The Dallas defense was missing Sean Lee again, and it helped Green Bay rip off 160 yards on the ground in a 35-31 win over the Cowboys.
The Cowboys held Aaron Rodgers to 221 yards passing but sacked him four times to subtract 39 yards, for a net of 182 yards. He still compiled a 122.9 passer rating with three touchdown passes and no picks.
But what killed Dallas was the complete lack of a run defense. Rookie Aaron Jones rushed 19 times for 125 yards, a 6.6 ypc clip, and became the third 100-yard rusher against the Dallas defense this year, following CJ Anderson and Todd Gurley. Last year, the Cowboys didn’t surrender a single 100-yard rushing game.
This could largely be attributed to the loss of Sean Lee for another game to a sore hamstring, an ailment that has been contagious among Dallas defenders this season. Bob Sturm put out the film clips in his Decoding Marinelli column this week that showed the Dallas linebackers, and especially Jaylon Smith, overmatched.
Ironic, of course, when you consider all of the consternation regarding the Cowboys defense over the offseason was focused on the ability to get sacks and the ability to cover wide receivers down the field. Both of those categories have worked out pretty well, to be honest. The sack totals are higher than they have been in years and the biggest wide receiver day against the Cowboys so far has been Larry Fitzgerald in Arizona. Otherwise, nobody has had a 75-yard day at receiver against Dallas. But, it is abundantly clear in the losses to Denver, Los Angeles and now Green Bay that the common theme is these offenses are attacking the linebackers repeatedly and without mercy.
Once again, Dallas built a big first half lead, and dominated time of possession, but just couldn’t get a stop when they needed it. Indeed, it was two critical defensive penalties that helped kill Dallas. The first came in the first half with on a tackle off a short pass on second and 17. Anthony Hitchens grabbed a facemask, and instead of third and 14, Green Bay got a first down on the way to a touchdown drive. The second game after DeMarcus Lawrence sacked Aaron Rodgers on the Green Bay two-yard line. Rodgers threw while in the grasp, in what would have been intentional grounding, but for the play having been blown dead. Benson Mayowa, seeing Rodgers continuing the play, came in to hit Rodgers, and was called for roughing the passer, a rather ridiculous call in the circumstance. It gave Green Bay a first down at the 17-yard line, instead of facing third and forever from their two. They scored a touchdown on that drive as well.
Had either of these penalties not occurred, the end of the game touchdown drive by Green Bay would not have been enough to win.
The most significant development in this game was that David Irving returned. He recorded two sacks and made or assisted in five tackles.
The second issue with the line is that Stephen Paea was inactive due to bad knees, so Irving played inside much of the time. After the game, Paea retired, as he felt he couldn’t give the quality effort off his gimpy legs.
Third, Taco Charlton was limited to eight snaps.
Lawrence and Irving are the big dogs on the line. Everyone else is behind them.
Here is the production:
- David Irving, three tackles, two assists, two sacks for 15 yards, two tackles for loss, and three quarterback hits.
- DeMarcus Lawrence, one tackle, two assists, one sack for 16 yards (negated by the Mayowa roughing penalty) one tackle for loss, and one quarterback hit
- Maliek Collins, two assists
- Tyrone Crawford, one tackle, one sack for eight yards, one tackle for loss, and one quarterback hit
- Damontre Moore, one tackle
- Benson Mayowa, Brian Price, and Taco Charlton, no stats.
As noted above, you have to see the GIFs posted by Bob Sturm to understand how bad the Cowboys’ linebacker play has been without Sean Lee. What I wonder is - why aren’t Damien Wilson and Justin Durant capable of filling in if Jaylon Smith is overmatched physically and not there yet mentally? Wilson was supposed to be nipping at the heels of Anthony Hitchens. If he was that capable, he should have won the middle linebacking job until Hitchens returned. Instead, he got only 11 snaps to Smith’s 33.
Still, this was the first time since the opener that the Cowboys scaled back Smith’s snaps. He still leads linebacking snaps by a fair margin, but one would expect that he’ll get used much less going forward, unless he fully heals and shows real improvement.
- Jaylon Smith, three tackles, four assists
- Anthony Hitchens, three tackles, three assists, and a pass defensed
- Damien Wilson, one tackle
- Kyle Wilber, one assist
- Justin Durant, no stats.
The Cowboys, and many of us, thought this was the strength of the defense going into the season. It’s turned into it’s biggest weakness. The Cowboys signed linebacker Justin March-Lillard to fill the opening created when they cut Nolan Carroll.
The Cowboys may be transitioning their secondary, but it hasn’t happened yet. Anthony Brown got the most snaps at corner, followed by Orlando Scandrick one behind, with Jourdan Lewis 10 snaps below Scandrick. Those seem to be the top three corners at this point.
Chidobe Awuzie was active again, and Dallas tried him at safety. This cut into Jeff Heath’s snaps a bit, and led to Kavon Frazier being inactive. But Awuzie could only go nine snaps before tweaking his hamstring again. Xavier Woods got five more snaps than last week, but he doesn’t appear in position to take over a safety slot from Jeff Heath.
The Cowboys cut Nolan Carroll, who hasn’t been active since his concussion. They replaced him with a linebacker. Stephen Paea also retired, but his slot is still open. Will the Cowboys call up Marquez White? Will they keep Ben Benwikere, who hasn’t played a down, just special teams?
- Jourdan Lewis, five tackles, two assists, three passes defended
- Anthony Brown, three tackles, two assists
- Orlando Scandrick, four tackles, one pass defensed
- Byron Jones, three tackles, one assist, one quarterback hit
- Jeff Heath, two tackles, two assists
- Chidobe Awuzie, one tackle, one assist
- Xavier Woods, one tackle
Defense at the bye?
This could be a time for the Cowboys to make changes.
In the secondary, Jourdan Lewis’s snaps could certainly max out. Chidobe Awuzie and Xavier Woods could eat into Jeff Heath’s snaps if the former can stay healthy. The problem is that other than Lewis, do the Cowboys have any playmakers in the back? The interceptions and turnovers are still non-existent. Orlando Scandrick and Anthony Brown aren’t shutting anyone down. And Byron Jones seems to play well one week, and not so well the next week.
At linebacker, Sean Lee is desperately needed back to pair with Anthony Hitchens, with everyone else role playing.
On the defensive line, in Lawrence and Irving, the Cowboys seem to finally have two studs. Maliek Collins should give them a third. The question is, can anyone else join them in making an impact?
There was very little for special teams to do this week. The Cowboys punted once, and Green Bay punted twice. Green Bay kept missing extra points, but it’s not clear that the Cowboys were the cause. Each team had a field goal.
Kyle Wilber and Damien Wilson don’t do much on defense, but they lead the way on special teams, along with Jeff Heath.