Losing in the preseason hasn’t been a bad thing for the Dallas Cowboys. On three separate occasions over the last decade, they’ve lost all of their preseason games. In each of those seasons (2014, 2018, 2021) they’ve gone on to make the playoffs.
Dallas lost its second preseason game of the year Saturday night at Seattle, 22-14. The Cowboys have a chance to finish 0-3 when they close the preseason against the Las Vegas Raiders next Saturday at AT&T Stadium.
The final score against the Seattle Seahawks doesn’t matter. Same as last week, the majority of the Cowboys’ starters didn’t play. But there are several things that happened in the game that will impact the quickly approaching regular season.
The Athletic’s Cowboys reporters Jon Machota and Saad Yousuf look at which players are rising and falling after the game Saturday.
Deuce Vaughn. Nothing more needs to be seen from the rookie running back in the preseason. The sixth-round pick is not only a lock to make the roster, he has set himself up to have a notable offensive role. After making multiple defenders look foolish in the preseason opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Vaughn followed it up with an even better highlight run for a 14-yard touchdown Saturday. He turned heads throughout training camp, but there’s some projecting when players aren’t being tackled to the ground. In two preseason games, Vaughn has made it clear that what he did at Kansas State can absolutely translate to the NFL. In two preseason games, he has rushed 13 times for 64 yards and two touchdowns.
“I feel like I was more comfortable as far as playing faster,” Vaughn said. “Last week, I felt like there was a couple times, whether it was in pass protection or running the football, I wasn’t playing as fast because I was thinking a little more. But another game under my belt and I felt like I played faster.”
Deuce Vaughn making the defense miss! @C_Vaughn22
— NFL (@NFL) August 20, 2023
Sam Williams. The Cowboys are going to need somebody to step up and capitalize on advantageous situations created by offenses scheming against Micah Parsons and DeMarcus Lawrence, similar to what Randy Gregory did in his final year in Dallas. Williams has flashed the ability to do that and he was visible again against the Seahawks. Williams had a great sack in which he faked a speed rush and bulldozed his way into taking down Seattle starting QB Geno Smith. Williams also flew around to the ball and made plays at the line of scrimmage. His roughing the passer penalty extended a Seattle drive and led to a Seahawks touchdown but it was an accidental foul, not terribly dissimilar to Parsons’ hit on Dak Prescott two weeks ago in practice. That can easily be corrected and eliminated.
Jalen Tolbert. The Cowboys were hopeful that Tolbert could have a strong offseason, be consistent in training camp and make plays when given the opportunity in the preseason. So far, he has checked every box. Tolbert continues to separate himself as the team’s No. 4 wide receiver behind CeeDee Lamb, Brandin Cooks and Michael Gallup. He had another strong showing in Seattle, finishing with game-highs of four catches for 66 yards. The most impressive grab came early when he adjusted to make a 35-yard back shoulder catch near Dallas’ sideline. Tolbert hauled in the Cooper Rush throw on third-and-7 despite being grabbed by Seahawks starting CB Michael Jackson, who was flagged for defensive pass interference on the play. Tolbert appears ready to have a much bigger role in the offense in his second season.
“I am just building on what I have been trying to build on the whole training camp,” Tolbert said. “My takeaways (from the game) can be play speed and being able to play faster than everybody else. Being decisive on my reads, adjustments or what I think I should do. Not thinking too much, just going out there and really trying to be comfortable and confident. That’s my takeaway from the game, and just continue to grow on that.”
Rico Dowdle. If you eliminate Dowdle’s fumble at the goal line against the Jacksonville Jaguars, which admittedly is a crucial mistake, he’s mounted a pretty decent edge on Malik Davis to be the third running back on the roster, alongside Tony Pollard and Vaughn. The eight carries for 38 yards against the Seahawks was solid and catching a couple of passes, including a touchdown, doesn’t hurt either. But Dowdle also showed up in pass protection, most notably picking up a rusher on third down that allowed a completion to KaVontae Turpin for the first down. The Cowboys have a couple of fancy playmakers with interesting skill sets in Pollard and Vaughn. They need a running back who can be a good complement and do the standard things well. Dowdle has shown to be an intentional runner, a good pass catcher and a solid blocker. It’s still a bit early to call the race in his favor but that’s the kind of player the Cowboys need.
