Dallas Cowboys: 2014 NFL Preseason Week 2 DAL at SD

SAN DIEGO -- Normally, there's not much reason to pay attention to the backup quarterback, especially in the first preseason game.

But Tony Romo has had two back surgeries in the past year, and the Dallas Cowboys are so leery of him tweaking it again that they regularly hold him out of practice. Strange for a player the team continues to insist is 100 percent.

Well, at least now you understand why it's important for Weeden to prove he can successfully lead the team if he must play for an extended period because Romo is hurt. At worst, the coaching staff would like to know he can be a successful game manager.

Weeden, a first-round bust in Cleveland, played the entire first half of the Cowboys' 27-7 loss Thursday and did a solid job.

He completed 13 of 17 passes for 107 yards and a touchdown. He showed good mobility, moving out of the pocket several times to extend plays, and the offense moved the ball with him at the helm.

More important, he avoided turnovers. That's his most important job, if he ever gets on the field.

This offense has enough weapons -- Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, DeMarco Murray and a strong offensive line -- that all Weeden needs to do is give those guys an opportunity to make plays.

He didn't, or couldn't, do that in Cleveland because of the dearth of offensive talent. In 20 starts in Cleveland, Weeden threw 23 touchdowns, had 26 interceptions and compiled a 5-15 record.

Nine times, Weeden threw two or more interceptions in a game. Cleveland was 1-8 in those games; it was 4-5 when he didn't throw an interception.

Against San Diego, aided by Scott Linehan's approach to play-calling, Weeden found himself in a position to succeed much of the night.

Linehan used the running game to set up play-action passes, something the Cowboys rarely did last season. Romo threw only 74 play-action passes last season, one of the league's lowest totals. Weeden threw two on his first series Thursday and three in the first half. The Cowboys moved quickly from their 20 to the San Diego 40, but an illegal hands to the face penalty on a MacKenzy Bernadeau and an offensive pass interference penalty on Terrance Williams ruined their first drive.

Weeden did his best work on the Cowboys' second drive, leading them 80 yards for a touchdown in 11 plays. He completed a 26-yard pass to tight end Gavin Escobar, who made a nice run after the catch, on third-and-6, moving the ball to the San Diego 20.

Five plays later, Weeden made his best play of the game.

On third-and-4 from the San Diego 4-yard line, Weeden rolled right and hit tight end James Hanna in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. Weeden took a big hit from a defensive lineman as he delivered the ball, but he still fit it into a tight spot just beyond the safety's diving attempt to swat it away for a 7-0 lead.

"That was a really good play on the touchdown, moving to his right and throwing the ball back inside. It was a really good throw. I had a good view of it," Garrett said. "The big thing we were interested in seeing is how he conducted himself, the leadership part. From my vantage, he handled it well. He seemed comfortable, he seemed confident, and I think the guys responded well to him."

The Cowboys finished the first half with 72 yards and 13 first downs.

Given a chance to lead the 2-minute offense, Weeden moved the Cowboys from the 20 to the San Diego 49, but the drive fizzled and the clock ran out after a completion to Tim Benford in the middle of the field.

The one criticism about Weeden throughout training camp has been that he often stares at his primary read, allowing defenders to read his eyes and get a good break on his passes. He stared down a few receivers against San Diego, but the Chargers never punished him.

It's an area he must continue to improve, because if he plays in the regular season, those are the types of errors that can lead to turnovers.

"It feels good to come out here with a star on your helmet,” Weeden said. “It's a dream come true for a kid from Oklahoma City."

Nothing will make you feel good about the Cowboys' fate if injuries force Romo out of the lineup, but if Weeden plays well in the preseason, at least you'll have hope.

Observation Deck: Dallas Cowboys

August, 8, 2014
SAN DIEGO -- With Tony Romo sitting, quarterback Brandon Weeden got his first start with the Dallas Cowboys and showed some inexperience and some promise in the Cowboys' 27-7 loss to the San Diego Chargers.

In one half of work, Weeden completed 13 of 17 passes for 107 yards and had a 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end James Hanna in the second quarter.

First the inexperience. Weeden locked in on his first read early and did not see the whole field. An interception was overturned by a holding penalty but he was staring down Cole Beasley the entire time.

Second the promise. His touchdown showed three things: improvisation, arm strength and toughness. With some pressure, Weeden was forced to roll to his right. Without stopping to set his feet he was able to find Hanna through a maze of defenders in the back of the end zone. As he delivered the pass he was crunched by defensive end Lawrence Guy.

Here are some other thoughts on the Cowboys’ first preseason game of the year:
  • Judging any defense off the first preseason game always comes with hesitation. The Cowboys were without five projected opening day starters. But the same issues that plagued the Cowboys last season -- lack of pass rush, too many big plays -- hurt them Thursday. The Cowboys gave up five plays of 20 or more yards in the first half out of 27 snaps. In the second half they gave up a 70-yard touchdown (albeit with Korey Lindsey at corner and he has yet to practice with the team). The Chargers quarterbacks did not have an incomplete pass until 14:24 remained in the game, completing their first 12 passes.
  • In practicing during camp the run defense has been poor and it was shredded again by the Chargers. San Diego gained 111 yards on 20 carries in the first half on the ground. The defensive linemen have had difficulty all summer getting off blocks and that continued Thursday. The good news was the red zone work. They stopped the Chargers inside the 5-yard line twice, forcing a fumble and a field goal. Justin Durant popped the ball free from Ryan Mathews at the goal line, and Caesar Rayford stopped quarterback Kellen Clemens on a third-down keeper late in the second quarter.
  • Joseph Randle got the start at tailback with DeMarco Murray and Lance Dunbar sitting, and he was able to show good vision and speed to make up for missed blocks. He finished with 50 yards on 13 carries. Randle also did some decent work as a pass-blocker. His main competition, Ryan Williams, was overpowered on a blitz in the third quarter and gave up a sack. With the Cowboys emphasizing the ground game, they ran it 15 times in the first half for 65 yards. They had two games last year in which they did not run it 15 times.
  • The Cowboys came in with a number of banged up players but also chose to rest some of their regulars, like tight end Jason Witten, wide receiver, Dez Bryant, Murray, cornerback Orlando Scandrick, defensive tackle Henry Melton and Dunbar. Safety Barry Church has a minor ankle sprain and he was also kept out of action. Melton is coming back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. He hasn’t missed a day of practice but the team wants to be cautious with his return. With the two days of practice scheduled against the Oakland Raiders next week, the Cowboys want to make sure they are ready for that and the Aug. 16 preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens.

Garrett liked Weeden's performance

August, 8, 2014
SAN DIEGO -- Brandon Weeden's first night as a Dallas Cowboy was some good, some not so good.

Coach Jason Garrett liked what Weeden did well enough. Weeden completed 13 of 17 passes for 107 yards and had a 4-yard touchdown pass to James Hanna in the second quarter. He had an interception overturned by a penalty on the scoring drive.

“I thought Brandon Weeden had good poise conducting some of those drives,” Garrett said

On the scoring drive Weeden completed all four passes for 54 yards, including 26-yarder to tight end Gavin Escobar on a third down. On the touchdown pass, Weeden showed arm strength by fitting the throw through a series of defenders and toughness after taking a big hit near the sideline.

"It was good,” Weeden said. “We made some good plays. The offensive line played well, and we were able to run the ball effectively which gives us an opportunity to throw effectively. We had some good plays and were able to finish it off.”