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By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys vs. Denver Broncos Preseason Week 1: What We Learned

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Jonathan Bales

There’s a lot we can take away from the Cowboys’ 24-23 win over the Denver Broncos last night, so let’s dive right in. . .

  • I was impressed with rookie Dan Bailey’s kickoffs.  If he can consistently garner touchbacks, he should make the roster over David Buehler.  If he cannot, I think the Cowboys should carry two kickers.  Despite the 42-yard field goal last night, Buehler’s placekicking is simply too erratic to count on.
  • The defense did some blitzing, but the pre-snap alignments weren’t as chaotic as I anticipated.  It is likely that Rob Ryan was playing “vanilla” due to a lack of practice time and the fact that he wants to see players’ athleticism take over (as opposed to them “thinking” too much about assignments).
  • The numbers don’t really show it, but the Cowboys need to improve their run defense at the point-of-attack.  Too often this team lets the running back get five yards downfield before anyone puts a hat on him.  Having said that, I liked the play of the defensive ends, particularly Marcus Spears and Jason Hatcher.  Both will be allowed to freelance far more in 2011 than last season.  Hatcher looks a lot quicker than usual.
  • Felix Jones could have a big-time year.  If he stays healthy (a big if), he has the explosiveness to be one of the premiere running backs in this league.  He has home run ability, is underrated in short-yardage and between-the-tackles running, and is improving mightily as a receiver.  He was my sixth-highest rated Cowboy in 2010, and I think he has a legitimate chance at being a top three player on the team in 2011.  Early prediction: if healthy, 1400 total yards and 8-10 touchdowns.
  • One of the reasons I think Jones will have a career season is the offense’s ability to run screens.  With Marc Colombo and Leonard Davis gone, this offensive line is far, far more mobile.  I wrote on Twitter last night that you can expect a lot more screens from Dallas in 2011.  Here are some 2010 screen statistics.  Dallas ran 71 screens in 2010, including 44 to running backs.  You can expect these totals to increase to around 100 and 70.
  • You can still expect Jason Garrett to dial up plenty of screens following playaction looks.  The ‘Boys did it a couple of times again last night.  In my 2010 Playaction Pass Guide, I noted the Cowboys ran a screen on 19.3% of playaction passes–nearly double the 10.0% rate on non-playaction looks.  Garrett loves to run screens out of Ace formation.

  • Good news and bad news.  The bad news is Garrett is still running a lot of plays from Double Tight Strong.  In my study on the formation, I noted he called a strong side dive from it on 77.6% of runs and 64.2% of the time overall.  The team averaged only 2.15 YPC on these runs.   The good news is 1) Garrett called far more runs from the formation in the preseason last year than he did in the regular season, so its presence in 2011 could be as a gauge to judge players, and 2) he ran weak side out of the formation more often than usual.  If he can use his “predictability” out of the formation to his advantage by occasionally faking the strong side dive and throwing deep, it can be a valuable tool.  Otherwise, it needs to be scrapped.
  • Victor Butler is a beast.  He is a terror off of the edge and dramatically improved against the run.  He had an incredible move last night that led to a Clifton Geathers sack of Tim Tebow.  He needs a legitimate chance to beat out Anthony Spencer.  I’m not as low on Spencer as most, but I now think Butler is the superior player.
  • Rookie cornerback Josh Thomas and Alan Ball could be battling for a roster spot.  I think Thomas wins the job due to upside and incredibly quick feet.
  • Bryan McCann struggled last night.  He was called for pass interference once and got away with another penalty on Brandon Lloyd in the end zone.  With Terence Newman’s injury history, McCann needs to step up this season.
  • I really liked what I saw from Tyron Smith.  His versatility is incredible, as he can overpower in the run game and get out in space on screens.  I didn’t like that Garrett kept him in the game for so long.  He’s far more valuable to the offense than most people realize.
  • Sean Lissemore played a lot of nose tackle last night.  He looks noticeably bigger and his versatility should land him a roster spot.  Hopefully it comes at the expense of Igor Olshansky.
  • After a rough start, Stephen McGee rebounded to go 14-for-24 for 208 yards, three scores and a pick.  He is still struggling to read the blitz and get out of the way of pressure, but his athleticism makes up for it sometimes.  He’s improving.
  • Rookie receiver Dwayne Harris had a monster game.  The stats were nice (five receptions for 127 yards and two touchdowns), and his run-after-catch ability is superb.  If he keeps it up, he could beat out Kevin Ogletree for slot receiver duties.  I’m pulling for him.
  • I liked what I saw from rookie guard David Arkin.  He surprised me with his ability to get out in space and move around–a trait that wasn’t considered his strong point.  Still, I’m not sure the Cowboys can count on him for much production in 2011.
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19 Responses to Dallas Cowboys vs. Denver Broncos Preseason Week 1: What We Learned

  1. Kris says:

    I was wondering what your thought were on Costa? Does he have the potential to be the center of the future?

