clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Which poor performance contributed most to the Cowboys’ struggles this season?

Which player(s) performances most led to the struggles the Cowboys experienced.

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

After a rather forgettable season, the majority of the fan base and players can’t wait to put this season behind them. It’s truly been a struggle for the Cowboys this season for numerous reasons. However, the biggest reason has been the fact that a large portion of the best players on this team did not perform to expectations.

After going 13-3, most of us thought this team was ready to take a giant step forward but they’ve only brought up more questions. Is this team as talented as we thought they were? Though there will be plenty of talent-related questions to answer in this long offseason ahead, we need to determine what poor performances really did this team in.

We elicited the opinions of our front page writers as to which player or players hurt this team the most and possibly led to their failure to make the postseason.

DannyPhantom: Last year’s rookie stars struggle but Anthony Brown gets the crown.

“There wasn't a more costly performance to this team than the struggles of Dak Prescott. Once he got his clocked cleaned in Atlanta, he became a different type of quarterback. He rushed his throws, made poor decisions, and his ability to throw on the run looked nothing like it did last year. He had six games without a touchdown pass and had four pick-sixes. That's typically a recipe for picking in the top five come draft time.

I'm really surprised by how little of an impact Maliek Collins made this season. I don't know how much of it was injury related, but after he had 2.5 in just the first three games of the season, he's been essentially invisible.

But my vote for most disappointing performance goes to Anthony Brown. I do not understand the sequence of events that has caused him to go from being so good to being such a liability this year. He's been so grabby this season and has played like a late-round draft pick instead of the gem we thought he was. This really hurt the team early on when the rookies were still nursing hamstring injuries. On the plus side, he's shown some good improvement in recent weeks. Just like he did last season - he's finishing strong. I just hope he can sustain this level of play and build off of this going forward.”

One.Cool.Customer: The receiving corps dropped the ball both literally and figuratively.

“I'm going back to a post I penned in early November, when the Cowboys stood at 4-3, titled What's wrong with the Dallas Cowboys' wide receivers?

I'm not singling out one player, but am instead nominating the wide receivers as the single most disappointing unit on the team.

There is one stat on offense that is down quite a bit versus the previous two playoff seasons in 2014 and 2016, Passing Yards per Attempt (Y/A). In 2014, the Romo-enabled passing game had a league-leading 8.4 Y/A, two years later, rookie Dak Prescott led the Cowboys to the fourth-best value in the league with 7.9 Y/A. But this year, the Cowboys are only averaging 6.8 Y/A, which ranks them T-20th in the league. And that decline is entirely due to the wide receivers.

Yards per target for tight ends (mostly Jason Witten) remained basically unchanged from 2016 to 2017, moving from 7.0 to 6.9 yards. The value for running backs (mostly Ezekiel Elliott) is down slightly (7.2 to 6.8). But the big issue in 2017 is the drop in production from the wide receivers, whose yards per target dropped by almost two full yards from 8.6 in 2016 to 6.8 in 2017.

Dak Prescott's completion percentage is down a little from 67.8% in 2016 to 63.3% in 2017, but that's not significant enough to explain the drop in wide receiver production. What is a lot more significant is the drop in “big plays” from the 2017 offense. Through 15 games last year, the Cowboys wide receivers had 73 big plays (16+ yards gained), this year they are down to 49. That drop in big plays is a big chunk of the difference between 6.8 and 8.6 yards per target.

But the absence of big plays can't simply be fixed by saying, “let's have more big plays!” The Cowboys' receivers have to run deeper routes, and even more importantly, they have to get open on those deeper routes. If they don't, Dak Prescott will default to short, safe completions at the cost of the deep ball.

And this wasn't just a Dez Bryant problem, though his yards/target dropped from 8.3 to 6.6. Cole Beasley (8.5 to 5.0) and Terrance Williams (9.7 to 7.6) were equally ineffective.”

VAfan: There were a lot of disappointments (10 of them in fact) but none more damaging than the quarterback:

“Dak Prescott had a season for the ages in 2016. In 2017, he’s looked overmatched far too often. Some of that can be attributed to a more porous offensive line, especially when Tyron Smith has been out with injury. But Dak has also made a lot more mistakes this year, with 13 interceptions (with a game to go) versus four in 2016. Look at the stats (with 2016 first):

Yards per game - 229 v. 209

ANY/A - 7.86 v. 5.71

Quarterback rating - 104.9 v. 86.7

QBR - 81.5 v. 66.7

Completion percentage - 67.8% v. 63.3%

Sack percentage - 5.2% v. 6.3%

In addition to the loss of protection, Dak had to play without Ezekiel Elliott for six games. Cole Beasley went from a consistent security blanket who converted first downs into an invisible man, and the Cowboys never figured out a solution. Jason Witten continued his slow decline. And the Dak to Dez connection didn’t work most games.”

