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August 19, 2012

Tonight's collection of Cowboys notes, starting with better offense

SAN DIEGO _ Score the second dress rehearsal of the pre-season a significant upgrade for Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback Tony Romo and the first-team offense in Saturday’s 28-20 loss to San Diego.

Romo played the first quarter, completed 9-of-13 passes for 75 yards, and was not sacked. None of his starting receivers took a big hit, much less departed with an injury (see: Jason Witten, Monday in Oakland).

With Romo in the game, the Cowboys produced 102 yards, drove for a field goal and converted a fourth-and-1 situation with a 10-yard slant to Dez Bryant. It could have been better if not for two holding penalties.

By comparison, the Cowboys’ first-team offense had 14 net yards in 11 snaps in last week’s 3-0 victory over the Raiders.

“Yeah, we moved it good,” Romo said. “But we hurt ourselves with penalties and, as a football team, we need to correct that. It is very hard to score points … We have to get that (penalty issue) corrected or otherwise we have no chance.”

Penalty problems: The Cowboys were penalized nine times for 86 yards after drawing 12 flags for 91 yards against Oakland.

Olawale shines again: Jamize Olawale, an undrafted free agent from North Texas, made his presence felt as a rusher and receiver for a second consecutive game. Olawale scored a second-quarter touchdown, the Cowboys’ first of the pre-season, on a 2-yard blast. He also grabbed four passes and turned up some heat on Phillip Tanner, who is out with a broken hand, in the battle to be the team’s third running back. Olawale (10 carries, 30 yards) led the team in rushing for a second consecutive game in the pre-season.

"He really has shown that throughout training camp," said coach Jason Garrett. "He came in more as a fullback candidate. But he has also shown he can be a big back. He's played a lot as a halfback, he's played in third-down situations. He's really done some positive things running the football for us."

Defensive streak ends: It will not matter in September but the Cowboys’ defense put together a scoreless streak of 94 minutes, 30 seconds to begin the pre-season. That was broken when San Diego receiver Vincent Brown grabbed an 18-yard touchdown pass with 10:30 remaining in the third quarter. Dallas led, 10-0, at the time and none of the Cowboys’ defensive starters were still in the game.

Claiborne debut: Cowboys cornerback Morris Claiborne, the team’s first-round pick, started and played the first half. He made the tackle on the first pass thrown in his area, a 5-yard receiver screen, and lined up at both cornerback spots. He had no pass breakups but neither did any other Dallas defender while Claiborne was in the game.

During the first half, Chargers’ quarterback Philip Rivers threw 15 passes and none of them hit the ground. He completed 13 and had two interceptions, both by Dallas cornerback Brandon Carr. Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones said he liked Claiborne’s debut and envisions him following Carr’s lead in time.

“We’ve seen him do the same kind of play that we saw Carr do,” Jones said. “They are centerfielders. He can play that ball, too. You need those kind of big plays.”

Third receiver battle: Cole Beasley, an undersized free agent from SMU, grabbed nine passes for 104 yards in the contest, most of them against the Chargers' reserves. But the best showing by someone battling to claim the third receiver spot came from veteran Kevin Ogletree (4 catches, 60 yards), whose 35-yard reception set up a touchdown.

Jerry Jones said Ogletree may be the team’s fastest receiver and projects as “the logical third guy” in the offense.

McGee’s mistake: Quarterback Stephen McGee threw a fourth-quarter interception into double-coverage that was returned 73 yards by Shareece Wright to set up the Chargers’ go-ahead touchdown. McGee later lost a fumble when blindsided by Wright on a corner blitz.

Murray gets wish: Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray said earlier this week that he wanted a heavier work load against San Diego than he received Monday against Oakland (2 carries, no yards). That happened by the fourth snap, with three of the Cowboys’ first four plays featuring Murray (two runs, one pass). The team’s starter handled the ball on five of the first six plays, producing 30 yards, before yielding the field to backup Felix Jones.

Sitting out: A total of 19 Cowboys missed the game because of injuries, including eight starters (WR Miles Austin, C Phil Costa, G Nate Livings, TE Jason Witten, NT Jay Ratliff, LB Anthony Spencer, LB DeMarcus Ware, DT Jason Hatcher). Also out: WR Saalim Hakim, CB Mike Jenkins, RB Lance Dunbar, RB Phillip Tanner, S Matt Johnson, LB Isiah Greenhouse, LB Kyle Wilber, LB Caleb McSurdy, C/G Kevin Kowalski, OT Jermey Parnell and WR Danny Coale.

Still perfect: Dan Bailey hit both of his field-goal attempts, from 40 and 49 yards. He is 3-for-3 in the pre-season.

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