The Dallas Cowboys couldn’t get out of their own way in their preseason opener against Jacksonville as the Jaguars pulled away 28-23 at AT&T Stadium on Saturday.
Fumbles, dropped passes, untimely penalties and a missed extra point were some of the lowlights from the preseason opener that started off strong. While most of the Cowboys’ starters sat out, the Jags first-team offense played multiple series in the first quarter.
On Trevor Lawrence’s second pass attempt for the Jaguars he was picked off by Juanyeh Thomas, but that would be one of the few positive moments for Dallas in the first half as the Jaguars took a 14-0 lead midway through the second quarter.
“They had a lot more big plays than we did,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “Ball security was not good enough. This game always comes down to the fundamentals.”
The Cowboys did battle back and eventually took a 16-14 lead that was short-lived. Nathan Rourke led the Jaguars to back-to-back touchdown drives that put the game away late in the fourth quarter. His second touchdown pass might be the play of the preseason.
Rourke shook off at least three would-be tacklers, and while a defender was draped around his legs Rourke was still able to hit Qadree Ollison for a 21-yard touchdown that made it 28-16. Cowboys backup QB Will Grier was picked off on the next drive to end any hopes of a late comeback.
The end result aside, there were still a number of positives from the first preseason game.
“Based off the personnel, the play time focal point was to get our young guys as much work (as possible),” McCarthy said. “I was real excited to see this young bunch play, there was a lot of good football.”
Here’s what we learned:
Nothing’s changed with Vaughn
The small, but mighty Deuce Vaughn was one of the best running backs to play in the Big 12 during his time at Kansas State. The sixth-round pick showed some of his signature electric ability with a number of jaw-dropping plays.
On one of his first carries, Vaughn made Jacksonville cornerback Erick Hallet II look silly with a quick spin move after a jump cut. Later, the 5-foot-6 running back squeezed through a tight hole, hit the gas and shook another defender on a 26-yard gain. On the same drive he soared through the air to reel in an errant throw and then capped the drive with a 4-yard touchdown that was reminiscent of his days at K-State.
“He played very well,” McCartchy said. “He rolled in there and ran everything conceptually everything that the other guys ran too. I think that speaks volumes about him, I thought he had a heck of a night.”
Vaughn’s touchdown gave the Cowboys their only lead of the contest and was a special moment for the rookie running back.
“It’s hard to put into words, but man I can’t take all the credit,” Vaughn said. “I mean, those guys up front man, they were blocking the bus off all game and to get in the end zone, the first preseason game. That’s a testament to all the work that’s been put in since pre-draft.”
Ball security issues
You can understand things being a bit sloppy in the preseason, but the Cowboys had two backbreaking turnovers in the first half that put the team in an early hole against Jacksonville. The first came after the defense managed to force a second straight stop of the Jaguars’ first team offense led by quarterback Lawrence.
Former TCU player KaVontae Turpin caught the punt and made a defender miss as a crease began to form. Before he could race through the hole, however, Turpin lost control of the ball and Jacksonville recovered at the Dallas 42. Lawrence capitalized on the mistake by finding Christian Kirk for a touchdown to go up 8-0 in the first quarter.
Near the end of the quarter, the Cowboys put together a great drive that almost saw Rico Dowdle score a touchdown, but Dowdle fumbled near the 1-yard line as Jacksonville recovered the turnover again. That 14-point swing was ultimately too much for the Cowboys to overcome.
Damone Clark was all over the field for the Cowboys in the first half. The second-year linebacker had five tackles (four solo) in the first three series against Jacksonville’s first-team offense. Clark made plays in the run game and in coverage, such as when he made a solo stop on third down in the red zone.
Clark’s speed getting to the ball carrier also stood out in what was an impressive showing. Clark didn’t play after the first few series, but was able to make an impact in his short time on the field. Clark looks more comfortable and confident in his second year in the scheme.
“Damone’s had an outstanding camp,” McCarthy said. “We talk all the time about the guys making a jump from year one to year two, he’s made the jump. You can see that coming at the end of last year.”
Vaughn wasn’t the only first-year player to make some noise. Former Texas star DeMarvion Overshown was second on the team in tackles despite not playing in the second half. One of his best plays came when the third-round pick stuffed Tank Bigsby on a third-and-1 that forced a punt.
Overshown forced another punt early in the second quarter as he forced Brenton Strange out of bounds on a third-and-long. Overshown finished the day with six tackles and two solo stops.
First-round pick Mazi Smith had one stop in the first half and played well into the second.
As an interior defensive lineman, stats aren’t everything for Smith, so how did he do in regard to creating pressure and controlling his run gap? Smith looked like a rookie at times but did have good moments as well. One example is when he nearly shed a double team and forced a quarterback pressure on fourth down late in the third quarter.
Overall it was a satisfactory debut for the former first-round pick, but there’s still plenty of work to do.
This story was originally published August 12, 2023, 7:18 PM.