“It felt real good (to score that touchdown), especially after last week being so close to the end zone and dropping it,” Dowdle said. “I think I made the most of the opportunities that I got, but there is always room for improvement. Another week to go.”
A @DallasCowboys lead thanks to the combo of Cooper Rush and Rico Dowdle.
— NFL (@NFL) August 20, 2023
Injuries. This was the biggest storyline from the game. The most notable being a left knee injury suffered by rookie LB DeMarvion Overshown. The third-round pick made an excellent stop of rookie RB Zach Charbonnet near the sideline on Seattle’s second possession. It appeared that Overshown’s left foot got caught in the turf as he was going down. When he tried to get up, he realized something was wrong. After walking to the sideline, he was later carted off to the locker room with what could be a significant injury. He was ruled out immediately. He’ll have further testing Sunday. Late Saturday night, he tweeted: “Still Blessed” with a praying hands emoji. Losing Overshown would be a notable blow because of the role he was expected to have on defense and special teams. The linebacker depth would be much more of a question without him. Dallas’ other injuries from Saturday also include rookie TE John Stephens (knee) and OT Matt Waletzko (shoulder).
“You never want to see any of your guys get hurt,” Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said. “That’s what is so tough about these games. We had a couple young guys go down, and you just say your prayers and hopefully the imaging points in the right direction. (Overshown) has had an incredible camp. We talked about him seems like almost ever other day. I just hope he’s OK.
“He was climbing the charts. I mean, he showed up right away in the offseason program, just his ability to fly around. Really has excellent command for a young player, young linebacker. So just hopeful. See how tomorrow goes.”
Offensive line depth. It was a concern coming into training camp, and it has only grown in recent weeks. The starting five is in great shape with LT Tyron Smith, LG Tyler Smith, C Tyler Biadasz, RG Zack Martin and RT Terence Steele. But injuries, to whatever extent, are typically inevitable at that position group. Who is Dallas’ sixth-best offensive lineman, regardless of position? The Cowboys have begged Josh Ball to take that role, but he’s done little with his opportunity. Chuma Edoga was carted off the field in Oxnard, Calif., two weeks ago and Waletzko now has a shoulder injury. Too often against the Seahawks, the issues were obvious. Multiple times, one swim move from a defensive end was enough to break through the entire left side and disrupt the quarterback’s timing. Losing one-on-one battles is tough but losing two-on-one matchups is unacceptable. Given the starters, the offensive line should not be a concern when the season kicks off and even if/when injuries hit, it won’t take out the entire top unit. But based on what we continue to see, whichever spot needs to be filled up front will instantly become the weakest link in the offense.
Kicking situation. Kicker was arguably the position that held the most intrigue when camp began. At the end of the second week, Brandon Aubrey and Tristan Vizcaino went a combined 1-for-6. That was Vizcaino’s final practice with the Cowboys. The following Monday, Aubrey, who has never kicked in the NFL, became the lone kicker on the team. In the two weeks since, Aubrey has been decent in practices but the point was to figure out what the team has in him over the course of the preseason. Through two of the three games, he’s attempted a total of one field goal, converting his 29-yard try in the preseason opener. The Cowboys need to get him looks in game situations, however, when Dallas’ offense faced fourth-and-3 at the Seattle 28 in the final minutes, the Cowboys went for it. Instead of allowing Aubrey to attempt the 45-yard field goal, third-string QB Will Grier ended up scrambling around and taking a 20-yard sack. Aubrey did convert both of his extra point attempts Saturday, which is encouraging after his missed one last week against the Jaguars. The Cowboys have one more game to figure out what they have in Aubrey. After that, miscues will start to hurt the team when it matters.
(Photo of Deuce Vaughn: Joe Nicholson / USA Today)
The Football 100, the definitive ranking of the NFL’s best 100 players of all time, goes on sale this fall. Pre-order it here.