The Dallas Cowboys had a golden opportunity to take sole possession of first place in the NFC East Sunday afternoon. But this team has yet to figure out how to play well on the road, with yet another sloppy, mistake-filled performance that left fans frustrated and the team under .500 seven games into the 2018 season. Let’s go to the grades.
Looking at the final stats you’d think Dallas played better than they did. They out-gained the Redskins 323 to 305. Quarterback Dak Prescott recorded a 96.8 quarterback rating while throwing for 273 yards on 35 attempts. The defense surrendered only 13 points and just over 300 yards.
But the reality is Dallas was dominated in the trenches from opening whistle to final gun. The team managed only 73 rushing yards and only 33 from Ezekiel Elliott. There were numerous penalties (each seemingly more costly than the previous) and two turnovers.
The defense meanwhile made virtually no high impact plays. There was only one sack (for a measly three yards), only thee additional QB pressures, only one pass defensed and three tackles for loss.
The special teams also had a poor day, contributing to the general sloppiness. It’s the kind of overall road performance we’ve become accustomed to this year and it’s getting old.
Coach Jason Garrett has failed to field a quality team on the road and one has to ask why there’s such a huge difference between how this team performs on the road and at home. Yet again the team was sloppy from the outset. The first drive was doomed by one of four major offensive line penalties. Then Chris Jones shanked a punt for only 33 yards. Then the defense gave up an easy 52-yard touchdown drive. In short, all three phases of the game played badly early, putting the team behind from the get-go.
This seems to happen every week when the team leaves AT&T Stadium. Dallas has trailed by a combined 50-9 in their four road games and have failed to overcome the deficit every time. Garrett seems to have no answers for why his team continually makes mistakes and falls behind in these road games.
And of course we had yet another instance where Garrett’s conservative nature cost the Cowboys. Garret effectively “gave up” when team had a first down from the Redskins’ 31-yard line with 12 seconds and a time-out remaining. Garrett could have chose to run a play to get ten yards or so closer for a field goal attempt. Or, as he probably should have, he could have taken a shot at the end zone to win the game. Instead, he predictably chose the least aggressive approach and had Elliott run up the middle for yet another 2-yard run. This set up a 47-yard field goal when it could have been shorter. Tony Romo’s thoughts:
Garrett has botched end-of-game situation like this repeatedly throughout his career and seems to never learn anything from such failures.
On the one hand, Dak Prescott threw for 277 yards and compiled a 96 passer rating. He also added 33 yards rushing and scored a rushing touchdown for the second consecutive week.
He played tough despite being under constant heavy pressure and taking a vicious hit to the head the put him into the concussion protocol. He was also betrayed (yet again) by his receivers, who dropped three balls.
On the other hand, he again missed plays that were available, either not seeing open receivers or refusing to take shots in those situations. But it was his two turnovers that really changed the game. First he bizarrely fumbled on a successful fourth-down quarterback sneak, ending one drive.
Then he committed a cardinal sin late in the fourth quarter. Facing a 3rd-and-14 from his own ten while down three with just over six minutes remaining Prescott made three bad mistakes on the same play.
First, he held the ball too long; he had plenty of opportunity to throw the ball away and avoid a bad play. Second, he seemed to lose track of where he was and turned backwards into the end zone when pressured, creating a safety opportunity. Third, he then fumbled the ball, giving the Redskins an easy, gimme touchdown.
It was a truly horrible play in every way and a play that a third-year NFL quarterback absolutely cannot make. The play pretty much undermined all the good Prescott did during the rest of the game.
OFFENSIVE LINE: F
The numbers tell the story:
- Four sacks
- Three holding penalties and a chop block penalty
- 2.2 yards per run for Ezekiel Elliott
Elliott’s rushing chart reveals the ineptitude:
Tyron Smith looks nothing like the best left tackle in the NFL; he was repeatedly beaten off the edge by speed rushes. Connor Williams continues to struggle with power rushers and bull rushes. La’el Collins plays inconsistently. This unit, which is the highest paid (by a wide margin) in the NFL, and has eaten up massive draft capital and salary cap, is a failure at this point. The team is built around the offensive line and the Cowboys need elite play from it. Instead, especially on the road, the unit is mediocre to downright bad.
