A tale of two seasons. I don't know what's happened, but ever since they won at Lambeau Field, the Dallas Cowboys haven't been the same football team.
The Cowboys are playing very mediocre football right now, and that might be a generous observation. This is not what was expected, by the fans or by the players. Don't kid yourself with the excuse that the expectations were too high. The expectations were that way because they deserved to be. Dallas was a powerhouse last year in the regular season and lost in the playoffs by four points to the eventual Super Bowl champions. They re-signed all their key personnel, added a few free agents and had what was considered a superb draft. Every element was in place for them to be among the elite of the NFL. Right now, they aren't among the elite. They are in the next level below that, with the arrow pointing down instead of up.
Yes, they're 4-2, but they're a weak 4-2. They aren't losing big to anybody, and in both games they've lost (Washington, Arizona) they've been in the game right up to the end. And both those teams appear to be playoff contenders. But it's the pure talent they have, the amount of weapons they possess on offense, which is keeping them in those game. They are playing poorly for good portions of games, and bringing themselves back when they are desperate. Even in the win over the Bengals that formula held true. Against good teams (Wash, Ariz), their desperation only served up heart-breaking losses. Against the Bengals, it served up an ugly win. In the last three games only sheer talent has kept the games close; while uninspired play, questionable coaching and a general malaise have brought them down to the level of merely average.
This game against Arizona was on the path to disaster right from the start.
The Cowboys special teams in the game were awful. From the opening play of the game, when they allowed a kickoff return for a TD, to the closing play of the game, when they allowed perhaps the easiest punt block in the history of the NFL, it was shameful. Why in the world would a coach change the blocking assignments in overtime on a punt from your own goal line? The insanity of that is beyond my comprehension. The Cowboys probably won't fire Bruce Read, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't. Then again, if they fired everybody who was responsible for the bad play in this game, then Nick Eatman and JJT would have to run things at the Ranch tomorrow.
Our vaunted offensive line, that big bad behemoth that was supposed to be a road-grader on the run, and a granite wall for the pass, has become a Swiss-cheese sampler plate. Flozell Adams was the doorman at the Ritz, waving in defenders with alacrity. If he was hurt, then our coaches are idiots for not taking him out of the game. Marc Colombo was only saved by the fact that Flozell was so bad, he actually looked semi-competent in comparison. By the way, that was not a compliment. Andre Gurode looked like he played half the game in a coma. Hudson Houck, we've praised you to high heaven, but this in on you, too.
The offensive line was bad, but this doesn't take away from Tony Romo's evening. If you couldn't see it before, you have to see it now, something's just not right with our QB. You can't put the ball on the turf with that kind of regularity. It's as if he's lost those spidey-senses he once had that told him when danger was near. Something is wrong with his game, and he needs to figure it out quick. And please, don't tell me to look at his stats, the long TD's to Crayton and Barber were hardly the work of Romo. The only real drive he put together was the one right after halftime. Look, I love Romo, I still believe in the kid, but he's off his game right now. Yes, the offensive line was absolutely part of the issue, but there were other plays where they had no part of the mistakes. This has been going on for the past three games.
I can't really complain about the defense in this game. While they only got one sack on Kurt Warner, they did apply much more pressure than they have in recent games. They knocked him around quite a bit. They also didn't allow the Cardinals to run the ball. On the downside, they gave up a third and 17 on a screen pass that was probably the biggest momentum-turning play in the game. And once Larry Fitzgerald got loose in the second half, he did some damage. Anthony Henry's play as a corner certainly looks to be on the decline. But overall, they only gave up 17 points to the Cardinals offense, and that should have been enough for the Cowboys to win the game. They even came up with a couple of turnovers. So while they weren't lockdown, they actually played pretty well against an offense that has been very good this season.
It's hard to pinpoint what has caused this decline in play from the Cowboys. But when a whole team looks to be in a funk over a couple of weeks, thoughts immediately turn to the coaching staff. Wade Phillips has to figure out a way to turn this around. The season is still long and Dallas has plenty of time to right the ship but they should start thinking about doing it quickly. The NFC East is a beast this year and dropping games along the way could be hazardous to their playoff health.
I'm not in a panic but I'm absolutely concerned. A team this talented should not be playing this way. I don't care about expectations; I care about what I'm seeing on the playing field. And right now, that's very average, and that's giving them every benefit of the doubt.
QB Tony Romo (sprained right pinky finger)
RB Felix Jones (strained left hamstring)
P Mat McBriar (bruised right ankle)
LT Flozell Adams (stinger)
SS Keith Davis (cut left thumb)
OLB Anthony Spencer (strained left hamstring)