We've been hearing the same thing about the Dallas Cowboys for the last few years. They have one of the most talented rosters in the NFL. They should be contenders for the NFC representative in the Super Bowl. There's nothing that should be holding this team back. It's hard to disagree with most of that. The Cowboys are as stocked in talent as anybody. They can play with any team in the NFL and win. But they have a problem. This doesn't appear to be a smart football team, and they kill their own cause when the pressure is on.
The Cowboys have spent the last few seasons tinkering with their roster to get the right chemistry in place. They've unloaded players that were perceived to be problems and replaced them with the 'blue-collar' guys, players who just do their job and don't disrupt the locker room. They've been doing that while not sacrificing in the talent department. This is why they're perceived to have one of the most-talented rosters in the league. All of this is a good thing, it means the Cowboys have been smart as an organization over the last few years.
The problem is, sometimes they play really dumb football. When they get on the field, they flash all that talent, then shoot themselves in the foot with critical mistakes and penalties. They are the masters of killing a good drive, or giving the opposition a second chance, or just plain making a boneheaded play. This will not get you championships in the NFL.
In light of last night's game, it would be easy to place the blame in the hands of penalty-loving right tackle Alex Barron. And there's no doubt he deserves some scorn. Blowing a game-winning TD in the last second of a game is as bad as it gets. So we do reserve some vile for Barron. But, let's not forget the rest of the team that contributed to this frustrating loss.
Start it off with a David Buehler missed FG. Dallas had a chance to tie the game up early, but Buehler was wide of the mark on a 34-yarder, a FG any NFL kicker should make. Already, we have to have concern about our kicking woes. This is especially important given the Cowboys propensity to bog down in the redzone. Previous to Buehler's missed FG, rookie Dez Bryant picked up an offensive pass interference call, moving the Cowboys back. Penalties and mistakes were dogging the Cowboys early.
Perhaps the biggest bonehead play of all came right before halftime. Dallas was in no-man's land with just a few ticks left on the clock. There are really only two choices in this situation, chunk a Hail Mary down field or take a knee. Dallas chose neither. Tony Romo, under pressure, decided to flip a short pass to Tashard Choice, who promptly fumbled the ball. The 'Skins scoop it up and put seven points on the board for a 10-0 halftime lead. There's really no explanation for this play. This one goes to multiple parties; what were Wade Phillips and Jason Garrett thinking? Or were they thinking at all? Why did Romo choose to dump the ball when he could have just eaten it or thrown to the endzone? And Tashard Choice? You absolutely can't fumble that ball at that time. This was a new level of stupidity.
There were so many other examples of ill-thinking plays in this game. Orlando Scandrick jumping offsides on a FG to give up a first down? Incredibly dumb. Martellus Bennett throws a block in the back on a Miles Austin catch-and-run run that sets back a drive that eventually stalls. Jason Garrett calls two hitch patterns to Dez Bryant, back-to-back, and neither work, stalling the Cowboys first drive. One I can understand, but two? In a row? And they weren't even setting up the Redskins secondary for a hitch-and-go, at least they never ran it.
The Cowboys had more first downs in this game, they were more efficient on third down than the Redskins, they ran more offensive plays, the gained more yards, they had a better run game, and they won time of possession. All tell-tale signs of a more-talented roster. Yet, when you look at the 'mistake' categories, the Cowboys got walloped. 12 penalties for 91 yards, and those were just the ones that were accepted. A penalty wiped out the game-winning TD, another penalty came on a Redskin turnover (although to be fair, that INT might not have happened if it weren't for the penalty). Missed FG. And one incredibly stupid play right before halftime.
The Cowboys are talented. The Cowboys have everything they need to win, except maybe the brains.