We hate to focus on the negative, but really, what else can you do with that 27-7 disaster. The Atlanta Falcons made the Dallas Cowboys look completely outclassed from the second quarter on. There is a saying that you learn more from failure than success. Once you get past the urge to find whoever said that and punch them in the mouth, you figure that if there is any validity to it, we learned enough about the Cowboys to earn a PhD in fandom from that mess. So here are four things that seem particularly relevant.
Missing talent matters - especially when they are some of the best in the business
The Cowboys got through the first half of the season with relatively few injury problems, something not many teams could say. And if you just look at quantity, the three injuries and one suspension they primarily dealt with this week should not have absolutely destroyed their chances to win the game.
But if you factor in quality, it paints an entirely different picture.
- Ezekiel Elliott was the rushing champion and an All Pro last year, and is now lost for (most likely) the next five games as well.
- Tyron Smith, All Pro and arguably the best left tackle and certainly one of the best in the league, missed the game. There is no word yet on his chances to play against the Eagles on Sunday night.
- Sean Lee, one of the most undervalued players and an All Pro as well, left at the end of the first quarter with a re-aggravated hamstring injury. Again, no word yet on how long he will be out.
- Dan Bailey is just the most accurate field goal kicker in the league. Ever. The missed field goal by Mike Nugent certainly seemed to take the wind out of the sails of any comeback Dallas could mount.
Those were some big names to have out, and the first three were all available in the convincing win over the Kansas City Chiefs. Lee’s loss just confirmed what we saw in the two games he missed previously. The Dallas defense is not nearly as good as it is with him on the field.
Elliott and Smith being out was a case of bad synergy. The Cowboys didn’t even try to run to the left side of the field, which had to simplify things for Atlanta’s defense. It is hard to tell if Alfred Morris or Rod Smith could have done much better with Smith in the game, but that is at least possible. Morris got on a hot streak for one drive and wound up averaging over five yards a carry. Darren McFadden had only one carry, and it was for a loss.
With the running game not working, the Cowboys had to lean on the passing game. And Smith’s absence was even more crucial there, leading to the next lesson learned.
Your quarterback cannot carry the team when he spends so much of the game lying on the ground
Last season, Chaz Green filled in ably for Tyron Smith in a couple of games. But against the Falcons, he had what was probably the worst performance by a tackle all Sunday, and perhaps for the entire season. Working primarily against Green, Adrian Clayborn racked up an incredible six sacks. That is more than he has had in any season since 2011, when he accumulated 7.5 as a rookie. It is a safe assumption that he didn’t undergo a magical transformation in his talent.
Adrian Clayborn has played 74 NFL games. He's had one multi-sack game in his career. He had 6 against Chaz Green/Byron Bell and Jason Garrett. Clayborn not even the Falcons' best rusher!— Ed Werder (@EdwerderRFA) November 13, 2017
Green’s performance was so bad that the Cowboys pulled him and inserted Byron Bell in his place. In about a quarter of work, Bell gave up a couple of sacks himself - including the strip sack by Clayborn that was one of several nails in the coffin for Dallas.
While Green and Bell have to take a lot of the blame on their shoulders for nearly getting their quarterback killed, there seems to be more than a bit to lay on the coaching staff, in two ways. First, they force fed Green as the left guard through training camp and the first few games of the season. While Jonathan Cooper has not exactly set the world on fire, he has shown he should have been the LG all along. And the coaches seemed to refuse to give Green/Bell any help. The Cowboys played most of the night with just one tight end on the field, Jason Witten, And he lined up almost exclusively to the right of the formation. Why the Cowboys didn’t shift him to the left, or go with two tight ends, is puzzling, to put it mildly.
The end result of the eight total sacks, and the ten QB hits, was that Dak Prescott hardly had a chance. He often didn’t get time to throw, and had some poorly placed balls that were just dropped by the defenders. Having him perform well was a key for the Cowboys, but under that kind of duress, almost no QB could have done much more.
Depth was basically a failure
Yes, the stars that were missing were a major problem, but before the game, there were many (including me) who felt that the backups could offer more than they did. Green’s case is the most glaring, but it was obvious there is no real answer for Lee being off the field, either.
Cowboys opponents have now scored on 17 of the last 21 possessions when Sean Lee has not been on the field...(games vs Rams/Packers/Falcons)— Bill Jones (@CBS11BillJones) November 12, 2017
The running backs actually are in something of a “too be determined” status. They may perform much better once Smith is back. Or not. For now, we just don’t have enough data. And if Smith is out for another game, we likely will see similar results against the Eagles.
The playoffs are now a lot less likely for Dallas
Forget about catching the Eagles for the NFC East crown, unless a very different Cowboys team shows up next game. The Cowboys need at least five more wins to have a realistic chance of a wild card slot, and it would take six (with only seven games remaining) to really have a chance to lock one up. At 5-4, the Cowboys have a 24% chance of just getting to the playoffs, according to a chart at PlayoffStatus.com. That isn’t good, and the dumpster fire they were in Atlanta doesn’t really inspire any confidence in them being able to beat the odds.
There are still those seven games to play, but our hopes as fans took a major hit. The Cowboys are still a very talented team when they can keep their starters healthy. The problem is that at this time of the season, that is just not happening for almost anyone. And we saw just how shallow things are behind a few key players.
It could be a rough end to the season.