It’s actually remarkable that Dallas managed nearly 330 yards and scored 17 points considering how bad the offensive line played. Needless to say, if it doesn’t improve significantly and quickly this season will soon be over.
RUNNING BACK: B
Ezekiel Elliott had no chance Sunday. He was constantly swarmed and had no running lanes. He was also given few chances in the passing game (though he did have a potential touchdown pass bounce off his helmet). It’s hard to really judge Elliott because he simply didn’t have any opportunity against the Redskins.
TIGHT ENDS: C-
The offensive lineman weren’t the only ones who struggled to block in the running game. The tight ends constantly seemed to be pushed five yards into the backfield on running plays. They also contributed very little in the passing game. Geoff Swaim had his customary one good play (though it looked like he might have injured his knee on the play). Blake Jarwin finally made a play, making a catch to convert a 4th-and-13. Rico Gathers got one target but got tangled up with a defender as the ball approached. Otherwise, the four tight ends were invisible when they weren’t being pushed around.
WIDE RECEIVERS: B-
There was some good. Cole Beasley had seven catches on eight targets, including a big-time catch on the team’s fourth quarter touchdown drive.
He also contributed what appeared to be a huge third-down conversion that was negated by a Connor Williams holding (followed immediately by Prescott’s disastrous end zone fumble).
Michael Gallup had three catches for 81 yards, including a mammoth 49-yard touchdown to get the Cowboys on the board late in the first half (Gallup used a beautiful stop-and-go to give Prescott a wide open target).
But Hurns also had a drop and Deonte Thompson added yet another drop (I feel like he has more drops than catches on the year). The wide receivers seem to suffer from whatever else ails the team on the road as they have had multiple drops in every road game.
DEFENSIVE LINE: C-
The Redskins were missing multiple weapons on offense yet continually pushed the Dallas front four around. Alex Smith was sacked only once and was officially hurried only three other times. He had time to make plays all day. The Redskins also ran at will on the Cowboys defensive lineman. Demarcus Lawrence did have three tackles for loss, including two in a clutch red-zone stop.
But Tyrone Crawford, David Irving, Randy Gregory and Taco Charlton combined for seven tackles, no sacks, one tackle for loss and one QB hurry. I honestly don’t remember anyone making any plays other than Lawrence (and the one Irving sack).
Sean Lee returned and made several Seen Lee plays. Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, however, didn’t seem to make as many plays as they have recently. The trio combined to record 16 tackles but many were downfield, they recorded only a single tackle for loss and made no noteworthy plays beyond the few from Sean Lee.
The game started with the defense’s biggest weakness, a long touchdown pass. However, this time it came on a short screen where Kavon Frazier had an opportunity to blow the play but couldn’t make the tackle.
Otherwise the secondary held up pretty well. Despite an effective running game and virtually no pressure on Alex Smith, the Redskins passed for only 178 yards. Byron Jones and Chidobi Awuzie give the team the stickiest corners the team has had in many years. They gave up a few contested plays but otherwise were strong.
SPECIAL TEAMS: D
When an NFL game is as close as this one was, special teams often is the difference between winning and losing. Thus, the team couldn’t afford the poor play they received Sunday. First punter Chris Jones just had a bad day. He shanked his first kick of the game (33 yards). He later kicked only 36 yards to the Redskins’ 34. And his longest kick (52 yards) went into the end zone for a 32-yard net. Jones’ poor punting contributed to the Redskins’ enjoying a huge edge in average starting position (34 to 21).
And of course we had the fiasco on the last play of the game. First, L.P. Ladouceur was called for a snap infraction. The penalty pushed Brett Maher’s game-tying attempt back five yards to a 52-yard kick, Maher, of course, bounced the kick off the upright for his first miss in 16 attempts.
Side note: I have never heard of this penalty and based on Twitter reactions no one else has either. In addition, video shows L.P. does pretty much the same thing he did on the penalized play every other time the team kicks. This was a bogus call. And it’s yet another in the long pantheon of questionable, obscure penalties being called against the Cowboys in key moments.
These were small mistakes but they added to the generally sloppy, mistake-riddled play that has become a constant for this team when they go on the road.