The Dallas Cowboys had a chance to keep pace with the NFC East’s two other 2-1 teams in their late afternoon tilt at the Seattle Seahawks. The team hoped to build on the workmanlike performance in last week’s 20-13 victory over the New York Giants. Instead, we witnessed a sloppy, undisciplined, unimpressive performance that has fans legitimately questioning if this team has hope for a successful season. Let’s look at the grades.
It’s tempting to give a lower grade here due to the many bad plays and performances on display Sunday. But there were some good things that happened.
Dallas actually out-gained Seattle on the day 303 to 295. The team also gained 166 yards on the ground and averaged 8.7 yards per rush. The defense allowed only 4.4 yards per play by the Seahawks. In between all the ugliness there were some things to like.
Unfortunately, the ugly happened more often and the bad individual plays had much more impact than the positive plays. Specifically, the Cowboys committed three turnovers and generated zero. It’s virtually impossible to win in the NFL with a negative three turnover ratio.
Add untimely penalties, blown defensive assignments, additional defensive confusion and your best player making three monumental blunders and you have Sunday’s result.
Our own Dave Halprin makes the case for why the players bear the brunt of the blame for Sunday’s loss. He’s right that the player’s simply failed to execute basic fundamentals on numerous plays.
But the Cowboys weren’t ready to play Sunday. They were sloppy, undisciplined and unprepared. And they had numerous units play below expectations. Whenever you have such widespread failure to meet expectations leadership has to bear some responsibility.
The preparation and readiness of the Cowboys simply wasn’t there against the Seahawks. Yes, Ezekiel Elliott is the player who stepped out of bounds, negating what should have been a key second quarter touchdown. But why did that happen? How is the team practicing and preparing where he makes such a fundamental mistake?
Special teams penalties have plagued this team throughout both the preseason and the regular season and they reared their head again Sunday. Why aren’t the coaches correcting these errors?
Why were the Cowboys’ defense repeatedly unprepared when the Seahawks snapped the ball? This resulted in wasting timeouts and allowing big plays to a Seahawks offense that largely struggled otherwise.
Something isn’t right in the way this team prepares. There’s too many players, too many units, not meeting reasonable expectations.
Many are ready to pull the plug on Dak Prescott and it’s understandable why. Prescott threw for 170 yards or less for the third consecutive game. He’s on pace to throw for less than 2,700 yards in 2018. Dak seems completely unable or unwilling to force the ball downfield and teams have no fear of flooding the short zone with defenders.
The team hasn’t done him many favors in terms of scheme or personnel, however. The Dallas offense continues to be a predictable, unimaginative approach that fails to take advantage of the things Dak does well.
The offensive line, supposedly the strength of this team and where draft picks and salary cap has been invested, has been below average in 2018. After being sacked six times in week one Prescott was sacked another five times against the Seahawks. He was also hit ten additional times and had very few plays where he was able to stand in the pocket and scan the field.
On the rare occasions he was able to deliver the ball he was failed by his receivers. Michael Gallup converted a perfectly thrown first down pass into an interception. Ezekiel Elliott also contributed a drop, and then managed to step out of bounds negating a would-be touchdown catch-and-run.
In short, the passing game has been bad in every phase: scheme, protection, receivers and Dak himself. It’s really hard to believe all of these elements are going to improve.
Running back: C
Ezekiel Elliot was the running game Sunday, and he finally looked like All Pro Ezekiel Elliott. He ran hard, with purpose and speed and consistently reached the second level. He averaged nearly eight yards per attempt on his sixteen attempts.
But no one’s going to remember that due to three monumental blunders that, combined, affected the game more than his 127 yards rushing. Many have legitimately criticized Scott Linehan for failing to effectively utilize Elliott in the passing game like others have done with Leveon Bell, David Johnson, Kareem Hunt and Todd Gurley. Sunday Elliot twice had opportunities to make big plays in the passing game and each time he failed miserably.
First, on a third down play early in the second quarter in a 0-0 game Dallas got exactly what they wanted: Elliott isolated on a linebacker crossing the shallow zone. Elliott got a step on his man and Prescott delivered the ball for what would have certainly been a first down and probably a big play. Elliott simply dropped the ball, ending that possession.
Second came probably the biggest play of the game. Trailing 7-0 late in the second period Dallas faced a 3rd-and-2 from the Seattle 31-yard line. Prescott scrambled right after being pressured yet again. Seahawks safety Earl Thomas was put in a hopeless position... defend Elliott for the pass or allow Prescott to run for the first down. He attacked Prescott, who responded by throwing a simple pass to Elliott, which he caught and then raced in for a tying touchdown.
But as we all know, Elliott lost track of the sideline and stepped out of bounds, negating the touchdown and resulting in a penalty. It was simply a dumb, undisciplined play from the team’s best player and it completely wiped out all the good that had happened on that drive up to that point.
