If you suffered through watching the Dallas Cowboys lose in stunningly horrific fashion to the Chicago Bears, you know that diving into the stats from that game may seem like an exercise in masochism. However, there is another reason to gather some numbers. Even though the season is technically not over, thanks to the Philadelphia Eagles having an equally dismal year, we are already focused on what the team needs to address. Gird your loins, because it is just about everything.
This is not a deep dive into a lot of numbers, but pulling some telling indicators from a total failure.
The diaphanous defense
Coming into the game, the Bears were not exactly a scary offense. In most statistical categories, they were in the bottom ten. Then, in what has become a morbidly depressing trend, the Cowboys showed up and made them look brilliant. While they didn’t accumulate big volume stats, they were extremely efficient, especially in the first half.
After the Cowboys elected to receive and scored a touchdown to open the game, the Bears responded by driving the field only to be turned away at the last moment by a nifty Jourdan Lewis interception. It was a highlight play that especially stands out because there were just about no other defensive highlights for Dallas.
Following the ensuing three and out by the Cowboys, the Bears went on to score on four consecutive drives. That put them up 24-7, and then they slowed things down a bit. The argument that they chose to take the foot off is supported by what happened after the Cowboys got a questionable fumble in the third quarter on a play when a Dallas facemask infraction was overlooked. That led to the second TD for the Cowboys, cutting the lead to 10. After Brett Maher gifted them with great field position by kicking the ball out of bounds, setting Chicago up at their own 40, they took just three plays to answer with their own touchdown. The scoring play was a 23-yard run by Mitchell Trubisky, who would bedevil Dallas all game long with his running as well as some very good passes into tight windows.
The Bears converted 58% of their third down opportunities, most on the scoring drives. Of course, they didn’t face all that many (12) over the course of the game, because they were so effective on first and second down.
They have not been a good offense for most of the rest of the season. The Cowboys just made them look like one.
This was a second horrific display in a row for the Kris Richard and Rod Marinelli defense. The signature move in this game was the missed tackle, also the second week we saw that. Players at all levels were out of position and overplaying. Had Matt Nagy chosen, there is no reason to believe he couldn’t have hung 40 or more on the Cowboys.
We have been told there is a lot of talent on the Dallas defense. Either we have flat out been lied to, or a combination of bad coaching and puzzling mental lapses have neutralized it. It seems evident that opposing teams have figured out exactly what the Cowboys are going to do to try and stop them, and have clear and effective plans to exploit it.
Once, Richard was seen as a potential head coach in waiting stashed on the staff. That should be totally destroyed by now. The evidence shows that he does not need to be retained any more, and he may have trouble getting a new coordinator job elsewhere. Similarly, Marinelli has now exceeded his sell-by date, and it would not be unreasonable to completely clean house on that side of the ball.
The coaching staff is not the only place that some changes need to be made, because so many of the players have not been good, especially in recent weeks. It is not a stat, but the shot during the game of Sean Lee on the sidelines looking dazed and confused was telling. It may partly be because the simple Cowboys scheme is just not putting them in a position to succeed. Or it may go deeper. But outside of Byron Jones, and perhaps the surprising Darian Thompson, there may be little need to try and retain many of the free agents next year. And some players under contract may be looking at losing their jobs as well.
Don’t pay any attention to the volume stats. Instead, consider this.
Number of touchdowns scored in each quarter over the last three games for the Dallas Cowboys (at New England, Buffalo, at Chicago):— RJ Ochoa (@rjochoa) December 6, 2019
It’s not just the defense that is broken. The offense has lost its way. Remember, both of those first quarter touchdowns came on opening drives, using the pre-canned “script” prepared in advance. Once they get beyond that, the offense simply goes nowhere, except for some last minute desperation/garbage time scores against defenses that have large leads to work with. The Cowboys would only convert six of 15 third downs, and had to rely on two fourth-down conversions to get their second TD of the game. More damning, they had nine consecutive failed third-down attempts during the scoring drought through the second and third quarters. Not all of those were third and longs, either, as they failed in some short yardage situations as well.
For a brief time at the start of the season, it looked like Kellen Moore had brought badly needed change to the offense. But that has evaporated. Against Chicago, first down runs again became the order of the day, with ten before the Cowboys were forced to go exclusively to the air as time grew short with a big deficit.
Dak Prescott is also struggling. He had big numbers again, with 334 yards and a touchdown. But he only completed 55% of his passes, and even many of his completions were not well-placed balls. It would seem to be a combination of him pressing, the team asking him to do too much at times by placing him in bad situations, and defenses having the scheme dissected and countered. Although he was only sacked twice, one was on a play where he ran out of bounds for a sack when he could have saved a yard just by throwing it away. His decision making has been poor recently, and he seems reluctant to run with the ball when he has some room, electing instead to keep trying to find a target downfield. That last looks like coaching.
When a team falls behind, running the ball becomes irrelevant, but still the Cowboys keep pounding it. Elliott did have his longest run of the season, but it led to nothing as Maher missed a field goal. Which leads us to the most constant thing of all this year.
Special teams sucked again
Maher was the biggest culprit with his missed FG and botched kickoff. Those were key elements in Dallas once again losing the field position battle, badly. While the Cowboys’ average starting position was their own 21, the Bears averaged starting from their own 40. And the coverage story was once again bad, as the Bears had a total of 84 yards in returns. While the offense and defense have declined through the season, the special teams have been bad all year.
Change has to come, although Jerry Jones has made it clear it is not going to happen during the season as long as the Cowboys still have a chance to make the playoffs. With the Eagles also doing so badly, the suffering will continue for a while longer. And more depressing stats will likely accumulate.