Dallas Cowboys: Tommy Kelly

Observation deck: Cowboys-Raiders

August, 14, 2012

Of all the football games I've ever watched, the Dallas Cowboys' 3-0 preseason victory over the Oakland Raiders on Monday night was definitely ... well, it was one of them. It was a sluggish, poorly played game by two teams that obviously weren't at full strength or interested in showing a national TV audience very much of their playbooks. At the time that it ended, nine Major League Baseball teams had outscored the two NFL teams' combined total.

But it was a game a defensive coordinator could love, and surely Dallas' Rob Ryan will use it as a rallying point for his defense in the days and weeks to come. As we say all the time here, there is little or no predictive value in any of these games. Some teams game-plan for them, many don't, and there's no way to really know what you're watching in terms of who's trying and who's not. But if you're a defensive coordinator, you'd better believe you can hold up a 3-0 victory and shout at your guys about what they're capable of if they play hard. Can't hurt, could help, you know.

The Cowboys' offense ... won't have as much fun watching film of this one. Let's get to what we saw from the Cowboys in Oakland on Monday night.

1. The interior of the offensive line is not good right now, and it affects everything the offense tries to do. Tony Romo had no time to throw, DeMarco Murray had no room to run, and the No. 3 wide receiver candidates who were running with the first team had no opportunity to show what they could do. David Arkin started at center in place of the injured Phil Costa, and in the first half he got abused by Tommy Kelly for one sack and was also called for holding. The good news for Arkin is that he didn't botch any snaps, and he did look better as he continued to play into the third quarter (and the Raiders kept taking out first-team and second-team defensive players). Mackenzy Bernadeau, who started at right guard, is likely to get snaps at center in upcoming preseason games, but since he's coming off an injury the Cowboys are trying to work him in at guard to get him acclimated. Derrick Dockery started at left guard, and Ronald Leary struggled with the second and third teams. Now, the key things to remember are (a) this isn't news and (b) preseason games are about figuring out what you need to improve. There's no reason to think the Cowboys' offensive line will look worse at any point this year than it does right now, and they've known for a while that they have issues there. If they can get Costa and Nate Livings and Bernadeau healthy, they'll at least have the crew with which they planned to go into the season. I'm just not sure that's good enough -- or that they have anything behind the starters that can help in case of injury. And it's worth mentioning that right tackle Doug Free didn't look good either.

2. Andre Holmes had a good night. Of those No. 3 wide receiver candidates, Holmes stood out the most, with 40 yards on three catches. Holmes' asset is his size, and he looks like he's doing a good job of using his big body to shield the ball from defenders and make catches in traffic. Long way to go and a lot to see, but Holmes helped his case. Kevin Ogletree likely remains the favorite and got the first crack at it, starting in place of the injured Miles Austin. Ogletree caught the only ball thrown his way, for 12 yards, and had a goofy moment when he fell on his face trying to make a block and slipping on the infield dirt at the Oakland Coliseum. Expect to see more from Dwayne Harris, Tim Benford, Cole Beasley and Danny Coale in upcoming games. Beasley was the slot receiver with the first-team offense but didn't see any action. Interesting that Dez Bryant did start in spite of his hamstring injury and made one excellent 24-yard catch before taking a seat.

3. The defense did look fired-up and kind of deep in spots. Defensive end Marcus Spears played like a man who knows he needs to win a roster spot. Safety Gerald Sensabaugh came up with an early interception on a play on which cornerback Orlando Scandrick had his man well covered. Kyle Wilber showed some ability to generate pressure on Matt Leinart on a third-down play, though he did leave the game with a broken thumb. Tyrone Crawford pushed the pocket a little bit during his time in there. And I think that inside linebacker spot is going to be a real strength, as Sean Lee and Bruce Carter both looked good. Yes, the Raiders ran the ball effectively against the first-team defense, but that first-team defense was without starting nose tackle Jay Ratliff as well as defensive end Jason Hatcher and outside linebacker Anthony Spencer. So I imagine they'll be better once those guys are on the field.

4. Not-so-special teams. The Cowboys were called for penalties on two punts and one field-goal attempt, each time allowing the Raiders to keep the ball. That needs to be tightened up, clearly, and it's the kind of thing that just infuriates coaches in these preseason games.

5. Miscellany: Adrian Hamilton, the undrafted linebacker who had 20.5 sacks at Prairie View last year, looked active and quick. Remains to be seen whether he has the size and speed to play against NFL offenses... Rookie tight end James Hanna showed good hands as a receiver and looked good on kick coverage... Dwayne Harris was called for holding, and yeah, that can work against a guy who's trying to get a job as a No. 3 wide receiver... Yes, you like what you see from Victor Butler, as you always do in August. Still need to see whether and how the coaches find more ways to get him on the field once the real games begin... Seemed like punter Chris Jones was fine.

