CANTON, Ohio -- The Dallas Cowboys opened their preseason with a 24-20 win against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday in the Hall of Fame Game thanks to a stingy defense and a solid running game, which was something they did not really have last season.
The Cowboys have now won their preseason opener four straight years. What does that mean? Not much, since they have missed the playoffs in three of the last four seasons.
What it means: With a new playcaller on offense in Bill Callahan and a new defense led by Monte Kiffin, getting off to a good start is a positive. The only starters that played were tackles Tyron Smith and Doug Free, center Travis Frederick and linebacker Justin Durant. Free and Smith played a series. Frederick moved over to guard in the second quarter and for some of the third. Durant played a handful of series. While it’s still a question, the Cowboys found some answers for depth in guys like George Selvie, Phillip Tanner and Joseph Randle.
DeVonte Holloman with a pick-six: The rookie linebacker had the most athletic play of the night when he reached back to snag a Matt Moore throw intended for Chad Bumphis. Holloman was able to compose himself and then sprint 75 yards for the touchdown, slamming Moore to the turf with a facemask. Last season, the Cowboys forced turnovers at an alarmingly infrequent rate, which led to Rob Ryan’s firing and Kiffin’s arrival. On the first series, Nick Hayden came up with a fumble recovery that set up Tanner’s touchdown run. In the second half, the defense forced two fourth-down stops.
There’s a running game: One of the biggest complaints about Jason Garrett was his willingness to abandon the run. Callahan’s background as an offensive coordinator has many believing the Cowboys will have more balance. In the first half, the Cowboys’ three runners -- Tanner, Randle and Lance Dunbar -- averaged more than five yards per carry. In the second half, Randle did a nice job of picking up yards on his own. The Dolphins weren’t playing many of their regulars, but the fact that the Cowboys ran it 17 times for 97 yards in the first two quarters was a good sign. Last season, the Cowboys had four games in which they had fewer than 17 carries. Even undrafted rookie Kendial Lawrence got into the act with a 7-yard touchdown run with 1:57 to play in the game.
Injury concerns: Safety Matt Johnson was off to a good start by starting the game, but he was hurt tracking down Bumphis on a 45-yard catch and run. He suffered a left ankle sprain and did not return. Defensive end Ben Bass hurt his left knee and did not return to the game but appeared to be fine on the sideline. He did not go to the locker room for X-rays, and he did not receive extra attention from the athletic training staff. Tanner hurt his left arm in the first quarter but was able to return to the game.
What’s next: The Cowboys play at Oakland on Friday in preseason game No. 2, and the starters will see some playing time against the Raiders.