Evaluation of talent is hard. It’s even harder when it comes to preseason games.
Starters play a small number of snaps and the highlights are few and far between; but there seems to be a method to Jason Garrett’s madness. You may notice the scoreboard rarely favors the Dallas Cowboys, and that the play looks downright sloppy at times. Read not into it, there’s more going on here than meets the eye.
Jason Garrett seems like the type of coach to think outside of the box and take advantage of opportunities afforded to him. One of the main goals by every team in the league is to come out of the preseason as healthy as possible, and Garrett is no different.
Morris Claiborne, Byron Jones, Brandon Carr, Sean Lee, Anthony Hitchens, Ronald Leary, Zack Martin, Tyron Smith, Kenneth Boatright, James Hanna, Dez Bryant, Nick Hayden, Terrell McClain and Tyrone Crawford all sat out during this exhibition. Tonight, we witnessed players like Tony Romo take about four snaps on offense. They were quickly pulled in favor of the backups to preserve them for the next week as well as the rest of the season.
More than that, though, Garrett seems to take advantage of preseason in ways than many other teams; He plays his backups and his backups backups against the opponents’ starters. This would seem like a smart tactic as coaches – and fans – can get a better overall evaluation of the depth of the team without risking the health of the starters by matching the 2nd, 3rd and 4th string players up against upper tier talent to see what skills they really possess.
They will not look polished. They will not look perfect. Often they lack consistency and cohesion, but that is to be expected. Fear not what the scoreboard says. Fear not how the backup offensive line or any other group looks as a whole, as they will never collectively be on the field at a meaningful point in any game. Instead, focus on players’ individual performances.
Randy Gregory stood out tonight, looking quick and powerful. The rookie defensive end registered his second sack of the preseason on QB Colin Kaepernick. Gregory didn’t stop there, forcing two holding penalties against him, and was often overpowering OTs into the backfield.
The young rotation of defensive linemen was the most promising group of the entire evening, combining for four sacks, five tackles for loss and three quarterback hits.
The offense struggled with backup quarterback Brandon Weeden being knocked out of the game early and being taken back for evaluation on what was classified as a “head injury.” Quarterbacks Dustin Vaughn and Jameill Showers both struggled the rest of the night combining to go for 17-of-38 for 156 YDs, 1 TD and 3 INTs. Their offensive lines did them no favors allowing four tackles for loss, four sacks and fifteen quarterback hits.
Though the offense looked bad, special teams was the most worrisome unit of the night. The unit allowed an average return of 20.0 yards on kick offs, an average return of 26.3 on punts as well as a blocked punt for a touchdown topped off by a missed Dan Bailey field goal.
While the showing was lackluster, it allowed for plenty mistakes to be made and caught on tape so that the team can head back to the drawing board in order to clean them up and move forward.
Perhaps the most impressive outcome of the evening, however: The Cowboys came out with no significant injuries on a day where we saw Packers WR Jordy Nelson tear his ACL and Steelers OC Maurkice Pouncey fracture his ankle.