August 13, 2012

Cowboys' 3-0 victory in preseason opener was pretty ugly

Effort against Raiders proves there's work to do.

OAKLAND, Calif. -- OK, let's get the excuses out of the way first.

The Dallas Cowboys went into Monday's 3-0 preseason opening victory against the Oakland Raiders at Coliseum (don't ask) without 14 injured players -- including eight starters -- who were left behind at training camp in Oxnard, Calif.

And considering the issues the Cowboys have had all camp with the offensive line, they didn't expect a flawless performance.

Let's not kid ourselves, the biggest objective was to get out of the game without any other injuries to front-line players, especially quarterback Tony Romo. He was playing behind mystery meat up front; most notable was converted guard David Arkin at center in place of the injured Phil Costa.

So the expectations were low.

But no one expected the lowest-scoring game in franchise history.

Apparently the expectations weren't low enough in what was an ugly performance by the Cowboys' first-team offense, which had 14 net yards on 10 plays in what was its first public outing.

The special teams weren't much better, giving the Raiders two extra possessions following punts because of a running-into-the-kicker penalty and an offsides penalty, and then allowed them an extra field-goal try with an offsides penalty following a high snap.

"You have no chance in the National Football League if you're going to make the mistakes that we made tonight," Romo said.

And when you play like that, you definitely have no chance to live up to owner Jerry Jones' lofty expectations. It was Jones who proclaimed that the window was closing on his team and that they have a sense of urgency to win in 2012.

They will head back to the drawing board and training camp in Oxnard today preaching patience rather than urgency.

Romo played three series, completed 3 of 6 passes for 30 yards and led the offense to one first down. That was a 24-yard reception by receiver Dez Bryant on the second play of the game.

Bryant was a game-time decision after straining his hamstring in Saturday's practice. He has been the best player in training camp and, with his leaping reception, showed that he might be the best player on the field.

That proved to be the lone offensive highlight among the regulars.

There were no more first downs as the line concerns seemingly made it impossible to get anything done.

Running backs DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones combined for four yards on four carries.

The third series, however, was a downright comedy up front.

Romo did his best to avoid a sack by Raiders defensive Lamar Houston, who beat right tackle Doug Free for a free run at the quarterback. Pun intended. Romo's heroics resulted in a pass to tight end Jason Witten for minus-2 yards.

The next play was a simple screen pass, but even that proved to be too much as Arkin didn't get his chip block on defensive tackle Tommy Kelly, who sacked Romo on a screen.

Yes, a sack on a screen.

"I think we need to eliminate some of the mistakes that put us in a hole," Romo said. "We have a lot of young guys playing right now and we are just going to be able to evaluate this tape and get better from it. Right now is a time for us to correct the mistakes that are on the tape. I think the effort was there; we just need to have better execution. and we will."

Give credit to a Cowboys defense that pitched a shutout against a Raiders offense that was even more putrid than the Cowboys'.

The biggest highlight on defense came on the first series of the game when safety Gerald Sensabaugh played a perfect center field, coming over to help cornerback Orlando Scandrick with coverage on a go-route throw to Jacoby Ford.

Sensabaugh intercepted the pass and returned it 31 yards, which was positive news for a revamped Cowboys secondary that gave up more passing yards the past two years than any time in team history.

The second biggest play was safety Manny Silva's interception in the final moments to preserve the ugly win for the Cowboys.

"I think it is always a good time to see where you stand and play against another opponent," linebacker DeMarcus Ware said. "I felt like the first team did pretty good. There are always some things that we need to work on, but I think it was a good first half."

There is time for improvement, and it needs to come in a hurry. This was the first of four preseason games in 16 games and two in five days, as the Cowboys have a quick turnaround before Saturday's matchup against the San Diego Chargers.

Clarence E. Hill Jr.


Twitter: @clarencehilljr

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