About the only good thing you can say about the Dallas Cowboys embarrassing loss to the Houston Texans was that it was a pre-season game. The Cowboys looked like a team that awoke from a 20-year coma five minutes before the game, the Texans looked like a team that had been chomping at the bit to play the game for the whole week. This being the pre-season, it's easy to say it doesn't matter and to a large extent that's true. Nobody remembers these games once the real thing begins, and as is customary the Cowboys worked from the most vanilla of playbooks. So we can hold off on pulling the rip cord on the parachute for now.
But we can't really wash away the stink that was the Cowboys on Saturday night. Not being ready to play in their supposed dress rehearsal - the sloppy ball-handling, the missed tackles, the inability to get in and out of the huddle in proper formations - all of this suggests that Dallas has plenty of work to do between now and the season opener. It's been a long training camp and the fact they had just broken camp was a factor, but let's not use it as an excuse. This was a poor display of professional football, and the team knows it. So bad, in fact, that there are suggestions the regulars may play in the final pre-season game against the Dolphins.
Most worrisome has been the Cowboys inability to assemble anything that resembles a running game. Sure, they were playing with a makeshift line, but in the NFL injuries happen. The Cowboys ground game has ground to a halt. They've become one-dimensional in the pre-season and that hasn't been good for Tony Romo's health. The Texans front seven spent some quality time with Romo, grabbing a few sacks and knocking him down to the point were getting him out of the game was becoming a decision of medical importance. About the only bright spot offensively was that Roy Williams actually got involved in the game and caught some passes.
The Cowboys offense played hot potato with the football, a mis-communication on a pitch play to Felix Jones wiped out one of their only good drives of the night, Romo also had to scoop up a bad snap and later put the ball on the turf when Dallas was making another charge for the endzone. That series was ultimately snuffed by a tipped pass that turned into a Texans interception. Given the injuries on the offensive line, it would be easy to put the blame on the replacements. But Andre Gurode gave up a sack on a straight rush, Doug Free picked up a holding penalty that was declined, and the line blew the blocking assignments on several blitzes.
In short, the Cowboys offense was simply horrendous. Only a Jon Kitna to Kevin Ogletree touchdown late in the game saved them from a total embarrassment.
The defense, who has been the steadier of the two units in the exhibition games, was also undone in the dress rehearsal. It has to be said that they didn't play any of their specialty packages and Matt Schaub and the Texans' offense took advantage of that. But vanilla formations can't account for the numerous missed tackles against the Texans running game. The Cowboys were extremely sloppy in that area. And formations and play-calling weren't the problem when safety Alan Ball was faked out of his jock on the Texans first touchdown. For a couple of weeks in a row, opposing teams have been able to run on the Cowboys defense, something that usually doesn't happen. It wasn't only missed tackles, it was losing the battle at the point of attack. The Texans offensive line was throwing around Cowboys defenders like rag dolls.
Okay, so the Cowboys got thoroughly whipped by the Houston Texans. It was a shambles of a game from the Cowboys perspective. Wade Phillips did what he always does, he tried to protect the players by saying they didn't game plan for the game, they didn't make any adjustments and tried to take responsibility for their play. I'm sure the players appreciate that, but they know what happened, They were not ready to play football, even pre-season football. They looked indifferent, they looked tired, they looked like a team that had their mind on anything else except this game.
They don't get a free pass, there was too much failure in just the basics of football to excuse it. But it is the pre-season, so the panic button can remain un-pushed - for now.