Dallas Cowboys

Preseason win over Cardinals can’t mask Cowboys’ defensive shortcomings

Fully uniformed Cowboys fan catches pass from Dak Prescott

Eric Welborn, a 46-year-old fan, wore a full uniform to the Hall of Fame game. Video by Drew Davison.
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Eric Welborn, a 46-year-old fan, wore a full uniform to the Hall of Fame game. Video by Drew Davison.

It’s just the preseason. All together now, it’s just the preseason.

Now with emphasis, not only is it the preseason, it was the first preseason game, which meant the majority of the starters and experienced veterans were sitting out.

There was no Dak Prescott. No Dez Bryant. No Ezekiel Elliott. No Jason Witten. No Sean Lee. No Tyron Smith. No Travis Frederick.

You get the point.

So Thursday night’s 20-18 win over the Arizona Cardinals in the Hall of Fame Game was what it was, a preseason win.

And as we learned last year when the Cowboys turned a 1-3 preseason into a 13-3 regular season, the outcome matters little.

The issue is, how did they play?

They tape these games for a reason. This is the start of the decision-making process for the roster.

And as much as you feel good about the play of quarterbacks Kellen Moore and Cooper Rush, tight end Rico Gathers and receiver Brice Butler, the defense left a lot to be desired, especially early.

“There were a couple of specific plays by the defense on those first couple of drives — blown assignments on a big third-down conversion. And it wasn’t physical enough; it wasn’t aggressive enough; it wasn’t assignment sound,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “I felt the defense did a good job coming back, when they had the long drive and had the three-and-out, then they get another drive.

“I felt like the offense did a good job coming back. Kellen Moore has done a good job as well, moving the ball around.”

Safeties Jeff Heath and Byron Jones were among the three starters who played the first three series on defense, largely because they need the time together on the field.

Heath is the one under the spotlight, and his missed tackle on a 13-yard run by Andre Ellington set up a 3-yard touchdown from Ellington and a 15-0 deficit.

It was all part of a poor first quarter by a defense that also couldn’t muster a pass rusher against third-string quarterback Blaine Gabbert.

“We started really slow,” defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. “Not playing hard enough. Not physical enough. We were tentative and just made mistakes we shouldn’t have made. We got better, but no takeaways.”

Defensive end Taco Charlton, the rookie first-round pick, had little impact. Charlton didn’t register a quarterback pressure on seven pass rush attempts, according to Pro Football Focus.

The Cowboys need him to make an immediate impact when pads start to popping for real. This was not a good start.

But he wasn’t alone, Damontre Moore, Lewis Neal, Charles Tapper, Lenny Jones — all guys a Cowboys scout before the game said to keep an eye on as rushers — didn’t make their presence felt either.

“Not good enough,” Marinelli said of the pass rush. “I need to watch the tape. But not good enough.”

The tape doesn’t lie.

That goes for the good as well as the bad.

And as much as Gathers still has a long way to go — he is still just two years removed from a college basketball career after not playing football since the eighth grade — his 6-foot-6, 285-pound frame is hard to ignore.

He still has assignment busts, but you can’t coach size, which he proved on a 26-yard touchdown reception from Moore. Gathers blocked out undrafted Cardinals rookie safety Ironhead Gallon as if he were going for a rebound to haul in the score.

Gathers led the Cowboys with three catches for 59 yards, including a tackle-breaking 17-yard run in the third quarter to set up a field goal.

There is a ton of potential there. It’s little wonder owner Jerry Jones has adopted him as his new pet cat.

“It was good for Rico to play almost a full game,” offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said of Gathers who played almost 60 snaps. “He has some catching up to do. He needs these plays. He needs this time on the field. Something you can’t coach is that massive size he has. That’s an advantage in our favor if you put him in the right spot. He can go up and get it.”

Butler, who came into training camp feeling the heat from Andy Jones and Noah Brown, has been great in practice and carried it to the game with two catches for 78 yards.

With Moore, who completed 12 of 17 passes for 182 yards, you saw exactly what the Cowboys like. He’s not flashy, but he plays within himself and makes the right throw, often in the perfect spot, as it was with the touchdown to Gathers and the 46-yarder to Butler.

“He looked really good,” Linehan said of Moore. “He looked comfortable back there and he pulled the trigger on some deep balls.”

Garrett said, “Brice Butler obviously had a good few plays for us. I thought we played better as it went on.”

His interception late in the first half was a case of the defender making a nice play on the ball.

As Jones has said more than once, the Cowboys like what they have in Moore.

Clarence Hill: 817-390-7760, @clarencehilljr

Arizona

15

0

3

0

18

Dallas

7

3

7

3

20

First Quarter

Ari—K.Williams 5 run (Leone kick), 10:46.

Ari—Ellington 3 run (Gabbert run), 5:18.

Dal—Gathers 26 pass from K.Moore (Irwin-Hill kick), 1:24.

Second Quarter

Dal—FG Irwin-Hill 23, 7:51.

Third Quarter

Dal—Nwachukwu 14 pass from Rush (Irwin-Hill kick), 10:48.

Ari—FG Wile 40, 3:50.

Fourth Quarter

Dal—FG Irwin-Hill 43, 10:49.

A—21,126.

Ari

Dal

First downs

19

22

Total Net Yards

327

396

Rushes-yards

27-88

37-127

Passing

239

269

Punt Returns

1-10

2-14

Kickoff Returns

2-71

2-26

Interceptions Ret.

1-0

0-0

Comp-Att-Int

16-28-0

21-35-1

Sacked-Yards Lost

2-14

0-0

Punts

5-39.4

5-36.8

Fumbles-Lost

0-0

0-0

Penalties-Yards

8-66

11-103

Time of Possession

25:14

34:46

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING—Arizona, Logan 4-24, K.Williams 5-18, Ellington 5-17, Penny 8-14, Knight 3-12, Gabbert 2-3. Dallas, R.Smith 18-64, Morris 7-42, Rush 2-23, Hillman 6-5, K.Moore 1-(minus 1), D.McFadden 3-(minus 6).

PASSING—Arizona, Gabbert 11-14-0-185, Knight 5-14-0-68. Dallas, K.Moore 12-17-1-182, Rush 9-18-0-87.

RECEIVING—Arizona, Momah 3-48, Bundy 2-34, Ellington 2-15, B.Golden 1-35, Ross 1-29, Hogan 1-25, Niklas 1-20, null 1-19, Agudosi 1-10, Seals-Jones 1-9, Christian 1-5, Nelson 1-4. Dallas, Gathers 3-59, A.Jones 3-39, R.Smith 3-25, B.Brown 3-20, K.Smith 3-15, Butler 2-78, Jarwin 2-18, Nwachukwu 1-14, Hamlett 1-1.

MISSED FIELD GOALS—Arizona, Leone 51, Wile 32.

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