2014 PRESEASON GAME RECAP: Dallas Cowboys vs. San Diego Chargers | Defense struggled without key starters | Players performance reviewed | Broaddus from the broadcast booth | Ahmad Dixon shines | Third-string RB battle taking shape

2014 PRESEASON GAME RECAP - Dallas Cowboys vs. San Diego Chargers - Highlights Video

Highlights Video | Cowboys at Chargers | 2:21 | The San Diego Chargers played host to the Dallas Cowboys in Week 1 of the preseason, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Brandon Weeden had 107 yards and a touchdown. (Watch | No Audio)

First Take | 3:33 | Break down of the game from Qualcomm Stadium after the Dallas Cowboys vs. San Diego Chargers opener. (Watch | Listen

SAN DIEGO – Less than 12 months ago, the Cowboys gave up 506 yards to the Chargers here at Qualcomm Stadium, the third-most single-game total of the season.

And that was against a group of defensive starters that included the likes of Sean Lee, Jason Hatcher and DeMarcus Ware.

So it’s not like Philip Rivers and his gang haven’t had success against the best the Cowboys put out there on defense before. But going up against a group that saw at least five starters sitting out, the Chargers pretty much had their way with the Cowboys’ defense Thursday night in a 27-7 victory.

Had the Cowboys’ defense not come up with two goal-line stops, one that resulted in a fumble recovery in the end zone and another that led to a field goal, San Diego likely would’ve had 10 more points.

“In general, San Diego was able to move the ball too easily on us,” head coach Jason Garrett said. “A couple of times we made some stops down there. They run the ball on us and threw the ball very effectively. For the most part, we didn’t make enough stops on defense and hopefully improve upon that.”

San Diego quarterbacks completed their first 12 passes, which went into the fourth quarter. Overall the trio of Rivers, Kellen Clemens and Brad Sorensen went 12 of 14 passing for the game.

Garrett wasn’t thrilled about his defense yielding 395 yards and missing quite a few tackles, but he also knows the first preseason game can be tricky to evaluate.

“I think you have to evaluate the individual players,” Garrett said. “That’s the nature of preseason games. We’ll try to evaluate the players individually. There’s no excuses that way. It’s a great night to evaluate guys though. It’s great to see these guys in game action, if they play six plays of 60 plays. Obviously we have a long ways to go.”

While missing five starters makes it tough to both compete and evaluate, new defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said there are some positives with playing a lot of younger players. However, it was rather extreme for cornerback Korey Lindsey, who joined the team Tuesday night and without even a practice or walk-through, he played Thursday. Lindsey gave up a 70-yard touchdown in the third quarter.

“It’s good for us. You never know when someone has a chance,” Marinelli said. “You just don’t know. You just keep working and hope to find someone that we like that can help us.”

One of those guys could be rookie safety Ahmad Dixon, who had 12 tackles before leaving the game with an apparent head injury. Marinelli said he would prefer to watch the tape before commenting. He did know acknowledge the rookie from Baylor was “around the ball a lot” but added the team overall has to improve its tackling.

Moving forward, the Cowboys should get some help both on the line and in the secondary. The team held out cornerback Orlando Scandrick and defensive tackle Henry Melton. Safety Barry Church also didn’t play after missing some time with an ankle injury. Cornerback Brandon Carr is expected to join the team in Oxnard after missing two weeks to be with his ailing mother, who passed away last week. George Selvie didn’t play with a groin injury and cornerback Morris Claiborne also missed the game with a knee injury that kept him out of practice last week.

RELATED: Players performance reviewed

SAN DIEGO – The preseason opener isn’t always the best evaluation of players, but it’s certainly the first one.

With many players held out of Thursday’s 27-7 loss to the Chargers, it’s anything but a complete look for the upcoming season.

But several players are fighting for roster spots and/or playing time. Before the game, writers picked two players each to watch throughout the game.

Here is the review following Thursday’s game at Qualcomm Stadium.

Rowan Kavner

Terrance Mitchell – I kind of expected a couple penalties from Mitchell to go along with a game-changing type play. He gave a little of both. Speaking to Mitchell after the game, he didn’t feel like he played as well as he would have liked to, but he did recover a fumble in the end zone as the Chargers were moving down the field. However, it was after he was called for a penalty in the end zone for holding the receiver. He got a taste of how he might not be able to get away with some of the physicality he’s used to playing with. Mitchell didn’t have a bad day, but the Chargers’ quarterbacks did go without an incompletion until the fourth quarter.

