Dallas Cowboys: The Good and Bad from Oakland
There was plenty to like and dislike following the second preseason game for the Dallas Cowboys.
It's hard to feel as though a two-point loss in Oakland was something positive following last week's impressive performance against Miami in Canton, Ohio.
This contest was mired by critical errors that must be eliminated prior to the season opener against the New York Giants. Chances are, these will be ironed out in time, especially considering those who were responsible for some of the mistakes.
On the flip side, the Cowboys can also feel good about a few aspects of their performance given the preseason debut of numerous starters who saw little to no action against the Miami Dolphins.
Here's a quick look at what stood out most against the Raiders—the good and the not so good.
All stats courtesy of ESPN.
Bad: Jason Garrett's Game Management
Game management has never been considered a strong point for head coach Jason Garrett. His use of timeouts during games has been called into question before, and such was the case in Oakland.
The Cowboys ran all of three plays following an early turnover forced by the Dallas defense before Garrett had to waste a timeout—three plays, mind you. The Cowboys started that possession at the Oakland 16-yard line.
Early in the fourth quarter, Garrett challenged an official's ruling that wide receiver Anthony Amos did not break the plane of the goal line following his 12-yard catch and run reception from quarterback Nick Stephens. He lost the challenge and a timeout, as the ball remained at the 1-yard line.
The Cowboys would score their second touchdown of the game on the very next play, when rookie running back Joseph Randle managed to break the plane for his first professional touchdown.
Garrett didn't need to challenge the ruling, as it didn't look like the officials had made a mistake. Furthermore, the ball was on the 1-yard line and the team had a first down. It's not like either scoring a touchdown or possession of the football was jeopardized by the call.
Dallas could have used that timeout down the stretch, as fourth-string quarterback Alex Tanney, on his second possession of the game, had none to work with late in the final period.
Good: Free Safety J.J. Wilcox
With the free safety position still apparently wide open, my personal favorite to win the job is 2013 NFL draft pick J.J. Wilcox, chosen in the third round.
Wilcox is a great athlete who played a few different positions during his time at Georgia Southern before settling in at safety for his senior season in 2012.
The drawback here is that he has little experience at free safety either in college or in the pros. Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin doesn't have much time to get him ready to start, if in fact this is the preferred outcome at training camp.
Wilcox was up and down in Oakland, but there seemed to be more of the former than the latter.
In the third quarter, he took a terrible angle in pursuit of a deep pass down the middle from quarterback Matt McGloin to rookie wide receiver Brice Butler. That missed tackle allowed a 40-yard completion to the Dallas 41-yard line.
On the other hand, the second quarter was more productive for Wilcox, as reported by SportsDayDFW.com reporter Brandon George. His end-zone interception of Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor was the highlight of his evening and was definitely something to build on heading into the third preseason game next week against the Arizona Cardinals.
Yes, the starting free safety gig in Dallas is still up for grabs, and a guy like Matt Johnson or Will Allen may eventually stake their claim to the position. But Wilcox has to have an early edge. If he can eliminate the mistakes committed in Oakland, he should be able to earn the starting job.
Bad: Dallas Running Game
The Cowboys began the preseason against Miami by rushing the ball 34 times for a total of 170 yards. Numerous ball-carriers had solid outings against the Dolphins last week.
In Oakland, Dallas looked more like the unbalanced offense that we've seen in recent seasons, regardless of who the play-caller was or is.
The Cowboys only ran the ball 20 times for 70 yards against the Raiders while scoring a single touchdown on the ground.
In this case, the number of carries wasn't as much the problem as the 3.5-yard average they posted was.
Dallas clearly has concerns on the offensive line, despite the encouraging preseason opener against the Dolphins. Leading up to the game in Oakland, the Cowboys were trying to sign free-agent offensive guard Brandon Moore, an aging lineman who signed and then decided to retire within a matter of hours—probably a good thing given that Moore is remembered well for a play known as "butt fumble."
No, Dallas doesn't need "butt fumbles," but it does need a right guard, and 2012 free-agent guard Mackenzy Bernadeau is not proving to be the answer. Third-year veteran David Arkin isn't proving himself much more valuable either, at least according to SportsDayDFW.com columnist Rick Gosselin.
The Cowboys knew they had questions on the offensive line following a completely underwhelming performance in 2012. While they addressed the center position with 2013 first-round selection Travis Frederick in April's NFL draft, they went after a pass-catching tight end who can't run-block in Gavin Escobar in the second round.
That really hurts right about now.
Don't rule out the possibility of Frederick spending more and more time at guard, out of necessity, if Dallas thinks that Phil Costa can both stay healthy and play well at center heading into his fourth season.
Good: Cole Beasley Shows Up
On Friday, I basically called out second-year veteran wide receiver Cole Beasley.
After a single catch in the preseason opener in Canton, he took advantage of a perfect outing by backup quarterback Kyle Orton, racking up three catches for 49 yards and his first touchdown of the preseason. The only receiver to compare Beasley to on the night was starter Dez Bryant, who had the same number of catches for 55 yards and no touchdowns.
It was good to see Beasley operate the way some believe that he can at the NFL level. The touchdown catch was particularly impressive, as he made a nice over-the-shoulder grab deep in the end zone while covered very well.