Finally, trailing 24-6 early in the fourth quarter and with things looking hopeless, Elliott provided some hope by breaking free from midfield for a run into the Seahawks’ red zone. However, Elliott struggled for extra yardage and fumbled at the end of the play, effectively ending the game.
Elliott’s three bad plays more than negated the positives he contributed with his 138 total yards from scrimmage. The Cowboys’ have no chance of winning when their best player makes three huge, monumentally bad plays.
TIGHT ENDS: B
There’s little to write about this nondescript group. Geoff Swaim did contribute 47 yards on seven targets, but none really made much of an impact. Rico Gathers continues to look for his first career reception.
WIDE RECEIVERS: D
Whether it’s scheme, Dak Prescott’s unwillingness to throw the ball downfield or the receivers not getting open, this low-pedigreed group of receivers simply isn’t making plays. The Cowboys’ passing attack not only isn’t making any deep plays (or even trying to make deep plays), it’s also not making any intermediate plays (or even trying to).
The group combined for only 110 yards receiving Sunday. Worse, one of the team’s three turnovers came as a result of Michael Gallup dropping a ball that hit him directly in the hands for what should have been an easy catch. The rookie now has two drops and only three catches on the season.
Tavon Austin did contribute an 18-yard run and his second touchdown as a Cowboy. But otherwise, this group is contributing almost nothing to the Cowboys’ offense.
DEFENSIVE LINE: C-
The Seahawks’ offensive line is one of the worst in the NFL. They had surrendered 11 sacks in their first two games. They had also failed to provide any running room for Seahawks’ runners. The Cowboys’ offensive line was expected to feast on an over-matched group.
Instead, Russell Wilson was allowed to stand in the pocket without much pressure throughout the afternoon. In addition. the Seahawks rushed for 113 yards and had their first rushing touchdown of the season.
In short, a supposedly outstanding Cowboys’ defensive line got soundly beat by a supposedly inept Seahawks’ offensive line. If you want a simple explanation for why this game didn’t go as planned, that sentence tells you all you need to know.
Randy Gregory finally showed up, but not in a good way. Finally getting on the field for a full game, Gregory contributed zero sacks, zero tackles, zero quarterback hurries, zero fumbles caused, zero fumbles recovered, zero tackles for loss and zero passes defensed. He did, however, gift the Seahawks three points with a knuckle-headed penalty following a key Cowboys’ stop late in the first half.
Demarcus Lawrence did contribute a half sack but otherwise was held in check most of the day. It was a very disappointing day for a unit that is supposed to be a strength of the team.
Sean Lee finally looked like Sean Lee, recording eleven tackles and a half sack. Unfortunately Lee suffered yet another soft-tissue injury and pretty much sat out the final quarter. No problem. Leighton Vander Esch stepped right in and did his best Lee impression.
The Cowboys’ first-round draft pick led the team with eleven tackles. LVE has looked outstanding in his limited exposure thus far after a preseason that saw him limited by injury. The decision to draft a linebacker is looking prescient considering the fact Lee has been unable to finish two of three games this season.
Finally, Jaylon Smith added a sack, eight tackles and hit Wilson hard several times. The three combined for thirty tackles and 1.5 sacks and were the only Cowboys’ unit to win their individual competition.
This very easily could have been a better grade as this group did many good things. But, like Elliott, a handful of breakdowns undid all the good the unit did throughout most of the day.
Most egregious was Kavon Frazier’s mental blunder that allowed the Seahawks’ to score an easy 52-yard touchdown late in the second quarter. Frazier had nothing to gain by crowding the line of scrimmage in a misguided effort to disguise coverage. Instead, he put himself out of position to provide deep help on a play where cornerback Chidobie Awuzie was expecting help over the top. It was a monumentally stupid decision. This came after Xavier Woods was left in no-man’s land on the Seahawks’ first touchdown pass where he was forced to choose between defending one of two receivers where either choice was the wrong one.
Funny how opponent’s are able to put Cowboys’ defender’s in such no-win situations but Cowboys’ coaches can’t do the same.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C
This would be higher were it not for a key penalty that came in the third quarter. Tavon Austin fielded a long punt and returned it to midfield, setting up Dallas in good field position. However, a Byron Jones holding call set the team back to the Cowboys’ eleven yard line, forcing them to deal with a yet another long field. Going back to the preseason Cowboys’ return units have seemed to commit an inordinate amount of penalties.
On the positive side of the ledger, Brett Maher hit both his field goals, including a 50-yarder following Ezekiel Elliott’s out-of-bounds goof.
The Cowboys have now played two bad games out of three and lost both. The team’s offense averages 170 yards passing and less than 14 points per game. The supposedly great defensive line just go beat up by a patchwork, substandard Seahawks’ offensive line. Unless things change significantly in fundamental ways, 2018 is going to be a long season for Cowboys’ fans.