The Dallas Cowboys defense was in midseason form Thursday night in a 27-7 loss to the San Diego Chargers in Week 1 of the NFL preseason.
In fact, the Chargers didn't even throw an incomplete pass until the fourth quarter and finished with 395 total yards. Kellen Clemens led the way with 134 passing yards and a touchdown, while Dontrelle Inman tallied 107 receiving yards and a touchdown.
As for the Cowboys offense, it was much more effective in the first half under Brandon Weeden. Weeden threw for 107 yards and a touchdown.
With a number of superstars sitting out this game, including Tony Romo, it looked appropriately sloppy early. Neither team found the scoreboard in the opening 15 minutes, and the first quarter was defined by missed opportunities more than anything else.
However, Dallas got the scoring started in the second quarter with an impressive strike from Weeden (no, that is not a typo). He put it right where James Hanna could catch it, and the receiver responded by hauling it in.
Brandon George of The Dallas Morning News highlighted the play:
Not to be outdone, the Chargers responded and finally found pay dirt against the Dallas defense. Branden Oliver, who was arguably the best player on the field in the first half, scampered to the end zone from 16 yards out to tie the game.
George and David Moore of The Dallas Morning News were more critical of the Cowboys defense than complimentary of San Diego’s offense, though:
The Chargers added a field goal before intermission and took a 10-7 lead into the locker room.
Despite only allowing 10 points, the Dallas defense was far from great in the first half. It allowed 221 total yards and let Oliver tally 64 on the ground on only seven carries. What’s more, Philip Rivers and Clemens were a perfect 7-of-7 for 110 yards through the air.
It wasn’t all good news for the Chargers either, though, as Kevin Acee and Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego pointed out:
As the second half started, the Cowboys removed Weeden in favor of Caleb Hanie. It was clear the offense was missing something it had in the first 30 minutes, and Drew Davison of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram pointed out just how effective Weeden was under center:
Weeden discussed his mentality coming into the start, via Todd Archer of ESPNDallas.com:
We want Tony to play all 16 games but if I’m thrown into the fire these are the guys I’m going to be communicating with and relying on both ways to get the job done. This is exciting but at the same time it’s important for me. I want to go out and play well and put together as many drives as we are out there and put together some successful drives.
San Diego's offense didn't show any rust out of the locker room. Clemens threw a perfect strike along the sidelines to Inman, who sprinted the rest of the way for the game's most exciting play. In all, it was a 70-yard touchdown pass that gave the Chargers a 17-7 lead.
Gehlken described the play from San Diego's perspective, while Rowan Kavner of DallasCowboys.com provided the Cowboys' side of things:
It was Clemens' fifth straight completion, and Bleacher Report's Matt Miller was far from surprised:
Schuyler Dixon of the Associated Press at least had the excuse ready for the Dallas defense:
When it rains, it pours, and the Cowboys turned the ball over on their next possession. Hanie was sacked from behind and coughed it up, and the Chargers responded two plays later with yet another touchdown to push the lead to 24-7.
It was Thomas Keiser who forced the fumble and Kerwynn Williams who found the end zone from a yard out. Acee made a point of highlighting Keiser's production:
The Dallas offense continued to struggle under Hanie's direction after falling behind by 17, and Kavner tried to get at the reasoning:
Heading into the fourth quarter, the Chargers were a perfect 12-of-12 throwing the ball. It's just the preseason, but it would be understandable for Cowboys fans to feel a bit worried. However, Clarence Hill of the Star-Telegram tried to give Dallas fans a bit of a pep talk:
The completion streak finally came to an end at the 14:24 mark of the fourth quarter when third-string quarterback Brad Sorensen overthrew an open receiver down the middle of the field. The Chargers added a field goal on that drive and extended the lead to 27-7.
Things didn't get much better for Dallas when it had the ball in the final quarter. The offense was stagnant for the majority of the second half, and David Helman of DallasCowboys.com noted that the receivers simply weren't playing like they had in camp:
The news got worse for the Cowboys in the final minutes of the game, as Hill pointed out:
Dallas finally got something going with Dustin Vaughan under center in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter. In fact, he drove the Cowboys down the field and got the ball inside the 5-yard line. Helman and Aaron Nagler of Bleacher Report were certainly impressed:
In a fitting end, though, Vaughan was sacked on a fourth-down play, and Dallas came away without a point.
Alas, it was the last gasp for the Cowboys, and the Chargers won 27-7.
Dallas returns home Aug. 16 against the Baltimore Ravens for its second preseason game, while the Chargers travel to Seattle to take on the defending champs Aug. 15.
Of course, any time you are going up against a defense as strong as Seattle's, it represents an important opportunity to see how regular season-ready the offense is, even if it is only an August game.
For the Cowboys, Romo's performance will be of particular interest. It always is, but he missed the first contest Thursday night. That means it will be the first time Dallas fans get a look at their signal-caller before the 2014 season.
Perhaps it will help them forget about their defense.