The Cowboys and the Rams faced off for their third preseason game, with the Cowboys holding on to win 20-19. However, there was clearly a difference between the Cowboy starting units and the Rams starting units.
The Cowboys took at 17-3 lead with Tony Romo at quarterback, with two long touchdowns to Dwayne Harris. On the other side the Dallas starting defense held Rams starting Sam Bradford to 6 of 17 passing with 64 yards.
It wasn't until the fourth quarter when the Rams offense broke through and scored two touchdowns to cut the score to 20-19. Some standout performances included:
Dwayne Harris: The clear-cut choice for player of the game, besides maybe Tony Romo. But with Romo's spot already secured, Harris' performance was more significant. On Harris' first TD he was able to exploit a faulty Rams zone coverage and get behind linebacker James Laurinatis on a deep post.
On the second touchdown he caught a crossing route and was able to make two defenders miss on the way to the end zone. All told he caught three passes for 118 yards and two touchdowns. After showing that he can run the hitch route in the first two preseason games, with limited YAC opportunities, Harris showed his play-making ability today, and may have surpassed Cole Beasley (3 reception for 40 yards) on the depth chart.
Jason Hatcher: Hatcher made his presence known early in this game with a sack on Sam Bradford on a 3rd and 8 play. After putting together an impressive training camp, Hatcher seems poised to have a breakout season. However, due to injury Hatcher was forced to miss the first two games in the preseason. But with the strong pass rushing display shown against the Rams, Hatcher seems to be right on schedule for a great year.
Felix Jones: After a mediocre performance against the Chargers, Jones looked like a player playing for his job against the Rams. Jones played well in all facets of the game, running for 34 yards on 6 carries, catching for 23 yards on 2 receptions (after dropping passes in each of the first two preseason games) and making a key blitz pickup on Tony Romo's second passing touchdown to Dwayne Harris.
Greg Zuerlein: For the St Louis starters, Zuerlein proved to be the most effective weapon against the Cowboys. The one drive Sam Bradford was able to get the ball into Cowboys territory, it stalled at the 38, seeminly out of range. However Zuerlein was able to hit the 55 yarder, and later was able to hit another 50 yarder (52 yards out), after the Rams were unable to capitalize on a Cowboy turnover.
Morris Claiborne: Claiborne was targeted more in this game than in his first game against the Chargers. On the Rams first play Claiborne was beaten for a 14 yard play, and then later on a 3rd and 1 he was beaten by Steve Smith only to be bailed out by an overthrown ball by Bradford. However,
Claiborne stepped his game up later in the drive near the goal line, first with tight coverage on a fade to Austin Pettis, and then by breaking up 4th down pass intended for Steve Smith.
Kevin Ogletree: Ogletree was very good for the most part, catching 5 passes for 75 yards. However, on the first drive of the game, he dropped a 3rd down pass in the red zone that would have been a first down, and probably cost the team a touchdown. Though this one mistake is not enough to cost Ogletree the number 3 receiver spot, it is the kind of play the Cowboys will need him to make in the regular season.
Sam Bradford: Bradford played well at times, having the ball inside Cowboys territory 3 times and in the red zone once. However, he was stonewalled every time he got into Cowboy territory, and was unable to capitalize on Cowboy mistakes. The first time he drove into Cowboys territory on a 26 yard completion to his tight end. However, following this completion he was unable to move the ball at all and settled for a long field goal attempt.
When the Rams defense gave Bradford a golden opportunity by recovering a Kyle Orton at the Cowboys' 38, Bradford could only move them 4 yards, before settling for another long field goal. On a final drive before the half, Bradford took advantage of a 30 yard run on a fake punt to bring the ball into the red zone, but came away with no points when his 4th down pass was knocked away by Morris Claiborne.
It's easy to blame the Rams line and receivers for Bradford's struggles, but a good amount of blame deserves to be placed on the 3rd year quarterback.
The Ram's Starting Secondary: When looking at either Dwayne Harris touchdown you can admire the throw on the first and the run after catch on the second, or you look at the first as a breakdown in coverage and the second as miserable tackling.
Despite missing their two top receivers, the Cowboys passing attack looked very sharp against the Rams, and much of it had to do with shoddy secondary work. Aside from the obvious 38 yard touchdown by Harris, the Rams were consistently missing tackles, turning 5-10 yard gains into 15-20 yard gains.
Former defensive backs coach Jeff Fisher cannot be pleased with what he saw, and should be focusing heavily on tackling technique in the weeks leading up the the season's start.