ARLINGTON, Texas -- It's too bad we can't get those 60 minutes of our lives back. The Cowboys' first-team offense once again failed in the red zone, and the backups didn't do any better in a 17-9 loss to the Raiders. With the Cowboys having played Sunday, it was obvious they didn't belong on the field Thursday night.
The defense certainly had its moments, but the story of the game (from my vantage point) is that Tony Romo was sacked three times and the running game was non-existent. Other than that, it was a wonderful night of football. The Cowboys have nine days before playing a preseason game in San Diego. Maybe we'll get a better feel for where this team is at that point. But in the interest of producing a blog entry before most of you arrive at work, here are a few observations from Thursday's contest:
The Cowboys were 0-for-4 in red zone efficiency, including a quick trip inside the 20 before Romo was sacked for a 9-yard loss. Dallas gave up six sacks in the game, three on Romo. The most disturbing to me was seeing Raiders defensive end Matt Shaughnessy beat Doug Free on a speed rush and then drag down Romo with one arm. Free was with Shaughnessy the whole time on the play, but he never delivered a solid punch. Shaughnessy's a nice second-year player out of Wisconsin, but he's not Trent Cole, Justin Tuck and Brian Orakpo. Free needs to clean things up before he meets any of those players. At least two of the three sacks on Romo were coverage sacks. He needs to do a better job of unloading the ball in those situations.
Linebackers Bradie James and Keith Brooking were both excellent in coverage in the first quarter. James was throwing his body all over the place and Brooking was superb in not letting anyone get separation from him. Brooking still moves really well. I hope Sean Lee is watching Brooking's every move right now. The rookie needs to get past this quadriceps injury and return to the practice field. Otherwise, he's not going to have a chance to earn time in sub packages. Bobby Carpenter was replacing Brooking in the nickel last season, but right now I wouldn't replace him with anyone.
Miles Austin made a beautiful adjustment to a ball thrown slightly behind him in the first quarter for a 24-yard catch. Austin brought a lot of energy to the field Thursday and ran some excellent routes. On the twisting grab, he beat cornerback Chris Johnson. The Raiders are vulnerable on that side of the field.
Raiders defensive end Lamarr Houston had one of the sacks on Romo. He was able to sneak in the backside and crunch the quarterback. Romo didn't feel the pressure coming on the play. He just seemed content to stay in the pocket, and that wasn't helping matters. Of course, everyone in the stadium gasped when he took off running up the middle of the field on one play.
It was a good night for kicker David Buehler. He nailed a 42-yard field goal and then connected on two short ones. He also recorded three touchbacks. The 42-yarder was a good sign because that's a distance that plagued the team during a miserable stretch in '09. Buehler has all the confidence in the world. If he'll trust his leg, the distance will be there.
Cowboys cornerback Orlando Scandrick might be the best tackler of all the defensive backs. He does a really nice job of wrapping up and you don't see guys bounce off him. Scandrick decked wide receiver Louis Murphy early in the game. Then he absorbed a blow from James. The Cowboys were flying to the ball early.
The running game was awful, but I did see Marion Barber put a nice little move on cornerback Stanford Routt in the first quarter. He froze Routt with a little stutter-step. Barber stumbled after that and only gained 2 yards.
Romo and Austin have tremendous chemistry on the slant. On a third-down play, Austin got Johnson on his hip and then made a nice grab across the middle. Even when cornerbacks see it coming, they have an awful time getting inside position.
All the goodwill that Kevin Ogletree earned in the offseason is being wasted early in the preseason. He's not making contested catches and it just seems like there's a lack of concentration. I still think he'll make the roster as the fifth receiver, but he hasn't seized some of these extra repetitions that were created by Dez Bryant's absence.
Linebacker Victor Butler picked up a personal foul on a punt return. The officials will not have any tolerance this season for those blindside hits on defenseless players. There's just too much of a risk for head and neck injuries. Butler must have better awareness on that play.
In the first quarter, cornerback Terence Newman closed quickly to break up a Jason Campbell throw in the flat. Newman was in position to make the interception, but he opted for knocking down the ball with one arm. It was a very instinctive play and it caught Campbell by surprise.
Free-agent rookie Bryan McCann out of SMU had one really nice punt return (28 yards) late in the second quarter when he allowed Ogletree to set him up with a good block. McCann's also getting a lot of opportunities with the second-team defense. He was late on a Campbell throw to Murphy, but you can tell that he's not far away from making those plays. I get the sense that Wade Phillips is really pulling for McCann.
I was eager to see how former third-round draft pick Robert Brewster performed at left tackle against the Raiders. And once again, he turned in a dud. Not even the optimistic Phillips will be able to praise Brewster after Thursday's showing. His feet are stuck in neutral and there's absolutely no anchor. When you watch him, he's getting pushed directly toward the quarterback. He's most susceptible to an outside speed rush right now, and that's not a good sign. Brewster will keep getting chances, but I thought that was a poor showing. Brewster was also penalized for grabbing a defensive end as he raced past.
Butler does an excellent job getting pressure on the quarterback. He's so much more consistent this season in causing problems for the offensive line. And the other linebacker who caught my eye Thursday was Leon Williams. He's just a really tough player who brings some attitude to the field. Inside linebacker Jason Williams is still a work in progress, but he did race through and make a nice play against running back Michael Bush.
Safety Mike Hamlin suffered a neck strain and a concussion in the third quarter, according to ESPNDallas.com's Tim MacMahon. Some folks in the organization thought Hamlin might challenge Alan Ball for the starting role, but that hasn't happened so far in camp. The good news for the Cowboys is that Hamlin was the only player injured. That's a lot different situation than what took place against the Bengals.
Roy Williams and Romo weren't on the same page in the first quarter. On one play, Romo rolled right and wanted Williams to come back to him. Williams sort of posted up the cornerback along the sideline and hoped for the best. There wasn't any rhythm to his routes against the Raiders. By the way, Bryant gave Williams and the rest of the receivers some new shoes.
In one of the Cowboys' four trips inside the red zone, Jon Kitna rolled right and threw to Deon Anderson in the flat. It was a poorly conceived play on fourth-and-1. Linebacker Thomas Howard applied the pressure to Kitna.
I thought safety Danny McCray did a really nice job hustling over to break up a deep ball to Johnnie Lee Higgins. McCray's been a camp phenom, and I'm eager to see if he can keep it up in Oxnard, Calif., next week. The Beast will be on the ground in Oxnard beginning Sunday evening.
The Cowboys were 3-for-16 on third down. The lack of a running game put the Cowboys in third-and-long situations far too often. Losing in the preseason isn't a big issue, but this red zone issue is something that goes back to last season. The Cowboys need a touchdown from the first-team offense against the Chargers next Saturday.
Guard Pat McQuistan simply doesn't play with any power. Every time I watch him, he's getting thrown toward the quarterback. It's about time to move on without him. The Cowboys have invested a lot of time in him, but I don't think he'll ever be a starter. And he doesn't seem like a reliable backup. On the other hand, I like the backup center, Phil Costa. The guy will stand his ground and he seems to have a little attitude. Give me that guy over McQuistan any day. I also liked the way rookie Sam Young played.