Ryan Williams – The running back played well. The issue for him while fighting for a spot on the team is that the other candidate for the third running back spot also played well. The best trait Williams displayed Thursday were his hands out of the backfield. Williams finished as the team’s leading receiver with five catches. However, it was Randle’s 50 rushing yards that led the team. Williams showed some strong cut and juke moves, but he’ll need more steady performances, a breakout game down the road and some strong special teams performances if he’s going to earn a spot on the team and prove he’s worthy of being on the roster over Randle.

Bryan Broaddus

Joseph Randle: It was clear from the opening snap that Joseph Randle was ready to make the start and play well in this game. Randle has always had a physical running style in the way he carries the ball but what I especially noticed about his game was the way that he played with vision. There were several snaps where plays were not blocked cleanly on the front side and with slight cut, he was able to turn a negative play into a positive one. If there was a missing element to his game, it was his ability to be an effective pass protector. I liked what he showed in this area especially the stoutness and awareness in which he was able to execute his blocks to help Brandon Weeden deliver the ball.  It was a complete game in all phases for Randle

Anthony Hitchens: For a defense that was struggling to make stops it was hard to find bright spots but Anthony Hitchens did his best to show up. What impresses me about his game is his ability to run to the ball. When his teammates were blocked, he was finding a way to knife inside and make a tackle at the point of attack. When the ball went wide, he was on the move putting himself in a position to finish the play.  For his first game out, he didn’t play as he was lost or struggling with his technique was solid and the more snaps that he received, the better he played.  Of the rookie players, he and Ahmad Dixon showed up the most in how they were able to be in the majority of the piles.

David Helman

Gavin Escobar: The second-year tight end got precious few looks, as he finished with just one target and one reception on the night. He made the most of that opportunity, though, as his 26-yard reception to open the second quarter set the Cowboys up in the San Diego red zone on a drive that would ultimately lead to a touchdown. Escobar also showed the versatility that excited fans at times as a rookie. He lined up off the line and got downfield on several occasions, though the ball didn’t come his way. It will be interesting to see if he can build on this performance. His 26 yards tonight would have been the second-best total of his rookie season.

Davon Coleman: There’s no doubt the rookie got plenty of playing time, but he didn’t make quite the same impact I was expecting to see. Coleman was a starting defensive linemen at kickoff and played through halftime, but he only managed three tackles. For the most part, it also seemed like he failed to generate much pressure and was taken away from several plays. His linemate and fellow rookie Ken Bishop seemed to stand out more during the run of the game, despite finishing with the same number of tackles.

Nick Eatman

Devin Street: The rookie from Pitt pretty much played his first preseason game like he’s practiced the last two weeks. He wasn’t overly flashy but productive. He had four catches for 43 yards. Maybe what’s more important is catching four passes on four targets. He’s a big guy who has been quarterback-friendly in practice. He was certainly the same way again in this game. I would’ve liked to see some goal-line passes to him to use his jumping ability and height. But maybe that’ll be seen down the road. Overall, a nice first start.

Jeremy Mincey: Well, I’m certainly kicking myself for not following my gut and picking Ahmad Dixon as my guy to watch. I thought it might be a tad early for the seventh-round safety and wasn’t sure he’d play much. Turns out he played nearly the whole game and was credited with 12 tackles. As for Mincey, he didn’t play long – really just one series with the first-team defense, which didn’t have much success stopping anything. Mincey did draw a holding penalty on the Chargers’ left tackle King Dunlap. He had a couple of decent rushes but nothing too effective.

RELATED: Broaddus from the broadcast booth

SAN DIEGO – I’ll have more in-depth analysis when I’ve had a chance to watch the game tape. For now, here’s a dozen quick impressions from the Cowboys’ preseason loss to San Diego – as seen from the radio booth at Qualcomm Stadium.

