Let's kick things off with leftover reports from the debacle in Tampa Bay:
Sturm's typically excellent Monday game summary targets a guy who was targeted twelve times on Sunday, but managed to haul in only five of those pass attempts. Yes, it's Number 88:
Somehow, despite the Cowboys making a concerted effort to focus their attack through Bryant, and then running plays and making throws where the ball arrived on time and on target, Bryant had two drive-killing drops in the 2nd half and then a rather odd and uncharacteristic effort on the final offensive snap of the game where he appeared to campaign for a call rather than attempt to make a dominating play on the ball.
The Duckman with a list of things that went right and another of things that went wrong on Sunday. Here's one form the latter category:
At the end of the day, the one thing that hurt the Cowboys chances more than anything else was the penalties that kept the Buccaneers drives going. This has been a theme for Dallas throughout the season. The biggest culprits have been the secondary. Whether it be pass interference, defensive holding, or illegal contact, the defensive backs have kept many teams hopes alive and the trend continued Sunday. If this team is unable to change this, it won’t matter who plays quarterback going forward.
Instead of talking about the first two-interception game of his career, Toddzilla notes, Jeff Heath’s story revolved around his game-changing penalty:
Heath had two interceptions of Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston in the red zone to end scoring threats. In a low-scoring game, it was exactly what the Cowboys needed Sunday, something they lacked all season.
But the Cowboys did not beat the Buccaneers, and Heath isn’t the hero.
Instead, Heath's defensive holding penalty wiped out a Winston fumble on third-and-goal from the Dallas 4 with 59 seconds to play.
The Broad One goes into the film room and comes out with some impressions on the Cowboys' defense. I like two of them so much that, instead of choosing one, I'm going to share both of them. Here's the first:
Coaches need to find ways to get David Irving on the field more as that under-tackle. They appeared to find a little something there with him playing there and Tyrone Crawford lining up at the nose. For such a young player, he really has a nice feel for how to play off blocks and find the ball. He plays well down the line and closes quickly on the ball when he has a chance. They can also pair him with Nick Hayden and that gives Crawford a chance to catch a break. I initially thought that his height might give him problems dealing with blocks and that he might be a better end -- but that’s not the case at all. He is active and plays with his pad level down, holding his position well. I really like him as a pass rusher too. He plays with some surprising power and also does a nice job making himself small to work around blockers.
And the second:
I haven’t seen all the rookie defensive backs play in the league this season, but I believe you would be hard pressed to find one that is more important to his team than Byron Jones. Where he doesn’t get enough credit from us in the media is his willingness to play wherever he is asked to – and he plays well. For him to start the game inside at safety, play in the slot, then finish on the outside at corner says a great deal about the type of player they drafted. There was a reason why Rod Marinelli was as complimentary as he was about Jones through the first half of this season.
Broaddus also offers some impressions gleaned from watching the offensive tape. Here, he discusses the supposed backfield savior:
If Christine Michael is going to play more, he needs to go back to being that mean, nasty running back I scouted in Seattle. I have yet seen him run with that violence that he did with the Seahawks. There have been too many carries where he has taken the ball, danced in the backfield and finished with a two or three-yard gain. One of the traits the scouts liked about him was his ability to run with explosive power – we haven’t seen that at all. If there was a positive to take from his game against the Buccaneers, it was his pass protection. His awareness and technique were right where they needed to be. There has been some whispering that this wasn’t always the case, but he was able to take care of that.
As Archer writes, the Cowboys season officially slipped into the Theatre of the Absurd on Sunday:
For the third time this season, the Cowboys' offense failed to score a touchdown. It is the second time in the past three Cassel starts the Cowboys didn't get a touchdown. The last time the Cowboys had three games without an offensive touchdown in the same season was in 2001, according to ESPN Stats & Information. It makes you wonder just how much Tony Romo covered up for this offense over the years.