Beasley would end up leaving the game in the third quarter after suffering what appeared to be a minor injury to his left foot. Brandon George of SportsDayDFW.com reports that the X-rays are negative, but he could miss a few days of practice next week.
Despite the nice performance in Oakland, Beasely still has his work cut out as far as earning a roster spot. While his ability in the slot has some potential, it's not like he's ever going to beat out Miles Austin in that role, and the presence of rookie Terrance Williams and Dwayne Harris will make playing time during the regular season tougher to come by.
It will be interesting to see how he responds in Arizona next week. Hopefully the injury against the Raiders doesn't slow him down.
Bad: Special Teams a Complete Failure
Not that the second preseason game is a good time to start panicking over anything, but new special teams coach Rich Bisaccia had to be pretty disgusted by how his units played against the Raiders. It's no stretch to suggest that the Cowboys special teams effort did more to lose the game than any other phase.
The disastrous effort began in the second quarter when placekicker Dan Bailey had a 26-yard field-goal attempt blocked following a nine-play, 75-yard drive on Dallas' second offensive possession of the contest.
The second half would be much worse.
In the third quarter, reserve safety Eric Frampton, an eight-year veteran, went ahead and leveled Oakland punt returner Phillip Adams despite the fair catch he clearly called for. Instead of Oakland taking possession at its own 14-yard line, the Raiders started at their 29—big difference in field position.
Kickoff coverage suffered a critical breakdown in the fourth quarter. Following Randle's one-yard touchdown run, which gave Dallas a slim, one-point lead, Oakland wide receiver Greg Jenkins took off for a 51-yard kickoff return to the Cowboys' 49-yard line.
The Dallas defense did its part in forcing a Raiders punt just five plays later, but 2013 fourth-round draft selection B.W. Webb muffed the kick inside the Cowboys' 20-yard line. The fumble was eventually recovered at the Dallas 9-yard line and Oakland would later kick what ended up being the game-winning field goal from just 23 yards out.
Fortunately, this was just a preseason game, because an effort like this would undoubtedly cost any team a football game during the regular season. The Cowboys have time to iron out some of those issues, and it's important to remember that some of the personnel responsible for these mistakes might not even be around once September arrives.
Good: Defense Continues to Force Turnovers Early
A hallmark of Kiffin's Tampa 2 scheme is forcing turnovers—and a lot of them.
Last week, Dallas forced a fumble on Miami's very first play from scrimmage in Canton. It's true that this was a self-inflicted wound by the Dolphins, but let's remember that somebody from the Cowboys defense had to be there to capitalize, right?
It took Kiffin's starting unit just four plays to force another fumble in Oakland.
Thank you Sean Lee and Jason Hatcher.
I would also offer an honorable mention to DeMarcus Ware for penetrating into the backfield like lightening, stopping Raiders running back Darren McFadden for a near loss in the backfield on Oakland's very first play from scrimmage.
One more thing about the starting defensive unit: If you take away Pryor's three carries for 31 yards off read-option plays in the first half, Oakland only averaged 2.9 yards on 29 carries. The total effort on the ground becomes 85 yards as opposed to a more respectable 116. All things considered, the Raiders could only run for an average of 3.6 yards per carry.
If the Cowboys can keep up this kind of effort defending the run, good things will happen—and more turnovers will also become the norm.
It's already obvious that the Dallas defensive front isn't as leaky as it was in the now-scrapped 3-4 alignment.
Dallas' backup defenders were nothing special, but this has more to do with the guys who are already expected to start against the Giants on September 8 in Arlington. And keep in mind that the Cowboys fully expect defensive end Anthony Spencer and defensive tackle Jay Ratliff to be healthy in time for the season opener against New York.
Good: Tony Romo to Dez Bryant Looks Awfully Good
As far as Romo's first action of the preseason goes, all looks good. He completed six of his eight pass attempts for 88 yards for a rating of 110.4 against much of Oakland's starting lineup. Bryant was on the receiving end of 55 of Romo's passing yards, which actually would have had the fourth-year veteran on pace for huge day in Northern California had he played the entire contest.
Despite the fact that offensive coordinator Bill Callahan is calling the offensive plays for the first time in 2013, the Dallas offense is still built to throw the football. While I have reservations about this philosophy in terms of contending for a trip to the Super Bowl, there's little doubt that the Cowboys can be a part of the conversation if Romo and Bryant both stay healthy.
The Cowboys expected Bryant to be among the top receivers in the NFL when they traded up to select him in the first round of the 2010 NFL draft. At that time, owner and general manger Jerry Jones already knew what he had in Romo.
Now is the time to see it all come together, especially given the way Bryant produced over most of the second half of the 2012 regular season.
Should Callahan bring any kind of running game as a play-caller this season, there's really no reason why Dallas shouldn't be a heavy favorite to win the NFC East.
It's true that things will probably come down to Romo's passing and decision-making once again, but if the offensive line can remain healthy and play well throughout the regular season, Romo and Bryant can have the same kind of volatile impact that retired San Francisco 49ers quarterback Steve Young and receiver Jerry Rice had during much of the 1990s.
There is no offense in Dallas' division that can keep up with these two, period.