By Matthew Postins
First and 10 is back. RattleandHumSports.com’s breakdown of the 10 most important things to come out of each game is back for 2014. Today we’re focused on the second preseason game of the season against the Baltimore Ravens.
Tony Romo’s first game action of the preseason certainly quelled some anxiety about his health. First, the numbers. He went 4-of-5 for 80 yards, including the touchdown pass to Dez Bryant. Second, he seemed to pass the eye test. He didn’t look tentative under center. He threw two passes of more than 20 yards and neither fluttered, which was a criticism we were hearing coming out of camp. Romo showed he could step up when the rush came, received solid blocking up front basically wasn’t touched. The only mistake was the bad handoff between Romo and DeMarco Murray, which led to the first touchdown. I actually wanted to see Romo take a hit, just to see him get up and shake it off. To me, that’s the final threshold he must cross. But, aside from that, nothing I saw gave me pause. Most Cowboys fans probably agreed.
This is one of the most athletic offensive lines the Cowboys have had in years. Case in point is that screen pass to DeMarco Murray in the first quarter. First, it was well-designed screen pass where the Cowboys got the Ravens defense going left and Tony Romo was able to go right and dump it to Murray. But Murray had a convoy in front of him as both center Travis Frederick and right guard Zack Martin flared out to provide the blocking. Murray ended up with a huge gain. Thus far this preseason, this first-team offensive has been well above average. It’s indicative of the investment the Cowboys have made up front, with three first-round picks in the last four years, and the development of undrafted free agent Ron Leary. The latter is a credit to offensive line coach Bill Callahan, no matter what you think of his play-calling a year ago.
Not sure where I see Rolando McClain fitting in just yet. He was prominent on the Ravens’ last drive of the first half. He disengaged nicely from a blocker to bring down a ball carrier near the sideline. A couple of plays later he was way out of position in pass coverage over the middle of the field. Then, a few plays later, he did a great job staying in pass coverage and breaking up a pass. He’s uneven, but that’s what you expect from a player that retired twice in one year. But I don’t see the explosiveness yet. He did end up with six total tackles.
The Ravens’ first drive of the second half is indicative of the defensive depth for the Cowboys. Dallas doesn’t have much. The Ravens’ second-team offense just gashed the Cowboys on a 67-yard drive in which the Cowboys looked like they offered little resistance. The starters did look a little better, but for a unit that is already banged up this was a bad omen if injuries continue to wear on the defense.
Rich Bisaccia needs a hug. First the kick coverage unit gives up a touchdown return from deep in the end zone. Then it gives up another long return. Then it nearly fumbles away a return late in the first half. Ugh. I’ve seen Bisaccia angry. Not fun. Perhaps a team collection for a gross of Krispy Kreme donuts for Monday’s film session is in order?
I’m fairly confident Brandon Weeden can be a good caretaker if Tony Romo has to miss some time. He’s proven the past two weeks what having great weapons around you can do. But there’s still a bit of inconsistency there. But if it’s just a game or two, I think the Cowboys can craft a game plan that protects Weeden and allows the offense to remain productive.
Gavin Escobar didn’t disappear after an early catch this week. He ended up with three catches, but may have banged up his shoulder on the last one. Aside from Dez Bryant, he was the most consistent receiver of the night. That’s good to see, and if he can continue to sustain that in the preseason and take it into the regular season that’s a big positive for the Cowboys.
The Cowboys did seem to get a bit more pressure from the front four on defense. But the bottom line is the first-team and the second-team didn’t register a sack. That second-team line was not flying around Ravens second-string quarterback Tyrod Taylor much at all. This front four still has a long way to go.
Heaven help the Cowboys if Dwayne Harris gets hurt. The return game will go down the tubes without him. I don’t think I trust B.W. Webb on kickoffs.
I’m torn on Cameron Lawrence’s chances of making this team. I’m not sold on him being helpful as a backup linebacker. But as a special teams ace there are few better on this Cowboys team. The fumble he forced in the fourth quarter, even though it was on defense, showed his nose for the football. This one is going to be tough for Jason Garrett and company.
Bonus – two words – Zach Minter. The former Montana State defensive tackle entered the game in the fourth quarter and made quite the impression with a sack-strip-fumble on his second possession. He may have shown the most energy of any defensive lineman in the game for the Cowboys and ended up with two sacks. He’s one to track next week.