It was indefensible that...
...Rob Ryan did not learn from the mistakes committed in Seattle. Einstein's definition of insanity is ringing in the ears of Cowboys fans,
"...doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."
Ryan's insistence on dropping into coverage led to 13 first half points by the Browns. It could be argued that Rob's reliance on a 3 or 4 man pass rush when attempting to protect a lead in the second half also permitted Cleveland to get to the Dallas 1-yard line and later a touchdown.
Why should it take until halftime for an obviously flawed defensive plan to be revised? It was obvious that Weeden was able to find open receivers throughout the first half with Ryan dropping 7 or 8 players into coverage. Consider this statistic provided by ESPN pregame:
Weeden has the NFL's lowest Total QBR (14.2), and is averaging 5.5 yards per pass attempt against five or more pass rushers lowest in the league.
Weeden came into the game with a 67.9 passer rating. He posted a 93.75 in this game. Once again, a quarterback prone to throwing interceptions (12 this season) walked away with nary a pick to his name.
...the defense did not pick up Trent Richardson twice in the first half on simple swing passes. The second time the defense left Richardson alone in the flat, Trent picked up 27 yards, leading to a field goal.
The Cowboys pass defense gave up a 23-yard pass, a 22-yard pass, and the 17-yard touchdown to Watson with about 1:06 left in the game. Weedon, who has been severely criticized for settling for too many check-down passes was presented with opportunities to Richardson and receivers downfield.
...Jay Ratliff drew a flag for taunting the quarterback with the game in the balance. Jay was not alone, however, as Scandrick drew a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty on one of the second half blitzes Rob called on third down.
The Cowboys defense was beaten regularly on third downs throughout the first half (4/8). The biggest reason Cleveland was able to sustain drives was how successful the Browns were on first down, averaging 4.58 yards per first down play in regulation. That left Cleveland with an average of 5.43 yards to go on third down opportunities during the first 60 minutes of the game.
...the Dallas defense permitted the Browns offense (ranked 28th in yards per game and 25th in points per game [18.8]) to drive to within a yard of taking the lead, and then permitted the go-ahead touchdown on the next drive. This is the 8th touchdown surrendered by the Dallas defense in the fourth quarter. The defense has surrendered 68 points in the fourth quarter this season.
...these Cowboys struggle so mightily to generate pressure when Ware is mostly neutralized. Spencer forced the only Cowboys takeover and one of the two sacks generated against the rookie Weeden.
The Cowboys offense once again started their drives backed up throughout regulation. Dallas started their drives inside their 23-yard line on average during the first 60 minutes of the game.
...the first half performances of veteran Doug Free was reminiscent of Alex Barron. Parnell gets a break for his numerous Ole blocks, holds, and generally below acceptable play since he is really a power forward playing football. Dockery is what he is: a serviceable interior offensive lineman and nothing more.
...Romo did not have two hands on the ball while moving in the pocket, which resulted in a fumble. Tony later demonstrated better ball security on the last drive in regulation when he was hit, controlling the ball with both hands. But Romo made up for the turnover (more below).
...Dez, despite choosing to step out of bounds one yard short of the first down in the first half, had a dominating performance (12 catches for 145 yards and a touchdown reception). Romo is beginning to look for Bryant much in the same way that he targets Witten and Austin.
... Romo has to do so much to carry this team on his shoulders. Tony dropped back to pass 20 times in the first half. Romo completed 10 of his 17 passes during the first 30 minutes of the football game with no touchdowns, but more importantly, no interceptions despite getting sacked thrice.
Romo completed 25 of 33 passes in the second half with a gorgeous touchdown pass to Dez Bryant. Tony ran off 11 straight completions in pulling Dallas to within a field goal. Making this accomplishment even more impressive was that Romo's offensive line consisted of these five players:
LT - Jermey Parnell
LG - Nate Livings
C - Mackenzy Bernadeau
RG - Derrick Dockery
RT - Doug Free
Considering how poorly Free was playing in the first half, I doubt that any of those players would have started for any other team in the NFL. Yet there was Romo, picking himself off of the turf seven times while compiling a 93.17 passer rating completing passes to nine different guys.
...the Cowboys would put forth such a putrid performance in the first half of such an important football game. That Dallas did not turn the ball over more than once kept the team in the game. In lieu of the numerous injuries to starters such as the devastating injury to Tyron Smith, the increase in penalties is not surprising.
Consider that the emergency center started after the first string center was injured five weeks ago, the back-up center was just activated off of PUP, and the third string center was injured last week. Dockery, the back-up right guard, was pressed into duty as Bernadeau was moved to center. Then the best lineman of the bunch is lost in the first half to a high ankle sprain.
Felix was starting in place of the regular starter, Murray, and then needed to be replaced by Dunbar. McCray went out, forcing Peprah to play, until he too was injured. Of course, McCray was only starting because Church is on IR.
In the face of such adversity, it is not surprising that the game was such a sloppy contest. A win is a win...unless it is a win against a division rival: then it is a little more than just a win regardless of its aesthetic appeal.