Sigh. It’s going to be two long weeks before coaches, players and fans have an opportunity to wash out the taste of Sunday’s last-second, gut-punch loss to the Aaron-Rodgers-led Green Bay Packers. Dallas has now lost three of their last four games and, going back to last season, five of the last seven. That’s a far cry from winning 13 of 14 between September and December of 2016.
Let’s go to the numbers. Remarkably, the Cowboys won almost every statistical battle yet came out on the wrong end.
Dallas ran more plays and gained more yards. This is the second consecutive game and third this season the offense has topped 390 yards. It’s also the third consecutive game the team has topped 28 points. In short, the offense is putting up point and yardage totals that should win games. Hard to believe the team has topped 400 yards and 30 points in back-to-back games and has an 0-2 record to show for it.
Of course, the flip side is the team is allowing 26+ points per game. After starting the season by limiting the New York Giants to three points the Dallas defense has surrendered 45, 17, 35 and 35 points in the last four weeks. For those counting, that’s 33 points per game over the last four. The Giants and Arizona Cardinals rank 29th and 30th in points scored, so those holding those teams to 20 points combined isn’t a real impressive feat. The Cowboys now rank a woeful 29th in points allowed and, realistically, this defense can’t stop even mediocre opponents.
The Dallas drive chart looks remarkably similar to last week’s chart: a dominating opening to the game followed by a mind-numbing sequence to start the second half (four drives that gained 92 yards total and saw the team surrender more points than it scored). The drive that ended up with the Packers celebrating in the Cowboys end zone, of course, is what stands out and completely changed the game. Most disappointing about the play is it happened soley because Terrance Williams simply dropped a pass that hit him in both hands. That’s a catch an NFL receiver should make 100 out of 100 times. Drops are plaguing the Cowboys this year, with Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams and Jason Witten combining to drop three easy balls.
Note the four scoring drives drives were all 10 plays or longer and three traveled 75+ yards. This follows last week when the offense also scored four touchdowns on 75+ yard drives. These last two weeks the offense has finally started to resemble the top-5 unit we saw last season.
And yet, the consistency simply isn’t there yet. It’s hard to understand how week after week the Dallas coaches are unable to adjust to whatever changes opponents make at halftime.
The Green Bay drive chart is remarkable for several reasons. First, the Packers had only seven drives. Seven possessions is a remarkably low number. Five of those possessions traveled 60+ yards and four of them traveled 71+ yards and resulted in touchdowns. Dallas did manage two three-and-outs. Disappointingly, a questionable personal foul call on Benson Mayowa wiped out a third potential three-and-out (Green Bay would have been facing 3rd-and-22 from their own three-yard line had the penalty not been called). The Packers ended up leveraging that good fortune into a touchdown.
That’s 11 drives of 50+ yards the Dallas defense has surrendered the last two weeks. The defense currently reminds me of the 2013 squad in that I’m surprised and ecstatic whenever they come up with a stop.
Of course the Dallas defense didn’t actually surrender 35 points; they surrendered only 28. The Packers’ other points came via the Dallas offense and, more specifically, Terrance Williams slippery fingers.
More disconcerting is the Dallas defense’s abject failure to generate turnovers. This is the third consecutive game without a turnover. Nobody believed the team could be as bad as the 2015 squad’s woeful record-low 11 turnovers in a 16-game schedule. But the 2017 unit is currently on pace for 10 turnovers. They’ve produced only three this entire season, or two less than the Seahawks caused yesterday against the Rams (you know, the team that carved Dallas up for 35 points while not committing any turnovers).
And yet, the defense keeps piling up sacks, four more Sunday. That brings the season total to 16 and puts the team on pace for 51 on the season. Dallas ranks sixth in the NFL in sacks. One problem, though, the sacks have not resulted in a better overall defense.
That’s largely because the rushing defense has completely fallen apart. Opposing rushers gained at least 160 yards on the ground for the third time in four games. The 2016 unit never allowed opposing runners more than 114 yards. Linebacker Sean Lee’s injury has no doubt played a role but the other linebackers have been brutal. It’s hard to recall a single play any of them have made the last two weeks. Jaylon Smith is an inspiring story but he simply doesn’t belong on an NFL field at this point; the Cowboys are asking far too much of him. Hopefully, having Lee and Hitchens back on the field together will cure whatever ails this unit because right now they’re not getting the job done.
With Dak Prescott throwing for more yards, completing more passes and having a higher completion percentage than Aaron Rodgers, this is a game the Cowboys should win. But alas, that didn’t happen. The combination of the Cowboys giving up a defensive score and 160 rushing yards combined to thwart a relatively modest day from Rodgers in passing yardage on only 29 attempts.
Still, Rodgers was typically deadly efficient, posting a huge 123 passer rating based on three touchdowns and zero interceptions. Prescott also had a good passer rating, topping 100. Prescott’s QBR number, however, is outstanding. This number accounts for yards with his legs and situational performance, which are areas Prescott really excelled.
This is reflected in the Cowboys 100% red zone conversion rate. Dallas has now scored 52 of a possible 56 points on their last eight red zone opportunities, which is fantastic. The Packers are historically the best team in the NFL in the red zone, so their 71% conversion rate is not up to their standards. That’s largely due to three missed extra points; the Cowboys really only stopped the Packers once in the red zone.
Dallas also won the time of possession battle, holding the ball over 35 minutes. When you run more plays, gain more yards, hold the ball for ten minutes more, put up 100+ passer rating, run for 160+ yards and commit only a single turnover... you should win the game.
Finally, we see Dallas also outperformed the Packers on third down conversions. More notable, three times when Green Bay stopped the Cowboys on third down Dallas converted on fourth down. Thus Dallas actually continued drives 10 out of 12 times when facing third down. Green Bay also converted one fourth down meaning between the two teams they continued drives 14 out of 19 times; in other words both defenses combined to get all of five stops on the day.
Overall not a bad performance from the Cowboys, especially on offense, just not good enough to win. They made enough plays to win the game but a big mistake turned into six points the other way and, well, last I checked, Aaron Rodgers is still great.