    I few thoughts of mine were:
    -Lonyae Miller is having a great camp by all accounts but didn’t seem to have any success finding cut back lanes or driving for the 1 or 2 yards available. I know the blocking wasn’t great but I still expected more. I remember one play specifically where he got stopped and then started stumbling backwards. Not a good sign.

    -Phillip Tanner looked good running but his pass block that got McGee sacked was horrific. If he can’t square up and block a safety he can’t be trusted to play.

    -I thought Andrew Sendejo had a solid game. Good instincts against the run.

    -Igor was ineffective in the run game. He was not able to control the line of scrimmage and was not able to shed blockers while the ball is in front of him.

    -Either Ogletree or Dwayne Harris is responsible for the interception McGee threw. I know its early and its the preseason but that ill timed route running by one of them ended up costing the Cowboys big. A huge demerit for someone.

  2. Kris–I thought Costa played decently. He reminds me of Kosier a lot in that he’s never dominant, but never really a liability. That’s not a bad trait for an interior lineman. I think he could win a starting job this season.

    Agree with you on all points. Igor needs to go.

  3. Mark Watkins says:

    Wow, you think that Costa could win a starting job this year Jonathan? That jumped out at me. Do you think he would play center and have Gurode slide over to a guard spot, or would he unseat Gurode completely? It seems that they may still need to pick up a starting guard since Holland seems to be out of shape and possibly not as motivated as he should be- will he be the ‘statement cut?’ And Arkin doesn’t seem to be ready just yet- I didn’t watch the game but that seems to be the general consensus from what I’ve read.

    Did the backup tackles play as badly as I’ve read that they did? That could be a sore spot if there’s an injury there.

    I”m excited about Harris. I’ve heard lots of good things about him and I hope he presses Ogletree for starter duties.

    It’s also good to see that Butler played so well. His emergence could be a huge factor on the defense.

  4. I think Costa SHOULD be the starter at guard, assuming the Cowboys don’t sign another player. He can play center, but I think it is smarter to start him at guard and leave Gurode at his familiar position.

    I thought Jeremy Parnell played okay at OT. Either way, the Cowboys are in big, big trouble if Free or Smith goes down.

  5. Jeremiah says:

    Great post Jonathan. Your always one of my favorite Cowboys to read.

    IGOR HAS GOT TO GO!!!!!!!

    Ok now that is out of my system. I’m really impressed with Hatcher and Lissemore. So far Coleman seems like a very average signing. Was disappointed in Josh Brent. The defensive line needs to get more arms on those runners like you said.

    Victor Butler needs to be giving the starting role. Maybe it will wake up Spencer. Either way Butler is the better player at this point.

    I’m starting to repeat your article, hehe. Anyways as I said your a great writer and I agree with all points.

  6. moses says:

    I thought that the OL played well, but I did not see them push the DL out to make holes. There were seams that Jones could run through and he did well.

    However, this is against one of the worst DLs in the league last year. I know that Fox has improved them but this was not a good D that we played against

  7. Vince_Grey says:

    I JUST managed to watch this game late last night, so I’m late with my comments, but here’s what I saw:

    For the most part, in their limited time out there, the starters on offense and defense looked “flat” to me. Kind of dead. No real energy. Camp exhaustion? Ultra vanilla offense and defense? Realization they had jobs won? Don’t know, but I didn’t like it. If it continues over to the next game, I’ll start to get concerned.

    OTOH, the backups played with a lot of fire and effort. Too many to name, but several that have already been listed here. Butler, Smith, and Harris in particular stood out to me. Arkin played better than I expected.

    Man, on that initial Bronco drive, the other D-linemen weren’t exactly dominating, but Olshansky got owned. He was being driven WAY off the ball on virtually every play. Maybe it was just a bad day, but that was pathetic. Can’t believe a guy like that makes this team.