Sabin doles out his post-game grades. As the headline suggests, one unit actually gets an "A." Ironically, its the linebackers, who were absent Sean Lee:
What went right: Rolando McClain had his best outing since returning from a four-game suspension in October. McClain was all over the field and set the tone for the defense when he stopped Doug Martin for no gain on Tampa Bay's first offensive play. McClain recorded eight tackles and hit Jameis Winston three times. In the first quarter, he also prevented a big play when he stopped Martin for a four-yard gain. No other defenders were in the vicinity when McClain tackled Martin. On Tampa Bay's scoring drive in the fourth quarter, McClain also forced an incompletion by pressuring Winston. It would have been a momentous play had the Cowboys figured out a way to keep Winston out of the end zone. But they couldn't.
Moy reports on the grading results from Sunday's snoozefest. Here's who scored well:
The skill players on the Cowboys offense didn’t show up yesterday, but the offensive line sure did. All five members of the offensive line finished with a grade of at least +1.5 or better. LT Tyron Smith lead the group with an overall grade of +3.0, and rookie LG La’el Collins brought up the rear with an overall grade of +1.5. The unit as a whole put up a run blocking grade of +5.1, and they allowed just three total pressures (no hits or sacks) in pass protection.
The lowest scores at each position from Sunday's games. It shouldn't be a huge surprise that a player from a Cowboys offense incapable of mustering a touchdown received this ignominious honor:
Running back: Darren McFadden, Cowboys (-2.2)
After a few weeks of resurgent play, McFadden fell back down to earth yesterday. Given the ball 17 times, he managed only 32 yards rushing. That included a mere 20 yards after contact. His longest run of the day was just 7 yards, and he only forced two missed tackles.
After 56 days without a win, the blame game is being turned up to eleven:
The Babe with his weekly post-game Q&A. Here, he responds to a query about who is to blame for the seven game skid:
I think this will make a great Harvard School Business Study. I think you have to look at how the roster was put together and say, "How could this have gone so wrong?" You have the worst record in the NFL. And there are so many places to look....If I am in charge, the day after the season ends, I am hosting a summit on how things went so wrong, so quickly.
With the Cowboys mired in a seven-game losing streak, the focus returns to "bad" Jerry, the inept General Manager. The man in question issues a mea culpa of sorts:
"Well, it is very disappointing," Jones said. "I’m disappointed. We had high expectations, to say the very least, for this year, so I’m disappointed for the people that count the most: our fans. I’m disappointed we’re not giving them a better showing. The system in the NFL, the rules, everything that you do to put a team together and every team you play, you basically expect to do better than we’re doing. We’re simply just not obviously playing average and that’s very disappointing. It takes a lot of across-the-board blame."
Sando takes a look at Jerry the "owner-as-enabler," examining such aspects of the Cowboys' miserable 2015 campaign as the realities of playing with a backup quarterback before concluding:
Jones' ownership style is still an impediment, but the Cowboys' owner is not even close to the No. 1 reason Dallas has reached the brink this season. This is simply life in the NFL without your starting quarterback, and without a couple of breaks that could have eased the pain some.
After spouting the usual pablum about the Cowboys front office enabling players, Sherrington concludes with an assessment of whether Romo's return will help to salve the assorted wounds the Cowboys have accumulated this season:
Don't think he has that kind of impact? Over the last 16 games he's started, the Cowboys are 14-2. You could look it up. As we learned last year, when Romo is playing well and the running game is running smoothly, it means rest for the defense and swagger all-around. Playing with confidence in yourself and your teammates makes all the difference. So does Romo's return mean the Cowboys can run off six or seven wins and take the East? Not so fast. Romo needs a little adjustment period, and he's got the Dolphins -- with a rejuvenated Ndamukong Suh -- and Carolina in a span of five days.
And that provides us with a segue to the next hot topic du jour...
In a development that surprises exactly nobody, Tony Romo will play against Miami. The most compelling reason is provided here by the team's Owner/ General Manager:
"It's in our long-term best interest to go out there and try to win a ballgame."
Archer asks the question that has been on everybody's mind for some time now: will Romo’s return matter?
Mathematically the Cowboys are alive, but they are running out of time and games. The best news for the Cowboys on Sunday was the losses by the Eagles and Giants. It kept the Cowboys in the same position at the end of the day that they were in at the start of the day: two games back in the loss column.
