Saturday, September 5, 2009
Cowboys-Vikings: What did we learn?
By Dan Graziano
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
The Cowboys closed out the preseason Friday with a heart-stopping 35-31 victory over the Vikings. OK, maybe no one's heart stopped, but there were some fairly interesting things to discuss following the game. Some players sealed roster spots. Others simply confirmed their tickets out of Dallas. Now let's take a look at my Cowboys-Vikings observations. And yes, I'm absolutely thrilled to be writing my final commentary on a preseason game.
- Second-year tight end Martellus Bennett was the offensive star of this game. He led the team in receiving during the preseason and he added three more catches for 51 yards in the first quarter. At 6-6, he offers Tony Romo and Jon Kitna a big strike zone. And he's very graceful in making catches. On his 31-yard catch on the opening drive, he positioned his body perfectly to shield the ball from the safety. Witten and Bennett have to be considered the top tight end duo in the NFC (and maybe the entire league) heading into the season. I also liked how Bennett sold that he was blocking down on the Kitna waggle, and then he bolted out to the right to provide an easy target. Bennett's poised for a breakout season -- and one Dallas columnist flew all the way to Minneapolis to chart his progress.
- Kevin Ogletree, welcome to the 53-man roster. Not that I had any doubt heading into this game, but the free-agent rookie out of Virginia validated all the praise he's received in the preseason with a nice catch on third down and a 5-yard touchdown on the Cowboys' first drive. He's a smooth route runner who has a knack for getting wide open in the end zone. When the Vikings busted coverage, Ogletree came racing across the back of the end zone for the touchdown.
- Some people will say that Ogletree took Isaiah Stanback's spot on the roster. But even if Ogletree hadn't flashed, Stanback needed to go. He finished with one catch in the preseason -- and he fumbled that one. He started against the Vikings on Friday, but I don't think Jon Kitna ever looked his way. Stanback also muffed a couple of kickoff returns. He's obviously an excellent athlete, but it really doesn't translate to anything on the field. I'd be shocked if he's not one of the cuts Saturday.
- Why can't Jon Kitna take a snap from center? We've been over this before. Kitna and Cory Procter had problems, so the Cowboys tried another center (Duke Preston) Friday. This time, Kitna left the snap on the ground and the Vikings recovered. Kitna still has a live arm, but he has to figure out what's going on with the snaps. It's almost like a mental thing at this point. By my count, Kitna has been involved in at least four botched snaps. You don't want to overreact to anything that happens in the preseason, but it certainly has to be something the Cowboys are concerned about.
- Oops, someone forgot to tell Steve Octavien he wasn't supposed to make the team. The former Cornhusker looks small (6-0, 238) when he lines up at outside linebacker, but he has a knack for getting to the quarterback. He and fellow rookie Victor Butler could be called upon to give DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer a rest at some point. If that happens, I really like Octavien's chances. He has really good instincts and his quickness was giving the Vikings' reserve left tackle fits.
- Patrick Watkins isn't going anywhere. I thought the former Florida State player was on his way out early in camp. But on Friday, he was Cowboys' best defensive player on the field. Wasn't even close. He finished with seven tackles, a blocked field goal and an interception return for a touchdown. He had the best first half of his career, and then he backed it up in the third quarter. At 6-5, you always thought Watkins could cause problems for wide receivers. But he's only started showing that recently. With Friday's performance, there's no way you can keep him off the 53-man roster.
- The reserve offensive linemen seem to be penalized at the worst-possible moments. A promising drive in the first quarter was interrupted by a Doug Free holding penalty. The play nullified a first-down run for Tashard Choice. On another play in the first half, Pat McQuistan tackled a defender right in front of the officials. Easiest call of the game. That wiped out a nifty run by Tashard Choice -- and it was so unnecessary. McQuistan was completely out of the play. It's maddening watching these two guys. The first time Kitna was stripped, it was because McQuistan hesitated for a moment to look inside and then let a Vikings defensive end beat him to the outside on a speed rush.
- Wade Phillips had to enjoy watching backup nose tackle Junior Siavii blow a third-and-short play for the Vikings late in the first quarter. Siavii held his own for most of the game. Nothing flashy, but he clogs up the middle. Completely different style than starter Jay Ratliff, who uses his speed and quickness.
- It's way too late, but we finally had a Manny Johnson sighting. The former Sooner was taken by the Cowboys in the seventh round, but Johnson never made much of an impression during training camp. He made a nice grab along the sideline for 11 yards. And he also showed his speed on special teams. He might be a good practice squad candidate.
- Is it just me or was Bobby Carpenter really unimpressive in the first half? I try to watch Carpenter on running plays and he's always getting pushed at least five yards backwards. He's still not aggressive enough in taking on blockers and I wouldn't trust him to play an entire game -- if something happens to one of the starting inside linebackers. He simply gets caught inside way too much. The Vikings had a long touchdown drive in the first half and I thought Carpenter was exposed in a big way. It was like the Cowboys wanted no part of Vikings reserve running back Ian Johnson.
- Still too early to panic about the special teams? Joe DeCamillis' unit allowed a 72-yard punt return for a touchdown. But in DeCamillis' defense, Jesse Holley and Scott Chandler were in great position to make a tackle. Obviously things didn't work out. This is happening way too much. Sort of similar to last season's unit, but I think the Cowboys will get it turned around early in the regular season. It's not like the special teams had any continuity in a game like that.
- We saw good Mike Mickens and bad Mike Mickens on Friday. It's obvious the seventh-rounder out of Cincinnati is talented, but he's taking too many chances. What he has to learn is that going for an interception and missing can end up costing you about 50 yards. But on the next play after he allowed a big gain, he came back and broke up a pass. I think he'll be a good player eventually. Way too early to count on him at this point.
- I almost forgot Watkins' play near the goal line. He recovered nicely to tackle Sage Rosenfels for a loss when the Vikings went for it on fourth down. Watkins bit on the original play, but he quickly made up the ground and dragged Rosenfels down. Outstanding play.
- I think rookie tight end John Phillips has a little something. He did a great job of competing for the ball on the Hail Mary at the end of the first half. That play didn't lead to anything, but it was nice to see that he had a little explosiveness.
- Who were you guys impressed with? Let me hear from you. And remember that we'll have full cut-down day coverage beginning at 6 p.m. ET. Thanks for joining us.