The Dallas Cowboys have a ton of physical talent, and it was on clear display for much of the game against the Baltimore Ravens. The running game was very impressive, no matter who was carrying the ball. The defense had some good stands. And the special teams even pulled off an onsides kick to give the Cowboys one last chance to win the game.
But mentally they just wound up breaking down at the wrong times. It is hard to find another explanation for what is going on with Dallas. They are just not prepared for certain situations. After an interception, the defense seemed to forget they had to actually stop the other team. At a crucial moment, the special teams left a running lane open all the way to the end zone. When the time came and the team needed to be clearly on the same page in the final seconds when they were trying to get a little closer for Dan Bailey to attempt a field goal, they needed to be ready to get lined up and get another play off. But instead . . . well, this video explains what happened:
The Walking Cowboys (via bobsturm)
Dallas lost this game mentally. They played hard enought to win. They had the talent to win. But they did not have their heads right, and they wound up losing.
The Cowboys have a problem with mental preparedness. It showed in those final seconds, but it also shows in the flood of foolish penalties. They had three illegal shifts called against them on Sunday, three false starts, and a delay of game. There were other penalties, some of which were certainly questionable, but those seven flags I mentioned were all about the Cowboys not being mentally ready or aware of the situation. The Cowboys have four illegal shifts this season. One other team has two, and a handful of others have one. That's it. Site decorum prevents me from saying all I would like, but the message I would like to convey is brought to you by the letters W, T and F.
During the Fox broadcast, Brian Billick kept talking about how the Cowboys were taking too long to get the play off. On this subject, I have to agree with him. When the Cowboys go to the line, there just seems to be a sense of chaos. Tony Romo will make his read, start making adjustments, shout "Kill, kill" most of the time, move a couple of people around, linemen wil be looking all over the place trying to figure out who they have to block - it is not hard to figure out why things get a little messed up at the snap of the ball.
This is something that has to be fixed, and it all comes down on the shoulders of Jason Garrett. Bill Callahan talked during the bye week about making things simpler for Romo - but I did not see a lot of evidence that it had worked. What I still see is a team that goes to the line, and reacts to what the quarterback reads. Then the defense will make an adjustment, and the quarterback will have to make a counter-adjustment . . . how is that making things simpler for your quarterback? Maybe the play list for the game was a little simpler, but there is still the chessmatch at the line.
How about just going up there and running your play? Getting to the line fast and don't let the defense make its own adjustments. Baltimore ran a hurry up offense through most of the game, and when they got rolling, like that frustrating drive at the end of the first half when the Cowboys defense suddenly turned to tissue paper, they just breezed into the end zone. Dallas did play some hurry up, and generally it looked like it had good success - when they didn't stop themselves with a penalty.
And there is that last few seconds. While it was no guarantee that another play might have gotten Bailey closer or that he would have made a field goal from ten yards closer or so, it was clearly a wasted opportunity. How does a team go out in that situation without everyone being focused on what to do if the first play does not succeed and the clock is running?
Mr. Garrett, I believe this is yours. And he agrees. In his press conference on Monday, when asked about that last 26 seconds of clock and how badly it went, he put it simply.
"It starts with me."
Roger that. And it goes a lot further than just that play. Right now the Cowboys are a bunch of really good parts not very well connected. The team goes through a weekly cycle of Whack-A-Mole, where they get one problem fixed only to have others crop up. (Too many penalties? Got that solved against the Chicago Bears, but everything else went wrong, including absolutely no running game. Against the Ravens, the offensive line had their best game of the season, the running backs all were gashing for big yards, but there come the penalties again.) Can this team get it all together?
That is back on the head coach. He does seem realize he is going to have to take the responsibility for this - but is it more than just lip service? (The tweet below was made about what JG was saying during his press conference on Monday.)
Five 'starts-with-mes'. He had that ready. An improvement from Arizona.— Carlos A. Mendez (@calexmendez) October 15, 2012
Well, we have the "talking the talk" part down. However, it may take something more drastic. There are tweets today about benching and even cutting players - but the problems seem so widespread, and affect so many players, that it is hard to see who to pick. You can't bench your entire starting O line for penalties, especially when they actually got the blocking part of the game so right. You can't bench the wide receivers who get penalties or drop balls or loaf back to the line of scrimmage at the end of the game, because that would be just about all of them. You can't sit the quarterback, because, well, that just makes no sense.
The Cowboys showed they do have one thing right mentally. Even after the stunning reversal from being in field goal range to having the Ravens march to a touchdown, they fought back. Even after the breakdown on coverage for the record-tying kickoff return (I may puke the next time I hear that tidbit mentioned), they fought back. Mental toughness, something that could have been questioned after the Bears game, was in evidence in Baltimore. But mental preparedness was sorely lacking.
It seems to me that maybe the team needs to get simpler on offense. Go out, line up, run plays. Don't give the other guys a chance to react. Hit them fast. Execute your play, and let them make mistakes. Maybe if your own players are focusing on fewer things, they can get them right, like the snap count and what the clock situation is.
It is up to the head guy. He needs to figure out how much to put on his players' plates. He needs to make sure they are all on the same page. The Baltimore game showed so many good things. Now the coaches, and especially the head coach, need to get it all together. The mental stuff is where things have gone a bit off the rails. That is where the solution is.