They did it without Dak Prescott and most of the first-team starters, and on Friday in Arizona the Dallas Cowboys' offense again struggled in their second preseason game, losing 19-16 to the Cardinals. Our 10 Whitty Observations ...
10. THE DAK-LESS COWBOYS - More important than anything that happened on the field during the game was what occurred in the pregame as starting quarterback Dak Prescott made significant progress in the rehab of his arm injury.
An hour before kickoff, Prescott was on the field making throws - zinging some up to 25 yards. He'll get an MRI on Monday once the team arrives back in Frisco, but the velocity on his passes seemed to indicate that Prescott's shoulder felt stronger than at any time during training camp.
9. ALL MY EXES PLAYED AT TEXAS - If this game was played in the regular season it would've been Prescott vs. Kyler Murray. Instead, we were treated to two former Texas Longhorn quarterbacks: Colt McCoy and Garrett Gilbert.
The pair combined to complete 13 of 23 passes for 149 yards and zero touchdowns. While McCoy was sacked three times, Gilbert mixed in some good (a perfect pass on a 34-yard completion to Cedric Wilson) with some bad (absorbing a delay-of-game penalty when he inexcusably lost track of the play clock).
8. EARLY TURNOVERS - For the second week in a row the Cowboys' defense produced a turnover on the opponents' first drive of the game. Last week in Canton it was rookie linebacker Micah Parsons falling on a Pittsburgh Steelers' fumble and Friday night in Arizona it was safety Keanu Neal with a simultaneous tackle, strip and fumble recovery.
Both were a sight for sore eyes and for defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, as the Cowboys have been one of the worst teams in the NFL in recent years in taking the ball away.
7. DOMINANT DORANCE - Lineman Dorance Armstrong was easily the Cowboys' defensive standout, recording two sacks and blowing up a screen pass by knocking down the ball in the backfield. And that was just in the first half.
6. SNAP JUDGEMENT - Connor Williams is slated to be the Cowboys' starting left guard. That's the good news, because we were reminded Friday night that - although he might be able to play center - he is horrendous at shotgun snaps.
Filling in for starting center Tyler Biadasz, Williams offered two ridiculously bad snaps in the general direction of Gilbert in the first quarter. The second one one-hopped Gilbert on fourth down, leading to a Keystone Cops moment and ultimately a hurried incompletion.
Said Gilbert of the sorry snaps, "It’s preseason. We just need to put a little more work in on that. That’s the type of stuff that every play starts with that. Him and I need to put in a little more work with that.”
5. MCCARTHY MCGAMBLER - Head coach Mike McCarthy went for it three times on fourth down in the first half, which we totally applaud. We've seen enough of punter/backup kicker Hunter Niswander.
It's McCarthy's irrational gambles in the regular season that still haunt us from 2020.
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On Thanksgiving afternoon, the Cowboys were trailing Washington, 20-16, with 13 minutes remaining. Faced with a fourth-and-10 from his own 24, McCarthy eschewed a punt and okayed a fake-punt reverse. One play later – with morale visibly deflated – his team surrendered a nobody-touched-him touchdown en route to a blowout loss in a game poised to be dramatically competitive.
4. GALLUP'S GAFFE - Something we don't want - or expect - to see during the regular season: Michael Gallup dropped a perfect pass from Gilbert in the first quarter. He did regroup to catch two passes for 23 yards including a fourth-down grab, but Gallup is too good to drop a pass that easy.
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3. IMPORTANT INJURIES - The Cowboys may be talented along the defensive line, but by no means are they deep. That's why everyone in sliver-and-blue cringed when starting defensive tackle Neville Gallimore suffered what appeared to be a hyperextended left elbow in the first quarter.
Gallimore, a third-round draft pick in 2020, was trying to make a tackle when he was caught up in the pile trying to take down Arizona running back Chase Edmunds and landed awkwardly.
He is scheduled for an MRI when the team returns to Frisco Saturday.
Gallimore played 14 games with nine starts last season, making 28 tackles and half a sack.
“Neville is doing a great job,” Cowboys defensive line coach Aden Durde said this week. “He’s playing with intent and energy.”
Later in the first half, third-string tight end Sean McKeon left the field on a cart with an apparent injury to his right ankle. Swing offensive tackle Ty Nsekhe, signed as a free agent this offseason, suffered a knee injury. Texas A&M rookie linebacker Anthony Hines was taken off the field on a cart in the third quarter with a shoulder injury. Receiver Malik Turner also left in the third quarter with a foot ailment.
Team physician Dr. Dan Cooper's Stetson got way too much air time.
2. STAR UP - Rookie Nahshon Wright made an impressive tackle on a kickoff and had several tight coverages as a cornerback. The guy can play. Niswander, who struggled last week with a couple of misses, nailed three field goals in the desert. So our confidence in the backup kicker is restored.
1. UGLY OFFENSE - Dak or no Dak, there's no excuse for how inept the Cowboys' offense has been early in the preseason. Dallas didn't score a touchdown until its 18th drive of 2021, covering 7+ quarters.
Midway through the fourth, fourth-string, silly side-armer quarterback Ben DiNucci finally got the Cowboys in the end zone with a 1-yard pass to rookie receiver Brandon Smith. It was their first preseason touchdown since Taryn Christion hit Jalen Guyton with a 69-yard pass against Tampa Bay on Aug. 29, 2019.
With a healthy Prescott, multiple Pro Bowl offensive linemen and a trio of talented receivers, we can assume this will improve in the regular season. It'll take more than 16 points to win when these teams meet again in Week 17. Riiiiiight?! The Cowboys finally lost on Matt Prater's 47-yard field goal on the game's final play.