The Dallas Cowboys are getting real good at almost winning football games. In fact, the team has almost won four of their last five games. The 2015 Cowboys are right back in the habit of playing close games; an act they had a penchant of doing quite frequently during their 8-8 seasons. Only this year, they’re having trouble getting their share of wins, only emerging victorious once in close games this season when Tony Romo led a fourth quarter comeback to beat the New York Giants in week one. And even that game is one the Cowboys were very lucky to win as the Giants poor clock management opened the door for the comeback. Sunday’s recent almost victory against the Seahawks is just the latest example of how the team cannot close the deal.
Here are five observations from the game against Seattle.
1. Matt Cassel was playing scared
As careless as Cassel was in the game against the New York Giants, he made sure he wouldn’t make those same mistakes again. So this time, he made all new ones. Time and time again, Cassel would throw short rather than make a pass downfield. It’s understandable when you have third and super long, you have to be careful, lay up short, and live for another day. But you can’t keep doing that on third and ten plays. The offense has to try to convert this. These short dump offs over the middle to Darren McFadden and Jason Witten aren’t going to keep the drive going. For every field goal that Dan Bailey kicked, there was a preceding third down play were Cassel threw the ball short of the first down mark. The Cowboys are struggling in the red zone, but making the decisions to throw short dump off passes are self-inflicting. In a game that was this close, one of these conversions could have made all the difference.
Cassel has to do a better job getting the ball to his receivers. The return of Dez Bryant was supposed to open up the offense and allow other targets to become available. But Cassel couldn’t get his receivers the ball. Dez, Terrance Williams, and Jason Witten each caught only two passes. And Cole Beasley didn’t catch any. If Cassel cannot get these players involved in the offense, the Cowboys are in deep trouble.
2. DeMarcus Lawrence played great
Fans are excited about Greg Hardy and Randy Gregory lining up on the edges and teeing off on the quarterbacks. As they should be. Both are talented players. Gregory is still being worked into the mix gradually after recovering from an ankle injury, but Hardy continues to make big plays. His tip-pick of Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson finally ended the defenses four game turnover drought.
But Hardy is not the only defensive end making plays. DeMarcus Lawrence is doing a lot to disrupt the offense. The most impressive thing about Lawrence in the Seattle game is how well he dissected the running play. He did a great job getting inside and was able to chase down ball carriers that ran across the other side. Lawrence also exhibited good strength and pushed back the tackle which obstructed the running backs path when he swung around the edge. His best play came when he held his position well on the read-option play and was able to keep Wilson from getting outside and breaking off a big run.
3. Cowboys still showing a lack of discipline
I cannot figure out why players on special teams are having a tough time staying out of the way of the ball during a punt return. The awareness of the players trying to block for Beasley is horrible. They have backed into Beasley once this season and against Seattle, Corey White had the ball bounce off of him. Luckily, J.J. Wilcox was right there to pounce on it.
And for the second straight game, a great play from Darren McFadden was called back as a result of a penalty. Lucky Whitehead mistimed his cut as the ball was snapped and was called for illegal motion. Instead of having first and goal at the five yard line, the Cowboys got behind the chains and had to settle for a field goal a couple plays later.
4. Winning the battle of the trenches
It was frustrating to lose this game, but even more frustrating when you take in account that the Cowboys were getting it done at the line of scrimmage. The offensive line did a great job in run blocking and gave Cassel plenty of time to throw. In fact Cassel was given so much space that he decided to turn on the jets and scamper down the field. Cassel ran four times for 43 yards.
But Cassel wasn’t able to take advantage of his protection and find receivers open down the field.
Despite not having as much time, Russell Wilson didn’t have that problem. Wilson was very quick and decisive with his passes. Even though the Cowboys defense didn’t sack Wilson, the pressure was there. He just did a good job of getting rid of the ball. And it also helped that the Cowboys coverage was soft. The defense would employ more zone coverages and this resulted in just enough separation to complete the pass. This strategy seems to nullify any good pressure the defensive line is able to get.
5. Can’t build off the turnovers
The Cowboys defense and special teams made two big plays that put the team in position to punch the Seahawks in the mouth. But in both instances, the offense did absolutely nothing to take advantage. After Greg Hardy’s interception that took the ball down to the Seahawks 16-yard line, the Cowboys offense only gained four yards on the next three plays and had to settle for a field goal. Then, after rookie, David Irving blocked Steven Hauschka’s field goal attempt, the Cowboys offense would again go three-and-out after they failed to convert on a short third down play.
Time is running out on the Cowboy sin 2015, we'll see if they can clean up any of their issues against the Eagles.