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Grading the Cowboys costly 31-24 defeat to the Bears

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Dallas came up short again and are putting their season in peril.

Dallas Cowboys v Chicago Bears Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Welp. The Dallas Cowboys officially hit rock bottom Thursday night is a deflating 31-24 loss to the Chicago Bears that wasn’t remotely as close as the final numbers would suggest.

Dallas was outclassed in all three phases of the game, including a defense that was run over by (arguably) the NFL’s worst offense. Let’s go to the grades:

Overall: F

Dak Prescott said he was happy to play Thursday because the last week had been a bad week after the previously humiliating Thanksgiving defeat to the Bills. Well, he’s in for a long 10 days. The Cowboys played a completely inept game on both sides of the ball as well as on special teams. Given a week to get their act together after two demoralizing defeats, the team instead put together one of their worst performances of the season.

Most egregiously, the defense allowed a woeful Chicago offense to move up and down the field and score at will. The Bears came in with the following ranks on offense:

Points: 27th

Yards: 29th

Rushing Yards: 28th

Passing Yards: 28th

Third-down efficiency: 28th

Explosive plays: 31th

So, against that slap-dash outfit the Dallas defense allowed:

  • 31 points
  • 382 yards
  • 151 rushing yards
  • 7-of-12 third-down conversions

No sequence better illustrated the Cowboys failure on defense than the first drive of the second half. Trailing by ten points, a penalty put the Bears in a 2nd-and-18 situation. Normally, for an offense of this caliber a 2nd-and-18 is effectively the end of the drive. But first the Bears picked up an easy nine yards when Trubisky hit an ever-open Jesper Horsted. Then on 3rd-and-9 this happened:

The ball is thrown nine yards short of the sticks. Without any blockers in front Xavier Woods and Jaylon Smith should have an easy time getting Cordell Patterson down to end the drive and force the punt. I mean look at this:

And yet, microseconds later:

I don’t think you’ll find a better set of images to illustrate Jaylon Smith’s complete and absolute descent from budding NFL star to ineffective defender than these.

But it gets worse. Despite the presence of seven Cowboys and only two Bears in that image Patterson would travel a full 28 more yards before finally being tackled.

Embarrassing. The end result is that with an opportunity to get the ball back, the Cowboys instead turned a cheap, 3rd-and-long check-down into a Bears’ highlight. Five plays later the Bears were in the end zone, the score was 24-7, the Cowboys’ will was broken and the game was effectively over.

This version of the Cowboys defense has gone from a unit expected to be (at the very least) above average to a failing enterprise. I mean, if you can’t stop the Chicago Bears and Mitchell Trubisky, who can you stop?

Of course, turning struggling young quarterbacks into deadly effective killers has proven a specialty for the 2019 Cowboys’ defense:

That’s four different below-average quarterbacks who have enjoyed stellar performances against the Cowboys. Each posted a QB rating more than 30 points above their average. And realize, those average numbers include the play against the Cowboys... meaning the spread is even wider than shown above.

If that weren’t enough, they also mopped up on the Dallas defense using their legs:

Add it all up and Mitch Trubisky made history against the Cowboys:

The Dallas Cowboys defense is clueless at this point in time. Teams know how to beat them:

  • Against the run, use simple misdirection to take advantage of the Cowboys’ aggressive, penetrating lineman which leaves wide open gaps.
  • When passing, call screens which take advantage of the Cowboys’ aggressive four-man pass rush which leaves wide open swathes of land for the receiver to exploit.
  • When that doesn’t work, any reasonably mobile quarterback will find huge gaps of emptiness in the middle of the field to pick up easy first downs.
  • When all that fails, simply use a hard count because the Cowboys’ defensive lineman seemingly have no clue that’s a possibility and will jump offsides every single time.

Coaching: F

Despite the entire league having decoded the Cowboys’ defense the Dallas coaching staff (stop me if you’ve heard this before) refuses to adapt. Instead they keep doing the same thing over and over despite every opponent already knowing the solution to the riddle.

Maybe Kris Richard can yell at someone on the sideline and make it all better.