  • The battle between Joseph Randle and Ryan Williams at running back will go down to the final blitz pickup. They both run the ball tough and catch it well, but who can stand in there and keep rushers off Tony Romo is going to get that spot.
  • If you don’t play with your hands and shed blocks at the point of attack, you are going to have a bad defense — I don’t care how much talent you think you have. The Chargers did a much better job of coming off the ball and sustaining their blocks. The Cowboys front seven had no answer for that.
  • I would not want to be hit by Ahmad Dixon.
  • Was not surprised by the way Brandon Weeden played, but I was surprised by how much mobility he showed to get to the outside and deliver that ball to James Hanna. I was always positive that he was going to get rid of the ball out of bounds, but he did a nice job of keeping his eyes down the field to make the throw.
  • Without watching the tape, I like what I saw from Mackenzy Bernadeau at center.  He appeared to play on his feet, and when he had to make a reach or a cutoff block, he did a nice job of securing those blocks. He wasn’t slow or sluggish at all.
  • Don’t give up on Terrance Mitchell. The kid played the whole game and at times was technique poor, but Jerome Henderson and Joe Baker will continue to work with him. This was a great learning experience for him.
  • Really nice hit by Justin Durant on the goal line to knock the ball loose from Ryan Mathews. I haven’t given him nearly enough credit for his play making ability, but he continues to keep showing up in practices and now games.
  • Was disappointed that I didn’t see more in production from Chris Boyd. Thought he had a chance to come down with that 3rd down pass late in the game from Dustin Vaughan. It appeared that he misjudged it in flight.
  • I believe that if the league passed this 33-yard extra point rule I would be a fan. Each time it was attempted, I paid closer attention to the kick.
  • I will be interested, when I study the tape from this game, if Kenneth Boatright did a better job than Martez Wilson at defensive end?
  • If I worked in this front office, I would lobby to not play Dustin Vaughan in any more snaps. I think this kid showed great poise hanging in the pocket and I am not interested in letting anyone study his film and take him from me.
  • I wish that everyone could do a Dallas Cowboys game on radio with Brad Sham.

RELATED: Ahmad Dixon shines

Ahmad Dixon delivered blows of his first 11 tackles. It was the 12th that he felt the after effects of getting smacked back.

Dixon, the leading tackler for the Cowboys in Thursday’s preseason opener, left the game in the fourth quarter after making a tackle and was checked for a concussion, but he said he was feeling OK afterward.

“I’m feeling good,” Dixon said. “Got a little dinged up. It just kind of was a little ‘welcome to the NFL’ type of blow. But I’m feeling good. I learned a lot. Coaches threw me out there a little bit. I got to showcase my skills a little bit, but overall I feel good.The hit occurred as he went down to tackle running back Marion Grice. The safety’s breakout game ended in a concussion test, but he felt like he got out of it all right.

“I had good signs, remembered everything I was supposed to remember, was walking pretty good and was walking pretty steady,” Dixon said.

The Baylor safety flew all over the field. He finished with four more tackles than any other defender while playing the majority of the game and recorded a tackle for loss. The Chargers didn’t have an incompletion until the 14:24 mark of the game, and that incomplete pass was followed by a crushing hit from Dixon.

Obviously, if Dixon’s making plays that means Chargers players are getting past the defensive linemen and linebacker. But Dixon’s big hits bailed out the defense a few times.

The hard-hitting safety hopes he won’t have to miss time, but he understands that’s a possibility.

“I don’t think I should, but it’s all about whatever the trainers feel,” Dixon said. “If they feel it’s best for me to miss a couple (practices), I’ll do that. But whenever I come back, I’m going to be the same player…it’s not going to change the way I play.”

Yellow Field

The Cowboys finished with nine penalties, including one on a defensive holding call cornerback Terrance Mitchell couldn’t believe.

“That penalty, I was like, ‘What?’ I didn’t grab him or nothing,” Mitchell said. “The ref explained to me that this year they’re calling the game real tight. So it kind of had me hot, but at the same time, I just stayed focused. (Jeff) Heath came through with a big play and I was in the right place at the right time.”

That play Heath made was knocking the ball loose on running back Ryan Mathews at the goal line. Mitchell picked the ball up for a touchback.

The Cowboys’ rookie corner got reps all night, with the team short at cornerback. He said it felt like he was playing Madden to see Mathews and Philip Rivers on the other side. Mitchell wasn’t particularly thrilled with the way he played, but he said he’s happy to get an NFL preseason game under his belt.

“At cornerback, I kind of grade myself off getting picks and not giving up touchdowns,” Mitchell said. “I didn’t give up a touchdown, but I’ve just got to work on some of my technical stuff in the game.”

Loose Ends

James Hanna was involved in two of the most important plays of Thursday’s game – one good, one bad. Sitting at his locker after the game, Hanna said he’s far more likely to remember the missed block that led to a San Diego strip-sack than his touchdown catch.

“Definitely the sack – it’s just frustrating, man,” Hanna said. “It’s preseason, so luckily that one’s not going to count.”

Hanna finished with two catches for 11 yards – the second of which came in the back of the end zone to put Dallas up, 7-0, early in the second quarter. The pendulum swung the other way on the Cowboys’ second possession of the second half. Hanna missed a block on the left edge, allowing Thomas Keiser to smash Caleb Hanie on a sack that led to a Chargers fumble recovery.

