In a game that was not nearly as exciting or interesting as the score would indicate, the Dallas Cowboys somehow emerged from the first pre-season game of 2012 with a 3-0 "victory" over the Oakland Raiders.
As expected, the interior of the offensive line was the source of many of the issues faced by the Cowboys in one of the ugliest performances in club history. Surprisingly, the issues did not revolve around the center-quarterback exchanges, which went fairly well.
But David Arkin and Harland Gunn did a remarkably poor job of blocking after the snap, and they were joined in ineptitude by Ronald Leary. Felix Jones also did not put much effort into blocking. As a result, the Raiders' defensive line spent much of the night knifing into the backfield or standing running backs up at the line of scrimmage.
The final score reflected that the Raiders were even less effective, particularly in their kicking game, with two missed field goals, one by starter Sebastian Janikowski and the other by the player hoping (with little chance of success) to replace him, Eddy Carmona.
In a bit of good news, the starters that were available for the game emerged healthy, with only a momentary scare when Jason Witten took a hard hit. He came back later and was apparently all right. The only injury of note was a broken left thumb suffered by rookie linebacker Kyle Wilber that will require surgery and sideline the promising player for at least four weeks.
The good news in the first half was sparse. Dez Bryant did have one 24 yard reception that showed just how important he is to the offense. And the first team defense did have one moment of true competence when Oakland quarterback Carson Palmer was unable to step into his throw due to the pocket getting pushed back and Gerald Sensabaugh showed the influence of coach Jerome Henderson by locking in on the ball and coming up with the interception. There is some hope that the safety play will be better this year.
But Darren McFadden looked good slashing through the defense. The early effort was not impressive, and offensively the team was ineffective through most of the game.
On the other hand, some hint of the answers to the questions the Cowboys face on the roster may have emerged. Andre Holmes might have taken the lead in the fight to become the third wide receiver with some good plays. James Hanna continued his marked improvement and is showing the makings of a good tight end. Cole Beasley did not show up as a receiver, but was reasonably effective as a punt returner, which could make the difference in his attempt to make the team.
Defensively, Alex Albright had a very solid showing. He racked up nine tackles and is building a persuasive case to earn a place on the team. Clifton Geathers was not nearly as impressive and seemed awkward, but rookie Ben Bass stepped up his game. He notched a sack and four tackles total. Adrian Hamilton also stood out with his active and effective play in the second half. Both now are presenting the team with a quandary. They may not be good candidates for the practice squad any more, since it would be likely that other teams would snatch them off waivers. This is going to make the decisions when the team cuts down at the end of pre-season very difficult.
All in all, the coaches have a huge workload ahead of them. The offensive line used against the Raiders clearly did not get the job done. Since all three of the interior linemen are projected to be different when the team starts the regular season, it is still just a huge question mark. This was something that many, including me, saw coming, so despair is not in order here.
More disturbing to me was the number of times I saw passes completed in the middle of the field. Although this is more an impression based on my initial view of the game, it still leaves me uneasy. Admittedly this was mostly when the backups were on the field, but this part of the game is going to have to improve to avoid the embarrassment the Cowboys suffered against the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles last year.
Frankly, almost everything (except the reliable kicking of Dan Bailey) will have to get fixed, come together, or be revised. I truly expected the defense to be more effective. Dallas has a short week ahead, with the San Diego game on Saturday. There is a lot of work to be done.
That is what the pre-season is for. But we all were hoping for more. There is an old saying that any win is a good one. The Dallas Cowboys may have disproved that with the undeserved W at Oakland. Now, we hope the team can put it together and get this ship righted.