The most important takeaway from the Dallas Cowboys' 28-24 loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Saturday night is simply that football is back. The result doesn't really matter, although it had to feel good for the nearly 90,000 fans who crammed into the Los Angeles Coliseum to celebrate the return of the Rams after the team spent more than two decades in St. Louis.
Still, this was the first look offered at the team that's going to support quarterback Tony Romo on the way to what could be a defining season in his star-crossed career. Here are the four biggest things to pay attention to as the Cowboys approach their September 11 regular season opener against the Giants.
1. The Cowboys don't need to worry about signing a backup quarterback. — After Romo's expected backup, Kellen Moore, broke his leg early in training camp, there's been a call from the usual suspects on Dallas sports radio for the team to bring in a veteran backup. Dak Prescott, drafted by the Cowboys from Mississippi State in the fourth round, was viewed as a project. He had potential, but wasn't ready to be the team's second stringer.
Prescott was fantastic Saturday night. He got the start and went 10-12 passing with two touchdowns, playing the entire first half. Most important, he looked like he belonged, especially on an excellent back-shoulder throw to Dez Bryant for the Cowboys' first touchdown.
If Romo goes down for any significant amount of time, the Cowboys are not going to be good for the run of games he misses, no matter who steps in. That's just the nature of the beast in a 32-team NFL. Prescott is as good as any veteran the team could pick up at this point, so letting him develop, as he seems capable of doing, is the right move.
2. The Cowboys have no defensive line depth. — The Cowboys defensive line is going to be a problem, especially for the first four games of the season. The motley crew that took the field Saturday night managed only one sack on the night, despite Rams first-round pick and franchise quarterback of the future Jared Goff sporting a distinct deer-in-headlights look throughout his stint running the offense.
Until the team's best pass rusher DeMarcus Lawrence gets back from his four-game drug suspension, the Cowboys' best bet for a consistent pass rushing presence is rookie Charles Tapper, who didn't make it on the field Saturday because of a lingering sore lower back. Some judgment should be reserved until Tapper makes it on the field, but nothing happened Saturday night to challenge the idea that the Cowboys will struggle to create quarterback pressure without Lawrence.
3. The Cowboys offensive line, on the other hand, remains the best in football. — Even without its leader and best player, the Cowboys' offensive line was far and away the best unit on the field Saturday. Led by center Travis Frederick, who signed a $56 million contract extension Saturday morning, the line protected Prescott and third-stringer Jameill Showers impeccably and led the way for 105 rushing yards, despite lead running backs Ezekiel Elliott and Darren McFadden sitting out the game.
The Cowboys running game will be menacing again this year. If the team can throw the ball at all, and it will do more than that if Romo stays reasonably healthy, the offensive will be dynamic and hard to stop.
4. Dez is back. — Bryant, like his fellow offensive stars Romo and Elliott, was expected to sit out as late as Saturday afternoon. He chose to play anyway and, for the first time in more than a year, looked completely healthy. He caught two passes from Prescott for 28 yards, including a touchdown, and showed no ill effects from the broken foot that ruined his 2015 season. Bryant is back and that's essential to the Cowboys' 2016 hopes.