Rod Smith

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Cowboys vs Bengals: What We Learned

August 20, 2018 - 8:24 am

The 3 most important things in any preseason game are as follows:

1 - Stay healthy

2 - Don't get hurt

3 - Avoid injuries

Once we get past those small matters, we can take the time to focus on what we've seen and what we can take away from a preseason game. Here's what I got out of this one:

- Michael Gallup might be the Cowboys top pass catcher even sooner than I thought.  You won't find a bigger Gallup fan that I was during the draft process, I had him as my 4th rated wide receiver in the draft.  We're already seeing the trust that Dak Prescott has in him manifest itself on the most important downs.  On the Cowboys first drive on 3rd & 3 it was a slant to Gallup that moved the chains.  On the scoring drive in the 2nd quarter in the red zone it was another slant to Gallup on 3rd & 3.  The best receiver on your team is the guy who your quarterback goes to when it's time to convert on a money down.  Gallup is already looking like that guy for Prescott.

- Jaylon Smith may not be Notre Dame Jaylon, but this version looks just fine to me. I have no problem eating crow when I'm wrong on something and I didn't know that Jaylon Smith would ever touch an NFL field after his injury at Notre Dame. I was wrong. As we head in to year three it looks like not only is he going to touch the field, but there are signs that he can be an average starter at linebacker or perhaps even more than that. On the first defensive snap of the game Smith did something he wasn't able to do last year. On a run away from him he was able to use a little hesitation and then burst to work around/through an offensive lineman climbing to the second level to try and seal him out of the play. He ends up being the guy getting to the sideline to meet Joe Mixon for a minimal game. In coverage he looks much better than he did a year ago. A guy everyone is pulling for looks like he may have arrived. 

- The big pass play to Rod Smith out of the backfield illustrates the way the Cowboys need to use Ezekiel Elliott this year. Yes, Elliott is a phenomenal pass protector. When you want him to stay in there and help out the quarterback that's fine and he'll excel at it, but on the play to Smith there's a free blitzer coming from Dak's right side and instead of taking him on and protecting, Smith avoided him and outran the linebacker covering him for a big gain. The Cowboys would be better served if Elliott spent less time protecting the quarterback and more time beating linebackers in space when opposing teams take chances on a blitz.  Your best playmaker is better used making plays than protecting and hoping that someone less dynamic can make a play while he's blocking.  

- Connor Williams might have some bumps along the road as a rookie. He looks solid on the move when he's pulling and climbing to the linebacker level to make blocks but has had some hiccups in pass protection against defensive tackles one on one. He's going to have to develop the consistency to not have whiffs that can set your offense back.  Prescott bailed him out on one with some fancy footwork to get a ball off to Hurns with a defensive tackle bearing down on him because Williams missed.  He also had a play on the first Cooper Rush drive where he wasn't able to make the reach block and Andrew Billings was able to make a tackle for loss.  I think he's going to be a good player, but I'd be careful with setting expectations too high from day one, there's a lot of really good defensive tackles in the league that will be a handful for him to deal with initially.  

- Anthony Brown had a strong training camp and is showing some flashes of the confident player we saw in the 2016 season.  I thought it curious that he was taking the starting nickel corner reps in training camp in front of Jourdan Lewis but he's outplayed Lewis in camp and he's having some plays where he's showing his strong instincts and ability to close in a hurry on some routes like one on Tyler Boyd in the game this weekend.  I'm still a big believer in Jourdan Lewis as a long term starter in the league, but Anthony Brown isn't handing over his playing time just yet.  Lewis also had some struggles in this one giving up a big play to John Ross, pass interfering on a deep ball to Auden Tate and missing a tackle on a screen pass. 

- Rico Gathers.  The most polarizing Dallas Cowboy on the internet.  Let's take a look at his day. He made a play along the sideline that no other tight end on this roster can make. He was stuck behind a defender on a ball lobbed in his direction and was able to reach over him and snatch it away.  He's a big guy that's fairly athletic and can catch the football over defenders. He showed it last preseason and he's shown it again in camp and in this game. However, the things that are holding him back in the eyes of the coaching staff were on full display as well.  The first run play where he was at tight end he whiffed on his block. Shortly after that he ran directly in to Dalton Schultz on a play that looked like it was supposed to be a mesh play to try and spring a guy open and he messed up the depth or ran the wrong route. His first target he dropped the ball on an in route. Yes, the potential upside as a pass catcher can be tantalizing with him, but he's in his third year as a professional football player and the basics continue to be a struggle for him.  

- Chido is on the doorstep to being a star.

- Jeff Heath is a better player than he gets credit for. 

- The defensive end group is very good and very deep. Taco Charlton is continuing to improve, Dorance Armstrong early returns are very good and Randy Gregory looks like he's going to be a productive pass rusher this year.