Aside for the whopping 17 penalties, what were the biggest takeaways from the Dallas Cowboys 17-7 preseason opening loss to the Denver Broncos?
Here are 5 storylines from Saturday’s preseason opener:
Cooper Rush and backup quarterback
Cooper Rush was the favorite to return as the primary backup to starting quarterback Dak Prescott, thanks to his comeback victory against the Minnesota Vikings in the regular season last year.
But Rush has been in a battle with Will Grier since the start of camp. Grier has been more aggressive and shown more moxie.
With Grief out with hamstring injury, Rush had an opportunity to take a huge step forward in the season opener.
He did nothing to distance himself in the competition, completing 12 of 20 passes for 84 yards. He had an interception and quarterback rating of 48.8.
Rush was undone by poor blocking, penalties and dropped pass on fourth down by rookie receiver Jalen Tolbert that would have put the Cowboys in scoring position.
It was fourth-string quarterback Ben Dinucci who led the Cowboys in passing with 112 yards in nine completions and prevented the shut out with a 12-yard touchdown pass to Simi Fehoko.
Tyler Smith and Josh Ball rough outings
The offensive line is a huge question mark for the Cowboys in regards to rookie first-round pick Tyler Smith and his quest to unseat Connor McGovern as the starter at left guard and Josh Ball’s capability as a possible third tackle behind Tyron Smith and Terence Steele.
Both had rough outings against the Broncos.
While Smith was strong in the running game, he was flagged twice for holding. It’s an issue that goes back to his college days at Tulsa and one that must be fixed for a Cowboys team that led the league in penalties last year.
Ball was also flagged twice for holding and he gave up a sack and several pressures. The Cowboys don’t have a suitable option as the third tackle. It is an issue because of Tyron Smith’s propensity to get hurt and miss games.
Smith suffered an ankle injury the practice against the Broncos on Thursday.
Jalen Tolbert has to be better
Ever since the Cowboys drafted Jalen Tolbert in the third round, he has been targeted as an immediate impact player at receiver to help make up for the loss of Amari Cooper.
Tolbert has struggled lately in training camp and is not the best rookie receiver on the team. That honor goes to Dennis Houston, the undrafted receiver from Western Illinois. Houston had one catch for 18 yards and first down against the Broncos.
Tolbert had a huge drop in the joint practice against the Broncos on Thursday and he didn’t get much better in the preseason game.
He had just two catches on seven targets and had a huge drop on fourth down.
Stopping the run
The biggest positive from the Broncos game was the Cowboys ability to run the ball and stop the run.
Coach Mike McCarthy came into the game hoping to establish the run and the team rushed for 141 yards on 28 carries.
Rookie Malik Davis led the way with 51 yards on eight carries. Rico Dowdle had 36 yards on nine carries and Aaron Shampkin had 32 yards on seven carries.
It is going to be strong competition for the third running back job behind Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard.
Defensively, the Cowboys held the Broncos to 39 yards on 22 carries, 1.8 yards a pop.
KaVontae Turpin decision making
The debut of KaVontae Turpin on returns was one of the most anticipated things of the evening for the Cowboys.
The speedster from TCU had one punt return for 10 yards and two kickoff returns for 47 yards.
But it was his poor decision making that carried that night. He brought two corner kick offs out the end zone did not reach the 25 yard line on either one.
The Cowboys would have had better field position if he had taken the touch back. The one he should have run out, he took a knee.
It was the same thing on punt returns, as Turpin fair caught the first punt of the night when he had room to run.
Special teams coach John Fassel reminded him that he will be judged on his decision making as much as his play.