Cowboys 24, Colts 19: What we saw

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – What caught our eye in the Indianapolis Colts’ 24-19 loss to the Dallas Cowboys Saturday night at AT&T Stadium:

For starters: Scott Tolzien and much of the starting offense played the entire first half, and atoned for a miserable performance against the Lions. They shook off a slow start – the first three series consisted of 11 plays, 37 yards and one first down – and finally showed some life in the second quarter. Tolzien showed poise in the pocket while directing an eight-play, 60-yard drive that ended with Adam Vinatieri’s 33-yard field goal.

What was most impressive during the scoring drive was the debut of rookie running Marlon Mack. The first two NFL carries for the fourth-round draft pick were 10- and 13-yard runs. Mack displayed the ability to run through arm tackles and a nice burst. Free-agent wideout Kamar Aiken kick-started the drive with a 25-yard catch-and-run from Tolzien.

The overall picture wasn’t pristine for the Tolzien-led group – just 104 total yards, six first downs and 1-of-6 conversions on third down in the first half – but it was a step in the right direction. Tolzien completed 10-of-14 passes for 70 yards. Eight of his 10 completions went to tight ends or a running back.

“We started out slow again, but got clicking a little bit there towards the end of the first half,’’ said tight end Jack Doyle, who had three receptions for 12 yards. “Definitely things to work on. Just keep improving each week. If we can do that, we’ll be ready to go week 1.’’

Defense? Good, and very bad: We’ll grade on a Colts’ curve and offer their defensive front-liners a “C”. And that’s only because they came up with a pair of first-half turnovers. Linebacker John Simon registered the first when he poked the ball away from Dallas running back Darren McFadden and cornerback Vontae Davis recovered the red-zone fumble.

The second was highlight material. Linebacker Barkevious Mingo stripped backup quarterback Kellen Moore and linebacker Lavar Edwards returned the fumble 15 yards for a touchdown.

The takeaways aside, it was a tough game for the defense. In the first half, Dallas rolled with ease against a Colts’ defense that only lacked rookie safety Malik Hooker among front-liners. It piled up 257 yards on 39 plays – that’s 6.6 yards per play – and 15 first downs. Dak Prescott completed 7-of-8 passes for 106 yards and a 32-yard TD to Dez Bryant. Darren McFadden gashed the Colts’ run defense with 59 yards on nine carries.

By game’s end, Dallas pretty much had done what it wanted, when it wanted, how it wanted. The Cowboys piled up 476 total yards on 68 plays – that’s 6.7 yards per snap – and 31 first downs. They rushed for 160 yards and averaged 5 yards per attempt, and their QBs completed 25-of-38 passes for 329 yards with three TDs and a 119.3 passer rating.

First-timers: As mentioned above, we liked what we saw from Mack. Strong, quick, decisive, nice hands out of the backfield. He gave every indication he’ll be the third-wheel in a Colts’ backfield rotation led by veteran Frank Gore and Robert Turbin. Mack finished with 45 yards on five carries and added 14 yards on two receptions.

Also, 2016 second-round draft pick T.J. Green, a safety by trade, saw his first action at cornerback. As expected, this is on-the-job training for him. In the second quarter, Green was beaten on a crossing route by wideout Brice Butler for a 21-yard reception, then compounded things by being penalized 15 yards for grabbing Butler’s face mask. On the next play and back at safety, Green broke up a pass.

Defensive coordinator Ted Monachino said the idea is to determine the top four defensive backs and how best to utilize them. The team will use the remainder of the preseason to determine if Green is one of those top four.
This and that: Quarterback Stephen Morris continued to do a lot with a little. Taking over in the fourth quarter – again – after the coaching staff took a long look at rookie Phillip Walker, he led the offense to a late touchdown with an 18-yard hookup with rookie Fred Brown. Morris completed 11-of-15 passes for 111 yards with the one TD and a 116.3 passer rating. Walker was 5-of-8 for 66 yards. . . . Defensive end Margus Hunt enhanced his push to secure a roster spot by blocking Sam Irwin-Hill’s 45-yard field goal attempt in the third quarter. . . . Vinatieri was one of the Colts’ top offensive weapons with 33- and 42-yard field goals. . . . The Colts converted just 1-of-12 third-down situations.

Medical matters: Rookie cornerback Quincy Wilson suffered a knee injury in the first half and did not return. Other Colts leaving the game with injuries included linebacker Jeremiah George (hamstring) and cornerback Tevin Mitchel (abdominal strain).

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