David Arkin gets the job done at center

August, 14, 2012
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- So low was the bar on the center play that the Cowboys were ecstatic that David Arkin did not have botched snap in three-plus quarters of action against Oakland.

Arkin has snapped for only two weeks in his life and a number of his shotgun snaps were too tall for Dirk Nowitzki. He did not have that issue Monday but it wasn’t perfect by any stretch.

A miscommunication on a screen play led to Tony Romo being sacked after Arkin barely scraped defensive linemen Tommy Kelly before heading out, and he was also flagged for a holding penalty.

“He seemed to be pretty steady from what I could tell,” coach Jason Garrett said. “The big concern that we had from him, having not played center very much in his life, is taking care of the ball. So the nightmare scenario where we have four snaps on the ground, snapping it over the quarterback's head in the shotgun, none of that happened and that’s a positive thing. A number of times, he heard me say, the ball first, Arkin. It’s all about the ball first. He heard that a lot from me and coach Callahan this week, he handled that part well.

"There were some mistakes handling some different fronts and what he was supposed to do. The sack, having a screen coming out, was a misidentification of a man. We let that guy come up the middle clean on Tony. For the most part, he competed well, that’s really his nature. He’s a good competitor. He just needs some more experience in there.”

Starting center Phil Costa missed the game because of a lower back strain, but the team believes he will be able to practice this week and possibly play Saturday at San Diego.

Jerry Jones held breath on Jason Witten hit

August, 13, 2012

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- As Jerry Jones watched the first quarter of Monday’s preseason opener against Oakland, he was like a lot of Cowboys fans -- hoping the team's top two offensive players would avoid injuries.

On the first play of the Cowboys’ second series, Jones saw tight end Jason Witten go off the field after taking a hit from Oakland linebacker Rolando McClain after quarterback Tony Romo slipped away from an onrushing Lamarr Houston.

On the next play, Romo was sacked by Tommy Kelly for a 12-yard loss after David Arkin missed a block to set up a screen.

“When I held my breath was when I saw Witten take that lick and it was the same play Tony got contorted,” Jones said. “Certainly after it was over, I said we’re probably getting to time to move on there with another quarterback in there.”

Romo and Witten returned for one more series before calling it a night.

“Ideally, you’d like to have gone down and gotten one in the end zone, but the answer is no,” Jones said when asked if he was concerned with the No. 1 offense’s showing. “I really liked what I saw individually from the offensive line and I had a chance to sit with John Madden and watch the offensive line in the second half and that’s his specialty there, where he likes to look, and he saw some of our guys do good.”

Jones mentioned backup tackle Jermey Parnell and Tyron Smith as standouts on the line, and he was pleased new center Arkin did not have a poor snap and seemed to get better as the game went on.

First quarter: Cowboys 0, Raiders 0

August, 13, 2012
OAKLAND -- The Cowboys and Raiders are scoreless after the opening quarter at O.co Coliseum.

*It's never good when the quarterback has to tell the referees where to spot the ball. The replacement refs spotted the ball on the infield dirt, nowhere near the hash marks. Tony Romo had to tell the refs where the ball should be placed.

*Marcus Spears, getting work with the second team, picked up two tackles and almost recovered a fumble.

*Cole Bealsey is getting early snaps. He was the slot receiver on the first three-receiver set and the Cowboys threw a pass to him but he was covered well by Michael Huff.

*Romo faced pressure on the second offensive possession. He avoided some pressure to get a pass to Jason Witten, but it led to a two-yard loss. The next play, Romo was trying to set up a screen pass to DeMarco Murray, but nose tackle Tommy Kelly slipped past David Arkin for the sack.

*The Cowboys started the first two defensive series using Dan Connor, Sean Lee and Bruce Carter at inside linebacker. When the Cowboys went with the second unit, Barry Church remained as the safety.

*The Cowboys had three special team penalties, allowing the Raiders' offense to stay on the field. Fullback Jamize Olawale ran into the punter, Kevin Ogletree was called for holding and Teddy Williams was offsides. Bad plays for three guys looking for roster spots.

*I didn't like Dez Bryant playing tonight, but he made a 24-yard reception on the first pass play of the game. Bryant looked like he had a bounce in his step and seemed mostly recovered from his hamstring injury.

*Gerald Sensabaugh did a nice job of getting the first turnover of the preseason. He moved over from center field to help Orlando Scandrick intercept a Carson Palmer pass.