We’ll start with Sturm’s weekly Decoding Linehan piece and the issue everyone is talking about - did Dallas leave Aaron Rodgers too much time? Yes, but sometimes the defense just has to step up. And if they don’t score a touchdown, it’s overtime or a Dallas win.
But, Dallas wanted to use powerful groupings to attempt to physically bully the Packers and keep moving the chains. Lots of fullback looks - 21, 22, and S21 are all with fullbacks - and lots of multiple-TE looks - 12, 13, and 22 personnel are all multiple TEs. That means there were 11 snaps with a fullback and 20 snaps with multiple tight ends. That is a huge number for bully football because they are all on early running downs. You challenge the Packers to match you physically and they did OK, but Dallas punted just once. Otherwise, it was keep rolling it down the field in methodical chunks. A 12-play drive to start the game. Then an 11-play drive, then a 10-play drive. All three in perfect succession.
Late in the game, the Cowboys needed one more. They took the ball with 9:56 to go and rolled out the mother of all drives - 17 plays, 84 yards, knocking 8:43 off the clock. It was textbook ground-and-pound late in the game and make the dam break.
Unfortunately, the length of the drive needed to either be much shorter or one minute longer to keep the ball away from Aaron Rodgers OR to preserve time to answer with yet another drive.
Here’s Dak on that situation.
"You're playing with fire," Prescott said Monday on the Cowboys Hour radio show when discussing if he should've tried to use more clock. "I understand those situations we can talk about now and it's easier to talk about now than it was at that moment. That was a long drive. That wasn't easy, working it down the field. We put in a lot of work to get down there.
"You don't want to leave Aaron Rodgers or whoever it is a lot of time on offense to do what they did, but at the same time it's a slippery slope. We've got to score and we got to put the pressure on them. For me, it's about trusting our defense to go out there and make a play."
Here’s Coach Garrett’s take.
Jason Garrett spent a good chunk of Monday’s 12-minute press conference explaining time management decisions on the Cowboys’ final scoring drive against the Packers. Yes, they left a minute and 13 seconds on the clock. Yes, Rodgers worked his magic again, throwing the winning touchdown pass to Davante Adams with 11 seconds left. It’s a scientific fact by now: Time moves slower for No. 12.
But it must be noted that the possession in question – 17 plays, burning 8:43 off the clock – was the longest Cowboys drive since Week 1 of the 2015 season.
To my way of thinking, the bigger issue were the defensive penalties. The quote discusses the penalty on Benson Mayowa that helped Green Bay to avoid a punt on what ended with a touchdown. The face mask on Anthony Hitchens earlier in the game was the same. Two potential punts turned into Green Bay TDs. Would have made the end of the game moot.
On Sunday, defensive end Benson Mayowa was called for unnecessary roughness of quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Referee Terry McAulay ruled Lawrence had Rodgers in the grasp and blew the play dead, but Mayowa did not hear the whistle -- and neither apparently did Rodgers, who attempted a pass to the flat -- and he was called for hitting the quarterback.
Garrett was upset because he was told there would be offsetting penalties for intentional grounding on Rodgers and Mayowa's unnecessary roughness. Because McAulay blew Rodgers down, there was no grounding.
Instead of facing third-and-20 from their 8 or a replay of second down, the Packers had first-and-10 from their 17 and eventually scored a touchdown on the drive. In a game decided by the tiniest of margins, calls like McAulay's can haunt a team.
In other words, it’s the defense that’s the problem, not the offense (although the offense still isn’t hitting on all cylinders, as articles below will show).
What is going on? Is it coaching? There certainly seems to be a problem, particularly after halftime. The Cowboys had good leads after the first half against both the Los Angeles Rams and the Packers, only to see those teams come roaring back against little opposition to take the wins. A lack of talent? For a while, the team was clearly investing more heavily on the offensive side of the ball, but the last two years they have begun putting more draft capital and free agent money into trying to shore up the defense.
Cowboys DC Rod Marinelli on DE Taco Charlton: "The production has got to get better. He's getting good looks, enough looks, now is the time as the season goes, the production has to come up at that position. He's working hard at it in practice. Now it's just a matter of time."— Brandon George (@DMN_George) October 5, 2017
Another view on the defense.
So the answer to what is wrong with the Dallas Cowboys defense is fairly simple.
The Cowboys are using an outdated defense with very little adjustment and don’t have experienced players in the system to hide the deficiencies. Basically, the issue is Rod Marinelli and the rest of the staff and ownership refusing to change to the times. In other words, stubbornness and denial.
We cited a tweet on Taco Charlton’s troubles. But Jaylon Smith also isn’t getting it done. That’s a Cowboys first and second round pick over the last two years. Forget about Jalen Ramsey v. Zeke Elliott. At least Zeke is upholding his end. We have to hope it’s just growing pains.
An amazing story of perseverance and medical achievement, Jaylon Smith isn’t just not helping the Cowboys at MIKE linebacker right now – he is hurting this defense with the amount of snaps he’s seeing despite ineffectiveness against the run and pass.
This writer starts by being critical, but suggests there’s reason for hope.
It doesn’t take much to throw things off. The offensive line isn’t as good, so Elliott isn’t as productive. Dez Bryant hasn’t played like he usually does, with his numbers way down across the board. With the offense not being quite as good, the defense isn’t in a comfort zone. There’s a tougher schedule and far more expectations.
The Cowboys still have a lot of time to improve, and they’re not far off even though they’ve lost two home games in a row. Prescott is a better player after a great rookie season, even though everyone should have known he wouldn’t duplicate his 2016 numbers (like the team’s record, there was no way for Prescott to avoid regression this season). Dallas lost Sunday to the Packers on a great last-minute drive by Aaron Rodgers, and that’s excusable. There’s no reason to panic. Dallas still has enough blue-chip talent that it could rally and win the NFC East, and maybe even make a deep playoff run. It’s just not the same team as it was last season, that’s all.
With Sean Lee, would the Cowboys have won these last two games?
It would be disingenuous to suggest that Sean Lee is a cure-all for an ailing Dallas defense. After all, Lee was perfectly healthy when the Broncos gashed the Cowboys for 178 rushing yards back in Week 2.
But Lee is one of eight All-Pros on this roster, and he is the only one on the defensive side of the ball. He’s unquestionably one of the best linebackers in the NFL and therefore the best player on this defense.
He might not be able to fix everything, but Lee can go a long way toward helping. He’s currently second on the team in tackles despite missing the last two games, as he is averaging eight per outing. You have to believe he’d have been able to help limit the Green Bay rushing attack, which cranked out 160 yards on Sunday.
To this point in the season, that has to be considered one of the biggest differences from last year. In 2016, the Cowboys allowed an average of 83.5 rushing yards per game – best in the NFL. As it sits right now, they’re tied for 20th, allowing an average of 118.
We’ll close with another hopeful sign. If you have a quarterback, you have a chance in the NFL. Broaddus leads his article with praise for Dak Prescott, calling him the Cowboys’ “Best Performer.”
The record might tell you differently, but quite frankly, he has deserved a better fate these past two weeks. Since that Week 2 contest in Denver, he has been outstanding, especially when there have been other issues. The offensive line is off to a slow start. The receivers have had trouble consistently winning, and the lack of a running game has been alarming for a unit that prides itself on their ability to move the ball on the ground no matter the situation.
Prescott has had to do more in these first five games than he did the majority of his rookie season. Avoiding pressure and sacks have been all too common through the first month of the season. It would be difficult to imagine where this offense would be if not for his ability to win with his feet.