A seven-play sequence in the late 2nd quarter and early 3rd tells the tale:
1. Dallas in 1st-and-ten from its own 13 after a Baltimore punt. The Ravens go with a two man line, with a DE in the gap between RG Leonard Davis and RT Marc Colombo. At the snap the DE goes wide and Colombo picks him up, easily. Davis does not make the pass off and ILB Ray Lewis charges untouched right up the middle at Tony Romo. Romo has to dump the ball off the Tashard Choice for a one yard loss.
2. 2nd-and-11: The Ravens go to a three man line, with a NT over Davis and a DE over Colombo and an OLB outside of them. At the snap, both Baltimore DL crash inside and the OLB blitzes off the edge. Choice blocks the OLB. Davis hands the inside DL to Andre Gurode and switches to pick up the outside DL. Colombo doesn't make the pass off and stays with his man, allowing LB Bart Scott a free lane directly at Romo. Romo forces a pass early and completes it to Jason Witten for seven yards.
3. 3rd-and-3: Baltimore runs a NT at Gurode and a DE at Colombo. They blitz an ILB and a S off the slot at Davis. He picks up the LB. Romo makes a quick throw to Witten for the first down.
4. Baltimore goes to a more conventional four-man line. The DT over Davis swims past him but Gurode cleans up. Romo completes a circle route to Choice for eight yards.
5. 2nd-and-2: Baltimore rushes four. Romo has Owens breaking free down the left sideline and makes one of his few on-target deep throws of the night. Owens loses the ball in the Texas Stadium rafters and the ball bounces incomplete.
6. 3rd and 2: Baltimore is in a straight 3-4. At the snap, Gurode handles the NT. LG Cory Proctor handles the DE. LT Flozell Adams blocks down on the DE as well, giving OLB Terrell Suggs a free run at Romo. Romo spins away and throws the ball downfield to an open Terrell Owens. His pass is short, as were nearly all of Romo's deep throws from the numbers outside and it's picked off by Ed Reed.
7. 1st and 10: Dallas first play of the 2nd half. Baltimore lines up in a four man look, but shifts late. Suggs initially lines up over T.O. in the left flat,but drifts down the line of scrimmage to his normal OLB spot. The Ravens are in a traditional 3-4 at the snap. Again, Gurode handles the NT, Proctor the DE and again, Adams completely ignores Suggs, the Ravens leading sacker, who gets another free shot at Romo, who again spins away and throws an incompletion.
Seven consecutive plays. Seven consecutive passes. On five of them, Romo has a Raven coming untouched right at him. And on four of those plays, one of the Flozell Adams, Leonard Davis or Marc Colombo trio has a brain freeze and misses his man.
This is the big money of the Cowboys' line, three pillars of the offense, and they collapsed on their QB. That's not to excuse Romo's poor tosses. His 3rd quarter miss to Miles Austin was a killer, as it was followed by the short, low Sam Paulescu punt that started a strange sequence of plays in motion that ended with the Ravens' first TD. Dallas never recovered.
Still, Romo has a bad back. He played in clear pain. And the big boys up front couldn't keep the Ravens from beating him up. If Romo was a litigious type, he could sue Davis for non-support, or at least petition the NFL to rescind Davis' Pro Bowl berth.
A lot of fans scoffed when Wade Phillips said Cory Proctor graded out highest among the OL last week. I can't speak for the rest of the linemen, but I can tell you that Proctor definitely graded out better than Davis this week.
Take a look at play number 1 on the sequence list, the outside DE stunt with the ILB rushing in Davis' gap. The one where Davis whiffed on Ray Lewis.
My Tivo didn't start on schedule, so I missed the first 27 minutes of game time. In those final 33, I counted five times where Rex Ryan called this blitz. And Davis blew his protection EVERY SINGLE TIME. Not once did he lay a finger on Lewis. Not once.
