Crunching stats: Cowboys get it done against Rams, but it wasn’t pretty

NFL: Preseason-Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams His numbers were solid, not spectacular, but Cooper Rush has solidified his grip on the QB2 job. | Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The staff prioritized evaluation over all, and still got a W out of the deal.

For the Dallas Cowboys, the second preseason game against the Los Angeles Rams was a much sloppier performance than their first game against the San Francisco 49ers, but came up with a more enjoyable result. Two offensive drives basically salvaged the game, while the defense only had one real breakdown when a muffed punt gave the Rams a short field. The stats are not very pretty to dig into, but there are still nuggets to mine.

The first-team offense is clicking

They were missing Ezekiel Elliott, Zack Martin, Tyron Smith, and Amari Cooper. But the 97-yard touchdown drive on their one series was impressive, even if it was against a Rams defense that held out all its starters. Tony Pollard put up a pretty remarkable stat line, accounting for 51 yards and a touchdown on five runs and one reception (a second catch was overturned by penalty). Dak Prescott continues to be perfect passing in preseason. He went five for five on the drive. The highlight of the drive, outside of Pollard’s 14-yard scoring run, was the 31-yard completion to Michael Gallup, the longest play of the day for either team. Even with the missing starters, the offense already looks ready for the real games to start. The offensive line had one breakdown on the sack that forced the Cowboys into second and 22. Initially it looked like Pollard missed a blitz pickup, but subsequent study shows it may have been more a general breakdown in the protection.

The defense is ready, too

As mentioned above, there was only one time when the first team defense failed to stop Blake Bortles and the Rams offense, and some credit for that has to go to a sharp decision by Sean McVay to go to a hurry up play to catch Dallas on its heels. Like the offense, the D was missing a group of starters, including DeMarcus Lawrence, Robert Quinn (who faces his two-game suspension to start the season), Byron Jones, and Sean Lee. But the defensive line kept up solid pressure and played the run well. There were no sacks, but two passes were batted down by Antwaun Woods and Taco Charlton. The latter almost turned his into a pick. In general, Charlton helped himself with some relentless play. The secondary continues to look like the best part of the defense. Jourdan Lewis was active and credited with one pass defended to go with a tackle.

Going down the depth chart, Kerry Hyder and Dorance Armstrong also showed up well, with Hyder getting three tackles and Armstrong adding two. Trysten Hill looked much improved and picked up a tackle for a loss plus a QB hit. Justin March-Lillard was the leading tackler for the game with nine tackles total, and both Justin Phillips and Nate Hall are making a charge to break through at linebacker. Phillips had the defensive play of the game with the Cowboys’ lone interception. Another player making a real drive to get on the 53-man roster is Donovan Olumba. He had five tackles, one for a loss, and defended a pass. Donovan Wilson was quieter this game, but did notch two tackles.

Just one injury

It happened on the opening kickoff, a shoulder injury to linebacker Chris Covington. Outside of that, the team escaped without anything else as far as we know. That is a win in itself.

Penalties, penalties, penalties

After playing a comparatively clean game against the 49ers, the Cowboys slid back into the rather typical sloppy execution that plagues many teams in preseason, having 11 penalties accepted for 88 yards. That isn’t good, but it was at least better than their opponents. The Rams gifted the Cowboys with 128 yards on 18 infractions. The Cowboys managed to at least spread their fouls out for the most part, and only gave the Rams a first down by penalty twice. The Rams were in a giving mood, with the Cowboys getting seven of their 20 first downs courtesy of those flags. LA had one particularly bad stretch during the third quarter touchdown drive by Dallas that wound up winning the game. They had penalties on three consecutive plays, and that netted the Cowboys 34 of the 72 yards they needed for the score.

While they may have been less horrible in this department, it is clearly something that Dallas has to work on.

The backup quarterback battle

Technically, it is too early to call it. But for all intents and purposes, Cooper Rush has won the job and Mike White is probably looking at a practice squad spot as the best available outcome. Rush was 10 of 16 for 83 yards and that well executed touchdown to Devin Smith. White’s stat line was miserable: 7 of 13 for only 30 yards, the longest completion was only for seven yards, and his game ended with a badly thrown interception.

The wide receiver battle is not what we were hoping for

Putting it bluntly, Jon’Vea Johnson and Jalen Guyton may be balling in practices, but they are wilting in live game action. Johnson only caught one of the five passes that came his way, while Guyton was the only targeted receiver who didn’t get a catch. There were obvious drops involved. It is not a way for either to make the roster. Reggie Davis didn’t help his case by muffing that punt, either. Neither Noah Brown or Cedrick Wilson was available for the game, but that may actually have helped them as far as making the 53.

One player who is forcing his name into consideration for making the team is Devin Smith. In addition to the touchdown grab from Rush, he had two other catches on a total of five targets. This could be the year he finally gets over his history of injuries - but it is still a long shot for him.

Tight ends who may not be just camp bodies

Jason Witten only played the 13 downs that the first team was on the field, and Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz both were held out for what appear to be mostly precautionary reasons. That forced Marcus Lucas and Codey McElroy, a couple of real unknowns, to carry the load at tight end. And they did so surprisingly well. Lucas was the only target that White was able to hit consistently, catching all four of the passes that came his way. McElroy only caught two of the five passes directed at him, but still managed to be the third leading receiver in terms of yards gained. Both are practice squad eligible, and look for one of them to get there as ready depth for the season. And at the moment they look to be better insurance against injury than we expected.

Some names to watch on the offensive line

There were some hopes that Mitch Hyatt was going to be a UDFA gem, but so far, the NFL game has been a bit more than he appears equipped to handle. The team may need to let him marinate on the PS for a year. A bit surprisingly, the team is leaning more on Jake Campos at tackle. He saw 82% of the offensive snaps, which appears to be every play after the starters left the game.

Campos would seem to have little chance of making the roster, and could be squeezed out of a PS job by Hyatt. But guard/center Adam Redmond, who also saw 82% of the offensive snaps, may be finding a way to stick around. He could be kept as one of the third year PS players that are allowed.

Another miss for Brett Maher

It was from 52 yards in windy conditions, but it was a miss. The kicker concerns continue.