3 things we learned from the Cowboys' preseason loss to the Seahawks: Mazi Smith's struggles, Kelvin Joseph's impressive performance and more

2RJ0136 Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Mazi Smith (58) runs during an NFL pre-season football game against the Seattle Seahawks, Saturday, Aug. 19, 2023 in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ben VanHouten)

Mazi Smith‘s rough day at the office: The Dallas Cowboys‘ first-round pick didn't perform up to standard against the Seattle Seahawks Sunday night, but it's still way too early to call him a bust.

• Josh Ball bounces back: The third-year offensive lineman put together his best performance as a professional, posting the highest PFF game grade of his career by more than 10 points. 

Kelvin Joseph‘s case for the 53-man roster: With two straight strong performances, Joseph might've earned his spot on the Cowboys' regular-season roster. 

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Today's offering for “things that don't matter” includes the fact that the Dallas Cowboys moved to 0-2 this preseason after their 22-14 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday evening. 

Nonetheless, the individual performances in those games definitely matter; therefore, we are going to discuss some of the more intriguing developments from the loss. Let's dive in.

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Mazi Smith struggled

It was a rough day at the office for the first-round pick, as he suffered from footwork breakdowns and tardiness off the snap that caused him to get displaced from his gap repeatedly. Ultimately, Smith finished Saturday with the game's worst PFF grade (27.0).

The most troubling play came on Zach Charbonnet‘s 29-yard scamper in the first half (first play in the above clip), as Smith was the play-side 2i technique (inside shade over the play-side guard) who committed the cardinal sin of getting reached and hooked by the center. The fact that Smith allowed the center to cross his face and reach him despite having such an alignment advantage just speaks to how slow he is off the snap and how little ground he covers with his initial steps.

These are things that can't happen. They put second-level defenders in an impossible situation where they have to cover more ground while fighting through more traffic. Smith was drafted to make life easier on the second level of the Cowboys' defense, but he was doing his best to make things more difficult for them Saturday.

The most troubling aspect is that Seattle's interior offensive line isn't even that talented, which makes it worrisome how Smith might play against the likes of the Philadelphia Eagles, who have a much stronger interior offensive line on paper.

Nonetheless, fans shouldn't be too quick to jump off the Smith bandwagon. Nose tackles typically have a longer learning curve early in their careers, and Smith has too many top-notch unreachable traits to continue to struggle for too long — he just needs to clean up his technique and gain more experience so that the game slows down for him.

Josh Ball‘s best performance

On the opposite side of the spectrum, Ball bounced back from his struggles last week in a big way, putting together arguably his best performance as a Cowboy, which culminated in his best single-game PFF grade (78.3) by more than 10 points.

Ball played this game like he was pissed off, as he was firing off the snap with bad intentions to often displace Seattle's interior defenders. Ball was particularly adept on double-team and combination blocks, repeatedly bullying Seahawks defenders out of their assigned gaps Saturday night. Unfortunately, the rest of Dallas' offensive side seemed to struggle, especially in the run-blocking realm, so it seldom paid off with explosive runs and notable gains.

Even more importantly, Ball appeared much more comfortable in pass protection. After allowing three pressures in addition to getting beat three other times that didn't result in a pressure last week, he didn't get beat a single time across 27 pass-blocking snaps Saturday night, per PFF's review.

The Cowboys desperately need one of their reserve interior offensive linemen to step up and prove capable of contributing if forced to play in a game that truly matters. While this performance doesn't prove that Ball is that guy, it certainly gives him a stronger case to be considered alongside Matt Farniok, Brock Hoffman and Asim Richards, who has been mostly playing at tackle during the preseason. 

Kelvin Joseph makes strong case for 53-man roster spot

The Cowboys are blessed with a ton of depth throughout their secondary, and while that's every NFL team's goal, it does create a problem when cutting down to the regular-season roster limit. With Trevon Diggs, Stephon Gilmore, DaRon Bland, Jourdan Lewis (currently injured), Nahshon Wright, Eric Scott Jr. and Joseph, the Cowboys have seven cornerbacks who have a legitimate argument to make the final roster (six if you think Lewis is going to start the season on PUP). But, most likely, only five are going to make the team. 

Joseph's performance Saturday evening made a strong case that he deserves to be among those five, as he recorded a game-high two forced incompletions after allowing one catch on three targets against the Seahawks. This is after a game in which he allowed no completions on three targets against the Jacksonville Jaguars last week, giving Joseph two straight strong performances to start the preseason.

Joseph spent his first two seasons primarily on the outside, and his transition inside to slot cornerback has been a major success thus far. He looks more comfortable and decisive playing from the off alignments that he was incredibly successful in during college at Kentucky. When he was routinely aligning in press on the outside, Joseph would often put himself behind the eight-ball with poor press fundamentals, which led to struggles and inconsistencies in his coverage. When Joseph aligns in off coverage, it allows his speed and ability to drive on receivers at the catch point to flourish, as he doesn't have to immediately recover after being put into scramble mode at the line of scrimmage.

Moving Joseph to the slot appears to be yet another genius decision by defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and the rest of the Cowboys' defensive coaching staff. And if we're being honest, it just might've saved Joseph's career, as he went from a player who looked on his way out of the NFL to a core special teamer who is rapidly developing into a quality slot cornerback.


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