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Diagnosing the Cowboys' Woes

It may be news only to those of you who quickly turned their televisions off once they saw Roy celebrating in the endzone with the ball still in his hands but, believe it or not, the Dallas Cowboys did not return to Valley Ranch celebrating a close 14-13 victory. Instead, the team boarded their plane and flew back to Dallas with its collective tail tucked between its legs with much to work on and improve.

But to those of you who fear that the season is hopeless for those who bear the star on their helmets, fear not! All is not lost, and the maladies that plagued Dallas through four grueling quarters last night can be remedied.

 Symptoms

The most glaring symptom would be what read on the scoreboard in Landover, Maryland: 13-7 in favor of the home team.

On Sunday night, the Cowboys amassed 380 total yards of offense. Through the air, Tony Romo was 31 of 48 (64.6%) for 282 yards and one touchdown. The Cowboys averaged 4.7 yards per carry on the ground, but the end result was still a disappointing 103 yards rushing. It's been said thad a team should be able to put around 7 points on the board for every 100 yards of offense that have been accumulated. For those keeping score at home, theoretically, that's around 24 points that the Cowboys should have scored if one is looking merely at yards of total offense.

That didn't happen on Sunday. The Cowboys could only put 7 points on the scoreboard. 380 total yards. 7 points. Tony Romo. Miles Austin. Jason Witten. Dez Bryant. Felix Jones. Hell, even Roy Williams. Is anyone noticing a glaring inconsistency between the talent on offense and the production on the scoreboard? We'll start there.

Diagnosis

We know what isn't wrong with this team, and that's the defense. There were some lapses in coverage at times, but the gentlemen who lined up against Washington's offense put together a pretty complete game. The new-look offense of Donovan McNabb and Mike Shanahan amassed only 250 yards of total offense. McNabb completed less than 50 percent of his passes for a mere 171 yards, so I think it's safe to say that after playing him three games in a row, this defense has McNabb's number.

Shoddy kick-coverage aside, the woes of this team rest solely on the shoulders of this Dallas Cowboys offense. Through two quarters, the production was pitiful. Judging by the eye alone, the Cowboys' players executed just fine. It was what plays they were asked to execute that would prove to be their undoing.

Dez Bryant's first two catches in the NFL were both smoke-screens that resulted in no gains. They also just happened to occur on back-to-back plays and at the end of a drive full of other screen passes, which was soon followed by a stalled drive full of more screen passes and dump-offs. It may be exaggeration, but it seemed at one point that offensive coordinator Jason Garrett called 5 screen pass plays of some sort in a row.

Traditionally in the NFL, when a higher percentage of plays are screens than usual, somethins is being done to mask some deficiency on the offensive line. The goal is to get the ball out of the quarterback's hands and into the hands of a playmaker as quickly as possible. It's a good sort of play to fall back on every once in a while to catch a blitzing defense off guard. Off guard is the opposite of what one would say to describe the way Washington's defense reacted to the Cowboys' playcalling.

Jason Garrett prides himself in thinking hard to create mismatches that he can take advantage of. That did happen some on Sunday night, especially with Miles Austin playing a lot out of the slot. However, what happened more often than that was Jason Garrett running the same play twice in a row. Sometimes it worked (worked in a sense of being able to get a first down on third and short after a timeout), but most of the time it didn't. Yes, though he had a few bright spots, Alex Barron had an awful, terrible, abysmal game. It bears repeating that the Cowboys right tackle, Alex Barron, played horribly. Anyone reading this should know that offensive lineman Alex Barron, Marc Colombo's back up, was pitiful at times. Alex Barron, it should be noted, looked absolutely lost on some plays.

Not sure if anyone reading this is aware, but Alex Barron made some costly mistakes that stalled (ruined) more than one Dallas Cowboys drive.

That being said... No, wait, once more for good measure... Alex Barron just plain sucked. However, what sucked almost as bad was how little Jason Garrett trusted his offensive line. The fact of the matter is, holding penalties aside, they actually did an adequate job of protecting Tony Romo throughout the course of the game. Perhaps its because Garrett prefers to patrol the sideline than sitting up in the booth for a strategic vantage point, but the Cowboys' assistant head coach failed to see this. When the Cowboys opened up their playbook and took a few chances throwing down the field, it actually paid off for them. But as soon as the Cowboys got to Washington's 40 yard line, Garrett reverted back to predictable, safe plays, and Jim Haslett was with him the whole way.

Dallas was in the game to the very end, even when a comeback looked unlikely. I would venture to say especially when a comeback looked unlikely, because that's when Garrett was forced to call plays that would actually work.

Prognosis and Prescription

Nonfatal. The flaws Dallas displayed in the 2010 season opener will not be the undoing of the entire season. They can and will be addressed, and I think that Dallas will field a very different team next week than they did Sunday night.

Marc Colombo's return will be the beginning. Alex Barron's holding penalties killed more than one drive, and nullified the pass that would have helped to redeem Roy Williams' reputation in Dallas and, more importantly, completed Dallas' final-drive comeback. The protection, for the most part, wasn't particularly awful last night, but it will improve under Colombo.

Most importantly, the return of Colombo will give Garrett more confidence in the offensive line, and he'll feel more comfortable giving Tony more five-step drops and less one step screen-hurls.

Colombo in the starting line up should solve some of  the offensive problems. However, unless Jason Garrett is surgically removed from the coaching staff, expect a small amount of chronic pain throughout the rest of the season. And expect the red-zone blues to continue in some capacity, though hopefully not to the degree that was on display last night.

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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