The Dallas Cowboys have not been able to beat their opponent over the last seven games, but that doesn't stop them from beating themselves. Their latest disaster was a 10-6 defeat at the hands of the Tampa Bay Bucs. Let's take a look at five things that defined the Cowboys loss.
1. Offense completely disappeared
The Cowboys defense would hold the Bucs to only three points through the first 59 minutes of the game, so it wouldn't take a lot of points to win this game. And that's exactly what the Cowboys offense gave them. After scoring field goals on two of their first three drives, the offense would decide that they had enough and never score again.
Right after the Cowboys first scoring drive that consisted of 12 plays and consuming 6:20, FOX decided to put up a graphic that showed that the Cowboys led the league in drives of five minutes or more, with 19. And just like that, the jinx was on as the Cowboys would never put together a drive that long again. After a rare missed field goal by Dan Bailey, the Cowboys would punt on their next five subsequent drives, with the longest one only consisting of 32 yards.
2. The running game was non-existent
After averaging 165 yards on the ground over the last three games, the Cowboys running attack would completely vanish as they only had 42 rushing yards. It was their worst rushing performance of the year. Darren McFadden had 17 carries for 32 yards, averaging 1.9 yards per carry. The Cowboys punted six times in the game and ineffective running was a culprit on four of these instances. On the first down play before the stalled possession resulting in the punt, here is a play log for these four running plays:
- Drive 1 - 1st and 10, McFadden rushes for 0 yards.
- Drive 6 - 1st and 10, McFadden rushes for 0 yards.
- Drive 8 - 1st and 10, McFadden rushes for 0 yards.
- Drive 9 - 1st and 10, McFadden rushes for -7 yards.
These unproductive runs would put Matt Cassel behind the chains and the offense wouldn't be able to make the plays to get themselves out of trouble.
3. The Cowboys playmaking receiver couldn't make any plays
Dez Bryant struggled in this game. After talking with Cassel on the sidelines, it wasn't surprising that the QB would try to get the ball to Dez more. And Cassel did just that, targeting Bryant 12 times in the game. But Dez couldn't make his opportunity count and he had two crucial drops as well as a lackadaisical effort on the very last offensive play when Cassel went to him deep. Dez complained about a push off and there looked like there was a push to some degree, but it was still surprising that Dez didn't at least make an effort to go up and get the pass.
Jason Witten was targeted five times and caught all five of them. Cole Beasley was targeted only once, but caught it. Cassel was completing passes at a high success rate to these guys, but just couldn't get them more involved. It was clear that Dez was going to be the guy, and Bryant just couldn't make the plays his team desperately needed.
4. Penalties came at the worst time
The Cowboys would commit six penalties for 68 yards, but again it would be the magnitude of these mistakes that would sting the most. Most of the yardage came from a single pass interference call against Morris Claiborne when he was covering Mike Evans on a deep pass. But the penalties that hurt the most would be the ones that came on third down which gave new life to the Buccaneers offense. On a 3rd and 12, J.J. Wilcox would get called for illegal contact, resetting the chains for Tampa Bay. However, the most damaging penalty came when Jeff Heath was called for defensive holding on a 3rd and 4 play late in the game. This nullified a goal line fumble by Jameis Winston that would have put Dallas in great position to win the game.
When it mattered the most, it just seemed like the Cowboys would be determined to find a way to shoot themselves in the foot.
5. Mike Evans punished the corners
It didn't matter if the coverage was good or not, the Bucs young star receiver was hauling in catches. Evans finished the game with eight catches for 126 yards. The Cowboys would try different corners on him, with sometimes being covered by Brandon Carr and other times by Claiborne. Neither of them could stop Evans.