Dallas vs. Baltimore: Report Card Grades for Each Cowboys Unit

John Owning@@johnowningCorrespondent IAugust 17, 2014

Dallas vs. Baltimore: Report Card Grades for Each Cowboys Unit

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    Matt Strasen/Associated Press

    The Dallas Cowboys ended up on the wrong side of a 37-30 score against the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday. However, the Cowboys had a great deal of impressive individual performances. 

    Tony Romo and the first-team offense only played in 14 snaps and had a mixed bag of success. The first series had a disastrous end as Romo mishandled the handoff to DeMarco Murray, which resulted in a fumble that was returned by the Ravens for a touchdown. 

    However, the first-team offense bounced back in a big way on the second series. The Cowboys went 83 yards on nine plays, the last of which was a beautiful back-shoulder fade from Romo to Dez Bryant for a 31-yard touchdown. 

    While it wasn't surprising that the first-team offense looked excellent, it was surprising how well the first-team defense did. 

    The final score may lead one to believe that the defense did a poor job; however, the Cowboys offense and special teams gave up two touchdowns. The defense held strong throughout the game and made huge strides from the previous week.

    The Cowboys also showed a fair amount of fight throughout the game. At the beginning of the third quarter, they were down 34-10, but they fought back and made a game of it late in the fourth quarter. 

    Even though the Cowboys lost, there was a great deal of positive aspects to build off moving forward. 

    With that said, here are the grades for each positional unit on America's Team. 


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    Kiichiro Sato/Associated Press

    The Cowboys got a mixed bag from their quarterbacks against the Ravens Saturday night. 

    Tony Romo's back looked just fine as he did a great job of moving and climbing the pocket. He also had good zip on his throws and even connected with Dez Bryant for a 31-yard touchdown in his second and last series of the game. Romo went 4-of-5 for 80 yards and a touchdown, which is fantastic considering he is coming off two back surgeries in a calendar year. 

    While Romo's performance was very encouraging, Brandon Weeden's was the exact opposite. Weeden went 10-of-19 for 129 yards and an interception. He does a great job when he has a clean pocket and doesn't have to go to his second read; however, when he is forced to move in the pocket or switch to his second or third read, he is extremely inaccurate. 

    Dustin Vaughan looked better than Caleb Hanie in the first preseason game; however, Hanie came back and put on a strong performance, while Vaughan was just adequate. Hanie did a great job of finding James Hanna for a 24-yard touchdown. 

    Overall, the quarterbacks did a decent job, given the circumstances. 

    Grade: C+

Running Back

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    Matt Strasen/Associated Press

    DeMarco Murray got his first game action of this season against the Ravens and had a respectable performance. He didn't do anything spectacular, but he showed good patience and vision in his eight carries. 

    The top performer of the running back group was easily Ryan Williams. He showed incredible power and burst as he ran over and around defenders in his five carries. He averaged 7.2 yards per carry, which was the highest among Cowboys running backs. Former Cowboys scout Bryan Broaddus stated on the team website, "The kid is a heck of a player. He brings a lot of energy and juice every time he gets an opportunity."

    Joseph Randle didn't have the night you would have hoped for. He repeatedly seemed to be unsure about where he was running instead of just hitting the hole hard. While he did have a 19-yard scamper, he was not impressive in any of his other carries. 

    As a whole, the Cowboys had 26 carries for 117 yards and a touchdown, which would be extremely respectable had it been a regular-season game. The running back unit can be one of the best in the NFL if the backs all play up to their ability. 

    Grade: B

Wide Receiver and Tight End

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    Brandon Wade/Associated Press

    The wide receiver and tight end corps were especially impressive against the Ravens. 

    Dez Bryant showed why he is one of the top five wide receivers in the NFL with his three catches for 59 yards and a touchdown. On his touchdown reception, Bryant showed the incredible hands and leaping ability that terrify defenses. 

    The other standout at receiver was Jamar Newsome. While he only had two catches, both were impressive. He showed great body control in the air and impressive hands to bring down the ball. Former Cowboys scout Bryan Broaddus stated, "Jamar Newsome is in a numbers game at receiver, but he continues to come out and do his job." 

    His play may make the Cowboys consider keeping a sixth receiver on the 53-man roster. 

    One of the lowlights was Dwayne Harris, who let another pass slip through his hands this week. Broaddus said, "We all know that Dwayne Harris can make plays, but that was the second game where the ball hit his hands on a slant and he was unable to come down with it. That's not like him." Harris' spot on the 53-man roster is secure, but if he wants more chances on offense, he needs to do a better job of catching the ball. 

    For the tight ends, Gavin Escobar and James Hanna were productive in the passing game. Hanna came down with three catches for 31 yards and a touchdown, while Escobar snagged three catches for 58 yards. The bad news is that Escobar came out of the game with an apparent shoulder injury, per ESPN Dallas' Todd Archer. 

    Altogether, the receivers and tight ends were impressive in their action Saturday night. 

    Grade: A-

Offensive Line

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    Brandon Wade/Associated Press

    Another unit that was impressive was the Cowboys offensive line. 

    The linemen repeatedly gave the quarterbacks a good pocket to throw from and opened up some impressive holes for the running backs. 

    As a whole, they only conceded one sack while leading the way to 126 rushing yards. Ronald Patrick and the third-team offensive line did especially well. DallasCowboys.com's David Helman stated, "Patrick and the offensive line paved the way for Dustin Vaughan and Co. to lead a 13-point rally on the strength of 78 fourth-quarter yards—42 passing and 36 rushing."

