Dallas vs. San Francisco: Postgame Grades, Notes, and Quotes
The Dallas Cowboys and the San Francisco 49ers met on the gridiron at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, Sunday evening, for the second of four preseason games, and for Cowboys fans, the team’s performance left much to be desired.
Star quarterback Tony Romo saw his first action of the preseason, as did Doug Free, Darren McFadden, Orlando Scandrick, Joe Randle and others.
After receiving the opening kickoff, the Cowboys were led onto the field by Romo. On first down Romo handed to McFadden, who was stopped at the line of scrimmage after Mackenzie Bernadeau, playing right guard, was slow to come off a double-team to pick up a charging Navarro Bowman. After another unsuccessful McFadden run on second down, Romo found Lance Dunbar in the flat on third down, who lost his footing and was tackled by Bowman for a loss of a yard.
The next play was a foresight of things to come for the evening, as Australian Rugby player turned return specialist Jarryd Hayne fielded Chris Jones’ punt at the 15 and galloped 27 yards to the 42. He set up the 49ers for what would be a 12-play 51-yard drive featuring several successful runs by Carlos Hyde, as well as a nine-yard scamper by quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The drive ended with a good coverage play by Cowboys corner Corey White, which forced a Phil Dawson 25-yard field goal.
The rest of the first half, and ultimately the game as a whole, was highlighted by a few themes for Dallas. The Cowboys displayed poor play on offense, struggles on special teams and promising play from the defensive line.
Quarterback Brandon Weeden left with a concussion, Dustin Vaughan threw two interceptions, including one returned 37 yards for a touchdown by 303-pound nose tackle Mike Purcell. The kick-coverage teams struggled to stop Hayne or any other returner the 49ers put on the field, as well as giving up a blocked punt touchdown and missing a field goal.
All of these painted the picture of a 23-6 49ers victory and a rough night of football for Cowboys fans to endure.
Position Grades for the Dallas Cowboys
Quarterback: Tony Romo completed 100 percent of his passes, going 1-of-1 for minus-one yard. Brandon Weeden completed two passes for seven total yards, while third-stringer Dustin Vaughan completed seven for 84 yards along with two interceptions (one for a touchdown) and at least one more that should have been intercepted.
The loan bright spot of the game from the quarterbacks was Jameill Showers, who, although his completion percentage (47 percent) leaves something to be desired, was able to push the ball down field some, make some plays with his legs (including a 15-yard scramble) and deliver a good throw for an eight-yard touchdown to fellow undrafted free agent Nick Harwell.
Showers showed good chemistry with rookie tight end Geoff Swaim as the two connected for three completions totaling 37 yards in two series. Newly signed wide receiver Clyde Gates let Showers down, running a poor route leading to an interception.
Running Back: Darren McFadden started the game and played two series, carrying the ball three times for a total of four yards and catching one pass for a three-yard gain. He was relieved by Joseph Randle, who carried it seven times for 30 yards, including an impressive cutback run on a toss sweep. Randle committed a hold in pass protection, negating a Cowboys first down, leading to an eventual punt.
Lance Dunbar caught Tony Romo’s only pass of the game, as well as a four-yard completion from Brandon Weeden but didn’t carry the ball. Gus Johnson, Mike Hill and Ben Malena combined for nine carries for 50 yards, highlighted by a 14-yard scamper from Johnson and an 11-yard run by Hill.
Wide Receiver: The most impressive performances at the wide receiver spot came from three guys who are on the outside looking in at the 53-man roster. AJ Jenkins made the first big play of the night in the passing game, catching a Vaughan pass over the middle for 21 yards, and followed it up with another 19-yard catch in the second half. David Porter averaged 10 yards per catch on his three receptions in the second half, placing him second on the team in receiving among wideouts.
Tight End: Geoff Swaim’s four catches for 47 yards are probably the biggest bright spot offensively for the Cowboys coming out of the game against San Francisco. Gavin Escobar had two for 16, although he dropped an early pass that would have resulted in a first down and had another conversion taken away due to a holding penalty on Joseph Randle.
Offensive Line: This group has received a great deal of criticism for poor performance in Sunday’s game, and while some of it is legitimate, much of it is misdirected. The two players everyone wondered about going into the game, La’el Collins and Darrion Weems, both actually played rather well.
There was only one real negative snap between them in the first half, when Weems was knocked off balance and Collins was slow to slide off and take the looping man on a twist stunt, resulting in a sack on Weeden in the second quarter. While the two highest-priority players played rather well most of the game, the same cannot be said for most of the rest of the linemen who played.
Defensive Line: Randy Gregory, Ryan Russell and Ben Gardner all registered sacks in the game while others, like Jack Crawford and Demarcus Lawrence created havoc early in the game. This group is really what kept the team in the game when the offense and special teams were struggling mightily.