No one redeemed themselves Thursday night. Jason Garrett’s squad looked like the same unmotivated, disinterested unit we’ve seen the last ten games. As noted, the defense had zero answers for the Bears’ offensive success (the Bears!). Offensively, the team was as inept during the first three quarters as the defense. After an impressive opening drive, these were the next seven drives (I excluded the end of half kneel down).

For those keeping track, that’s four punts surrounding a missed field goal during the period when the game was decided. Each of the punts came after three-and-outs. In short, the offense was a mess and had no clue.

Quarterback: F

Much of this was due to the erratic, inaccurate passing of Dak Prescott. Where once Prescott seemed to be adding millions to his bank account with every game he played, he’s now erasing those millions by the week. Simply put, Prescott was awful Thursday when it counted.

Do not be fooled by Prescott’s final numbers which featured tons of yards and two garbage time touchdowns. Prescott looked a lot like the confused, inaccurate, ineffective quarterback we saw the last half of 2017/first half of 2018. The last three weeks Prescott has simply been bad. He’s done nothing to elevate his team during a time of crisis; instead he’s contributed to the crisis.

This was most evident on the Cowboys first drive of the second half. Trailing by 17 and desperately needing something to jump-start the entire team, Prescott had an opportunity on first down. Amari Cooper was wide open on a simple crossing pattern. With little pressure and an open passing lane straight down the middle of the field, Prescott had, at minimum, an easy first down toss. An accurate pass that hits Cooper in stride puts a 72-yard touchdown in play.

In the NFL that is as easy as it gets. It’s candy for a baby. Yet Prescott badly underthrew the ball, leading to one of the three-and-outs noted above. This was indicative of his entire night. Prescott repeatedly missed open receivers. When he did manage to get them they often dropped the pass. Other times Dak and the receiver weren’t on the same page.

It was an ugly performance. After ten weeks of superb play (for the most part) we’re left again wondering what exactly the Cowboys have at the quarterback position.

Running Backs: C

One of the truly sad developments of the last few weeks is that after a season of underwhelming performances, Ezekiel Elliott has looked better the last couple weeks than he has all season. He’s been running hard and has ripped off his two longest runs of the season:

But he ended up with “only” 81 yards on 19 rushes because the Cowboys yet again fell behind and had to abandon their gameplan. In addition to the long run, Elliott contributed two touchdowns:

Then we have the mysterious case of Jamize Olawale. The fullback, you may recall, was signed to a three-year deal worth $5.4M dollars during the off-season. That’s a curious investment for a “running back” who hasn’t been given a carry or caught a pass the entire season.

But with Tony Pollard out due to injury, Olawale finally saw some significant playing time. He rewarded the Cowboys by being totally clueless on a key third-down attempt that led to Maher’s missed field goal.

Maybe it was Dak’s fault; I don’t know. What I do know is the relatively expensive fullback hasn’t made a single play the entire season and it’s reasonable to question what the Cowboys brain-trust saw in him that was worth the investment.

Wide receivers: C

I don’t know how many passes the Cowboys’ receivers dropped Thursday but I would put it at greater than three. Michael Gallup seemed the primary culprit as I recall two blatant drops. After looking like a truly dangerous second wide-out early in the season, Gallup has reverted to dropping the ball when the game is in question. Like last week he added some garbage time plays to pad his statistics.

Likewise, Amari Cooper was held in check most of the game before adding a useless (but very pretty) touchdown near the end:

But make no mistake, dropped passes hurt this team yet again. The Cowboys lead the league in dropped passes, which is pathetic.

Tight ends: C

It’s getting extremely difficult to watch Jason Witten get snap after snap while never being able to get more than seven yards downfield or generate any yards after catch. I know all the reasons for giving him snaps and they simply don’t add up. I hear Jarwin isn’t a blocker. Fine, don’t ask him to block (lots of teams employ tight ends who do nothing but catch footballs). Jarwin contributed 50 yards on six catches and Witten added 37 yards on six of his own.

