5 Takeaways From Dallas Cowboys’ “Win” in 2013 NFL Hall of Fame Game
Cowboys' Takeaways From Hall of Fame Game
If you've heard it once, you've heard it a thousand times, but it's still true: you can't take too much from NFL preseason games -- especially the Hall of Fame Game. Sure, these exhibitions are played for reason, but it's not so fans and writers can determine which team is going to win the Super Bowl. The young players leaving their hearts on the field in these meaningless pretend contests are trying to earn jobs, so it's more about the potential of these players rather than the overall team.
Still, it's hard not to try and piece together an early look at how teams will fare in the regular season, so we're here to do a little of that while examining the individual performances of some young Dallas Cowboys who stood out in the NFL's Hall of Fame Game on Sunday night. There were some pleasant surprises from a few players like DeVonte Holloman and Lance Dunbar while others fell flat on their faces, specifically J.J. Wilcox and all of Dallas' backup offensive tackles.
Again, please keep in mind this is just one meaningless preseason game, but also don't think that the Hall of Fame Game was completely meaningless for the Cowboys. Here are five specific takeaways that should prove to be more than just observations for Dallas this season:
Cowboys' New 4-3 Defense Looks Good Early On
The Cowboys have been worse than awful at generating turnovers on defense in recent years, which is why the team decided to bring in turnover specialist Monte Kiffin this offseason. Kiffin's 4-3, Tampa 2 defense is designed to take the football away from opposing offenses and the Cowboys did that in the first half against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday night.
Sure, the first fumble recovery had nothing to do with Dallas -- it was simply Lamar Miller's incapability to take a routine handoff -- but there were no holes in the Cowboys' defense early on, which led to DeVonte Holloman's 75-yard interception returned for a touchdown.
In 2012, the Cowboys lost containment so often it was hard to watch. Although most starters weren't in for either team on Sunday night, Dallas did a great job of keeping Miami ball carriers in between the hashmarks and it paid off.
It's early, but it wasn't a bad start to 2013 for the Cowboys' new defense.
Cowboys' Stable of Young Running Backs is Ready to Go
The Cowboys didn't really need to draft another running back this year because Lance Dunbar and Phillip Tanner are more than capable backups for DeMarco Murray. However, Joseph Randle was an absolute steal in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL Draft and he looked like it on Sunday night, although he primarily went against Miami's third-string defenders.
The Oklahoma State product piled up 70 quick yards on just 13 carries, proving he can run in- and outside of the tackles. Of course, it will be interesting to see how he does against starters in the NFL, but so far, so good.
Tanner did well in limited work, showing power and the ability to break tackles with 10 bruising runs for 59 yards and a score. His long scamper without his helmet really caught the eye of everyone in Canton, Ohio.
Dunbar was by far the most impressive of the Cowboys' running backs as he blasted right out the gate for 22 yards on four carries during Dallas' first drive. He was the only runner to face any Miami defensive starters, so he definitely gets the nod as the primary backup for Murray this year, which will likely mean some decent playing time when (not if) Murray gets hurt.
Cowboys Need to Give Up on Injury-Prone Players
Matt Johnson didn't even make it one half into the 2013 NFL preseason before going down again with an injury. The 2012 fourth-round pick has been intriguing in the last two off seasons, so the Cowboys have kept him around but the kid just can't stay on the field. Not only that, but he blew coverage on the play during which he was injured, and that resulted in a 45-yard pass play by the Dolphins.
Of course, this doesn't only apply to only roster hopefuls like Johnson; the Cowboys didn't draft Terrance Williams and Joseph Randle for kicks this year. Dallas' patience with Miles Austin and DeMarco Murray to get healthy and stay healthy is thinning.
Sure, Austin played all 16 games in 2012, but he wasn't 100 percent, which is why he went catch-less in two games and was basically invisible in two others.
Murray is arguably the best running back in the league when he's healthy, but that's only about 30 percent of the time. If that doesn't change this year, his contract won't be extended beyond the 2014 season.
Cowboys' Secondary Still Needs Improvement
Matt Johnson's struggles have already been mentioned, but 2013 third-round pick J.J. Wilcox also made some critical mistakes against the Dolphins' offensive backups on Sunday night. He's been great in training camp, but he was overaggressive against Miami and got beat because of it. That's usually an easy fix, but not always.
Barry Church is the only sure thing at safety for Dallas because we haven't seen Will Allen in action yet. Danny McCray is the only decent option after that, so if the injury bug continues to bite the Cowboys' secondary, the team could be taking applications for both safety positions by opening weekend.
Cowboys Need to Free Cole Beasley
Cole Beasley was targeted four times by Nick Stephens in the first half on Sunday night and although only one of those passes was completed, Beasley absolutely torched Miami's defense, which was fielding a combination of starters and second-stringers. Beasley turned Dolphins cornerback Will Davis in a full circle on a wheel route to the end zone, but Stephens terribly under through the ball and a pass interference penalty was called on Davis.
Later, Beasley was wide open on a short crossing route and then a deep pattern to the far side of the end zone and both times Stephens missed him by a mile. Beasley is lightning quick, a good route runner and he knows how to use his body to get separation on his cuts because he's done it against first-, second- and third-string defenders over the past two preseasons yet Dallas sat him during the regular season last year.
If the Cowboys would use Beasley on crossing patterns, he could be the next great underneath receiver in the NFL. If given the opportunity, Beasley would be for the Cowboys what Wes Welker was for the Patriots over the last six years, and that has nothing to do with his race. Welker is a small receiver who knows how to get open, especially on crossing routes and Beasley's skill set is eerily similar, but it took a while before an NFL team realized that in Welker's case. Hopefully the Cowboys won't miss out on Beasley's potential like the Dolphins did with Welker.