This past Thursday, the Dallas Cowboys had the opportunity to play in the annual NFL Hall of Fame game, located in Canton, OH, against the Arizona Cardinals. And, when I mention “the Dallas Cowboys” being given the opportunity, I mean the backups, the players you have not heard of, for the most part, and will likely not hear of for a while.
Nonetheless, the Cowboys were given a free exhibition game to open up the 2017 NFL preseason, a game that allowed the backups to acquire valuable playing time on the field and that gave fans an early look at players whose role might increase throughout the season. These bright-eyed and bushy-tailed youngsters overcame an early 15-point deficit to defeat the Cardinals, a fitting victory that served as a preface for Jerry Jones’ Hall of Fame induction Saturday night.
Returning from an ankle injury, backup quarterback Kellen Moore looked precise and remained consistent prior to throwing a mindless interception in the end zone that ended a promising drive in the second quarter. Veteran running back Alfred Morris and wide receiver Brice Butler showed further promise, along with second-year tight end Rico Gathers, a former Baylor basketball starter who spent his first year in the NFL on the practice squad. Morris amassed an efficient 42 yards on seven carries and proved his worth as the backup to starter Ezekiel Elliott. Butler did what Butler does best as an all-or-nothing receiver, tallying 78 yards on two catches. Butler looks to improve upon his last season that was characterized by horrid and untimely drops, a season that Butler certainly wants to drop from his mind. Finally, the agile Gathers exhibited his versatility Thursday night, breaking tackles throughout the night and scoring on a 26-yard touchdown catch.
The rest goes downhill from there, however. Minus a few good plays from the young Cowboys defensive backs, the defense looked atrocious throughout the entire game. The physicality was simply not there, and blown assignments were commonplace for the confused defense. The first-round draft pick, defensive end Taco Charlton, only played on 16 snaps but failed to have any kind of impact. Rookie cornerback Chidobe Awuzie, the second-round draft pick, arguably had the defensive play of the game for the Cowboys with a near pick-six. Keep in mind that the defense was going up against the historically bad Blaine Gabbert. In all honesty, it was hard to distinguish Gabbert from Patriots quarterback Tom Brady Thursday night, obviously a problem in itself.
The only remaining bright spot for the Cowboys was the performance of rookie kicker Sam Irwin-Hill. Irwin-Hill tallied field goals of 23 and 43 yards, the 43-yard field goal being the game winner. Don’t look for Irwin-Hill to overtake the starting position of standout kicker Dan Bailey anytime soon, however.
Regardless of this sloppiness, the exhibition game provided the Cowboys family a couple extra days to rally around Jerry Jones and his special night at the induction ceremony. For now, the Cowboys look to build upon this performance this week against the Los Angeles Rams in their second preseason game.
Photo: David Richard (AP Photo)