Five thoughts from Cowboys win over Bengals

ARLINGTON, Texas — The Dallas Cowboys turned in their most impressive outing of the preseason, showing some good signs on offense and defense.

Here are my five thoughts on the Cowboys’ 24-18 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals Saturday night at AT&T Stadium.

1. The first-team offense needed to score a touchdown in what will likely be their last action of the preseason. The starters entered their fourth preseason game without a touchdown in their five previous series. The drought didn’t last much longer. Tony Romo and Co. struggled early but looked very good on two second-quarter possessions. One drive was dominated by Dez Bryant, who caught five balls during the series, including a five-yard touchdown. The other was an eight-play, 57-yard drive that was capped by a Miles Austin catch across the middle of the end zone. Jason Garrett was obviously pleased. Romo, Bryant, Austin and Witten didn’t play in the second half.

“I think a lot of guys are doing a lot of good things,” Romo said at halftime. “Dez had a great night, Miles did great. I think you can tell that we are doing some good things.

“The guys did a great job against a really good defense and that was really good to see.”

2. The first-team defense continues to look like an improved group. On Saturday, Monte Kiffin’s bunch extended their streak of not allowing a touchdown this preseason. They also forced two turnovers – a Barry Church forced fumble in the red zone that Brandon Carr recovered and a B.W. Webb interception. Yes, they haven’t played a whole game, but they seem to be adapting well. There’s no reason they shouldn’t be better than last year, especially if Jay Ratliff, Anthony Spencer and Morris Claiborne all get back on the field.

“I think guys are buying in and enjoying the system and it works for everybody,” Bruce Carter said at halftime. “We are just having fun with it.”

“As far as the defense as a whole, we are balling out.”

3. The running back position is showing some serious depth. DeMarco Murray struggled early, fumbling once, and Phillip Tanner was inserted into the first-team backfield. Tanner ran well at times. Murray later returned to start the second half and he ran hard, finishing with 51 yards on 12 carries and a touchdown reception. Joseph Randle somewhat surprisingly didn’t play until late in the third quarter. He finished with 66 yards on 16 carries. When Lance Dunbar returns from a foot injury, the Cowboys should have four solid backs that seem to be able to carry the load when needed.

4. The special teams unit continues to look like the team’s biggest weakness. The group entered Saturday night’s game with a blocked field goal and two fumbled returns on the preseason resume. Against Cincinnati, the Cowboys allowed a 75-yard punt return for a touchdown, Dan Bailey missed a 50-yard field goal and the return game was far from impressive. Aside from Bailey missing a long field goal, the mistakes this group is making will cost them a game or two during the regular season if they aren’t corrected.

5. Overall, the Cowboys have to be happy with where they are right now. Sure, they’d love to have Ratliff, Spencer, Ron Leary and a few others healthy but they seem to be improving as they get closer to the season opener. Avoid any more significant injuries and this team should show an improved product on the field. It also wouldn’t hurt to add some experience on the offensive line after team’s starting cutting down their rosters.

Follow Jon Machota on Twitter: @jonmachota