Five thoughts on Cowboys’ preseason loss to Dolphins

Most of the Dallas Cowboys starters played the entire first half during Saturday’s third preseason game in Miami. The result isn’t that important, but the Cowboys remain winless with their final tune-up coming Thursday night against Denver.

Here are my five thoughts on the Cowboys’ regular season dress rehearsal ending in a 25-20 Dolphins victory.

1.) Tony Romo took multiple hits and lived to tell about it. That was the biggest question left to be answered since Romo had December back surgery. He showed Saturday night that his back could sustain multiple hits and he could continue to be effective. Romo was on the field for the entire first half, completing 10 of 18 passes for 87 yards. But surviving three sacks might have been his biggest accomplishment of the night.

"It was good to see Tony out there playing," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "He got knocked around a little bit, and that could be good and bad. You want the protection to be clean, but at the same time for him, in his preparation forSan Francisco, it’s good to have him feel the physical part of the game."

2.) And the biggest problem with Romo’s sacks is that the first team offensive line didn’t look very good. That group, which includes three first-round picks, should be one of the better units in the league, but they certainly didn’t look the part against Cameron Wake and Co. Right tackle Doug Free was responsible for two of the sacks. Left guard Mackenzy Bernadeau was beaten for the other. There were also multiple holding calls. On top of that, the run game wasn’t very good. DeMarco Murray only managed 18 yards on six carries.

3.) The first team defense wasn’t much better. The defensive line is in trouble with George Selvie suffering a right shoulder injury. The four players the Cowboys were hoping to be their first team defensive line are all battling injuries with only two weeks until the season begins. Defensive tackle Henry Melton is dealing with a groin injury and hasn’t played in the preseason. Rookie defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence is on crutches until at least September after having foot surgery. Veteran defensive tackle Terrell McClain is still nursing an ankle injury. He also hasn’t played in the preseason.

Without a decent pass rush, the Cowboys have a realistic chance at being just as bad as they were last season. On Saturday, a group that included Selvie, Nick Hayden, Davon Coleman, Jeremy Mincey, Tyrone Crawford and Zach Minter allowed the Dolphins to rush for 67 yards in the first quarter alone. Obviously not a good sign.

"We have to tighten up on gap control and keep our fundamentals together," Mincey said. "We still kept our poise, even though they made some plays, but we still have to tighten up and keep working."

"I think we started slow, as far as stopping the run and getting off the field," Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr said. "We finally woke up on the second drive and had some things working for us that we can build on for the home opener."

4.) In May, Monte Kiffin said Tyler Patmon reminded him of former Pro Bowl defensive back Ronde Barber. I laughed. But Patmon looked like Barber against Miami. The undrafted rookie free agent out of Oklahoma State led the team in tackles with five, forced a fumble and intercepted two passes, returning one for a touchdown. Before Saturday’s game, Cowboys chief operating officer Stephen Jones said he would have an eye on Patmon because he’s competing with Terrance Mitchell and B.W. Webb for the final cornerback spot on the roster. Patmon couldn’t have made a much better case for himself.

5.) If the Cowboys started the season tomorrow, it seems Anthony Hitchens has a chance to be their starting middle linebacker. The rookie started against the Dolphins, played the entire first half and was still in the lineup when the Cowboys opened the third quarter on defense. The Cowboys would love for Rolando McClain to win the starting job, but if that doesn’t happen over the next two weeks, the starting middle linebacker spot against San Francisco will be between Hitchens and Justin Durant. Weakside linebacker Bruce Carter looked better against Miami. Kyle Wilber has played well on the strongside, but Garrett said Thursday that there have been discussions about playing Carter at SLB.

McClain did not enter Saturday’s game until the second quarter. Hitchens finished with three tackles. McClain ended up with two.