Chaz pens a piece reminding Cowboys fans that all is not lost. In fact, he thinks our Beloved 'Boys have a legitimate shot:
This isn't a classically tough NFC East. Top to bottom, every team has significant flaws. Dallas running the table and rattling off six or seven wins isn't a moonshot. Things have to go right, but they don't require absolute perfection. Particularly when you look at the schedules of the teams in front of the Cowboys.
A group of "writers" (i.e., ex-players) get their heads together to discuss the NFC East, with one man making an argument for each team. LaDainian Tomlinson takes the Cowboys; here's his rationale:
Dallas Cowboys: Tony Romo's return is key
The Cowboys have the best offensive line in the NFC East, without question. Given the experience they have with their skill players -- especially with Tony Romo coming back -- they can get on a run and win these last seven games. We've seen them do it before. We've seen them win consecutive games with this group. They've had one of the toughest schedules in the league so far, but it's about to get a little easier. I think Cowboy fans can be optimistic going forward.
All will be well once Number 9 is back in the huddle, right? Not so fast, buckaroo. The RHG with some truth:
"Certainly, when you bring a player like Tony Romo back in, there's an expectation he's going to make a positive difference for your team. Just like any time you lose a starter and he comes back, these guys start for a reason. *"But if we feel like just because Tony is back everything is good that's the wrong approach. We have to get better in all three areas. We have to coach better, we have to play better. All three phases of our football team have to play better, and we think Tony can help us do that."
Jones the Younger with a word of caution for all those expecting Romo to re-emerge in midseason form:
"Tony's been pretty resilient. He's been running scout team for two weeks now. He certainly feels good. But you worry and if you're going to be honest with everybody, he hasn't played in eight weeks. So it will be interesting to see how he plays when he gets back. "
The man who helped shape Jason Witten as a pro is now the Dolphins head coach, so he knows a lot about the Cowboys' greybeards. He also suggests that Romo is likely to have some rust:
"Certainly it makes them better," Campbell said of Romo coming back. "I don’t know how much better, but I just know -- I know Romo. The guy can hurt you. We’ll see what kind of flow he’s in, how he feels. But absolutely he can hurt you. He can make those throws, he can work in the pocket, he can get out of the pocket.
In his Monday afternoon presser, Jason Garrett said Sean Lee has passed all the concussion protocols and expects his starting linebacker to practice. Check it:
"We are optimistic," Garrett said in his Monday press conference at Valley Ranch. "We will take the situation day by day. We anticipate him practicing on Wednesday." Eatman adds that the Cowboys had enough optimism about Lee's return to release Keith Smith, who was signed from the practice squad on Saturday. Its assumed he'll rejoin the practice squad as soon as he clears waivers.
When Morris Claiborne walked to the locker room with a hamstring injury, Archer writes, the Dallas Cowboys had a decision to make: Keep Byron Jones at safety or move him to outside cornerback. They chose the latter, even though Jones had not played outside since training camp. How'd the rookie fare? Archer's on the case:
Jones had just two tackles, according to the press-box stats. He had a pass breakup in the first half at safety, although he thought he should have had an interception of Jameis Winston.
"Hard to tell," Jones said when asked how he thought he played. "Played a lot of positions. I think I should’ve had that interception as a safety. Just trying to find ways to take the ball away. We did a better job this week than the past, but there’s more opportunities out there for us."
"Matches" with a piece on one first round corner potentially replacing another. The head coach has confidence in the 2015 version:
"He never shies away from an opportunity like that. He always embraces it. He's got a real poise and composure about him. He's got a lot of fight and grit to him. So even if a guy has success against him, he's going to keep coming back. He's going to keep battling. So those are all the traits you want from players."
The Noble Drummond parts the clouds to show us a silver lining:
Earlier in the season, many on Twitter were voicing their concern about one of the moribund franchises snatching away Personnel Director Will McClay, who has been seen as a godsend to many in Cowboys Nation, yours truly included....There’s probably not going to be much fanfare anymore, seeing as the Dallas Cowboys roster is incapable of securing a single win in seven tries without their franchise quarterback. The Cowboys are the downtrodden franchise that will steal Will McClay away from Dallas!
Yay! The Cowboys' suckitude keeps Will McClay in the front office!