Well, the wait is finally over and after a long tortuous layoff of football, Cowboys fans were treated to a terrible seasonal debut. Defensively, the team played well, only allowing 16 points, but on the offensive side of the ball - things just weren’t working. The Cowboys squandered a strong defensive effort by not coming through on offense. Dallas was shut out through the first three quarters of the game and by the time their offense started showing life, it was too late.
Here are 10 thoughts on the Cowboys 16-8 loss to the Panthers.
1. The offense was terrible
If there was a part of us that was feeling uneasy about the 2018 Cowboys team, it was the uncertainty of how their offense was going to perform. Well, so far it’s not so good.
The Cowboys only had 232 total yards of offense. Just as a point of reference, Dallas only had one game last season where they had an offensive performance that low (the 37-9 blowout to the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 11). This is a significant feat considering the Cowboys had four games last season were the offense failed to produce double-digit points.
The team just couldn’t string together any drives. In the first half, the Cowboys offense never crossed midfield, which was something the team hasn’t failed to do since 2002. The Cowboys were two for 11 on third down and just couldn’t keep the chains moving.
You might say this could be some residual effect from keeping the offensive starters out of action during the preseason to preserve health, but that would just be wishful thinking. They did look a little better in the second half, but they only came away with one score and that’s just awful. Let’s hope better days are coming and that this isn’t closer to the new normal for the Cowboys offense.
2. Playing behind the chains
The first play of the game Ezekiel Elliott runs right in the belly of the Panthers’ defense - no gain. On the next play, Dak Prescott throws a bubble screen to Tavon Austin, but Tyron Smith decides to give a shove in the back - 2nd and 21. This would set the table for what would be a self-inflicted uphill battle for the offense.
The offense struggled, but a big contributing factor was the amount of minus plays the team had. Whether it be penalties or sacks, the Cowboys put themselves in bad shape and couldn’t overcome the larger down-and-distance situations. Getting behind the chains didn’t allow them to get the running game going and the offense could never get into a rhythm.
For a team that relies heavily on a sound running game, it’s really hard to commit to it when they’re facing 1st and 15 or 2nd and 20 situations. This might be the point where we mention that Joe Looney was filling in for All-Pro Travis Frederick and rookie Connor Williams was making his first NFL start. Williams wasn’t without his struggles as he gave up two sacks to Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short as well as two tackles for a loss.
Those guys had some tough opponents lining up across from them so some of those challenges were expected. What is more aggravating is how the veterans out on the edge let the team down. Both Tyron Smith and La’el Collins had holding penalties, not once but twice. And it wasn’t just the offensive line committing the fouls. The Cowboys had two delay of game penalties in this game. Dak is not a rookie quarterback. That shouldn’t be happening.
Carolina has a great defense led by a great front seven. You have to tip your cap to a strong performance from a unit that’s been playing well for a while now. But Prescott was under too much pressure and as we saw first-hand last season, he doesn’t do well under pressure.
3. Another quiet beginning for Zeke
There are some that will tell you that Ezekiel Elliott is a slow starter. They remember his 51-yard performance against the New York Giants in his NFL debut. And they remember his eight-yard performance against the Denver Broncos in Week 2 last season.
Zeke only had 69 yards against the Panthers, which is the third-lowest rushing output of his career. Once again, the early season struggles surfaces. Is it possible Elliott is rusty from not seeing any preseason action? Or could it be that he’s coincidentally faced some really tough defensive fronts early in the season? Who knows, but hopefully Elliott can do what he’s done in seasons past after a slow start, which is pretty much go on a roll shortly thereafter.
4. Where was that separation?
The Cowboys revamped the wide receiver group during the offseason in order to help strengthen the passing game. With an emphasis on creating separation, this new unit was supposed to provide Dak Prescott with some open targets. What happened?
Cole Beasley had a decent game, catching seven passes for 73 yards, but after that - there wasn’t much to be happy about. Deonte Thompson played a lot more than expected considering how much time he missed in the preseason. He had three catches, but Allen Hurns, Terrance Williams, and Michael Gallup all had one catch a piece.
