Yesterday, I praised the Cowboys' offense for their red zone play. Today, it's time to rip them for it. Three trips inside Oakland's 20 yard line yielded only six points as Oakland turned back Dallas in the final two minutes to win 19-13. The most painful of those trips was the last, as Dallas created a second-and-two situation at the Oakland three, but failed to score.
The offense, which had been sparkling, sputtered. And it was the veterans, stellar in their play against the Chargers and 49ers, who must wear the goat horns today. Keyshawn Johnson took a touchdown pass away from himself with an illegal motion penalty. Dallas could have drawn to within 13-10 midway through the third quarter, but settled for a field goal and a 13-6 deficit.
Larry Allen again found himself bested by old nemesis Warren Sapp. Sapp beat Allen regularly on rushing downs, and made a key stop after the Keyshawn miscue when the Cowboys had a third and one inside the Oakland fifteen. The Cowboys have been converting these plays regularly, but today the old vet Sapp made Allen look even older.
Linemate Flozell Adams also shares some blame. On that second and two at the two minute warning, Dallas called an off-tackle run with DE Marcus Spears as the lead blocker. Spears blasted his man and created a crease for Jones to either make the first down and score. But Adams failed to seal the outside against Raiders' DE Tommy Kelly, who dropped Jones for a two yard loss and took the running option away from the Cowboys.
The right side of the line was not any better. Rob Petitti had the worst game of his young career. Dallas gave him less help today, but he was not up to the task, as ends Derrick Burgess and Bobby Hamilton regularly beat him on outside rushes. Drew Bledsoe was forced to run and slide far more than he has the past three games and it threw off his timing, as he regularly missed open receivers.
On the other side of the ball, the Cowboys can finally say that Randy Moss did not beat them. Moss did burn the secondary for a 79 yard reception on Oakland's opening drive, but he caught just three passes for 44 yards the rest of the way.
The man who did beat them was Lamont Jordan. For the second consecutive week, Dallas has yielded a substantial number of rushing yards. The strong side of the Cowboys linebacking corps looks weak, as it has made few negative plays. Some personnel changes may be in order, with the high-powered Eagles and Giants offenses coming to Texas Stadium in the next two weeks.
Quick, somebody, name ONE play that SILB Bradie James has made this year? A pass defensed; an interception; a sack; a hurry; a stop behind the line of scrimmage? Can anybody think of one? I can't. Teams are running right at James and he's not up to the job. He's slow to react to running plays. When he does take on opposing guards, he gets blocked and stays blocked. Sure, he was second on the team in tackles, but they're five yards onto his side of the ball.
His inside partner Dat Nguyen is also having trouble getting off blocks. He only made one tackle today, which is inexcusable for a 3-4 ILB. The scheme is supposed to funnel all action to you, and if you can't shed and make tackles, it's going to be a VERY long year. What's more, I don't know that Scott Shanle can provide a significant upgrade at the strong inside position and one is badly needed.
The heart of a 3-4 is the triangle of the nose tackle and the two inside backers. Right now, that heart is sick. Shanle, Ryan Fower and perhaps Kevin Burnett some reps inside soon if things don't improve. if the inside guys don't improve, it will be slow death for the defense the rest of the year.
On the strong outside, Dallas is frantically rotating Al Singleton, Scott Fujita and Eric Ogbogu looking for some production. Singleton did gather in a pass Jason Ferguson tipped last week, but the production from that side has been poor as well. Right now, if the defensive linemen are not making plays against inside runs, they're not happening.