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Cowboys Studs & Duds: Biggest Trade Need Revealed in Loss

Backup QB? Starting receiver? Yes. Sure. Maybe. But the biggest Week 1 “dud” in Denver is …
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DENVER - No deep dive into the “studs and duds” in the Dallas Cowboys’ 17-7 preseason-opening loss at Denver can begin without the mention of this team’s ongoing penalty crisis.

So let’s begin there …

DUDS

FLAG FOOTBALL Dallas finished with 17 penalties for 129 yards during Saturday night’s loss. (See "Flag Football.'') What happened to coach Mike McCarthy’s pledge to cure the No. 1 illness that plagued the otherwise-competitive 2021 Cowboys? What happened to owner Jerry Jones’ testimony that the lack of professionalism (“availability”) would be upgraded by his three most controversial roster moves?

“The penalties are clearly way too much,” McCarthy said. “That’s clearly the biggest negative …

“I think we all recognize that this isn’t the regular season. This is preseason, I don’t think this has anything to do with last year.”

Really? Because I do. And the constants from last year - including a coaching staff that’s proven unable to fix it - deserves scrutiny.

NO RUSH Is Will Grier (dinged up and inactive here) catching up to No. 2 QB Cooper Rush?

Or is Rush “catching down” to Grier?

He ended up throwing one pick on 12 of 20 passing for 84 yards while Grier (groin) watched. Grier gets his shot this week at the Chargers.

O-LINE WOES I’ve said often Dallas will regret not hurrying Tyler Smith into his starting left guard and it showed Saturday night. He pushes people around. But footwork, hand placement, discipline, penalties …

Hurry up, Tyler.

Meanwhile, hurry up Cowboys and acquire a vet swing tackle, as disaster is being flirted with.

And yet, McCarthy is preaching patience.

"How the offensive line plays is the last thing that comes (together) in preseason,'' he said. "Those are the facts.''

KICKED OUT McCarthy had a plan: Lirim Hajrullahu and Brett Maher were going to rotate on kicks.

Tough plan when your team can barely score.

WHO'S THE BOSS? In Thursday’s joint practice at Denver, the Broncos seemed to make a point to throw at Cowboys second-year corner Kelvin Joseph.

It worked in practice.

It worked in the game, too.

Joseph can maybe be excused for coming offsides on a 57-yard field-goal attempt that missed, gifting Denver a 52-yard make; he’s new to special teams, he’s trying to be aggressive, blah-blah.

But he’s got to start covering somebody.

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JALEN TOLBERT DROPS All the sudden, we’re not talking of him as a starter anymore.

He was targeted seven times by Rush and ended up with only two catches for 10 yards, with a drop, leaving the only good news being that he’s smart enough to admit the goofs. (See "Rocky (Mountain) Start.'')

But, said McCarthy, "He had the drop early but I like the way he bounced back.

STUDS

NOT BLAND While Joseph (and fellow starter-for-the-night Nahshon Wright) struggled, corner DaRon Bland continued his training camp habit of seeming at least solid. Is thd fifth-round rookie pick suddenly the Cowboys’ fourth-best corner?

Leave the politics out of it, and … yup.

OH, OSA! Wait a sec: How’s Osa Odighizuwa a “stud” when he didn’t even play?

Because he was elevated to the premium group that didn’t play, that’s why.

SIMI & NOAH Similarly, Noah Brown sat, creating the impression that he’s a penciled-in starter. He’s emerged from a pack that includes Simi Fehoko, who big-bodied his way to scoring Dallas’ only touchdown on a 12-yard pass from Ben DiNucci in the final minutes of the game.

And two rookies worth mention, Dennis Houston’s quiet reliability and return man KaVontae Turpin’s elusive promise put them in play.

WHY NEVILLE? Dallas’ defensive tackles shut down the run here, limiting Denver to only 1.8 yards per carry. Starter Neville Gallimore into the third quarter and was often a man among children. 

"That first game,'' Gallimore said, "everybody has the jitters.''

But in this first game? He gave Denver three-plus quarters of jitters.

THE TEs Dalton Schultz watched as rookie Jake Ferguson looked multi-purpose and Peyton Hendershot worked his way open nicely.

THE INJURY GODS Among the premium guys, only Tyron Smith came out of Denver dinged up, and that is a minor issue coming out of the Thursday workout.

Otherwise? No Cowboys sustained a notable injury.

In summary …

Would the game have resulted in a different look had Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, CeeDee Lamb, Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, Micah Parsons, Trevon Diggs, DeMarcus Lawrence, Jayron Kearse and other first-teamers played?

Obviously.

But “duds” are still duds, no matter where they are on the depth chart.

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