Well, that was about as exciting as watching lettuce wilt. At one point, there was a real possibility that the Dallas Cowboys would wind up playing overtime against the Philadelphia Eagles with a 0-0 score - and that is one case where extra football would not have been welcome. One good, long drive yielded a touchdown pass to Brice Butler, however, we saw the Cowboys slump across the 2017 finish line with a 9-7 record that is a real disappointment after the high hopes to start the season.
It was not a great situation to learn much if anything about Dallas. Much of the game was just more of what doomed the season - the defense played well, in this case the entire game, while the offense was locked in on shooting themselves in the foot. Things were certainly blurred by the number of Philadelphia starters that saw little or no action. Absent Carson Wentz, they hardly look to have a great chance of going anywhere in the playoffs. Admittedly, they did not look to be trying all that hard. The deepest penetration they had all game was to the Dallas 34-yard line, and a sack of Nate Sudfeld snuffed that drive out. Still, you never felt that there was much chance of them scoring the entire game barring a big mistake by the Cowboys.
And Dak Prescott certainly came close, as he put one pass right in the arms of linebacker Nathan Garry near Dallas’ own 30-yard line in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys’ six point lead would certainly have been endangered by an interception then. But the ball fell harmlessly to the ground.
If there was one thing that was very clear from the game, it is that Prescott still has a lot to fix. While he was just good enough to get the win, he had multiple passes that sailed over the receivers, and it looked like at least a couple that hit them in the hands were thrown far too hard for a game played in sub-twenty degree weather. There does appear to be a real lack of confidence on his part when he is dropping to pass. That is understandable, given that Tyron Smith was out, Byron Bell was not able to handle any speed coming off the edge at all, and Jonathan Cooper went out with an apparent knee injury with just over a minute to go in the first half. But the team has needed him to be more in those situations, and he just has not risen to the occasion. The coaching staff faces a big task getting him to play better next season.
We don’t know at the time this is being written just what changes may be coming on that staff. The one real issue for the Cowboys was keeping so many of their top players, especially Prescott, in the game and risking injury, such as happened to Cooper and Chidobe Awuzie. Was Jason Garrett that concerned about not having another 8-8 record on his ledger? If so, that is something that should be addressed - except it won’t because Jerry Jones made remarks that he was just as interested in getting to 9-7 as anyone else in the organization. Offensively, the problems seemed to be more about execution than anything done by the staff. Still, there are a lot of questions about how the entire season was handled by Scott Linehan and his assistants. We will just have to wait.
Defensively, things are a bit more difficult to assess. The pass rush was again strong, with three sacks and Demarcus Lawrence again very disruptive, even though he did not get a sack to his credit. Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith both had some very good plays, and in the secondary, Anthony Brown had one of his best games of the season, the rookie DBs looked good, and Bene Benwikere made a strong case to make the roster again.
But what we really learned is nothing new. This Cowboys team was just not nearly as good as we thought they were coming into the season. Add in the suspensions, the court fights, the owner feuding with the commissioner, and the inevitable injuries, and things just fell apart. Now, 9-7 may not seem like a total disaster (especially if you are a fan of the Cleveland Browns or the New York Giants), but coming off the stunning success of 2016, it is much the same, because it does not get the team to the playoffs.
This is yet another crucial offseason for Dallas. But then, that is how all offseasons should be treated. A few mistakes in the draft or free agency or handling your own players can result in a sudden fall, and we saw so many of those this year when only four teams in the playoffs were there last season. That is why decisions must be made carefully and not in the heat of the moment.
In that aspect, the win over the Eagles may be a good thing, just because losing that game would have raised the emotional temperature for the Cowboys, and by that, I mean mostly Jerry Jones. Now, having gotten something he thought was important, he and his top advisers/lieutenants can take a calm and rational approach to things.
The team has problems, but there is no real reason to think they cannot be overcome - if the right moves are made. That process starts on Black Monday, when coaches are going to find out if they still have a job. The releases from the roster will come soon after, and some may come at once.
Not until we have a better idea of what the team is carrying into next season will we really get an idea of how things might go. And that will be more guesswork and speculation than anything, at least until the draft, camp, and preseason play out and the real games start.