Beasley looked comfortable all game. He simply looked smooth when running routes. The Rams had trouble staying with him, and they allowed him to make catches all over the place.
Beasley is every bit of the high-reception slot receiver that people believe he is. He proved on Saturday that he’s a viable option against any defense and could be a good player looking forward.
Kevin Ogletree might have actually been a loser tonight, but I didn’t have the heart to put him there. Ogletree wasn’t explosive, but he looked extremely consistent. On one particular play, he was able to get off press coverage with a smooth stutter-step and was wide open along the sideline for a big gain.
The third receiver position is his to lose, but some of his snaps might have been lost Saturday night because of big play elsewhere.
Well, it’s unfortunate, to say the least.
Raymond Radway would have made the team last year. Andre Holmes was a giant disappointing hype machine created by Jerry Jones. Danny Coale was a fifth-round pick who was plagued by injury.
They were just victims of this cruel world.
I don’t see a situation where any of these guys rank higher on the depth chart than Harris, Ogletree or Beasley. They just haven’t shown that ability to play against true NFL-caliber defenses. It’s a tough thing for some of these guys, but production is what matters, and there just isn’t much that these guys have done that is noteworthy.
I don’t know where this version of Barry Church came from, but I like it.
Church didn’t generate any game-changing plays or a phenomenal stat-line, but he was incredibly consistent. Church seemed to be in on every play. He pursues running backs very well and was seemingly in on every tackle.
One thing I really noticed about Church this game is that he always puts himself in good position. He isn’t always trying to make a big play; he plays smart, and he keeps everything in front of him.
Church really impressed me on Saturday. One thing that can’t be discarded is how he was able to line up his teammates and run the defense. He’ll be relied upon heavily this season, and after tonight’s dress rehearsal, it’s hard to see him not living up to expectations.
Talk about a bust.
Marcus Spears has been nothing but a giant let down, and that continued tonight. He has had a trying preseason, and the coaches gave him plenty of opportunities against the Rams.
According to my watch, Spears rotated into the game throughout the first three quarters. He played significantly with the second-team defense and produced minimally.
Spears has one very serious problem. I made sure to keep an eye on him during the game and noticed that he has extreme difficulty getting off blocks. I saw him battle and twist with all that he could, and he just couldn’t shed the block while running backs were running right past him.
Spears has been given a lot of chances during his tenure in Dallas to prove himself. Unfortunately, after tonight, his time has run out.
We know that Tony Romo is safe. There isn’t much question about that. The reason he is labeled a “winner” is because of how effective he is.
There has been talk that the Cowboys are in a lot of trouble with some of their big names being unavailable. My major argument is that Tony Romo makes the people around him better.
Romo was able to put together an incredible stat line with his three biggest targets on the sideline. Romo went 9-of-13 for 193 yards and two touchdowns. He compiled a 151.4 quarterback rating.
That’s pretty dang good.
So Tony is a winner tonight—not because he played well, but because he put a foot in all of his hater's mouths.
Good Job, Tony.