The Dallas Cowboys had a whole extra day to prepare for their Monday Night Football showdown against the Arizona Cardinals. Time can be precious in the NFL and that day was surely going to be valuable considering the team was going to be starting a different quarterback for the first time in almost five years.
Andy Dalton made his debut for the Cowboys on Monday night and it was, well, it certainly could have gone better. This team was humiliated by a Cardinals squad that isn’t as good as the box score would indicate, but you know how it goes under the bright lights of AT&T Stadium. Other teams tend to really show up because everything is bigger than Texas or something like that.
There is no doubt that the Cowboys are dealing with unusual circumstances this season, but that does not explain the disaster on Monday night. It was a performance meriting another only-losers edition of our weekly discussion. Unfortunately it is time to begin.
Loser: Jerry Jones
AT&T Stadium has seen a number of people accomplish their wildest dreams inside of it, and you would think that after over a decade’s worth of life that the Dallas Cowboys would be on that list.
The Arizona Cardinals are the latest group to party inside of Jerry World joining the likes of Mike McCarthy’s Green Bay Packers, UConn men’s basketball, Wrestlemania, George Strait, on and on and on.
It is a palace in Arlington that houses mediocrity at the moment.
Loser: Responding to the moment
As noted, the Cowboys are operating without some of the heaviest hitters on their roster. Dak Prescott, Tyron Smith, La’el Collins, Blake Jarwin, Gerald McCoy, and Trysten Hill were all lost for the season. Chidobe Awuzie and Joe Looney are still out. If you want to throw Travis Frederick in the group of losses it would certainly make some sense.
All of that is true. But there are a number of teams in the NFL who continually battle and fight their way through injuries and the Cowboys always shrink when they are forced to do so. The NFC East is terrible but consider that the Philadelphia Eagles responded well and almost beat the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday afternoon while dealing with their own catalog of injuries.
The Dallas Cowboys cannot figure things out when the going gets tough and that is a problem that has plagued them for many seasons now.
Loser: Ezekiel Elliott
Our first player listed here is the running back that many thought the Cowboys would feed in the absence of their star quarterback. There is no question that we have seen Zeke have a lot of success since the team drafted him four years ago, but this season he has arguably done more harm than good in big moments.
We are, of course, talking about turning the ball over. Zeke had two more fumbles in this game and was even sidelined for the majority of one drive that Tony Pollard took over (and performed rather well in). He indirectly caused 14 points against the Cowboys defense when he coughed it up.
This is officially a big issue for Dallas. Zeke simply has to be better.
Loser: Generating turnovers
It is almost statistically improbable for the Cowboys to be this bad at generating turnovers year in and year out. Yet somehow, some way, this is a team that is allergic to taking the ball away.
Consider that we have now seen the Cowboys play six games. They have one interception on the season. That literally means that they have taken the ball away through the air just one time. Jeff Heath has done it as many times by himself for the Las Vegas Raiders.
Sometimes in the NFL you have to force your own luck and turnovers are a big part of that. The Cowboys cannot do that and it is making things all the more difficult.
Loser: The idea that Jason Garrett is missed
This is not being said to sound like some sort of defense of Mike McCarthy, but consider that he is missing a gigantic chunk of his starting offensive players. He is also, like everyone else, navigating the unique challenges that this season has presented.
It is way too early to tell whether McCarthy is awesome, not great, or something in between. What is clear here is that the Dallas Cowboys have the same problems that they had with Jason Garrett as their head coach which means that McCarthy is not the common denominator.
There are legitimate issues with this club and if McCarthy is truly the guy to fix them then his process is going to take time. That is the hope at the moment.
Loser: Total effort on defense
The Cowboys defensive players were very firm in the idea that they are not quitters when their effort was questioned following the rout that the Cleveland Browns put on them. This performance against the Cardinals did little to quiet that talk.
Consider that Kenyan Drake went off for a 69-yard scampering touchdown when this game was out of hand, and there were other times when the Cowboys effort might be called into question.
This isn't Jaylon's best effort. pic.twitter.com/sCUE985g4i— Bob Sturm (@SportsSturm) October 20, 2020
There doesn’t seem to be a lot of accountability within the Cowboys right now and that disposition is spreading to a lot of places that is causing legitimate damage.
Loser: Past contract decisions
We have certainly discussed the contractual decisions (or lack of) surrounding Dak Prescott, but he is certainly not the only player that the Cowboys have not locked up long-term.
This organization let Byron Jones walk in free agency just one year after paying Ezekiel Elliott and Jaylon Smith. There have obviously been moments where Zeke and Jaylon contributed to the team’s success, but they are shrinking when the team needs them the most. You can obviously include DeMarcus Lawrence as someone who has not shown up when a name other than Dak Prescott is needed.
Again this is an issue of accountability. There isn’t much right now.
Loser: Mike Nolan
What is there to say at this point, really? The Cowboys are fielding one of the worst defenses in NFL history and he is the man in charge of it.
Nolan made it a point to move from the booth to the sideline last week and that was enough to allow the worst offense in the NFL in the New York Giants to have the best performance that they have this season.
It is hard to understand how or why the Cowboys have any level of trust in him.
Loser: The 2019 staff
One of the lone bright spots this season has been the emergence of tight end Dalton Schultz. Obviously the circumstances that led to his opportunity are unfortunate, but he has looked like a legitimate tight end in the NFL. That is very nice to see.
Consider that last year’s coaching staff buried not only him but Blake Jarwin in the name of prioritizing snaps for Jason Witten who was returning to the team after a year away.
Again... the problems here are systemic and bigger than just who is the head coach at the moment.
Loser: Tempering expectations
The Dallas Cowboys are one of the worst teams in the NFL and still find themselves in first place in their division. The NFC East is a truly magical and wonderful place.
Obviously we all want to see the team win and have success, but it’s hard to envision any of that happening. We are in for a bumpy ride so it would behoove us all to buckle in.