The Dallas Cowboys made their one and only showing on Monday Night Football in embarrassing fashion. In their first game without Dak Prescott starting at quarterback, the offense struggled mightily. They never did really show up, but their defense was open for business to the tune of 38 points. There were some bad stuff, more bad stuff, and then finally a never-ending smorgasbord of even more bad stuff. There’s a lot to dissect in this one, but here are ten thoughts on this embarrassing loss under the lights.
1. A nice start for the defense
To the surprise of us all, the Cowboys defense came out sharp. On the Cardinals first three possessions, they went three-and-out twice, and only had a total of 23 yards. The group did an excellent job of communicating and even when the Cardinals tried to catch them off guard, the defense stayed discipline. The Cowboys defense shut out their opponent in the first quarter for the first time all season. It was a great, but unfortunately the goodness didn’t stick around for long.
2. Down goes Martin
The Cowboys offensive line has taken such huge hit this season. It started with the unexpected retirement of Travis Frederick. Then La’el Collins never even saw the field as a hip injury went from “concerning” to “out for the season.” Tyron Smith soon followed as a neck injury cut his season short. It couldn’t get any worse.
Or so we thought.
On Monday night, the team lost it’s one final offensive line gem in Zack Martin as he left the game after getting hit in the head. In Martin’s absence, the right guard position was filled with Connor McGovern. This made an already vulnerable unit even more vulnerable.
3. Zeke’s fumbling woes continue
It’s hard to understand how things can continue to go so horribly wrong for this offense when it comes to turnovers. Just when it looked like the Cowboys offense was getting something going, Ezekiel Elliott put the ball on the ground. And then, on the very next possession, he fumbled it again.
Elliott has struggled with ball security all season. It got so bad that the coaching staff even pulled Zeke on the next series and went to Tony Pollard. Elliott is not notorious for fumbling, and there are a couple instances this year where the circumstances when he fumbled wasn’t just your conventional mishandling of the ball, but the fact remains he keeps putting the ball on the turf and it has been costly.
4. The Arizona run
As great as it was to keep the Cardinals off the scoreboard for their first three possessions, it was equally bad to see Arizona score on their next four possessions. Whether it was an 11-play drive or a one-play 80-yard strike, the Cardinals just kept piling it on. What made things even more nauseating is that three of those four touchdown drives came after the Cowboys offense turned the ball over. Two fumbles and an interception foiled Cowboys possessions, and even when they didn’t turn it over, all they could muster was a field goal. In the blink of an eye it went from 0-0 to 28-3. That’s never good.
5. Dalton is not a starting quarterback
It’s really tough to give backup quarterback Andy Dalton a fair evaluation. With the funkiness of this COVID season, he hasn’t had the normal preparation a new quarterback would typically have. We knew coming into the game that things wouldn’t always be great for him, and right on cue, they weren’t.
Dalton finished the game with two picks, and it very well could’ve been three as he had an inexcusable throw early in the game that went right through the defenders hands. There were times when he was making some good reads, and it must be pointed out that his protection was spotty. Even still, there’s a significant drop off from Prescott to Dalton, and it’s understandable why Dalton is now just a backup in this league.
6. Worst no-call ever
In all fairness to the Cowboys offense, one of their drives that ended in an interception, shouldn’t have gone down that way. Cardinals defensive back Dre Kirkpatrick clearly grabbed CeeDee Lamb, obstructing his route, all the while continuing on himself to the ball to come down with the pick. This was a blatant penalty, and the referees really whiffed on that one.
Luckily, this wasn’t a close game where such an officiating blunder proved costly, but if the Cowboys wouldn’t turned that drive into a touchdown, they would’ve cut the lead to 21-10, and it might’ve altered the game script a bit.
7. Missed opportunities
The missed pass interference thwarted a drive, but the Cowboys had their own share of self-inflicted miscues that turned a nice drive into a whole lot of nothing. One of the tougher pills to swallow was a drop by Michael Gallup on a key third down play in the end zone. If Gallup hauls down that pass, the Cowboys score at the end of the first half to trim the deficit. Instead, they settle for a field goal.
The Cowboys offense blew another shot later in the game when they got down to the Cardinals 16-yard line. Unfortunately, Cardinals safety Budda Baker (who was all over the field that game) jumped the route on a pass intended by Amari Cooper and came away with the pick.
Any time the Cowboys looked as if they had something cooking, they found a way to mess it up.
8. Getting run over
Things were working early, but as the game wore on the Cowboys rush defense got really bad. They were out of position and they notoriously went back to over-pursing, leaving a huge amount of real estate once the Cardinals ball carriers snuck through the holes.
Granted, some of the damage was done by the elusive Kyler Murray, but in the end, the Cowboys surrendered 261 total rushing yards. They are just two games removed from giving up 307 yards to the Cleveland Browns, so the fact that another team put up another huge showing speaks to just how terrible this run defense is.
9. Cardinals defense
The Cowboys ten points is largely disappointing, and they only have themselves to blame for a lot of that, but let’s not discount just how good this Cardinals defense is. They entered the game with the eighth ranked defense in terms of points allowed, and they looked like a group that had it all together. Between the pressure by Haasan Reddick, the pass break ups by Byron Murphy Jr., and the all around great play by Baker, this Cardinals defense came to play. This Cowboys offense was just outmatched.
10. Enough with the NFC East talk
Yes, the Cowboys are still in first place in the NFC East. And it’s true that a 2-4 start isn’t the end of the world if you can just get in the dance when your team has eventually figured out how to play good football. But let’s not kid ourselves, this is a bad football team. They have too many key players out for the season, and the hope of something better down the road is just a mirage.
There are still ten games left, and that’s a lot of time, but this team is going nowhere fast.