When losing a football game where it seems almost everything goes wrong, there clearly is not just one thing that caused it. But this still leaves the task of figuring out what the causes were so that they can be fixed. For the Dallas Cowboys, this is especially true after their humiliation at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles. Not only does Dallas need to get back to winning in order to have a shot at the playoffs, they get to face the Eagles again on December 14th.
The only facet of the game that went at all well for Dallas was the special teams, where they successfully prevented the Eagles from hurting them with a long return. Everything else was a win for Philadelphia. When that many things go wrong, there is a tendency to look for some external factor that creates problems for the team, things that don't involve who has the best athletes and coaching.
For this game, there was one of those factors that has been discussed since the schedule for the season came out. The Cowboys had an extremely short week. They have of course been playing on Thanksgiving for decades, but this week they had an away Sunday night game leading into it, which meant the team had to fly into Dallas, get off the airplane, and come back in about eight hours to try and get ready for Philadelphia. Additionally, the game against the Giants was an emotionally and physically grueling one, with the Cowboys coming back from a deficit and the defense spending a very long time on the field. OCC points out how those additional snaps on defense plays to a weakness of the Cowboys, and how that has been a growing issue of late, in his post on snap counts. From just watching the game, Dallas never looked like they were right. Tony Romo especially appeared to be off, and the Eagles just seemed a step faster. That may be partly because players like LeSean McCoy are that fast, but Mark Sanchez was also exceptionally effective, which leads to at least the possibility that the Dallas defense was somewhat off.
Was the short week truly a factor, or is that just making excuses? It certainly was talked about enough that it might have been at least a mental issue for the team in getting ready. Barry Church was one player who felt in the locker room after the game that it played some part in the problems the Cowboys had:
"What hurt us against the tempo was last year we had a whole week of actually practicing in full pads and getting ready for that tempo," Church said. "This week was a short week so we didn't really go out and practice a lot. We practiced, but it was a lot of walk-through tempo. I felt like that hurt us a little bit, but we needed that because it was a short week. Next time, you'll see a better team."
Immediately after the game, Bob Sturm addressed this and took a somewhat ambivalent position.
Did the quick turnaround account for the defensive failures?
It certainly didn't help, but it would be a copout. Thursday games are commonplace, the Sunday night to Thursday game is unique, but the idea of teams coming back on three days rest is enough common in football. There's no question you would like the time to prepare for the unique challenges of the Eagles, but as their division rival, I would have hoped the Cowboys would have spent much the past year preparing for them. I understand that it is commonplace during the off-season to spend a few weeks on each divisional rival. I'd like to think the Cowboys were ready actively. But clearly the evidence on the field was they could have used plenty of more time for this.
He touched on this again in his morning after article.
There are players like Romo and Rolando McClain that looked to be shells of themselves on Thursday, and you wonder if it is just one of those games or if they were simply unable to play again so soon after a taxing night in New York on Sunday.
But, those would have to be filed under excuses that nobody wants to hear when the season is on the line.
Bryan Broaddus was more assertive in his stance that the short week should not have been a factor, at least as far as Romo's performance:
I am sorry, but I am not buying into this thought that the short week and his back had anything to do with the way that Tony Romo played in this game. Just from my experience of how practice operates, when the team works in no pads with just hats and jerseys, Romo doesn't make many throws during the practice. Matter of fact, I remember days when Romo would take snaps and just go through the throwing motion without actually throwing the ball. These practices were more mental than they were physical and Romo was going to be rested as much as possible coming off a Sunday night game. The bottom line is that the Eagles had a great plan for him and it was a bad day at the office.
I think Sturm is probably closer to the truth in seeing that the short week had some effect, although there is a question of how well that was handled by the staff and players. I also checked with a couple of my fellow BTB writers to get their take on the subject:
neithan20000: I don't think the turnaround affected the defense at all. In fact I don't think the pace affected them either.
I think, for the first time this season, the team was mentally unprepared. It wasn't that they weren't focused, it was that they were too amped up. The defensive line was constantly in the backfield on run plays, but was also constantly over-running gaps. Crashing in instead of setting the edge; stupid penalties...these are signs of a team that is too amped up, that has allowed the moment to overwhelm them.
Now I do think the short week had a big affect on Romo. He looked like he did in the 49ers game. Everything was just off...he was either sailing passes or underthrowing them. Early in the game he just went down when pressured, with no attempt to buy time. I think not having his customary "day off" really messed with him.
rabblerousr: I agree re: Romo--and think the gameplan was devised to protect him/ not ask him to do anything physically taxing. I think they figured it was better to lose on Thursday and have him for the rest of the season than to risk losing him to get a win in what was almost certainly going to be a Denver-like shootout.
As you can see, there is hardly a consensus on this. It is likely that the short time, the difficulty of the previous game (while the Eagles had a relatively easy win), and mental as well as physical fatigue all played some part.
But now the Cowboys get a regular week (although starting early due to the second Thursday night game they play this season) to get ready for the Chicago Bears, plus a long week to prep for the Eagles rematch. If they significantly turn things around the next two games, then perhaps there will is some credibility to the short week theory. But if not, then maybe we will just have to accept that the Cowboys are not the most talented or best coached team in the NFC East.