    Agree that Miller’s running did not impress. No that there were a lot of holes, but I didn’t see much push or 2nd effort from a guy 230.

    Kitna’s arm looked a little dead in his time in there.

    They might as well do away with kickoffs unless outside against a stiff wind. What’s exciting to see when balls are kicked out of the back of the end zone or guys take a knee 98% of the time?

    I’m waiting for some of these kickers to develop a wicked “dead ball” that goes a mile high and drops at the ten yard line with a bunch of defenders standing right there on top of the return guy.

    He HAS to catch it, so does he signal fair catch and pin his team at the ten, or risk fielding it and getting hammered immediately?

    If I was a kicking coach, that’s what I would be looking to do to the opposing team.

    Bottom line, at this point, I have no real concerns about anything major, and I was very pleased with the play and effort of many of the younger guys.

  8. john coleman says:

    First off, I still haven’t seem the game. I am recording it tomorrow at 4:00P.M.

    JB-I would have to agree with you on Gurode staying put and Costa playing OG. It seems that people assume that Gurode could make the switch, but I’m noot so sure. I think he is nowhere near as mobile as Costa or Arkin. However, if he could move a little, it would help with the snaps being everywhere.

    As I said, I haven’t seen the game, but based on what I have read, I think our rookie Olinemen have acquitted themselves well. We have to remember that there were no OTA’s or rookie camp. Couple that in with Costa having extended playing time in Gurode’s absence and I like the new look. I’m not sure that Holland ends up starting this year.

    Moses-I think your point is noteworthy. Denver wasn’t exactly a juggernaut last season. It will be interesting to see what happens against the mighty Chargers. Ha! Ha! Please know that despite the numbers I feel San Diego is vastly overrated. However, they should be more formidable than Denver.

    I guess so much for the Lonyae Miller taking TC’s spot. I have said for three years that TC is a quality back and still feel that way. I do think that Felix has finally seperated himself as the clear #1. As for the Murray bandwagon, it still doesn’t exist. Two weeks in and the guy hasn’t seen a practice field. Looking at his history, that is a huge concern.

    It seems we have a few bright spots in Harris and Radway. We sure need some guys to step up at WR. I feel good about the 3 in Austin, Bryant, and Ogletree, but to have a guy like Harris coming along is awesome. Based on one game, he could push Ogletree for playing time. It is also encouraging that Radway had a good kickoff return. We have had a need there for a long time.

    My biggest concern now is at CB. Again I haven’t seen the game, but no news is not good news. I was hoping for McCann to be vastly improved. Evidently that is not the case. Personally I wish they would have left Teddy Williams at CB. Maybe if Radway continues to impress it will happen yet.

    Concerning kickers-So Buehler made a 42 yard field goal. I still have lingering visions of “Jumpy” missing an extra point last year. I have been reading all camp of 2 for 4, 3 for 4, and even 4 for 4 from both Buehler and Bailey. Well, I don’t recall a 2 for 4 from Bailey. The question is, how bad are the misses? Even further, are the makes dead center or just squeaking in? Personally if Bailey can kickoff at all he is my one kicker. Seriously, Buehler is a better ST coverage guy than a kicker. We can stash Forbath on the PUP list for insurance.

  9. john coleman says:

    JB-regarding the OT comment. What’s up with Young? We might also have another option. Arkin played LT last year in college. Now I’m not saying I want to see it, but if he is better than Parnell or Young so be it.

    VG-You posted while I was typing.
    Two things-Could Olshansky be a surprise veteran cut? The other is that you may have a thought on the kickoff thing. A high slightly shorter kick could cause havoc.

    Seriously, I think Olshansky would be easily expendable and could be a progress stopper for Brent, Lissemore, or Geathers. Factor in that he was a Wade guy and look out.

  10. Vince_Grey says:

    JC – I don’t see Igor as being any surprise if/when cut. I’m telling you, he looked like a free agent rookie out there the way he was blown off the ball on that initial Denver drive. If his play doesn’t get dramatically better, I’d say his chances of making the team are slim to none.

    Lissemore and Hatcher were our best and most active D-linemen out there. Geathers made one big play, but I didn’t notice any others, so I can’t make a call on his chances.