It’s tough to say without seeing the tape, but were the receivers just not getting open or was Prescott just not seeing them? Whatever the root cause, there was absolutely no presence of a downfield passing game. The longest play of the game for Dallas was a 20 yard catch by Hurns. There wasn’t a single deep pass even attempted by Prescott. Not one.
The passing game just wasn’t there.
5. The defense struggled to contain Cam
The Panthers offense don’t have an overabundance of weapons. There is not a whole lot of mystery of who they need to stop in order to stifle the Carolina offense. All things run through their playmaking quarterback, Cam Newton, so the key is just stopping no. 1, but unfortunately, the Cowboys weren’t up for the task.
Newton would lead the Panthers in rushing, racking up 58 yards on 13 carries. The defense wasn’t able to keep him contained as they were always biting on the fake allowing Cam enough room to get going.
Cam Newton is one big running backpic.twitter.com/VktzdxwCfq— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) September 9, 2018
6. Bad day for Gregory
First, there was the early morning news that Randy Gregory could be in trouble after some type of “relapse.” It’s unclear what that really means so us fans will just hold tight as we sit around and wait to see how all that plays out. Gregory’s agent, Steve Weinberg issued this statement Sunday morning...
“He’s active, reinstated and playing football,” said Weinberg, noting the high rate of relapse in substance abusers. The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates the relapse rate for substance-abuse disorders between 40 and 60 percent.
”His struggles are going to continue in the season, the offseason, a year from now,” Weinberg added. “It comes back to what Jerry Jones said: It’s a struggle every day [and] he’s going to struggle with this the rest of his life.”
Gregory would deal with an on-field issue as well as he left the game after colliding with fellow edge rusher DeMarcus Lawrence.
A Cowboys PR person escorted Randy Gregory out of the locker room. Gregory walked alongside his accountability partner as they exited the locker room. He wasn't allowed to speak with the media while dealing with a concussion.— Brandon George (@DMN_George) September 10, 2018
7. The Dan Bailey regret begins
New kicker Brett Maher didn’t waste any time getting on the bad side of the fans as he came up empty on his first ever kick attempt.
Of Course, Brett Maher missed the FG....47 yards, wide right. They chose him over Dan Bailey. Could have made this a one score game— Clarence Hill Jr (@clarencehilljr) September 9, 2018
The dream of him going a perfect 30 for 30 on field goal attempts can now be filed in the trash. Sure, nobody expects him to be perfect, but missing his first ever regular-season kick at a time where the team could’ve really used the points is not doing a whole lot to help people get over losing Dan Bailey.
Oh well, what are you going to do?
8. The defense looked good
It wasn’t all bad as the defense did pretty good, holding the Panthers offense under 300 yards. Christian McCaffrey only had 50 yards rushing. The Cowboys corners did a great job as they didn’t allow a single Panthers wide receiver to catch a pass over 15 yards.
Defensive tackle Daniel Ross showed why he made the roster with a clutch strip of McCaffrey near the goal line. Kavon Frazier had eight tackles and showed no ill effects from his injury. And veteran DeMarcus Lawrence picked up right where he left off last season with some splash plays.
DeMarcus Lawrence played like a Pro Bowler today, notching seven tackles, three tackles for loss, a sack and a fumble recovery — and he didn’t want to talk about it #cowboyswire pic.twitter.com/wRF51lafAy— David Helman (@HelmanDC) September 10, 2018
It feels good to have a defense playing this well, but they still need points if they’re going to win football games.
9. Missed opportunities
Jeff Heath had a shot to intercept a Newton pass, but couldn’t come down with the ball. Sean Lee got his hand on the ball just enough to deflect it to Heath’s path, but unfortunately, Heath wasn’t able to secure the catch.
But even more disappointing that that was how tight end Blake Jarwin got open deep, but Prescott’s pass was short. Had Dak put that ball out in front of him, Jarwn is off to the races and the Cowboys get a touchdown there.
10. They got them right where they want them
Looking for a reason to be happy after watching this first-game madness. Well, you came to the right place. Over the last six years, whether or not the Cowboys have gone to the playoffs has been inversely related to the outcome of the team’s first game of the season. When they win, they miss the playoffs. When they lose, they get in.