That's five plays where Davis let a 250 lb. linebacker splatter his QB. Romo still made some big plays against the Ravens' rush. Dallas scored 17 points in the 4th quarter and could have had more if Choice had not bungled a 3rd down pitchout where he had a lane to the sideline.
But make no mistake, all of Romo's production came in spite of his line, not because of their help. They were an embarrassment last night and the veterans can't blame poor health or Cory Proctor for their play. Were a less mobile QB playing behind that protection last night, the Ravens get double digit sacks. I doubt Dallas tallies 10 points.
Nevertheless, the bigger point is that Dallas has never overcome the weaknesses it brought out of training camp. Proctor has played with guts, and he did a respectable job yesterday, but he's a big step down from Kyle Kosier, and Gurode has protected him a lot in pass protection.
This means Davis is left one and one. And while Bigg Leonard can maul anybody on rushing downs, he's vulnerable to shifty inside rushers and to stunts when he's left alone. The Giants beat him for a sack and drew a holding penalty on him last week. Ryan took full advantage of him yesterday. Dallas can cover for one guard who's having a tough day pass blocking but it can't cover for two.
Montrae Holland may be around next week, but he's only been available for five quarters this season. Kosier, with his manifold injuries, at least gave the team six. Pencil a big, young C/G in as Dallas' top offensive offseason target.
On defense, the patch at SS named Keith Davis finally blew out. I wrote in the pre-game that we would see Baltimore throw to Todd Heap when they got inside the Dallas 35. And right on cue, Ravens OC Cam Cameron called a seam to Heap when Baltimore got a 1st and 10 on the Dallas 29 halfway through the first quarter.
Davis was badly beaten and took an interference penalty to prevent a score. The Cowboys held Baltimore to a field goal, but Wade Phillips made note of the mismatch and took dramatic action to prevent it from recurring. Phillips' problem was he had no viable safety option to cover Heap in this part of the field. The next two times the Ravens tried Heap on these routes, Demarcus Ware shadowed him in space.
Let the insanity and the helplessness in that last sentence sink in. The Cowboys had to take their best rusher and assign him a TE because they don't have a SS on their roster who can provide passable coverage. Who else could do the job? Tra Battle? The ghost of Pat Watkins? Courtney Brown?
And Davis' liabilities go beyond coverage. He was an embarrassment on Baltimore's two long TD runs that iced the game. On Willis McGahee's run Davis had a clean shot at the RB but hesitated, took a poor angle to the ball and tripped over Zach Thomas' feet, taking himself out of the play.
On La'Ron McClain's 82 yard romp Davis again made a weak run at the ballcarrier, and whiffed diving for McClain's ankles.
The Cowboys have been able to hide Davis for several weeks, but last night the charade was exposed. It makes little difference in my opinion if the Cowboys swap Phillips out for another HC/defensive guru if this problem is not addressed.
Let's say the rippers get their wish and Wade is shown the door. And let's say the Cowboys bring in a Rex Ryan to keep their 3-4 humming. Rex has Ed Reed in Baltimore. He would have Keith Davis or a rehabbing Roy Williams, another year older and another half step slower, in Dallas. Think he could get any more out his new secondary with that SS tandem than the current coaches are now?
The same would be true of a Bill Cowher. Even if he brought a Dom Capers with him the old DC would be picking through the same safety remainders bin. Cowher had Troy Polamalu at his last job.
And please, disabuse yourself of shifting Anthony Henry to FS and Hamlin to SS. Hamlin also has a lot to answer for in the tackling department. He was an upgrade over Davis at FS but would anybody put him in the same sentence with Reed or Polamalu as a playmaker?
The Cowboys have gone five seasons since their last top defensive ranking. It's no coincidence to me that the drought started with Darren Woodson's forced retirement. Bill Parcells never attempted to replace him and Jerry 2.0 hasn't either.
It's been a long time since 28. A long lonely, grumpy, iffy, shaky, crazy time.