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SAN DIEGO -- It's a good thing it was the preseason opener, because that Cowboys defense needs time to improve.

Granted - its hard to extrapolate much from this type of game, but also hard to deny how dominant the Chargers were Thursday night at Qualcomm Stadium.

In the first half, San Diego quarterbacks were a perfect 7-for-7 passing. They gained 221 yards total, and Charger running backs averaged 5.6 yards per carry.

'I thought they drove the ball well against us for the most part; running it and throwing it,' said head coach Jason Garrett. 'I thought penalties extended drives and made their job a little easier. We obviously have to improve in that area.'

The Cowboys were penalized nine times for 54 yards in total.

When you don't force your opponents' first incompletion until the fourth quarter, it hard to find silver lining. But to be fair, the Cowboys were minus several defensive starters, and it actually could have been worse. The Cowboys defense came up with some of its best plays with their backs squarely against the goal line.

A forced fumble and Terrance Mitchell recovery took Charger points off the board on San Diego's first drive. And another goal line stand near the half forced a field goal.

Perhaps that's what prompted starting linebacker Bruce Carter - who only played on the first drive - to offer this observation, 'I thought we did well overall. We tackled pretty well. We have to get off the field on third down, but overall, we did pretty well,' said Carter.

Defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford played for the first time since he ended his season a year ago on the first day of training camp. He accentuated the positive, as well.

'I felt like everyone was looking good. We had a lot of guys that did not play, but next week we will get a better feel. With the guys we had out there, it felt good, it felt fast,' said Crawford. 'They put a drive on us, but that's going to happen. I felt like we dealt with it great and came up with a turnover at the end.'

Another positive spin, but that won't be the prevailing sentiment in the defensive meeting rooms in the next few days.

But if you'd like to look for other reason for optimism, theCowboys were also without the following projected defensive starters:cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, defensive linemen Henry Melton and George Selvie, and safety Barry Church.

Are those guys enough to make a big difference? Cowboy nation better hope so.

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