It was going to happen, the Dallas Cowboys were going to lose another game this season. After reeling off six straight wins, the Cowboys had made us forget that losing is an option each week in the NFL. In the back of our minds, we always knew a loss was coming but who wants to spoil a great party. Better to enjoy it, and pay the price with the hangover you know is coming but weren't interested in talking about during the festivities.
What hurts more for the Cowboys fanbase is losing at home, in the division, to a 2-5 Washington team that was playing a third-string quarterback. Certainly Dallas would at least wait until next week before contemplating losing. Losing to Arizona would have been a dignified death, but this, this was unfathomable. But here it is. The Cowboys fall to 6-2 and 1-1 in the division. So where does the team go from here? Here's the prescription for what ails ya:
Stop doing dumb things.
In the heat of the game, I guess coaches sometimes lose track of what they're doing. So let's not say stop doing dumb things. Let's say this instead: show an abnormal devotion to what has worked previously. Yes, this is a story about the Cowboys failing to stick with the run, and how it affected everything. And this is not just about running while sitting at second and goal at Washington's three, then throwing it twice. Or in overtime, after a DeMarco Murray run of eight yards, and then inexplicably deciding to throw it three straight times. Sure, those were a couple of the most visible moments, but plenty of others exist to make the evidence irrefutable.
On the Cowboys first drive they were at their own 36. On first down they handed it to Murray who ran for five yards. Second and five, and the first indicator that the Cowboys were not following the script. On second down they throw and it goes incomplete. On third and five, the Cowboys throw again but the Redskins blitzed and sacked Romo. That actually turned out to be the script much of the night.
On the Cowboys second drive, they encompassed the good and the bad. On a first down they ran for only two yards, but on second down they gave it to Murray again, and he rewarded them with a 12 yard gain. At this point Murray had carried the ball five times and already had 29 yards. That's 5.8 yards a carry. So later that drive Dallas runs Murray on first down for only two yards. This time, they decide to throw on second and third down, and got the same result. An incomplete on second down and a Romo sack on third down on another blitz. You can't fault the Cowboys for throwing on a second and eight in the abstract, but the game had already showed them they could run on Washington, and that Washington's best defense was blitzing Romo.
This isn't anything Dallas didn't know. Bob Sturm, always excellent, recounts the numerous times that Jim Haslett and Washington has decided the best way to play Romo and the Cowboys is to blitz the heck out of them. And how successful they have been recently doing that. The Cowboys knew it, but instead of sticking to what they do best, which just happens to be the best way to play Washington and preserve Romo, they decided to throw.
The next two drives for Dallas were killed by one of the few problems the Cowboys have had this year, turnovers. Both Joesph Randle and DeMarco Murray but the ball on the turf. The next drive was the counter-argument to all of this. Dallas passed quite a bit and scored a touchdown. But the big play besides the TD was a short dump pass to Murray, almost like a run. Still, the Cowboys did manage to handle the Redskins defense with quite a bit of passing.
But the pattern continued to show up the rest of the game. A run on first down, a pass on second down, a Washington blitz and sack on third down. After moving the ball a bit on their first drive of the second half, the Cowboys pulled a run, pass, sack trifecta and had to punt. Then came the drive where Brandon Weeden threw twice from the Washington three-yard line. This is where you really start to question the Cowboys coaches. Not only because of this series, but what follows.
The last possession of regulation where a sack derailed a promising start of a nine-yard run on first down. Plenty of time, three timeouts, just need to get Dan Bailey close, you can still utilize the run especially if you are picking up nine-yard chunks. That sack and fumble almost led to total disaster, only saved because Ryan Kerrigan somehow didn't hold the ball he fell on. Then came overtime, when an eight-yard run by Murray was followed by three incompletions and a loss.
The Cowboys average 51% runs on the season. In this game, they ran it 40% of the time. They were never behind by more than seven. Murray averaged 7.4 yards per carry. The Washington blitz was dominating the passing game. Just run the ball, Dallas.
The Cowboys are still in first place. This is only one game. One loss. Easy enough to move on. Just don't forget what got you to first place in the first place.