    I agree with JB that an injury to one of our starting OT’s would be bad, but the Cowboys seem to be looking to get younger on the O-line come hell or high water, and sink or swim with what they can home grow. It can be done. During our `91 -`95 run, we had diddly squat behind Emmitt at RB and it worked out pretty good. Can you even imagine some team trying that one today?

    Buehler did make a FG, but it was nearly a miss. In fact, it STILL looks like a miss to me when I watch it. I’d say his job is in dire jeopardy if Bailey makes some good kicks. Either will do on kickoffs.

    JB and I vehemently disagree on the idea of keeping two kickers. I wouldn’t do it under any circumstances but also, this team seems to have some real talent around and I’d hate to lose a Radaway or other up-and-comer because we kept two kickers. Nonsense, IMO.

    `Tree better pick up his play or Harris is going to take his job, no question. Same goes for Spencer against Butler.

    I like that they can catch and make some yards afterwards, but I’m still waiting for one of these FB’s to become a dominant blocker. I want to see some “Ooouuuhhh!” hits.

    McCann had a poor game no doubt, but he’s shown the ability to make plays in a real game, so I’m not ready to write him off just yet. CB’s not a concern yet for me either, `cause we had no pass rush the other night and played simple coverages for the most part. Give it time.

  11. Vince_Grey says:

    BTW, I want to say this about Tim Tebow: Jury’s still out, but I don’t care if the guy can’t hit the ocean in practice or before a game, when they start keeping score he just seems to make plays and move his team down the field one way or the other.

    Unless the Broncos feel they have a legit playoff contender (I’d say no this season) I would play Tebow and see what I had there one way or the other, to know whether to move on next year or continue to develop the guy. Orton? Puts up nice stats but doesn’t seem to win many games. Has the look of a strong career backup to me.

  12. Mark Watkins says:

    Good call on Costa possibly being a starter Jonathan. I just saw on the Boys site that JJ came out and said that Costa would be playing somewhere on the line, pretty much NOW.

  13. JJ says:

    Just glad we’re talking football again.

    Outside of Phillips and Butler, it’s just time to eliminate more remnants of mediocrity from Phillips era such as AOA and Igor. I’ll go with Vince with 1 kicker although I’m not as down on Buehler as others.

    Candidly, if I had a wild hair, I’d be more comfortable shedding Holland and going with a young OL than going too young at WR. I’m sure Holley is great at ST but he’s just a guy and there is so much youth at WR that with temperaments and not much proven talent 1-5, I’d still like to see a veteran to help Ogletree, Harris and Dez…Radway is fine but he’s PS material for now…they can always add him to squad and let go of Holley if someone tries to take him off PS.

    I watched the replay and JB hit the nail on the head. The defense just seemed to get pushed back on running plays. For example, I have great, great hopes for Sean Lee but there are times he just seems to get “moved” a bit too much.

    Also, maybe I’m paranoid, but I’m very concerned about the DBs. If you guarantee me that Newman, Jenkins and Scandrick will stay healthy, then maybe I’ll agree that can be serviceable but to suggest that there is no worry seems overly optimistic. I like McCann but I’m not high on him. He reminds me of a arena football guy that has shown flashes but I just don’t see him being a fixture at corner. Is he athletic? Sure but I’m just not sold. Too many mental mistakes. I have very little faith that Newman will make it through a season healthy and Jenkins seems to get banged up a bit as well. That means you have Scandrick, Jenkins and ???? as your top 3 CBs. Welcome to the stage Josh Thomas. Also, one injury at Safety and ughhhh….it isn’t pretty.

    Finally, I keep pulling for Spencer but it often seems like he doesn’t possess much fire and disappears for stretches. The guy needs a red bull.

  14. john coleman says:

    VG-Great comments across the board. I too feel keeping two kickers is ridiculous. I’d rather have the spot for a guy we are growing to play somewhere.

    I also want to chime in on Tebow and others like him. As you mentioned it may be unorthodox, but he gets it done. Look at our own TC, every time he is called on he gets it done. Some guys just have a desire to win and show up big in games. Then there are others who practice well (Lonyae Miller), but the game is too big for them. I’ve seen it on all levels, since playing as a child myself.

  15. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    Just saw the game for the 2nd time…also watched MANY other teams play.

    First off, let me say that this team isn’t very good as compared to many other teams. There were lots of execution errors – those are too be expected given the nature of this offseason, but every other team had the same issue this offseason and many are further along.

