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Cowboys Preseason Opener: Ups And Downs

The Cowboys won their preason opener over the Broncos, 24-23, Thursday night in Arlington. Here are some positives and negatives from the game.

One of the fascinating things (and there really aren't that many) about NFL training camps is the way performances in preseason games often contrast with the bulk of camp practices. We saw some of that Thursday night from Cowboys, and we also saw cases where players seemed to affirm their camp. Here are a handful of each, in positive/negative form.


ARROW UP

Dwayne Harris - As is usually true of young players, there were mistakes littered between his catches - such as his cutting off (what looked initially like) a pattern inexplicably at the end of the third quarter on a third down, causing a sack, and his two punt returns for -10 yards - but Harris made plays in the middle of the field, which is what the Cowboys drafted him for. He showed good hands, found openings, and took advantage of a busted third-down coverage for a huge play. He did have a nice 32-yard kick return as well.

Stephen McGee - It's still painful sometimes to watch McGee go through his progressions and hold the ball when his receivers come open, but that seems to be slowly improving, and his athleticism and arm strength continue to translate. He's struggled in camp behind what's been a porous third string OL, but he performed well in this game with lots of end-of-the-bench guys on the field. More than anything else, he was clutch, converting two difficult 4th-downs and a two-point conversion on the game-winning drive. On his last two passes he showed a lot of composure, finding Harris and Martin Rucker in crowds.

Victor Butler - He had four tackles and an assist in the first half and was generally hard to block. The Broncos lined TE Julius Thomas up against him once, and he breezed right by him, creating a Clifton Geathers sack. He lined up all over the place, and if he keeps performing like that you know Rob Ryan will use packages that include him.

Tyron Smith - For a first time out, it was a solid showing. He missed one obvious assignment, but we generally didn't hear much from the Broncos on his end. That he was able to play a full half and no pick up a knock was also a positive. The young line was noticeably more active with the two rookies and Phil Costa replacing older, slower veterans.

Injury Report - There was only one known injury, a painful looking shoulder/rib issue for Danny McCray. X-rays on both areas were negative, and Jason Garrett said after the game that initial reports were positive. The Cowboys held Jay Ratliff and Martellus Bennett out of the game, along with several other starters. Many of those guys are expected to begin practicing Saturday.

Phillip Tanner - Continuing the theme of positive performances with drawbacks, Tanner ran the ball well, showing a nice burst and more wiggle than Lonyae Miller. His one negative was a very poor pass protection early, where he didn't appear to be too interested in sticking a shoulder pad into a blitzer. He fits in the mold of Felix Jones and DeMarco Murray, showing nice speed on a platoon back frame.


ARROW DOWN

Defensive secondary - There were a few nice plays - a break-up in the right corner of the end zone by Josh Thomas stood out - but there were also busted assignments and mix-ups throughout the night. The first unit blitzed just once, on a 3rd-6 at Denver's 24 on the first series, and Ryan said the secondary (appeared to be Gerald Sensabaugh) blew the coverage assignment, resulting in a 29-yard pickup. Tim Tebow and Brady Quinn, two guys who are not known for their accurate passing, were 14-21 for 211 yards against the backups for a combined QB rating in the 110's.

First unit's run defense - On their one first unit drive, Denver ran the ball from the Dallas 39 for 6, 5, 12, 7 and 6 on consecutive plays to set up a 1st-goal at the three (after which they inexplicably passed three times). That won't cut it. Jay Ratliff and Keith Brooking were missing, but Josh Brent and Sean Lee are expected to play significant snaps, and Lee was bowled over by Willis McGahee.

Lonyae Miller - Some of his nine carry, 11 yard performance can easily be attributed to poor blocking. He rarely had anywhere obvious to go. But he was also tackled by the first contact on every carry, and the other two runners for the Cowboys combined for a 12-67 game. He lost some of the momentum he'd gained in camp by not creating anything on his own, so he'll be wanting to bounce back against the Chargers in ten days.


ARROW SIDEWAYS

Kickers - Dan Bailey was a little inconsistent on kickoffs, but he did show the ability to put the ball deep in the endzone, and Denver's best kickoff return was for 23 yards. David Buehler barely made his one field goal, a 42-yarder that snuck inside the left upright. I don't know that we learned a lot in this battle.

Penalties - I almost put this in the Ups category. Six penalties for 59 yards, including a couple that extended Denver drives, isn't anything to write home about under normal circumstances. However, we are not under normal circumstances, after just 12 full practices and zero offseason OTAs. The lack of pre-snap calls on the young offensive linemen was particularly refreshing. 

Raymond Radway - For a guy who has played only limited football both in high school and college and who went to Abilen Christian, catching a touchdown in his first NFL preseason game is pretty awesome. He also made two nice kickoff returns for a total of 62 yards. On the other hand, he appeared completely lost on some routes, and he failed to bring in a long McGee pass on the sideline that was easily within his reach. He has practice squad written all over him. 

David Arkin - It's easy to see why Jason Garrett and Hudson Houck like Arkin, and why they aren't in love with the idea of starting him from day one. He had his wins and losses Thursday night, getting beaten on a run loss and stonewalled on a couple of other occasions. He also looked good on the move and opened some holes early. It's hard to imagine that the Cowboys can get him ready to play Week One, but he and Montrae Holland will be interesting to follow as the season goes on, and Arkin's progress throughout the preseason will be one of the biggest story lines for the Cowboys. 

Orie Lemon & Alex Albright - They both showed up and had a pair of tackles, but neither jumped off the tv screen. They each still need to show something to win the fifth-man spots. 

John Phillips - He caught four passes, including a nice reach-back for a first down on Jon Kitna's first throw, but more than anything else it was nice to see him on the field again, looking mobile and active. A more polished Martellus Bennett would increase this offense's upside appreciably, but so does a healthy John Phillips.

Photographs by jamesbrandon, jdtornow, phlezk, flygraphix, mcdlttx, tomasland, and literalbarrage used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.