David Helman

Different Feeling

Quarterback Brandon Weeden could tell before the game even began that something felt different.

His move to Dallas symbolized a new beginning for Weeden, who took advantage of the opportunity in a Cowboys uniform by going 13-for-17 with a touchdown in the preseason opener.

“It was a different feeling,” Weeden said. “When you put on those shoulder pads, it’s just, that jersey and that helmet, it’s just a cool feeling. It really is. I love it here. I love this group of guys we’re going to battle with. It’s fun. I enjoyed it. It’s something, I definitely thought about it as it was going on.”

Weeden credited his offensive line and receivers for playing well around him and said his first performance was something to build on. He said he got his confidence going throughout the game.

“It was fun to prepare for it, kind of get back in that groove,” Weeden said. “You practice and you compete against the same guys for so long, so it’s nice to go up against another team that’s kind of in the same boat. It feels good to kind of knock the rust off, get hit a little bit.”

  • The Cowboys were playing short on both sides of the ball. That showed on defense, where the Cowboys were missing five starters. To add to the injuries, both Ben Malena (groin) and Dartwan Bush (concussion-like symptoms) left the game.
  • Tony Romo, Jason Witten, Orlando Scandrick and Dan Bailey weren’t the only Cowboys team captains at the coin toss. Joining them was newcomer Jeremy Mincey, who’ll be counted on as the team’s right defensive end this year.

“I see a large amount of opportunity,” Mincey said. “I usually take advantage of my opportunities. I always have.”

  • B.W. Webb was the only player to return a punt for the Cowboys. He went from one side of the field to the other for six yards.
  • Cornerback Korey Lindsey and safety Johnny Thomas played Thursday despite never practicing with the team. The effects of that were evident on the Chargers’ 70-yard touchdown pass past Lindsey.


  • The first sack of the year went to Cam Lawrence – until it was called back on a defensive holding call.
  • In his first game with the Cowboys, guard Zack Martin said there were a couple jitters the first couple plays of the game. He said it was more nerve-racking before the game, and it didn’t take long to get settled and calm down once the game began.

RELATED: Third-string RB battle taking shape

SAN DIEGODeMarco Murray and Lance Dunbar didn’t see a snap of action against San Diego, so it was already established the preseason opener would feature the backup running backs.

When undrafted rookie Ben Malena went down with a quad strain five minutes into the third quarter, it became even more apparent –Thursday night’s preseason debut would be all about Joseph Randle and Ryan Williams.

It was fitting, since the two are currently battling it out for the Cowboys’ No. 3 running back spot, but it was a bit surprising to see them carry the bulk of the Dallas rushing effort. Randle was the de-facto starter, as Murray and Dunbar were healthy scratches before kickoff.

With that opportunity, he took 13 of the team’s 23 carries for 50 yards on the night.

“It was good to see Joseph get those opportunities. He’s done an excellent job since the start of training camp,” said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. “He’s grown a lot since he’s been with us. I thought he was decisive running the football – putting his foot in the ground and getting up the field. It looked like he saw the field well.”

Roughly half of that production came on the game’s opening drive when, running behind the starting offensive line for the only time, Randle carried seven times for 24 yards.

“I’m just more comfortable with the playbook and everything – the game has slowed down for me,” Randle said. “I thought I had a lot of good holes to run through, and I tried to take the best advantage of them.”

Williams, the former second-round pick by Arizona, entered toward the tail end of the second quarter and toted the ball five yards on his first carry. He finished with 29 yards on just eight carries, but he put together a productive night through the air with a team-best five catches for 31 yards.

The third-year veteran was inactive in all 16 games for the Cardinals last season. Williams said the playing time was a positive, even with his miscues.

“I missed that one pass, and it pissed me off,” Williams said. “Just getting the opportunity to play, regardless of what it looked like – I was out there fighting.”

The fight is likely just beginning, as the Cowboys are bound to limit the playing time for the Pro Bowler Murray and the diminutive Dunbar. Randle and Williams will likely see plenty of action next weekend against Baltimore, and they may again get the bulk of the work in the preseason finale against Denver.

Both backs said they’ve got plenty more to work on as the preseason goes along.

“I think just more experience. I had two games where I started last year, and I’ve been working hard at practice,” Randle said. “I just need to get in a little bit more condition.”

Added Williams: “We had a lot of young guys and stuff out there, but I did my best and that’s all I can do. I missed one block and I missed one pass, and that’s all that’s on my mind right now. I’ll get better.”

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