Offense fails to impress in Dallas’ first preseason game

DENVER—The Cowboys traveled to the state of Colorado for a joint practice with the Broncos and play in a preseason game, only to score two touchdowns.

The first was a pass from Dak Prescott to CeeDee Lamb in practice Thursday. On Saturday night, the Cowboys offense was horrible, getting a shutout for 55 minutes before Ben DiNucci found Simi Fehoko in the dying moments.

Denver beat Dallas, 17-7, in the first preseason game for both teams. The Cowboys haven’t won a first preseason game since 2017 and have yet to win a proper preseason road game since 2012, a 3-0 victory over Oakland.

“It was exactly what we needed,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “I’m really looking tonight and Thursday [scrimmage] as a combination. I think the work ahead here is exactly [what we need], especially for our young players. We had a focus going into the game to direct the football [141 rushing yards] and stop running [Broncos with 39]. With the amount of padded work you get in training camp in this structure, I think we did some good things here.

Here are three takeaways from the game:

First-round choice

Tyler Smith, the Cowboys’ first-round pick, started at left guard and appeared in 33 offensive plays. Connor McGovern, the other guard competing with Smith for the starting spot, played at right guard. Smith was penalized twice for holding and apparently missed a block, allowing quarterback Cooper Rush to be knocked down on an interception. Overall, Smith was physical and looked like the player the Cowboys were projecting as a Week 1 starter against Tampa Bay. Still, some issues with Smith can be resolved.

“It was just an apprenticeship,” Smith said. “It was the first pre-season game. There was a lot going on and we heard a lot about it. Physique was definitely a big priority for me from the start. I spoke to Tyron [Smith]I talked to Zack [Martin] about it and they said it’s just little quirks that you have to understand when it comes to the NFL. … I am still learning and we are improving every day. I will definitely improve.

Penalties, penalties and more penalties

The Cowboys led the NFL last season in shots on goal, and there was a goal to fix that this offseason. In the first preseason game, the Cowboys were penalized 17 times for 129 yards. There were a few bad penalties such as Tarell Basham flagged for roughing the passer on an incomplete pass on a third-and-13 in the second quarter. Kelvin Joseph was flagged offside on a missed 57-yard field goal attempt late in the half – Broncos kicker Brandon McManus got a second chance and converted a 52-yard kick. Tight end Peyton Hendershot was penalized for a false start on a fourth and a third quarter. Dallas was able to convert on the fourth try after the penalty, but right tackle Aviante Collins was called off for holding. Dallas was within goal range before Hendershot’s penalty, then after Collins’ offense he was forced to punt. Dante Fowler was also flagged in the first half for taking a Broncos player out of a pile. McCarthy said he benched Fowler after that penalty.

“I think discipline is the thing you work on all the time, before the breakup,” McCarthy said of the penalties. “I think we came out of Thursday, new cadence, they allowed us to do some things on Thursday cadence but I think we did a better job today. We have to go back and watch the fights, those are the ones we can control, especially the hold on racing games.

If you’re wondering about the officiating team, umpire Alex Kemp was part of the playoff team that scored the Cowboys a franchise-record 14 times in the loss to the 49ers. Kemp’s team also hosted a December 12 regular season game between Washington and Dallas in which Dallas was flagged seven times with a game total of 14.

So what is the offense?

The majority of the offensive players were seated except for center Tyler Biadasz, Smith and McGovern. Rush started at quarterback and went 12-20 for 84 yards with one interception. DiNucci went 9-16 for 112 yards and a touchdown. We saw some good racing games from Rico Dowdle and Aaron Shampklin. Tight ends Jake Ferguson and Hendershot flashed a bit. The Cowboys tried to get a few touches from rookie receiver Jalen Tolbert, targeting him a team-high seven times, but he had a fall on a fourth play and finished with just two catches. Rush missed his first three assists of the game and didn’t look like the same man who beat the Vikings last season when Dak Prescott suffered a calf injury. Will Grier did not play due to groin pain. So, Grier has two games left to make the case to become the No. 2 quarterback.

“First live action, it took us a little while to settle in,” Rush said. “I thought we had started to settle in well, we ended up behind the chains a few times which hurt us. But we’re glad it’s only Week 1 of the preseason and we’ve still got some crunches about it.

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