While I stand by the statement in my previous post that there were two blown chances for the Dallas defense to impact the score of the game, those missed turnover opportunities were only a small factor in the 17-16 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. More telling is the fact that the Cowboys failed to establish a running game, the coaching staff made some questionable play calls, and the offense made two critical turnovers that changed the momentum of the game. If the defense must bare some culpability in the team's failure to cash in on opportunities, the much greater burden nonetheless falls on the other side of the ball. Let's dig a little deeper.
Failing to establish the run
In spite of all the talk about Bill Callahan being more committed to the run than was Jason Garrett, that was not evident in Kansas City this weekend. This has become a recurring theme around the Dallas Cowboys in recent years, they simply do not run the ball. Out of 55 offensive snaps, the team only ran the ball 13 times.
The Cowboys can talk all they want to about wanting to run the ball more and run it better and be a balanced team, but so far through two games, they’re not a balanced team. They don’t pass AND run. They just pass.
-Nick Eatman, The Mothership
The Cowboys have not had a back rush for 1,000 yards since 2006, when Julius Jones toted the rock for 1,084. They are one of only two teams during that time to not have a back break that barrier, the other two being the Detroit Lions and the New Orleans Saints. What is really sad is that to rush for 1,000 yards all that is needed is for a runner to average 62.5 yards a game. On Sunday the team rushed for only 37 yards, 25 of which came from DeMarco Murray. Quite simply, not having a reliable running attack, or not being committed to establishing the ground game, will ultimately have a negative impact on the offensive output of the team.
No running game means a lot of long third down attempts for Romo. And that hasn’t worked out well. The Cowboys have to be better on third down. After converting 5-of-15 third downs against the New York Giants, the Cowboys were 3-of-11 on Sunday. You don’t win in the NFL with those numbers.
That may be a brutal statement, but it is also a true one. Regardless of initial results, it behooves the Dallas Cowboys to maintain a dedication to pounding the ball. With Tony Romo dealing with battered ribs, and facing a team that features a pair of Pro Bowl caliber pass rushers in Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, establishing the run takes an even higher priority simply to ease the burden on the quarterback.
While we will most likely never know for sure where the final decisions were made, there were some choices made on Sunday afternoon that defy logic. In addition to the neglect of the running game, which has already been mentioned, there were a few other doubtful choices that made many fans shake their heads in disbelief. Most of those involve not looking for Dez Bryant, who had the hot hand in this game.
Trailing 17-13 with 4:30 to play, the Cowboys reached the Chiefs’ 35 on a holding penalty that gave them a first down. Romo threw three straight incompletions to the left side — all basically short "out" patterns to Jason Witten and Miles Austin — without ever looking at Bryant on the right side.
Bryant had just missed three plays with a minor injury, but he was on the field running patterns so it’s hard to imagine he wasn’t available.
In his early rehash of the game, our own Dave Halprin questioned what, to me, was the most egregious blunder of the game. Even though Dez Bryant was having his way against Chiefs cornerback Brandon Flowers, when the offense had this same one-on-one match up during a critical third and goal situation, the decision was made to instead go to rookie Terrance Williams on a screen play. The result: A three yard loss and the team settled for a Dan Bailey field goal. Dave's comment pretty much summed up my take on the play that was called:
You'll hear lots of talk about how it was a good call based on what the Chiefs had been doing on defense on 3rd downs, or the alignment they were in, or the position of the moon. Don't buy it. They simply tried to get cute and it cost them.
Fumbling away momentum
With the defense not capitalizing on the two opportunities they were given to take away the football, the onus was on the Dallas offense to at least secure the ball and insure that the Cowboys did not lose the turnover battle. This was not to be however. After Kansas City took the lead in the second half, the Dallas Cowboys looked to answer the challenge. The team was moving the ball until linebacker Akeem Jordan managed to strip the ball free from Lance Dunbar. Safety Eric Berry would return the fumble to the Dallas 31-yard line. Even though the defense was able to keep the Chiefs out of the end zone, kicker Ryan Soccup was able to tack three points on to the Chiefs advantage.
On the following series, the turnover bug that had been the Cowboys friend the previous week bit once again. This time Kansas City brought some serious pressure from Romo's blind side during a third down play. Taking a blow from behind, Tony lost the ball on the Dallas 35-yard line. Fortunately the defense was able to force a punt the second time around, however Dustin Colquitt was able to pin the Cowboys deep. At this point the Cowboys were not able to regain much momentum, and the Kansas City were able to run time off the clock to secure their second victory on the season.
In conclusion, the Dallas offense was not able to assert itself in Kansas City. When the initial attempts to run the ball with DeMarco Murray failed to yield immediate results, the team, in a way that fans find all too familiar, resorted to being a one-dimensional passing attack. While the passing game was proving effective and Dez Bryant appeared to be on his way to a career defining game, at the most critical junctures, the Cowboys offensive brain-trust seemed to out-think themselves and failed to engage the most dynamic piece of the offense. Finally, the offense proved to be their own worst enemy by failing to hold on to the football. By giving away the rock on two successive possessions, the Cowboys also handed momentum over to a team that they could have defeated. As a result, the Cowboys walked off of the field on the short end of the score.