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Cowboys shred Rams' secondary

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Trumaine Johnson vs. Cowboys

Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson tries to drag down Cowboys receiver Dwayne Harris during Saturday's first half. (AP Photo)

ARLINGTON, Texas • As good as the Rams’ cornerbacks have looked much of training camp and early in the preseason, coach Jeff Fisher cautioned during the week that much work remained to be done by that unit.

That was painfully evident Saturday at Cowboys Stadium when the St. Louis secondary got worked over for 297 yards passing by Dallas quarterbacks Tony Romo and Kyle Orton.

In the first half.

Romo shredded the Rams’ attempts at coverage by completing nine of 13 passes for 198 yards, two touchdowns and a near perfect passer rating of 151.4. The result was a 20-6 halftime lead for Dallas in a game the Cowboys eventually won 20-19.

Keep in mind, the first half onslaught was accomplished without the Cowboys’ main three weapons in the passing game. Tight end Jason Witten and wide receivers Miles Austin and Dez Bryant all missed the game because of injury. Who knows how bad it would’ve been had they been on the field?

"We gave up way too much through the air," Fisher said. "A number of those situations would’ve been called back because of holding. It looked like Robert (Quinn) was getting tackled quite often back there. But they didn’t (call it)."

As it was, on the Cowboys’ first possession of the game wideout Kevin Ogletree got behind rookie cornerback Janoris Jenkins for a 25-yard gain on a drive that resulted in a field goal. Jenkins also missed a couple of tackles, most notably on a 38-yard TD reception by Dwayne Harris in which Harris split the tackling attempts of Jenkins and safety Craig Dahl.

Harris looked like the second coming of Dallas Hall of Famer Michael Irvin with three catches for 118 yards in the first half — one of which was good for a 61-yard touchdown.

"‘Jenks’ lost his footing on the first ball down the sideline," Fisher said, referring to the Ogletree catch. "We had a communication problem on the long touchdown pass (the 61-yarder). Those things I’m not concerned about because they’re correctable."

Rookie third-rounder Trumaine Johnson also saw extensive playing time with the Rams’ starting defense, opening the game as the team’s third cornerback in the nickel package. He had a rough time, too, getting beaten for several receptions and missing a couple of tackles.

"We have to tackle better on defense," Fisher said. "We tackled pretty well the first two weeks, and we didn’t tackle well tonight."

All told the Cowboys outgained the Rams 342 yards to 114 in the first half. The Rams actually played their starters more than expected, with most of the starting units on both sides of the ball playing the entire half.

NFL rookies usually go through ups and downs, and that was the case for Jenkins and Johnson on Saturday, and even some players with a little seasoning.

"I think that goes for anybody," veteran cornerback Cortland Finnegan said. "It’s just pushing through it. Being in the fire will actually get you more prepared for life’s struggles — and on the field. The more stuff that we see in the preseason the better we are in the regular season."

The game wasn’t devoid of highlights for the Rams. Greg "The Leg" Zuerlein continued his fine work this preseason, kicking field goals of 55 and 52 yards.

Seventh-round running back Daryl Richardson had another impressive outing, outperforming second-round pick Isaiah Pead. It was one thing to perform well last week against the second- and third-string defensive units of Kansas City, but Richardson did much of his work against the Dallas starters.

He finished with 10 carries for 51 yards, to Pead’s nine carries for 22. Is there now a competition for the No. 2 spot behind Steven Jackson?

"No. I wouldn’t say ..." Fisher said. "We’ll see what happens. There’s special teams contributions that are going to have a lot to do with how we sort it out when we get to 46 (the game-day roster)."

Pead was impressive returning kickoffs, averaging 31.3 yards on three returns — one of which went for 47 yards and led to Zuerlein’s 55-yard field goal. The Rams also unveiled some special teams trickery with "up back" Matthew Daniels, an undrafted safety from Duke, taking a direct snap on a punt and racing 30 yards for a first down on fourth-and-1 from the St. Louis 27.

Daniels said he’d never run a fake punt before at any level of football. "It’s been a (while) since I even had the ball in my hands," Daniels said. "It felt good."

The Rams got nothing out of that big play because the drive ended with an incomplete pass by Sam Bradford on fourth and goal from the 5. (Fisher has gone for it eight times on fourth down this preseason.)

Bradford completed only six of 17 passes for 64 yards before calling it a night at halftime. He was sacked twice, hit or hurried on several other occasions, and at times did not look firm in the pocket. Once again, rookie wideouts Brian Quick and Chris Givens did not see any action with the starting offense.

"I think today was probably our worst performance in the games we’ve had so far," Bradford said. "But we’re still pretty vanilla. We really haven’t shown much. ... But that’s not an excuse."

Second-half touchdowns by Austin Pettis and Chase Reynolds made the final score interesting. But the Rams headed home knowing they have lots to work on and only two weeks until the season opener in Detroit.

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