As a term, hangover can be applied in too many ways to ignore after the Cowboys lackluster performance in Seattle. Some will first think of kool-aid, and how this hangover is overdue to fans that had sky-rocketing hopes for Dallas' 2012 season. Other fans may be fairly warned of the dangers of over-consumption, even if the intoxication is the pain of an embarrassing loss, and the hangover an emotional roller-coaster ride that drops off a cliff of overreaction.
But perhaps most importantly, hangover seems to best describe how the Cowboys played on Sunday. It was as if everyone was hung over. Every phase of the game, Dallas seemed outmatched and overrun by a Seattle team that was hitting harder, tackling better, dropping less passes, building momentum, and hungrier to play. Not a single Cowboys leader played up to their potential; not Tony Romo, not Jason Witten, not DeMarcus Ware, nor Sean Lee.
While the loss was humiliating, the Cowboys never gave up...though they never really got going either.
While I haven't managed to stomach a second viewing of the game just yet, it seemed to me the Cowboys weren't outmatched by the talent in Seattle, they were simply beaten in every phase of the game by a team that was executing better. While this is obviously bad, it is the lesser of two evils...better than being overwhelmed due to a lack of talent. The offense never got things going while being smacked around all game by a tough Seattle defense. The Cowboys defense was out muscled and possibly out coached. Give the Seahawks a lot of credit; they played damn well, far better than the Giants did a week ago. But in the end, the Cowboys did not play up to their potential, and not just because of how well their opponents were playing.
There are two types of hangovers for a football team, and the Cowboys will now have to face both. Garrett, or at least his players, failed to avoid one of these hangovers, but he can certainly help the team avoid the second. After a short week to open up against a division rival celebrating their SB banner in their home opener, after fighting tooth and nail to secure that big win...the aftermath of physical exhaustion, emotional exhilaration, and overridden adrenaline can often lead to a hangover. With a longer week than usual to prepare and a trip across the country, the Cowboys may have taken a bit too much time off and been too sluggish to get their intensity back. This does not excuse the team. These are things to which a tough team does not fall victim. However, they are something a young team must learn to overcome. I still believe Garrett will not only help the team grow from their mistakes, but will also help them avoid the second hangover...the one that can strike after such a humbling loss.
After the jump, some more observations...
The offense was forced to watch their return unit lose a fumble on the opening kickoff. They then watch their defense look a little soft, but finally overcome a penalty - almost intercept a pass - and make a big redzone stand to allow only three points. After finally getting their chance, the offense could only manage a three and out with a wobbly throw and a dropped pass. This routine play between two leaders came at a terrible time, and turned into a nightmare when the ensuing punt was blocked and returned for a touchdown. At this point the team is down ten points, and yet, the offense still didn't seem to be playing with the intensity I saw against the Giants.
In fact, if not for a heroic effort from Romo, the second drive would have ended as a three and out as well. First play is a forced pass to Dez where Romo seemed to just throw it out of bounds - as if targeting and involving Dez was the primary purpose and since he was double covered Romo just threw it away. Second play Demarco Murray leaves yards on the field by choosing a nonexistent cutback lane. (Yes, the o-line did not play as well as last week, but Murray wasn't great either.) On third down, Romo and the Cowboys line is fooled as the Seahawks feign pressure from the right, but bring it from the left. Add some indecision in Murray's pass protection and Romo has to scramble away to survive the pressure, yet he throws an unbelievable pass to Ogletree for the first down. A gain of twenty-six yards to convert on third and nine after gifting ten points...and still I don't see the intensity from last week.
The team seemed hung over. Romo did not command the same emotion on the field as last week. The team wasn't running back to the huddle as quickly and they weren't as quick to help guys off the ground. Romo made a poor decision on the interception that ended that very important drive, but I felt all game his miscommunication with his receivers and the management of the offense was nowhere near as good as last week. Part of it can certainly be attributed to a tougher secondary (perhaps adversary in general) and dropped passes by clutch receivers like Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, and even an offensive-line that didn't play as well as the week prior, but no one person was terrible enough to cause a 27-7 loss. This was an uninspired offense getting smacked in the face and not responding.
I had hopes that an inspiring halftime speech would wake up this offense, but they had two possessions in the third quarter that started near their own twenty, and never managed to even reach the forty. When you are down 13-7 after three turnovers (fumble, block punt, interception) in the first half, you can't afford to come out slow in the second. The offense never got going. They seemed hung over.
Last week, Ryan's defense was swarming to the ball, fighting in the trenches, and hitting hard. This week, they were sloppy tacklers and grew soft against the run. Lynch finished the game with a 4.7 average, but without his one long run his stat line is a pedestrian 25 rushes for 86 yards. The Cowboys could not stop the Seahawks from running out the clock in the fourth, perhaps a sign of how much the injury to Kenyon Coleman hurt this defense, but the Cowboys linebackers did not play up to their potential either. Sean Lee didn't have a bad game, but it wasn't his usual greatness, even before the hit. However, he surely gets a purple heart and deserved props, perhaps even an Oscar for convincing doctors he only had the wind knocked out of him (guess a smart guy can pass the concussion test at half his wits).
Pete Carroll did a great job with the Seahawks game plan and rookie quarterback Russell Wilson played very well. Carroll used bootlegs and misdirections to give the Cowboys pass-rushers fits, and too often Ware, Spencer, and co. took the bait and lost containment. Wilson only gained 151 passing yards, but he was very efficient. In general, the Seahawks offense did not beat down the defense as much as a 27-7 victory would imply, but they were clearly executing better than their counterparts and opponents.
While there were certainly signs of a hangover, I think Ryan should take a considerable amount of blame on this one. I don't have the official count at the moment, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Cowboys ended up blitzing only a handful of times on Sunday. Against a rookie quarterback, I was surprised the Cowboys didn't rely on a variety of exotic blitzes and coverages. Instead, Ryan decided to send only three or four rushers for the majority of the game. While they frequently forced the rookie out of the pocket, he was rarely under real duress as he scrambled and had time to find a receiver. I was also shocked at how many times Ryan had Spencer covering a receiver. I know he has done so in the past, but why not blitz with an extra rusher and force a rookie quarterback to make a decision? Given time, someone will always get open and it is easier for a young quarterback to wait and find that guy than to make a quick decision under duress. In any case, the defense didn't get the job done in the second half. It doesn't matter if you allow less than 100 yards of offense in the first half, if you allow two ninety yard drives in the third quarter.
No Time for Hangovers
The lesson of the week in Garrett's process, for both fans and players, must be to fight off hangovers. You must learn from it and then forget the past. We should find what truly went wrong in Seattle yesterday, but we should not allow it to cloud the long road ahead. One humbling loss does not a season make and this team did not suddenly become the worst one in their division. They learned they have to fight every team with the same tenacity they took to the Meadowlands in Week One. Every game is that important, and in the NFL any team that plays well can take you to the shed if you aren't playing with intensity. It doesn't take a terrible performance to lose a game, but a lackluster performance and a ten point cushion can turn any loss into a terrible game. This is not something this team can't overcome. They have the talent. Now they just have to play up to that potential...and improve every day, even after a really bad one.