Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 8/20/12
Despite winning their preseason opener 3-0, the Cowboys left Oakland with a number of question marks. These question marks were mainly targeted at the first team offense, which was unable to do much of anything in three drives against Oakland's number one unit.

Going into their second game against San Diego the Cowboys were looking for more production out of their first team offense, better blocking in general, and for continued strong play from the starting defense.

Despite missing nine starters the Cowboys were able to accomplish these goals, saw first round pick Morris Claiborne for the first time, and, despite losing the game, should feel better about their overall team going forward.

Offensive Line Improves

While certainly not dominating in the running game, the line was better in this department. On the first drive it seemed that Demarco Murray was picking up yardage more because of his own sheer skill and ability to break tackles than because of good o-line play.

It wasn't until Felix Jones replaced Murray that they began to open up some good holes. With backup running back Jamize Olawale in the game, the line was able to get enough push for Olawale to pound the ball into the end zone, though much of that had to do with Olawale's power.

The line also played much better against the pass, keeping Romo upright during his time in the game. At the end of Romo’s one scoring drive, he had all day to throw on two consecutive plays. Although Romo was unable to complete passes on either play, more often than not he will pick defenses apart with that kind of protection.

The biggest problem the o-line had was with drive-crippling penalties, with backup Jeff Adams being the biggest culprit. But outside of that it was more impressive effort.
Receiver’s Role Reversal

While Andre Holmes was the standout receiver in the Raider’s game, he seemed to regress while Cole Beasley, Kevin Ogletree and Dwayne Harris stepped up.

Holmes caught two passes for short gains, but could not come up with a pass on a deep in that wound up being intercepted. On that play, he was covered tightly but was thrown a pretty good pass by Kyle Orton, and got his hands on it. It was a tough play, but the kind of play a starting NFL receiver has to make. Ogletree seemed to cement himself as the number 3 receiver with 4 receptions for 60 yards.

Ogletree displayed great route running ability on two hitches and an in route, while making a terrific catch on a post in between two defenders. Beasley played more than in the first game, showing a great ability to both beat defenders in man coverage, and was able to find the soft spots of the zone defenses.

It seemed like the Chargers were playing less physically on him than the Raiders last week which and he was noticeably better because of this. Dwayne Harris may not have outplayed Beasley, but he played had a solid performance in his own right, catching three hitches and a touchdown on in route. In both preseason games, Harris has done a great job at coming back to the ball on hitch routes, and on the touchdown showed good toughness by making the catch even after taking a hit.
Quiet Debut for Mo Claiborne 

All eyes were on first round corner Morris Claiborne, but his debut performance was fairly uneventful. He was thrown to twice, first on 8-yard hitch where he immediately made the tackle and another time on a bubble screen where he made the tackle after a 5 yard gain.

He seemed to be staying with his man on most plays when he wasn’t targeted and all in all it was a pretty solid debut. However, with Carr playing well on the other side, he should be prepared to be targeted heavily once the season starts.
Best Performance: Brandon Carr

Honorable Mentions: Demarco Murray, Cole Beasley

Three of the back up receivers played very well, as did Demarco Murray in his limited snaps, but the star was Brandon Carr. Carr intercepted two of Phillip Rivers passes. On the first one, he was clearly beaten deep by receiver Robert Meachem, but was able to adjust to the underthrown pass by Rivers and make the play.

Although it seemed like an easy play, many times corners that are beaten don’t look back at the ball at all, allowing the receiver to come back to the ball and make the catch or draw pass interference. The second play was actually a well thrown ball by Rivers but a brilliant job of Carr of sticking his hands between the receivers hands without actually looking back to the ball, and catches the ball after bobbling it. If not for Dez Bryant’s jaw dropping one handed catch, that would have been the play of the game.  
Worst Performance: Stephen McGee
Honorable Mentions: Andre Holmes, Jeff Adams

Though wins and losses are not all that important in the preseason, for a 3rd string quarterback trying to make the team, it’s important not to blow a lead if handed one, which is exactly what McGee did. McGee turned the ball over twice which led to two San Diego touchdowns.

Even when he wasn’t turning the ball over, McGee was anything but dynamic, completing mainly short passes. The Cowboys have given McGee three years to at least show signs of progress. With yet another mediocre preseason performance, along with a solid performance by Rudy Carpenter, McGee may have made himself expendable.
Best Overall Preseason Performance: Victor Butler

To me the one player who has been the most consistent in both preseason games is Victor Butler. Butler was impressive against the Raiders rushing the passer getting consistent pressure with a variety of pass rush moves that included a Ware-esque shoulder dip to get a hit on the quarterback.

He built off that performance against the Chargers sacking Phillip Rivers on the Charger’s second offensive play and pressuring Rivers on the next play, forcing him to check down. Butler has often been accused of being a liability in the run game, but he looked solid against the Chargers, running down the running back from the backside for a loss on one play.

Butler has capitalized on Anthony Spencer’s injury, and has shown that his impressive play in training camp is no fluke. If he continues to play like this, he could challenge Spencer for snaps during the regular season. 

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