Fans of the Dallas Cowboys were thrilled with a riveting first quarter in their third preseason game against the St. Louis Rams. The offense was rolling, the defense collapsed on Rams' quarterback Sam Bradford and the Cowboys were up 17-3.
When the starters retreated to the sidelines in the second half, the Rams brought in a tougher defense that stifled the Cowboys. Ultimately, Dallas secured the victory, 20-19, but this game of highs and lows perfectly frames what the Cowboys could fall into during the regular season.
The Cowboys were clearly aided by the Rams' terrible defense in the first half. Blown coverage and missed tackles combined for a fully-fledged defensive collapse that should have Rams' coach Jeff Fisher mighty concerned.
The Cowboys, meanwhile, capitalized with Tony Romo throwing 198 yards in the first quarter for two touchdowns to Dwyane Harris. Harris didn’t have a single catch last year.
Explosive plays from Harris highlighted the game, but Kevin Ogletree and Cole Beasley—who in past weeks raced to lock up the No. 3 receiver spot—had some athletic catches. Beasley, in particular, played well in tandem with Kyle Orton and likely locked up a roster spot with his performance Saturday. Should the Cowboys see extended time without Miles Austin or Dez Bryant, they’d be relying heavily on Ogletree as the third wideout. On Saturday he had five catches for 75 yards.
For the much-maligned defense, Sean Lee had another great game. He broke up several passes and had a sack against Bradford. The cornerbacks also impressed, and the Cowboys look like they’re poised to have a great season from rookie Morris Claiborne.
However, the defense was still plagued by penalties in the redzone. In the first half, the Cowboys had a holding call that allowed the Rams a first-and-goal situation—though the Cowboys didn’t allow anything from there. In the second half, another redzone penalty led to a touchdown.
John Phillips had a mediocre night, and might prove a concern should the Cowboys be without tight end Jason Witten—who suffered a lacerated spleen in the Cowboys' 3-0 victory over the Oakland Raiders—for the season-opener.
Phillips saw a nice first-down catch taken away by some questionable calling from the replacement officials. Karma came back from the Cowboys when an apparent Orton fumble was ruled a spike. The miscommunication between center David Arkin and Orton is some concern. With the Cowboys' patchwork offensive line, it’s possible fans may see more fumbles and miscues once the regular season rolls in.
The tight score doesn’t reflect the teams that actually took the field. The Dallas starters looked poised and polished, ready to go for the regular season. But some of the concerns that manifested in Saturday’s preseason could come to haunt the team in the weeks to come.