Defensive Line Shined, While The Offense Moved Backwards In Cowboys Preseason Loss Vs. Broncos

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The Cowboys had an overall disappointing showing in Saturday night’s preseason loss to the Denver Broncos.

Nearly all starters on both sides of the ball sat out in the 17-7 defeat, but the tough start to the preseason still raises questions about Dallas’ depth as the regular season approaches.

Here are the biggest takeaways from the game:

Penalties, penalties and more penalties

It was tough for the Cowboys to get into a flow offensively because many of its drives were cut short due to penalties. Dallas was flagged 17 times for 129 yards, which nearly topped the Cowboys’ 141 total rushing yards. The Broncos also declined a few penalties, so the total should be higher.

One of the more egregious flags came when Broncos kicker Brandon McManus missed a 57-yard FG try as time expired, ending the first half. But a Dallas player jumped offside and granted McManus another attempt, and he hit it.

The penalty issue from this game is only intensified when you consider Dallas was the most penalized team in 2021 and had the second-most penalty yardage. Penalties generally stem from poor preparation and coaching.

This was Mike McCarthy’s response to a question about last year’s penalty problem bleeding into the start of the 2022 season:

“I think we all recognize that this isn’t the regular season. I understand your question, (but) last year was last year. I think last year as far as trying to establish a play style and an identity, it took us a while to get that and once we did, we won a number of games. This is really the starting point that you go through every year.”

It’s important to remember that most of the Cowboys starters sat out, but it was still an uneasy sight seeing yellow flags thrown throughout the game.

Ben DiNucci outplayed Cooper Rush 

Earlier this week, a Cowboys unofficial depth chart was released and it had DiNucci slotted as Dallas’ fourth-string QB behind Rush and Will Grier, who sat Saturday night due to injury.

Despite Rush playing a majority of the game, the offense moved the ball far more efficiently with DiNucci under center. Here’s each QBs stat lines from the game:

  • Rush: 12/20 on passing attempts, 84 yards and one interception (48.8 QB rating)
  • DiNucci: 9/16 on passing attempts, 112 yards and one touchdown (99 QB rating)

If DiNucci outplays Rush again in Dallas’ next preseason game against the Los Angeles Chargers, then it should serve as confirmation this game wasn’t a fluke.

Grier has also been playing well during training camp but missed practice on Thursday and Friday due to a groin injury and was forced to sit Saturday as well. But with only two games left, each QB will have to make the most of each opportunity they get to earn a spot on the 53-man roster.

Defensive line was solid while defensive backs struggled

The Cowboys allowed only 39 rushing yards on 22 attempts, giving up just 1.8 yards per carry. The defensive line was thought to be a strong position group for Dallas, and this performance put a stamp on it.

The cornerbacks, on the other hand, didn’t have a stellar showing. The Broncos had 285 passing yards, going 24-41 for seven yards per completion.

Nahshon Wright was left in the dust by his man on two plays that led to Denver’s two touchdowns, and Kelvin Joseph was in position to make a play on the Broncos second touchdown pass, but was a step behind his man.

Joseph was also the player who set up McManus’ FG at the end of the half by going offsides.

The lone bright spot in the secondary was fifth round draft pick DaRon Bland, who broke up a few passes and laid some big hits on Broncos receivers.

No edge gained in the kicking competition

Lirim Hajrullahu and Brett Maher are competing to be the Cowboys’ kicker this season, but neither player got many chances to showcase their skills.

Hajrullahu missed a 56-yard FG, but the snap was slightly fumbled by the placeholder. So not totally on Hajrullahu.

Maher split the uprights on the only XP attempt of the night.

The lack of offense limited the opportunities for the kickers. Hopefully, Dallas can move the ball a bit more in Week 2, so we can really see what we have in each player.

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