- Todd Archer, ESPN Staff Writer
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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.