The first was a Dak Prescott pass to CeeDee Lamb in Thursday’s practice. On Saturday night, the Cowboys’ offense was horrid, getting shutout for 55 minutes before Ben DiNucci found Simi Fehoko in the closing moments.
Denver defeated Dallas, 17-7, in the first preseason game for both teams. The Cowboys haven’t won a preseason opener since 2017 and have yet to win a true road preseason game since 2012, a 3-0 victory over Oakland.
“This was exactly what we need,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “I really look at tonight and Thursday [scrimmage] as a combination. I think the work coming up here is exactly [what we need], particularly for our young players. We had a focus coming into the game to run the football [141 rushing yards] and stop the run [Broncos with 39]. With the amount of padded work you get in training camp in this structure, I thought we did some good things here.”
Here are three takeaways from the game:
The first-round pick
Tyler Smith, the Cowboys’ first-round pick, started at left guard and participated in 33 offensive plays. Connor McGovern, the other guard competing with Smith for the starting spot, played at right guard. Smith was penalized twice for holding and apparently missed a block, allowing quarterback Cooper Rush to get knocked down on an interception. Overall, Smith was physical and looked like the player the Cowboys projected as a Week 1 starter against Tampa Bay. Yet, there were some issues with Smith that can get cleaned up.
“That was just learning,” Smith said. “It was the first preseason game. There was a lot going on and a lot we horned in on. Physicality was definitely a big focus for me from the onset. I talked to Tyron [Smith], I talked to Zack [Martin] about it and they said it’s just little eccentricities that you got to understand when it comes to the NFL. ... I’m still learning and we’re getting better every day. I’ll definitely improve.”
Penalties, penalties and more penalties
The Cowboys led the NFL last season in penalties, and there was a goal of fixing that this offseason. In the first preseason game, the Cowboys were penalized 17 times for 129 yards. There were a few bad penalties such as Tarell Basham being flagged for roughing the passer on an incomplete pass on a third-and-13 in the second quarter. Kelvin Joseph was flagged for offsides on a missed 57-yard field-goal attempt at the end of the half -- Broncos kicker Brandon McManus got a second chance and converted a 52-yard kick. Tight end Peyton Hendershot was penalized for a false start on a fourth-and-1 in the third quarter. Dallas was able to convert the fourth down after the penalty, yet right tackle Aviante Collins was called for holding. Dallas was in field goal range before the Hendershot penalty, then after Collins’ infraction it was forced to punt. Dante Fowler was also flagged in the first half for pulling a Broncos player off a pile. McCarthy said he benched Fowler after that penalty.
“I think discipline are the things you’re working on all the time, pre-snap,” McCarthy said of the penalties. “I think we came out of Thursday, new cadence, they got us on some cadence things Thursday but I thought we did a better job of that today. We’ve got to go back and look at the combative ones, those are the ones we can control, particularly the holding on run plays.”
If you’re wondering about the officiating crew, referee Alex Kemp was part of the playoff crew that flagged the Cowboys a franchise-record 14 times in the loss to the 49ers. Kemp’s crew also conducted a Dec. 12 regular season game between Washington and Dallas during which Dallas was flagged seven times with 14 total for the game.
So the offense is what?
The majority of the offensive players sat with the exception of center Tyler Biadasz, Smith and McGovern. Rush started at quarterback and finished 12-20 for 84 yards with an interception. DiNucci went 9-16 for 112 yards and a touchdown. We saw some good running plays from Rico Dowdle and Aaron Shampklin. Tight ends Jake Ferguson and Hendershot flashed a little. The Cowboys tried to get rookie receiver Jalen Tolbert some touches, targeting him a team-high seven times, but he had a drop on a fourth-down play and finished with just two catches. Rush missed on his first three passes of the game and didn’t look like the same man who beat the Vikings last season when Dak Prescott was out with a calf injury. Will Grier didn’t play because of a sore groin. So, Grier has two more games to make a case to become the No. 2 quarterback.
“First live action, took us a bit to settle in,” Rush said. “I thought we started settling nicely, we got behind the chains a few times, which hurt us. But we’re excited it’s only Week 1 of the preseason and get a few more cracks at this thing.”