To say that the Dallas Cowboys were outplayed, out-coached, and out-battled on Sunday afternoon might qualify for the understatement of the year. The team was out-performed in every aspect of the game by Mike McCoy and the San Diego Chargers. While the Chargers were the team that came into the game reeling for blowing two fourth-quarter leads in three weeks and suffering the effects of a rash of injuries at key positions, it was the Cowboys who played like a team on its last legs. As a result, there is more than enough responsibility for this loss to allow everyone to have a double portion. Let's take a look.
The Coaching Staff
Once again, the Dallas offense drifted away from the running game even though it was having an impact on the results. Against a team that is ranked 28th in the NFL against the run, abandoning the run, especially when it is working, is paramount to committing suicide. On the day DeMarco Murray was running for five yards per carry (70 yards on 14 carries), yet for some reason the Dallas offensive brain-trust could not or would not see the justification to allow Murray to keep pounding the ball. Instead of riding the workhorse who was getting the job done, somebody somewhere chose to bank the Cowboys fate on a passing game that was plagued by drops throughout the day. It was a foolish decision.
Who knows who to blame about that anymore – Bill Callahan for the calls or Tony Romo for checking out, or maybe Jason Garrett for not overseeing it better. Either way, you can’t make the argument the Cowboys weren’t running it effectively.
On the other side of the ball, the defensive staff could not come up with any answers to the hurry up and wait, dink and dunk until you find an opportunity to exploit, game plan that Philip Rivers executed to perfection. Based on what we saw, you have to question if it was a case of the Cowboys not being able to find any answers, or was it a case where they didn't even try. Either way, what makes this failure so epic is that Dallas had access to film of the Chargers relying on this very scheme to take an offense that had the potential to hurt them out of the game. This was the exact approach San Diego used to defeat the Philadelphia Eagles.
The most telling single blunder of the afternoon was the decision to attempt a 56 yard field goal. Not only did the Cowboys have some momentum going at the time but Dwayne Harris and the punt return unit had just flipped the field position battle in Dallas' favor. When the offense was unable to capitalize, in an attempt to salvage something out of the possession, Jason Garrett made another in his series of ill advised game management decisions. Instead of pinning the Chargers with their backs against the end zone he chose to push the limits of his kicker's ability. The end result was that Garrett's choice flipped the field position contest back in the favor of San Diego.
Since they have already been mentioned above, let's take a look at the drops that hindered Tony Romo's performance. It would be easier to find a Cowboys pass catcher who did not suffer a drop, than to list the ones who did. The drop issue played a huge factor in the game, of the four drops, three came on third downs. Some of the issues were caused by good play making by the San Diego defenders, in particular, the play made by Eric Weddle on Jason Witten's drop. Weddle managed to get his hand tangled up with Witten's, forcing the tight end to attempt to make a one-handed grab on a critical third down. Others were simply mental errors, like the one from Dez Bryant. What is most disheartening is that we have heard this all before.
Dez Bryant had a chance to catch a ball that would keep a drive going in the third quarter. But he dropped it.
And like two weeks ago in Kansas City, he said he took his eye off the ball trying to make sure he stayed in bounds.
If Dallas intends to continue with its 2:1 pass to run ratio, they cannot afford to suffer lapses in concentration for the receivers.
For Monte Kiffin's defense to be functional in Dallas the linebackers are going to have to be above average in pass coverage, and they are...from sideline to sideline. What gets them in trouble is that they are struggling in their ability to cover vertically. Granted, Sean Lee had a great play on a deflected ball that he returned for a touchdown, but beyond that moment. the Dallas linebackers were abused by Antonio Gates and Danny Woodhead all afternoon.
Gates had 10 catches for 136 yards and a touchdown, and Woodhead caught five passes for 54 yards and two touchdowns.
It was the linebacking corps, specifically Bruce Carter and Sean Lee, who were beaten on each of Philip Rivers' three touchdown passes.
"They’ll be the first to tell you, and their coach will tell you, they’ve got some work to go. They’ve got a lot of work to do." - Jerry Jones
Woodhead abused Carter all day on Sunday. It was painfully obvious that he had no answers for the challenges that the 5' 8", 200-pound running back, and early in the third quarter he was benched in favor of Ernie Sims. It was a tough day for Bruce Carter, even when he played perfect coverage, he couldn't buy a break.
For Sean Lee, it was a roller coaster day. While he made a critical play before halftime and had twice as many tackles as anyone else on the field, it was also Lee who got beat by Antonio Gates on the touchdown that broke the Cowboys backs. He allowed Gates to get behind him midway through the fourth quarter and the veteran tight end made him pay. He went 56 yards for a touchdown to give the Chargers a two score lead.
"He got me caught up a little bit with my feet. When I’m engaged, I have to stay on top of the route. We got to all play with better technique and until we do that, teams are going to keep hitting us for big plays. That’s one of those plays we can’t have if we want to be a good football team." - Sean Lee
While the Cowboys brain-trust have shown their normal reluctance to address the issues with the media, Bruce Carter told the press exactly how he and Lee felt about their performance. "For us, it's embarrassing that we gave up that many yards."
While there were many more miscues than have been listed in this post, all three sub-topics illustrate how the Dallas Cowboys were out-coached and out-performed on Sunday. They did not conduct themselves the way a winning team does and until they show the initiative of a team that is capable of bringing a solid effort on a consistent basis, the Dallas Cowboys cannot expect anyone to take them seriously as a football team. For now they continue to sport the goat horns far too often.