They say you learn more from adversity than you do from success. Based on that, you’d think there would be a ton of lessons learned from the Dallas Cowboys’ simply miserable showing against the Seattle Seahawks.
But sometimes, the problems are so big, so widespread, and so intertwined that it is just daunting to try and come up with discrete and easily digested things to take in. So let’s take two things. One is on offense, where just about everything that could go wrong seemingly did. The other, an attmept to add a small ray of optimism to a week of sackcloth and ashes, is about an offseason decision that is turning out much better than we might have imagined at the time.
The offense is a hot mess, and everybody deserves blame.
You want to blame the coaching? You are right. Dak Prescott? Yep, he shoulders his share. The offensive line? Certainly, although the problems against Seattle were on the left side while La’el Collins was doing a real number on the rushers from that side. Ezekiel Elliott? He absolutely wasted a good day running the ball with a series of boneheaded mistakes. The receivers? The team definitely needs someone to step up, and it really isn’t happening yet.
Lots of problems. And the real stickler is that it is almost impossible to solve any of them in isolation. One leads to another. Some are ones we have seen since last season, while others, like Elliott’s stinking mess of a game and Tyron Smith having one of the worst performances of his stellar career, came out of nowhere.
But how do you fix one aspect when it is clearly impacted by another? There is a strong belief in the fault of the offensive coaching, both in-game and preparing during the week. Yet the failure of so many players to simply do their job has to open up the idea that at least some of the plays would have worked if Prescott had put the ball in the right place, or the player had caught the pass (looking at you, Michael Gallup), or the line had blocked the pass rush or not let Bobby Wagner come untouched to blow up Zeke on 3rd and 1. Some of that might indicate a failure during prep for the game. Or it could be fundamental things that the players knew to do and simply whiffed on.
Complicating matters is that things are past the point for some solutions. There is a growing validity to the idea that the Cowboys need a new offensive coordinator, but you can’t change that during the season, at least with any real expectation of success. The only possible option there is for Jason Garrett to take the reins back during games. The system is as much his as Scott Linehan’s, and it is not like Garrett has never done that before. Garrett’s job is on the line. It might be time to take more direct control of his destiny.
Likewise, you aren’t going to get very far by benching Prescott. If you think Cooper Rush or Mike White could do a better job, you are entitled to your opinion. We’ll leave it at that. And there is no way to go sign more free agents and replace some of the skill players, get them up to speed, and build some chemistry all on the fly. That is what was needed in the offseason, perhaps, but that water has gone a long way past the bridge it was under.
All that the team can do at this point is to try and make something out of this sow’s ear that the season has devolved into. It is a very tall order, indeed, and may well be beyond the capabilities of this staff. Dallas leans towards working harder with what they have, anyway. There is just so much work that needs to be done in every aspect of the offense. If some observable improvement isn’t made in the coming game against the Detroit Lions, then the one truly radical move is about all that is open. And who exactly do you replace the head coach with? Lincoln Riley isn’t walking out of his job at Oklahoma in mid-season. There certainly aren’t any out-of-work head coaches that look like a solution, unless you are a big Jeff Fisher fan or something. The most likely interim head coach is probably Kris Richard, and a defensive mind is not exactly what the situation cries out for.
No, the Cowboys are stuck with the people they have on the staff and, for the most part, the roster. That means this may be a very bumpy ride.
Leighton Vander Esch is for real.
When the Cowboys did what they were basically telling everyone they were going to do on day one of the draft, the reactions mostly varied from disappointment to grudging acceptance that maybe they had a point. Well, after three games, that point seems to be proven. Vander Esch has, at least in terms of production per play, been the best linebacker the Cowboys have. Sean Lee looked to be breaking out of his early season slump against the Seahawks, but injured his other hamstring, and now is nursing problems with both. All indications are that Lee will not be good to go this week and possibly for several. And the team may be in better shape with LVE starting.
No one, not even the Dallas staff and coaches, likely saw that coming, especially not after just three games. But now Vander Esch is likely meet that important threshold for first-rounders, become a starter as a rookie. And if he just continues his play so far, he will be not just a starter-by-necessity. He should be a very good one.
Even better, all indications are that he is still improving with every game. The original plan for LVE seemed to have been as an insurance policy in case of injury to Lee, and being the eventual successor to the General. That policy is already being cashed in as Lee has left the past two games early with no real detriment to the defense, and the succession plan may be in effect much sooner than we thought. Lee will probably get the starting job back when he is healthy - but as Tony Romo can tell him, that is no given. Further, Lee’s long history of injury and age make a retirement at the end of the year an option that is more likely than it was at the start of the season. Lee still has tremendous value when he is healthy, but Vander Esch appears to be much closer to that than we imagined he would be. And that health is truly an issue once again.
Despite some breakdowns and a poor performance by the defense, especially against a Seahawks offensive line that had let Russell Wilson get beaten up the previous two games, the defense wasn’t the real reason for the loss in Seattle. And now LVE means that the disastrous falloff in performance that we saw last season when Lee was out is not at all likely to reoccur. The questions about why Dallas took him in the first are being answered, and those answers are very good. Maybe some other player that was available might have been more helpful, but given how things have played out, that is very questionable.
It is small comfort, but Vander Esch is one true bright spot from that sorry game. And given the train wreck that the offense has become, this team needs all the good news on defense they can get.