Again, that’s not necessarily a surprise given the young players involved, but eliminating those types of mistakes is still key for a team that led the league in penalty kicks last season and tallied 14 in the playoff loss to San Francisco last January. The game, coincidentally or not, was also refereed by Alex Kemp.
Perhaps the highlights of this game were the Cowboys attacking offense and their defensive run on the other side of the ball. Dallas averaged 5.0 yards per carry, with Malik Davis leading the way with 51 yards on eight carries, a 6.4 average. Meanwhile, the Cowboys allowed just 1.8 yards per carry, with no Denver running back gaining more than 20 yards in the contest.
Behind center, last year’s sophomore linebacker, Cooper Rush, got the start and hoped to show the coaching staff that he deserves to keep the job. After that, though, the battle with Will Grier to be Dak Prescott’s backup will be even tighter than ever. Entering the third quarter, Rush completed 12 of his 20 passes for just 84 yards with no touchdowns and one interception, resulting in a disappointing 48.8 passer rating.
With Grier sidelined with an injury, Ben Dinucci handled passing duties the rest of the way and went 9-of-16 for 112 yards with one touchdown and a 99.0 rating. Brandon Smith had just one catch, but it went for 40 yards, leading the Cowboys in receiving yards.
First-round draft pick Tyler Smith got his first taste of NFL games and looked impressive at times. As you’d expect in any rookie debut, he had his fair share of misses, including a couple of penalties, but his power was on full display as he wound up his defender on several occasions.
Neither offense could get anything going early in the game as both teams had three possessions each. The Cowboys’ offense finally got some traction on third down thanks to Dennis Houston’s 18-yard field goal that put Dallas through midfield.
And they got to the home team’s 38, but on fourth-and-2, rather than give one of the two players battling for a roster spot a chance, head coach Mike McCarthy decided to go for it. Under heavy pressure under center, Rush’s pass to Jalen Tolbert was picked off, ending the drive.
Denver found itself in a similar situation soon after, facing a fourth-and-2 at the Cowboys’ 29-yard line. But Dante Fowler broke through the line from his right wing position and pressed defender Josh Johnson, who threw the ball incomplete.
The second frame began with the Cowboys again failing to convert on fourth-and-2, this time with Tolbert unable to hold onto a pass over the middle. Unfortunately, that allowed Denver to take over at the Dallas 47-yard line, and three snaps later, Josh Johnson connected with Brandon Johnson for a 40-yard completion. The Broncos then completed the drive with a pass to Seth Williams, who came down with the ball for the game’s first score.
On Denver’s next drive, Dallas’ defense appeared to be off the field after a third-and-13 pass attempt fell incomplete. But Tarell Basham was called for pass interference, giving the Broncos new life. They took advantage, adding seven more points after Kendall Hinton jumped over Cowboys cornerback Nahshon Wright for a 24-yard touchdown pass.
Dallas came through again before halftime. The Broncos missed a 57-yard field goal, but Kelvin Joseph was ruled offside, giving Denver another chance five yards closer. And this time the attempt was successful, the Broncos went into the beak with an advantage of 17-0.
The penalty trouble started where it left off. On their first possession of the second half, the Cowboys decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 at the Denver 41-yard line. However, a false start pushed them back five yards, and then a 25-yard completion was negated by a holding. With that, Dallas struck.
When the rain started on the next drive, the Broncos marched from their own 1-yard line all the way to the Dallas 4. But the Cowboys’ defense held their own there, preventing Denver from getting into the end zone on four attempts. goal line
DiNucci drove on the Cowboys’ next possession in the final frame, and he provided a spark to the offense. He at least got the team back through midfield and while this time McCarthy decided to attempt a free kick, Lirim Khairullagu’s 56-yard effort went just wide after Brian Anger struggled to deal with a wet ball in possession.
Then the Cowboys finally got on the board with just under five minutes to go. Starting at their own 5-yard line, the offense went the distance in 16 plays, with rookie Davis rushing three times for 16 yards and passing for nine more. Dinucci finished it off with a 12-yarder to Simi Fehoko for a touchdown, at least Dallas was able to avoid a shutout.