The Dallas Cowboys lost to the Minnesota Vikings in agonizing fashion. There is a lot of focus on how the Cowboys handled their penultimate offensive possession of the game, specifically the two run calls and the explanation given for them, but there were plenty of other moments that contributed to the loss.
Dallas found themselves in a hole early on in this game, an unfortunate trend in most of their losses. Despite getting the ball to start the game, they blinked, and it was 14-0 in favor of the Vikings. A lot of this was due to how the Cowboys handled their first few offensive possessions.
All three of those possessions ended in Minnesota territory. All three.
Possession #1: Field goal attempt from the Minnesota 39-yard line
On third and six the Cowboys went to the air (this is a good idea!) and were unable to convert. Drat. Such is football.
This set them up with a fourth and six situation on the Minnesota 39-yard line. Remember that entering Week 10 the Cowboys boasted the number one offense in the NFL per DVOA, but in spite of this they decided that it made the most sense to have Brett Maher try a 57-yard field goal.
There are a lot of people upset about this, but it goes both ways in my opinion. Maher has made plenty of field goals from downtown and has grown to be somewhat reliable in that regard, although he missed one last Monday night from 54 (he made one from 52 though) against the Giants.
Still, though, this was literally the first offensive possession of the game. Perhaps this wasn’t the time to roll the dice because a missed field goal would set Minnesota up nicely. Ultimately it did and they went down and scored a touchdown. Not great.
Possession #2: Punt from the Minnesota 48-yard line
For the second straight possession the Cowboys found themselves facing a fourth and six. Of course you want to come away with points to some degree, especially when you’re past midfield, but the Cowboys were barely past it. Sitting on the Minnesota 48-yard line isn’t exactly undeniable “go for it” range.
This punt made sense if we’re being honest with ourselves. You accept the circumstances and acknowledge that it’s still very early in the game. Ultimately Chris Jones helped the Cowboys down the Vikings at their own 10-yard line. Nothing to be upset about here.
Possession #3: Punt from the Minnesota 40-yard line
This is the most egregious possession in my opinion. It’s hard to find a scenario where punting from the opposition’s 40-yard line makes sense.
Unlike the two possessions before this one, the Cowboys were only facing fourth and four. With four yards to go, sitting 40 yards away from the endzone, down by 14 points, the Cowboys decided to punt. 40 yards away.
It made no sense for the Cowboys to run the ball on second and third down late in the game against Minnesota.— RJ Ochoa (@rjochoa) November 11, 2019
It made equally no sense for them to punt from the Minnesota 40-yard line on 4th and 4 down by 14 points. pic.twitter.com/BmbiqZfuKo
There are some people who still feel like punting was the right call here and while I disagree with that, I can see the line of thought. You don’t want to risk giving Minnesota the ball at their own 40-yard line with only 60 yards to go when you’re already down by 14 points.
Here’s the thing though... the Cowboys were down by 14 points. It was very obvious at this point in the game that the Cowboys were going to need to score a lot if they wanted to win. Surrendering with four yards to go on the Minnesota 40-yard line is a point of being conservative that the Cowboys could no longer afford at that point in the game.
What’s more is that the Cowboys attempted a field goal from just one yard closer on two possessions prior. So if you truly don’t want to go for it on fourth and four, why not try the field goal again? This isn’t exactly a preferred option, but if you’ve already established that you’re comfortable kicking from that range you might as well try to get some points, right?
It’s hard to win a game when you put yourself in a 14-0 hole early on. Somehow, some way, the Cowboys managed to almost do so, but they fell just short.
These three offensive possessions early on are part of the reason why they lost. The team continues to start slow and that’s going to continue to be a problem if they continue to do so.
What would you have done? Anything different?