Watching Sunday’s game was like a kick in the stomach. The ineffectiveness of the Cowboys offense is burying any shot the team has to win football games. It doesn’t matter if the defense plays well, they can’t win games if they can’t score points. As we saw on Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks, the defense isn’t dominant enough to carry the team and eventually - the levee will break. And when it does, the offense isn’t good enough to recover.
For the second time in three weeks, the Cowboys didn’t find the end zone until the fourth quarter. And just like Week 1 in Carolina, that touchdown didn’t happen until the team was down by 16 points where the Cowboys offense played with a sense of urgency while the opposing defense laid back a bit to prevent against the quick score. Not only that, but if you take away that quick strike to Tavon Austin on the third play from scrimmage against the New York Giants, you’d be looking at all three games this season with the same level of futile offensive production through the first three quarters of the game.
Dallas, we have a problem.
So, with a feeble offense that is holding the team back, this is the time where Cowboys Nations starts pointing the finger and pounding the table for change. Maybe you’re sick of the playcalling of Scott Linehan. Maybe you want no part of Dak Prescott being the team’s quarterback. Or maybe it’s never been more clear that this team cannot be successful under the tutelage of Jason Garrett.
And it doesn’t matter which individual you have designated to shoulder the brunt of the blame, they all haven’t delivered. Let’s examine...
It’s up for debate whether or not Linehan’s plays are creative enough to beat the defense. It usually hinges on whether or not the players execute them correctly. Sometimes it’s great, other times it’s not. For that reason, it’s hard for me to be too critical of the Linehan’s offense, but we have no choice to be. It’s not working and Linehan has to make it work.
There are too many good pieces on offense for this team to falter like it has. Ezekiel Elliott is one of the most talented running backs in the league and this offensive line, despite new players, can run block. Zeke averaged eight yards a carry against the Seahawks so the running game was working. But the passing game is not and someone has some explaining to do.
Why isn’t Tavon Austin getting the ball more?
Why is Geoff Swaim getting the ball so much?
Austin has been extremely effective in limited touches so why isn’t he being used more? I get that a surprise party isn’t a surprise party if you’re doing it all the time, but there has to be a happy medium to incorporate him more into the offense. Get him the ball where he can do some damage. Conversely, Swaim cannot create the separation that Jason Witten could. It’s great that Prescott has confidence in him and Swaim has been just fine, but there is absolutely no reason for him to be his go-to guy. If Dak chooses to go to Swaim, there’s a good chance a defender is real close by which is going to lead to an immediate stop or knocking the pass down. Neither of these things will keep the chains moving. Throws of this nature must be reduced, which brings us to...
Watching the tape on Prescott is so frustrating. When you look how he’s played - it’s not terrible. There are very few times where his throws are errant. His only two interceptions this season have come off of deflections that aren’t even his fault. He’s not sloppy with his passes and he’s not throwing into coverage. In fact, he’s too careful.
For reasons unbeknownst to me, Prescott is not throwing the ball deep. He’s constantly choosing to dump the ball off short. This hurts the team in two ways. First, short is short. The chains don’t move when you’re short. Second, the lack of explosive plays forces the offense to string together high volume-play drives and the Cowboys are not doing that this year. They are the second worst team in the league on third downs. Drives aren’t being sustained.
Everything ultimately falls on the shoulders of the head coach so when things aren’t going right - it’s always going to be Garrett’s responsibility. That’s just how things work. Sure, you can point to individuals on any specific play to find fault, but the Cowboys had too many things go wrong on Sunday that are indicative of a team lacking discipline and that’s on Garrett.
For example, the mental break down in coverage on the Seahawks passing touchdowns - if the players aren’t sure what they’re supposed to be doing, then better coaching is needed.
Randy Gregory’s poor judgment cost the team three points. He needs to be taught to control himself better or else get him off the field.
If things aren’t working, it’s on Garrett to made changes in attempts to make them work.
So, how do the Cowboys fix this?
Garrett will be the first to tell you that the team isn’t good enough on offense. Of course, never has anything more obvious been said. We all know that. But what we don’t know is what the Cowboys are going to do to fix this. A complete reset of playcalling is not the answer. A slight tweak, however, is. Linehan needs to find ways to get the ball into their playmakers hands more frequently. Playing “our style of football” is not the answer when they are not capable of making the plays. “Our style” needs an upgrade.
The offensive line needs to get better when it comes to pass protection. Run blocking has been good, but when they are called upon to protect Dak in the pocket, it hasn’t been very good. This doesn’t require Garrett to make a player change to the starting lineup. Rookie Connor Williams will get better and it’s very important he gets those snaps. Williams is still their best play at left guard and he’ll improve as the season progresses. But more than that, veterans Tyron Smith and La’el Collins need to elevate their play. They are better players that what they’ve produced on the field so far this season.
But the biggest issue rests on the shoulders of their young quarterback.
The Cowboys must find a way to get Prescott to throw the ball down the field. The playcalling is not holding him back. Dak has the opportunity to make different choices when he releases the ball, but for whatever reason - he’s not doing it. This has to change. That’s not to say they should have him throwing the ball in high volumes, but rather just take shots down the field at times when he does throw the ball.
If Prescott struggled with his throws down the field, this would be a worrisome proposition, but he doesn’t. He can make those throws, but he’s not trusting himself to do it. The Cowboys must see a different Dak if they are to stand any chance to compete the rest of the season. The coaching staff must convince Prescott to make those plays otherwise it’s going to be a slow death to the Cowboys 2018 season.