Offensive line: B

Honestly, this group seemed pretty good, especially considering the fact Connor Williams was missing and they were going against a stout Bears defense. Elliott had some room early. Prescott wasn’t under undue distress. There weren’t any holding or pre-snap penalties that I recall.

Defensive line: F

You know how the Bears had those terrible offensive rankings? One reason is because their offensive line sucks. Especially the right side. So how did the Cowboys do against that line? They allowed Trubisky to turn into peak Aaron Rodgers and the running game to gash them repeatedly.

It was abject failure in every way imaginable for this group. Even Demarcus Lawrence, who’s been stellar most of the season, was rendered ineffective. They did record two sacks but they were meaningless. They never really pressured Trubisky and were basically silent the entire night.

Linebackers: F

At this point inept, incompetent, embarrassing play is what we expect from this group. Jaylon Smith is ghost; he might as well sit out the rest of the season. The Bears were so intent on targeting Smith in pass coverage they attacked him three times on the same sequence in the red zone, finally getting the touchdown:

Give Smith credit for good coverage but it tells you all you need to know that opponents are like “yeah, keep throwing at him”. What’s most disturbing to me is Smith’s seemingly tone-deaf behavior. He’s out there celebrating plays when he and his unit are being thoroughly whipped in every way possible.

Sean Lee continues to have tackling problems, isn’t making plays and looks like someone who probably needs to retire. Joe Thomas looked lost on the few times I noticed him.

Secondary: D

Okay. Let’s give this unit credit for credit deserved. For the first time since November 4th (32 days) the Cowboys defense recorded a turnover! Hallelujah!

Now, one of the great benefits of turnovers is they usually give your team great field position. But in the most 2019 Cowboys play of the season, Jourdan Lewis’ interception set the Cowboys up at... their own one-foot line. Of course.

Honestly, that was a terrific play by Lewis. Beyond that, however, this unit was part of the problem. Against a truly incompetent opponent, they simply couldn’t get off the field. Repeatedly on third down Bears’ receivers found wide open spaces for Trubiskly to pick up easy conversions.

Xavier Woods, many fans pick to improve to a high-level safety this season, seems to get worse with each week. Chidobie Awuzie is little more than a traffic cone. Lewis has been burned repeatedly since taking Anthony Brown’s spot. There’s just not much to like about this group.

Again, maybe Kris Richard can yell at them.

Special teams: F

Broken record at this point.

Compare how the Cowboys and Patriots have handled similar situations at the kicker position. Both teams had players who were unreliable. The Cowboys solution? Keep trotting the sub-par kicker out there to contribute to loss after loss with missed kick after missed kick.

The Patriots solution? Bring in a new guy until they find the right one. Now, they may never find the right one. But they’re giving themselves a chance. We know Maher can’t cut it, there’s zero chance he’s going to be different.

I don’t know; I’m gonna take the approach of the team that’s been to eight Super Bowls the last 18 years over the team that’s won three playoff games since 1996.

Front office: F

We’ve talked a lot about the coaches and the players and how they haven’t lived up to expectations this year. But let’s not let the focus shift from where ultimate responsibility lies. Jerry Jones is the man in charge. We’ll give him credit for building a seemingly strong front office that has allowed the team to get out from under the salary cap restraints while simultaneously building a strong roster.

But there’s simply no doubt that Jerry and his ever-running mouth undermines the authority of the coach. There’s also no doubt that Jerry’s never-ending love-affair with his own players has made them too comfortable; content with failure because they know Jerry (and his pocketbook) has their back.

I truly believe if Jerry and Stephen simply shut up and didn’t talk to the media the Cowboys’ organization would be better off.

Summary:

Where do you go from here? There’s nowhere. What’s worse, they’re regressing, looking more and more inept each and every week. Coaches, players, front office... all three groups have proved woefully inadequate. Yet we have three more games at least. And this team still could very well make the playoffs which seems absurd and borderline criminal.

I mean, I guess you could fire Garrett and Marinelli and Richard (they all deserve it) but who deserves to be the coach?

I guess we’ll just pull up a chair and watch this impending train-wreck to see what happens but man... not where I expected the Cowboys to be.