ARLINGTON, Texas – A team’s preseason record can often be as meaning-less as the official attendance announced for Thursday’s Broncos-Cowboys clash at AT&T Stadium.
Cowboys officials, with a straight face, said 77,922 attended the fourth and final preseason game of 2014. If they had said a third of that number were actually in the seats, it would have been more believable.
The bigger question is whether the Cowboys are worth believing in after losing 27-3 to Denver. Although hardly any starters saw the field, it gives the Cowboys an 0-4 mark for the preseason.
The last time the Cowboys finished the preseason winless was 2000. They went 5-11 in the regular season that year, and 2014 is shaping up to have a similar result.
With all the injuries, suspensions and woeful defense the Cowboys have endured since training camp began, it would have been encouraging to finish off the preseason with a win over Denver’s reserves.
Instead, the 27-3 thumping continued to serve notice that this Cowboys team has big problems.
The fourth preseason game is depth vs. depth, and the Cowboys showed they have scant little of it. In fact, the Cowboys had to sign Phillip Tanner off the street to play running back against the Broncos. Tanner had eight carries for 26 yards.
"We didn’t play as well as we wanted to as a team, but the big thing with a game like this is to go back and watch the tape and watch individual guys. There’s a lot of decisions we have to make in the next 12-24 hours."
The Cowboys won’t have any preseason tape of two defensive starters: tackle Henry Melton and cornerback Morris Claiborne. Both had missed the previous three preseason games with injury but had been pronounced fit to play. Garrett said the decision was made to sit them out after warmups for precautionary reasons.
This is a Cowboys defense that needs all the help it can get. Even in this meaningless exhibition, the Cowboys’ defense couldn’t stop Denver when it needed to most.
The defining moment came in the final 1:46 of the first half when the Broncos drove 76 yards in 10 plays for field goal.
"I thought they [the defense] did some good things, but the drive at the end wasn’t good," Garrett said. "They made too many big plays in that two minute situation, and we gave them points."
On the offensive side, backup quarterback Brandon Weeden didn’t have a stellar night. The only thing between Weeden and the starting job is Tony Romo’s creaky back, but Weeden completed just 6 of 12 passes for 75 yards on Thursday.
Granted, Weeden was working with a patchwork of backup offensive linemen and receivers, but the interception he threw while rolling to his right was all on him.
"I thought Brandon did some good things," Garrett said. "He had that one interception on that naked where the guy came off the outside receiver and made a play on an out route on one of the inside receivers. Sometimes that’s hard to see. He missed some throws, but he also made some good throws."
Weeden said it was hard to get into a rhythm working with so many inexperienced players. That’s inexperience as in not just service time but also the amount of reps they had together.
"We did some good things with a lot of young guys in there that are playing positions they may not be familiar with," Weeden said. "Overall, I thought every-one handled it pretty well. That’s one of the difficult parts of this fourth preseason game."
The scary thing for Cowboys fans is that the difficult part hasn’t even arrived yet. The Cowboys are facing a difficult regular season schedule without having shown much in the preseason other than a few sparks offensively.
A winless preseason doesn’t doom a team, but since 2000 there have been 29 teams go winless in exhibition play and only five went on to make the playoffs. And out of those 29 teams that went 0-4 in the preseason, 16 finished with losing records.
Only the Cowboys and the Indianapolis Colts went winless this preseason. The Colts are coming off an 11-5 season in 2013 that saw them win a division title and a playoff game. Going winless in the preseason isn’t very meaningful for a team that proved itself last season.
The Cowboys have been 8-8 the last three seasons and could desperately use some signs of progress. This preseason didn’t give them to build on.