ARLINGTON, Texas – Here are my first impressions of Saturdays win against the Oakland Raiders from my vantage point in the broadcast booth at AT&T Stadium.
- I continue to like what I have seen from Dak Prescott throwing the ball from the pocket. His willingness to stand in there and make a throw is encouraging. The one that he made to Ezekiel Elliott comes to mind. It might not have been Prescott’s best pass, but it showed me something about his development. On the play, Elliott missed the blitz pickup and with a rusher in his face, Prescott could have eaten the ball and taken the sack. Instead, Prescott had the presence of mind to flip the ball to Elliott in the flat. The play resulted in no gain, but the poise and field awareness that he showed gave the play a chance as long as Elliott had the ball.
- With the struggles that Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis have had getting on the field, this Cowboys defense needs Anthony Brown to play well. His play on Michael Crabtree early in the game was an example of that. Crabtree tried to take Brown up the field, but he was unable to shake loose. Even in tight coverage, Derek Carr felt that he still had a shot to get the ball in there — but he didn’t. Carr’s throw was high, as Crabtree extended to get it — but Brown was right there to make it a contested play. Crabtree was unable to get both hands on the ball and it fell incomplete due to Brown ripping at it as they both went to the ground.
- Jason Witten continues to have a strong camp, which has carried over to these games. Witten was 6-for-6 on targets to catches, which left my broadcast partner Brad Sham wondering: when was the last time Witten had six receptions in a preseason game? As good as he was catching the ball, I liked what I saw from Witten the blocker. There were several snaps where Witten was able to get his hands inside and he was able to take his man out of the play to give the backs some space to work in.
- The trainers continue to have a plan for Jaylon Smith and it appears to be working well. Despite a miss on his first attempted tackle in the hole, I thought he did a better job as his snaps wore on. His movement forward is not an issue, but it’s the lateral movement that I had a question about. I wanted to see him get outside with quickness, and I thought he was able to do just that — which was an improvement from what we saw last week. He appears to be getting more comfortable with his overall game, and we are also starting to see his ability to read plays return. That is a great sign.
- Stephen Paea and Maliek Collins are proving to be a nice combination inside at defensive tackle. It appeared that the majority of the Raiders’ running plays were affected by Paea and Collins and their ability to penetrate. I know I must have said it three or four times during the broadcast that when he ball was handed off, either Paea or Collins were in the backfield disrupting the blocking scheme.
- Alfred Morris did his best to get over and help on the blitz pickup of Antonio Hamilton before he hit Cooper Rush’s elbow, which caused the fumble and return for a touchdown. Morris was lined up in a tough spot to begin with, being on the right side of Rush and having to cross the pocket underneath. Morris was just a split second late and that was all Hamilton needed to make the hit. To his credit, Morris has improved a tremendous amount in this area, which was something that he rarely did while with the Redskins.
- The word “gamer” has been used to describe Cooper Rush, and I can’t argue. I didn’t think he was at his best this week during practice after getting more work with the second offense. Rush did earn the right to get those extra snaps and he was able to take advantage of them. I believed all along that the coaches were testing him to see how he could handle the pressure. Where Rush has been different from Kellen Moore is that he has figured out how to finish, and that has eluded Moore to this point — which now has put his spot as the backup quarterback on this team in question.
- I need to check this on tape, but it appeared that the sack of Dak Prescott was an issue between Chaz Green and Travis Frederick. I have a feeling that Frederick passed Treyvon Hester to Green with the confidence that he would be able to secure the block. When Hester broke through the middle of the line, both Green and Frederick were giving chase, but it was too late. I just wonder how much the left guard spot is going to affect this team opening day against the New York Giants.
- It sure seemed like Damien Wilson played the whole game on defense. It might have been due to the club being a little short-handed or the possibility of a suspension on the horizon. Wilson was all over the field — sideline to sideline. He led the defense with five tackles, including one for a loss. The Raiders did a poor job of accounting for him, especially by allowing him to run to the ball – which I’d consider the strength of his game. All this time working with the first defense and the snaps that he’s received have allowed his game to develop.
- Damontre’ Moore showed you what kind of ability he has as a pass rusher. His sack of Connor Cook was an explosive burst where Jylan Ware had absolutely no chance on the play. Moore was able to capture the corner so quickly that Ware was lucky to get a hand on him. What was disappointing about the play was Moore was able to knock the ball out of Cook’s hand, and it was on the turf a good period — but no one in a white jersey could find the handle on it. This defense is going to miss Damontre’ Moore those first two weeks of the season. Hopefully he can make it back to make more plays like this one.
- I was disappointed that Noah Brown didn’t come down with his only target in the game. With his size, I was positive that he was going to be able to outfight Dexter McDonald for that ball. Cooper Rush put it in a spot where all Brown had to do was extend his hands to secure it. Instead, he let it get to his shoulder area — which was all McDonald needed to knock it out of his hands. It was the type of play that receivers fighting for a roster spot need to make in order to grab attention, but he just couldn’t finish.
- What a tough couple of breaks for Anthony Hitchens and Duke Thomas. Hitchens has been one of the best players in this training camp regardless of position, and Thomas was on the verge of making the 53-man roster with his play at cornerback. MRI’s for both will take place on Sunday, so hopefully there is some good news. Until then we will wait.