If the Dallas Cowboys were hoping to show the world their revamped offense would be a force, they certainly came up short in the season-opener. The Cowboys offense was non-existent through most of the game, losing to the Carolina Panthers 16-8. In a game where the defense had their own issues but held the opposition to just 16 points, the offense provided absolutely no help. The main reason for that lies with an offensive line that was far from its reputation as one of the league’s best, instead they struggled all day long. Dak Prescott was sacked six times. He was under pressure much more than that and was hit 10 times.
There was plenty of blame to go around. Prescott, when not under pressure, had some opportunities to do damage, but he missed them. Most egregious was his failure to hit a wide open Blake Jarwin who had gotten behind the defense as a result of busted coverage. There were other passes that were off target on the day, it certainly wasn’t the kind of performance that was going to silence those who doubt him. He has to do better.
The Cowboys receivers, both the wide receivers and the tight ends, were struggling to get open. There were times when you looked down the field and Prescott had absolutely no where to go with the ball. It wasn’t the receiver-by-committee approach we all had hoped for. Only Cole Beasley stood out as a player who made something happen.
When you get down to it, though, it all starts with the offensive line. The Cowboys want to run the ball and for long stretches of the game there was just no room. Ezekiel Elliott managed to end up with somewhat respectable stats, 15 carries for 69 yards and one touchdown, but most of that came on just a couple of drives, the rest of the time he was having no real impact. With no running lanes, he was stymied at the line of scrimmage far too often. The run-blocking matched the pass-blocking in its ineffectiveness.
Tyron Smith started the game off with two penalties. The Cowboys actually had a nice offensive play in their opening series, a quick screen to Tavon Austin, but Smith’s block in the back negated it. Connor Williams struggled, especially as the game wore on. He has two major flaws that we saw in preseason, and we saw them again. One, he can be bull-rushed. He has a hard time anchoring down and holding off these NFL defensive tackles. Second, he can dip his head and reach, which is terrible technique, and then he gets beat. He’s got some learning still to do. La’el Collins also struggled, he was part of the sack parade and the penalty parade. He’s still very much a work in progress.
It does need to be said that the Carolina Panthers posses a very talented front seven. Kawaan Short is a beast at defensive tackle and he had his way with the interior of the Cowboys line. The linebacker duo of Luke Kuechly and Shaq Thompson did a phenomenal job of filling the rushing lanes and holding Zeke in check. This is a very good front seven, among the best in the NFL. So there are some mitigating circumstances.
But, the Cowboys offensive line just wasn’t good enough. Without looking at the tape it’s hard to judge everything, like how well Joe Looney did throughout. Still, you have to believe this would be a better unit if Travis Frederick were able to play. The Cowboys can’t count on that anytime soon, so they better work on improving what they have. Connor Williams is going to need to grow up fast. La’el Collins has to be better.
There is blame to go around. Dak Prescott absolutely has to play better. The coaching staff, including Scott Linehan, have to figure out why their attack was so anemic. The receivers have to do a better job of presenting a target, especially when the play breaks down and the scramble drill is on. Even if that all is corrected, without better play from the offensive line, this team will need its defense to be the ‘85 Bears.