Gregory drew two holding calls in addition to his sack, and Greg Hardy generated some pressure to make his presence known as well. Davon Coleman did struggle occasionally with double-teams but continued his positive trend this preseason as he was disruptive inside when he was blocked one-on-one.
Linebackers: The 49ers were able to run the ball against the Cowboys early and late, going for 84 yards in the first half and 71 in the second. Much of this can be attributed to the linebackers. Kyle Wilber started in the middle and proved he isn’t a prospect to fill that position long term. Damien Wilson got himself in position to make a couple of plays but was inconsistent finishing those opportunities. The standout among this group on Sunday was Keith Smith, who racked up five tackles on defense and another on special teams.
Defensive Backs: This group was highlighted once again by the play of cornerback Corey White, who played with perfect technique to break up a back-shoulder throw from Colin Kaepernick to wide receiver Torrey Smith in the end zone on third down to force the 49ers to kick a field goal on their first offensive possession. That was the only time a Cowboys defensive back got their hand on the ball, as the 49ers threw only 17 passes, completing 11 for a total of 71 yards.
Special Teams: The Cowboys' preseason struggles in the kicking game continued Sunday night, as Jarryd Hayne racked up 84 yards on three punt returns and DeAndrew White had 21 yards on his only punt return opportunity.
Overall, the 49ers averaged 24.2 yards per return on kickoffs and punts, which was really their best weapon of the game. The problems extended all the way to the usually reliable Dan Bailey who missed his only field-goal try from 42 yards in the third quarter. Lucky Whitehead was able to break loose for a 26-yard punt return of his own and was probably one more block from taking it 88 yards for a score.
Coaching: It is difficult to truly judge coaching in a preseason game, as coaches are not faced with the same strategic decisions throughout the game as they may be in the regular season. However, choosing to hold out their top veterans, as well as getting plenty of players the opportunity to show themselves, warrants this evaluation.
Important Note No. 1: The Injuries
The primary objective of a team in any preseason game is to get through the game without suffering any serious injuries.
Coming out of the Cowboys/49ers matchup, Dallas has a few notable but not devastating injuries. According to Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star Telegram, "Jerry Jones said Brandon Weeden has a concussion. They suspect S Jeff Heath has one. He was put through the cognitive evaluation."
With three days of practice between Sunday’s game and next Saturday’s “dress rehearsal” against the Minnesota Vikings at AT&T Stadium, it is likely that Tony Romo suits up every day, and makes his most extended preseason appearance of 2015. That means the Cowboys could sit Weeden for seven days to allow him to pass all phases of the concussion protocol before asking him back to practice on Aug. 31. Heath’s role on the team is also well established as a special teams captain, so he won’t likely be hurt much by missing some time as he goes through the protocol as well if he did indeed suffer a concussion.
Important Note No. 2: Randy Gregory’s Mindset
The biggest bright spot for the Cowboys was the disruption and production from their young pass-rushers. The brightest among these was rookie Randy Gregory, who evaluated his play after the first half.
According to Mike Fisher of 105.3 The Fan, Gregory said, "I didn't get to the QB enough, ran past the QB too much, didn't keep contain enough."
This is the exact mindset that Cowboy fans should hope to see from their prized second-round pick. Despite his production and disruptiveness early in the preseason, Gregory has plenty of room to improve between now and the regular season, and he knows it. This is a player Cowboy fans should be excited about for years to come.
Quote No. 1: Garrett Not Happy
Head coach Jason Garrett gave reporters his summary of the game in his postgame press conference:
No excuses. We’re going to evaluate the game. We’re going to evaluate the guys who played in the game and from my vantage point, we didn’t play very well. We’ll watch the tape and try to find some of the positive things and build on those and address the negative things. When you’re out there you have a responsibility to play to a certain level. Period. The standard we set is high and we’re looking for guys to play to that standard. We didn’t get enough of that tonight.
It’s clear that Garrett wasn’t happy with the performance of his team Sunday night. While the team clearly took the approach of preserving most of its front-line players, the coach wants to see more from the guys who did suit up.
Quote No. 2: Garrett Sums Up the Night
Here's another quote from Garrett's postgame press conference:
“It wasn’t very good on offense, it wasn’t very good on defense it wasn’t very good kicking game,” Garrett said. “It wasn’t good early, middle or late.”
It's safe to say the head coach echoes the sentiments of many fans and observers when he describes the performance of his team against the 49ers.
While there is plenty to be concerned about for Cowboys fans, there is also plenty to be hopeful for. Next Saturday's matchup with the Minnesota Vikings will feature the largest contingent of Cowboys starters and regular-season contributors and should provide a glimpse of what to expect once the games start to count on September 13.
It is also important to note, the Cowboys finished the 2014 preseason 0-4 last year, before finishing the regular season 12-4, winning the division handily and advancing within a controversial incompletion of playing for the NFC title.