It still hurts. After the worst beatdown since the start of the Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott era, the Dallas Cowboys and their fans are licking the many wounds and wondering how to move on. But one of this year’s rookies has the right idea.
A loss ain't a loss, it's lesson.— Xavier Woods (@its_hollyWOODS) September 18, 2017
That sounds like something Jason Garrett may have put in the team’s head, albeit rephrased. Regardless of how it came up (and it reflects what others, including Jason Witten, are saying), it is the key for the team moving forward.
But still, the first two weeks for the Cowboys create a real puzzle. That did not look at all like the team that was so dominant against the New York Giants at home just a week before. Against the Denver Broncos, they were so thoroughly outclassed that it put almost everything we thought we had learned after week one in question. And at the same time, the Jekyll and Hyde nature of the two games makes it very difficult to figure much of anything out.
However, we will try anyway. Here are some things that (maybe) we learned after that monstrous display of ineptitude.
The Cowboys got severely outcoached.
Maybe it was hubris, but clearly the staff was not prepared to answer the repeated punches right to the mouth that the Broncos delivered on both offense and defense. It is hard to even figure out where to begin with this. One aspect does stand out. The team gave up almost completely on establishing the running game. That was perhaps dictated by the way the Broncos were running the score up, but it seemed to happen when the score was still 7-7, if not before. When you have built your whole identity on something, you are basically throwing in the towel when you try to do something entirely different after only a few tries. This is so hard to understand.
The coaching failures extended to the entire game, on both sides of the ball. But they were certainly aggravated by other factors, especially the next one.
Even the best players for the Cowboys had a bad day.
The most obvious example was watching Sean Lee, one of the truly consummate professionals in the league, miss tackles and just get pushed around. Obviously, the offensive line was having similar issues. Witten had a clear drop, and Dez Bryant let a pass go right through his hands and into the arms of a defender.
The altitude in Denver is cited by some as contributing to this, but it just doesn’t seem enough to account for how almost everyone in a Dallas uniform seemed to forget the very basics of playing their position. It is more than strange, and all we can do is hope that the players get their heads straight against the Arizona Cardinals on Monday night.
Scandrick is more important than we realized.
The defensive backs were repeatedly beaten, and badly. Nolan Carroll just looked bad, and when he and Chidobe Awuzie both were lost to injury, the patchwork secondary was just not up to the task. One thing Orlando Scandrick brings to the game, and it is far from the only thing, is that he is a solid and reliable tackler. The team needs him back, and fast.
The evidence continues to build that DLaw is for real.
The one true bright spot in the game was that DeMarcus Lawrence had another two-sack performance, including a strip-sack, and is now tied for the NFL sack lead.
Just take a minute to consider that statement. After so many years of trying to find a good pass rusher, it may finally have happened. Lawrence struggled with injuries and suspensions his first three years, but now he is making the most out of his contract year. It’s not just his pass rushing either, as he played well in the run game (one of the few Cowboys defenders who did). And with Damontre’ Moore back from his two game suspension and David Irving coming back in two more weeks, things may finally be falling into place for the Cowboys. Unlike a couple of years ago where we were looking for returning players to add a spark, Moore and Irving will be adding to something that is already showing some real signs of hope. If the secondary can get healthy and the rookies can learn quickly, the defense should do much better down the road.
The big one: We really don’t know what we don’t know.
This is the real takeaway from the first two weeks of the 2017 Dallas Cowboys season. We are not sure just what is going on with this team, and we won’t until we get some more data to work on. Is Prescott having a slump after all? That is very hard to say since the coaching staff dumped the entire load of the offense on him almost right away, facing what is likely the best secondary in the NFL. And it was revealed by Jason Garrett on Monday that Prescott was playing through an ankle injury from early in the game (that is not thought to be a long-term issue, fortunately). Was the game an aberration for the offensive line or signs that the new players are going to struggle? Again, against that outstanding Broncos defense and with the coaching staff making what appears to be a key strategic blunder early, it is hard to know. Is the defense in worse shape than we thought? Possibly, especially with the health issues in the secondary, but this also may have been more a case of everyone having a bad game at the same time. Lee is certainly not a player we would think will continue to struggle, and Jaylon Smith is still very much working his way back.
Right now, we have to have something of an open mind about this team. In short, their performance in the next few games will tell us which is the real Cowboys, the version that won the opener, or the bumbling crew that got embarrassed in Denver. It is not where we thought we would be at this time, but it is what it is. Now we hope for the best.