    Broaddus was impressed by rookie Zack Martin. "I can watch Zack Martin trap block all day. There is a nice combination of power and athletic ability every time pulls."

    Martin has been impressive in both preseason games. He doesn't seem to make the mistakes that rookies normally do, which is spectacular. 

    The only noteworthy negative play from the offensive line was when Jermey Parnell was beaten badly for a sack in the second quarter. Parnell is currently in the midst of a battle with Darrion Weems and John Wetzel for the backup swing tackle position on the final roster and needs to do a much better job if he hopes to win it. 

    The Dallas offensive line may be one of the best in the league, and unit played like it Saturday. 

    Grade: A

Defensive Line

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The defensive line was one of the worst positional units against the Chargers; however, it was much better against the Ravens. 

    While the linemen did allow 151 rushing yards, they did a much better job of getting penetration and creating pressure in the passing game.

    The biggest standout was clearly Zach Minter, who was signed just two days ago, per The Dallas Morning News' David Moore. He was extremely impressive in the way he was able to create pressure with a combination of strength and quickness.

    He was credited with four tackles and two sacks in his first game with the Cowboys. Minter's productive play was reminiscent of George Selvie in the 2013 preseason and probably moved him into contention to make the 53-man roster. 

    Another impressive player was defensive tackle Davon Coleman. He did a fine job of getting into and through his gap to create pressure in the Ravens' passing and running games. Coleman is at his best when he utilizes his quickness off the ball to get the offensive linemen on their heels. From there he can utilize his power or repertoire of pass-rush moves to get around the block.

    The Cowboys did have some trouble with their run fits once again, but they did a much better job of shedding blocks. They weren't great, but they showed immense improvement from last week. 

    Considering how poorly the unit performed in the first preseason game, the defensive line did a fine job against the Ravens. 

    Grade: B


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    Matt Strasen/Associated Press

    The linebacker corps is probably the least talented positional unit on the Cowboys roster. 

    This has been evident throughout the first two preseason games, as the linebackers have struggled to get off blocks in the running game while laboring in coverage as well. 

    One of the bright spots for the linebackers was Rolando McClain. He didn't have a perfect day, but he showed why he is the most talented healthy linebacker on the roster. McClain led the team with six tackles and showed good awareness in coverage.

    During the fourth quarter, DeVonte Holloman left the game with a neck injury, per ESPN Dallas' Todd Archer. This injury is especially scary because Holloman missed a chunk of last season with a neck injury as well. 

    The linebackers showed some progress, but they must do a better job during the regular season if they want to improve upon last season.

    Grade: C- 


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    Brandon Wade/Associated Press

    The strongest defensive unit on paper for the Cowboys is the secondary, and it showed Saturday night. 

    The defensive backs gave up only 180 yards and one touchdown through the air and routinely gave the wide receivers no room to work with. They did a great job of shutting down Steve Smith and Co. and carried that momentum throughout the game.

    The most impressive player throughout the game was B.W. Webb. He was frequently in perfect position in coverage and left little room for the Ravens receivers. He even provided blanket coverage on Steve Smith for a few plays, which was splendid. 

    The most disappointing player had to be Terrance Mitchell. Throughout the game, he was inconsistent with his footwork and technique, which allowed opposing receivers to create the separation necessary to make some catches. 

    J.J. Wilcox and Barry Church seemed to have a respectable night as well. Wilcox made a great play to knock the ball out of Steve Smith's hand for a would-be first down in the second quarter. That is the type of play the Cowboys need Wilcox to make throughout the regular season.

    For a team that was terrible against the pass last year, the secondary did a fantastic job against the Ravens.

    Grade: A- 

Special Teams

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    Brandon Wade/Associated Press

    The special teams units were terrible against the Ravens. They were routinely gashed on kick returns, giving up an average of 46 return yards per kickoff. 

    The return teams didn't do much better than the coverage teams. The kickoff return teams only averaged 17.2 return yards per kickoff, which is horrid. 

    The only positive thing that happened on special teams was Dan Bailey, who made all three of his extra points to go along with a 53-yard field goal. 

    The Cowboys must improve their special teams before the regular season. 

    Grade: D


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    Matt Strasen/Associated Press

    It's hard to judge coaching during the preseason because the outcome of the game doesn't matter. Often, coaches will make decisions just to put their players in certain situations.

    Head coach Jason Garrett didn't appear to make any time-management blunders, and play-caller Scott Linehan mixed up his run and pass calls well.

    Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli dialed up a few cornerback blitzes but seemed to keep the defense pretty vanilla for the most part.

    The coaching staff will be better evaluated when the regular season begins.

    Grade: B  

Final Grades

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    Brandon Wade/Associated Press
    Positional UnitOverall Grade
    QB C+
    RB B
    WR A-
    OL A
    DL B
    LB C-
    Secondary A-
    Special TeamsD
    Team GradeB-

    Even though they didn't emerge victorious, the Cowboys came away with a great deal of positive plays and performances to build off. The offense was skillful throughout the night, and the defense showed a fair amount of improvement. If the Cowboys continue improving like they did from the first to the second preseason game, they will be just fine when the regular season begins. 

    All statistics were retrieved from ESPN Stats and Information unless otherwise stated. For more Cowboys analysis and opinion, follow John on Twitter here