Tom Ryle: The vaunted offensive line struggled to hold things together sans Tyron Smith.

“It was not exactly something unexpected, but for me the biggest disappointment was the offensive line, because it affected that side of the ball so much.

Yes, we knew they had to replace two starters, and La'el Collins was looking pretty good late in the season. But the entire Chaz Green debacle may be the most underestimated detriment for the team this season. He was just not up to the challenge at left guard, and most observers were mystified why the team stuck with him instead of Jonathan Cooper to begin with. Putting Cooper in the lineup when Green was injured got things headed in the right direction, but of course it put the development of the line behind. It takes a while to get the timing and coordination down, and all Green's brief stint did was slow that growth.

Then, of course, Tyron Smith's injury happened, and once again, the staff for some reason concluded that Green was their best option there. RJ Ochoa did an entire article on the incredible futility of this move and how it reflected the whole, generally mistake-ridden season. But even given how over his head Green was in any position on the line, the inability of the rest of the linemen to somewhat compensate was a bit disappointing. Admittedly, they had a daunting task facing them, especially after Smith went out, but despite the many concerns, it still was surprising just how much of a struggle the once dominant unit had.

That of course had a domino effect as Dak Prescott got beaten up, started throwing bad balls and interceptions, and the running game struggled, especially in the first three games of Ezekiel Elliott's suspension. I freely admit I expected too much, but it was still a real disappointment.”

Michael Strawn: Dak Prescott slumped but so did most of the sophomores on the roster.

“Just to throw a wrinkle out there...the second year players ALL performed below expectations besides Kavon Frazier, who played well and found a role. Ezekiel Elliott missed six games due to suspension. Jaylon Smith playing 16 games was a miracle but having a high second-rounder performing like the fifth-best linebacker was not the goal when he was drafted.

Maliek Collins played like a total JAG. Charles Tapper barely played at all. Dak Prescott looked like an error-prone, mid-level draft pick. Anthony Brown regressed tremendously. Rico Gathers never saw the field.

It’s rare for a team to get as many contributions from a draft as the Cowboys did in 2016; it’s equally rare for every one of them (except Smith) to perform this poorly in their second season.”

Michael Sisemore: A stubborn coaching staff’s inability to find their identity and adjust to adversity put the team in bad situations.

“Though I’ve written about finding a new offensive coordinator, I’m not going to blow my top if both coordinators are retained. I also don’t believe that the head coach deserves to be canned necessarily but changes need to be implemented. Coaches will always believe in their schemes and we heard this echoes a month and change ago from both Scott Linehan and Rod Marinelli.

It’s not a problem to be committed to your philosophies but offensively speaking, Linehan contributed heavily to an offensive identity crisis. Rod Marinelli waited through three losses where his veteran players in the secondary made multiple mistakes before they decided to let the young guys play. Those guys have played well enough to take jobs this offseason.

Whether it was trying to get the Dak-to-Dez Bryant connection going or failing to split duties so Jaylon Smith wasn’t over exposed, stubbornness has become a very unattractive trait of this coaching staff. Losing their best player is certain to cause a ripple effect but it’s incredible how many players performed well below their talent level. Are we to believe that suddenly these players are in a rapid declination? There are some elements of truth to a predictable playbook that lacks creativity hurt them.

What hurt worse was abandoning your offensive philosophy in the redzone against the Packers, allowing too much time for a two-time MVP quarterback to beat you. Why not take pressure off a line who could run block adequately but were struggling to protect the edges? That would mean committing to Alfred Morris for more than a half so absolutely not. Dak took 14 sacks in three games after being sacked 10 times in eight games prior. That’s only usurped by giving a Seahawks’ team more yards in penalties than they had on offense and once again abandoning the best player on the team.

Sloppy coaching is just as much to blame for this year’s regression as anything else. They have a formula to win football games but too often this season they got cute and made it way harder on themselves. They wanted to outsmart the opponent but only outsmarted themselves.”

Which performances do you believe attributed most to a disappointing season for the Dallas Cowboys?