It didn’t take long for very high hopes to come crashing down for the Dallas Cowboys. They went into Mile High Stadium to get absolutely outclassed in just about every aspect of the game as they lost to the Denver Broncos by a score of 42-17. And to be quite honest, it was even worse than the score indicated. It was by far the worst beating since the disastrous 2015 season.
For the Cowboys, it was a complete reversal of their season opener. After controlling the game from start to finish against the New York Giants, they had the tables turned on them as the Denver Broncos completely dominated them. The final score for Denver on a pick six by Aqib Talib, run back from his own end zone, was the perfect punctuation to a totally horrific performance by the Cowboys.
Just as the first half belonged to the Cowboys in the first week, it was totally one sided in favor of the Broncos this time around. They outgained the Cowboys 246 yards to 97. Most notably, Dallas had absolutely no running game in the first two quarters, mustering only a pitiful 12 yards, with Ezekiel Elliott only getting five of them. He would go on to have the worst game of his career, rushing for only eight yards on nine carries.. Meanwhile, the Broncos were able to move at will, rushing the ball for 96 yards in the first half and totaling 178 on the day. The Cowboys defense was stunningly inept at times, with one play in particular encapsulating the struggles. Jaylon Smith, Sean Lee, Jeff Heath, and Nolan Carroll all had shots at the ballcarrier - and all of them whiffed. Carroll would leave the game twice in the first half, and not return after the second time (he reportedly cleared the concussion protocol after his first departure). Chidobe Awuzie hurt his hamstring and also was out, leaving Dallas extremely short-handed in the secondary with Orlando Scandrick already out. Carroll had a lot of problems before he was injured, repeatedly being beaten on routes and missing multiple tackles.
Defensively, there were only a couple of real standouts for the Cowboys, DeMarcus Lawrence was one, getting two sacks in the first half, including a strip sack that set up a touchdown when Maliek Collins scooped it and got it down to the three yard line. And Jourdan Lewis came up with a huge interception near the end of the third quarter, in his first NFL game. On offense, one bright spot was the fourth quarter touchdown reception by Jason Witten, in the game where he set a new record for games played for Dallas. He looked as crafty and capable as ever, totally faking the man covering him to get wide open.
But Trevor Siemian, Demaryius Thomas, C.J. Anderson, and company largely had their way with the Cowboys defense, moving the ball largely at will. Meanwhile, Dak Prescott could not get a consistent passing game going without a running threat. The only real offensive spark for Dallas before half would come inside the two minute warning, as Prescott drove the team into field goal range, helped by a Dez Bryant catch that may not have actually gotten both toes down inbounds. Halftime had Dallas down 21-10, and that may have been deceptive. The Broncos were even more dominant than the score showed.
The game also had a rain delay just before the end of the first quarter, lasting a bit over an hour as lightning was in the area.
Things would continue badly for the Dallas D as the second half began. They just could not get off the field as the Broncos kept converting third down after third down. Even a third and eleven, set up by a Ron Leary hold, was not too much with C.J. Anderson getting the fourth third down conversion of the drive.
And the fifth one would be a touchdown, pushing the lead to 28-10.
It was particularly galling for the Cowboys because the Broncos repeatedly used Dallas’ own favored weapons. Siemian was almost unstoppable when he used play action, and they ran the ball largely at will. And their defense was nearly impenetrable, getting an interception of Prescott off a ball that went right between Dez Bryant’s hands with just enough deflection to put it right into the arms of Chris Harris. There was no question who had the better of the QB contest, as Siemian would throw four touchdown passes.
The game was not a failure in one phase of things. It was a meltdown across the board. The offensive line was bullied, receivers were not able to get open, the running game was AWOL, the pass rush (outside Lawrence) was not able to pressure Siemian enough, coverage broke down, and the players Dallas normally relies on were all struggling from beginning to end. They could not even force a Denver punt until there was just 12:35 left in the game.
This is a game that revealed some serious problems for the Cowboys, as they could not match the Broncos on offense or defense. Whether it was an atypically bad game or the sign of more fundamental problems remains to be seen. But right now, there are some real questions about just how good this Dallas team is. Because they were very, very bad against Denver.