    But, that is right now. They will improve – but so will other teams. I’ve always stipulated that the better teams find a way to at a greater rate than others. That’s usually indicative of coaching given all other things being equal (which they aren’t but that’s another story).

    I think that Jerry has finally surrounded himself w/ the right people. Garrett is a smart guy. His son, Stephen, seems to be either making better decisions or listening to those who are. Even Rob Ryan, as charismatic as he is, is a MASSIVE upgrade.

    First off, all the draftees and I do mean ALL, are the RKG. They all have work ethic. They all want to improve and are willing to be humble to do so. They all see the value of team before self (that wasn’t the case last year as Dez Bryant, as talented as he is, is definitely not RKG). Given this, I think the draftees will all work extremely hard to improve over the entire span of their NFL careers. Some of them will have short careers (1-3 years) while others’ will be longer but each will know the importance of doing it right and finishing.

    Second, the Boys, for whatever reason, always seem to have a lot of injuries to key personnel. Over the last 3 years, just about EVERY starter on the team has been injured and been less than 90% while playing a game (if they played). That includes Ware, Austin, Witten and many of the other pro-bowlers. They’ve been called on to play through those injuries (instead of playing the backups) because JJ didn’t trust the backups to play w/ some ability. Given this and next years camps, that mentality may (and should) change so that the starters can get more rest/recuperation time.

    Third, and most important, the coaching is better. Players are held accountable for lack of execution. Their being taught not only the correct technique but also the ramifications of not using that technique. They are improving – only question is whether or not the rate of improvement is greater than the Eagles, Giants, Skins and the rest.

  16. Trent says:

    i had to look it up, so i am going to let anyone else who didn’t know

    RKG = Right Kind of Guy

  17. Michael Sloan says:

    Tyrone Jenkins – I think you are spot on about the injuries to key players and having them play through or before they are fully recovered from injury i.e. Newman playing with bruised ribs game after game and not getting the rest to heal. I think Newman is fine while healthy, but injured, he ends up costing the team.

    I liked what I saw with Josh Thomas, especially making that play in the end zone. If he can play like that, he could have been used to spell Newman enough to heal. Of course, Wade didn’t like trusting younger players, look what he kept repeating for his reasons on not playing Lee and Butler.

    I like what I saw with Arkin. His first play, he drove his man down the line and pancaked him. I think these younger guys that we drafted are going to be players and will add to the team’s depth this year. Harris might even beat out KO. I do see Costa starting this year at LG, Gurode at Center, which I think is the best move. One thing I do like is Free and Smith will allow us to run screens and pitchouts to both sides.

    I was impressed with Sendejo, he was always around the ball and made a TD saving tackle, he plays fast and is a good tackler. Butler looked like the beast he is. I don’t know how Spencer keeps his job over him. Lee missed a sure tackle in the backfield, which could have helped the defense get off the field, but the line played poorly. Brent wasn’t much of a force and didn’t get off blocks like I wanted to see or push the pocket. Lissemore looked good. Oldshansky! He was getting blocked almost completely out of the picture. He’s getting over 3 million this year for that?

    I don’t think he can play anymore, he looks worse than last year. And certainly not athletic enough for Rob Ryan. Why is he still on the team? Things like that I don’t understand.

    I was pleased overall with McGee. He still holds the ball too long, but he is willing to hang in there and make the tough throw. He isn’t gun shy and he doesn’t dwell on mistakes. He’s becoming Mr Come-Back. He helped make the game pretty exciting for a pre-season game.

  18. Knowbody Knowsbetta says:

    if Jerrah would take his thumb out for a minute he would see that teams let there draft picks play and battle for a spot. Not get something handed to you just cause your a high paid FA or Number 1 pick. THe best mans wins no matter what should be the philosophy. A true open competition, not a psuedo thing were they let a guy play, he does well, then Jerrah starts blowing up the high paid/pick in the media. For instance, there is no way Roy Williams should have been starting over Dez. Pleasssssse, there is no way. What did it take to get some of the stars on our team (Miles, Ratliff, Felix, Free) to get the starting role. INJURIES were the only reason they got to play and show what they could do in a REAL game. This way of thinking hurts us. Who cares who gets paid what. Play the best players. Look at Igor. This dude is a huge FA bust. Why is he still a starter??? He does absolutley nothing. We cannot continue to run guys out there who simply cannot do the job.

    Let the next guy in line give it a try.

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