Just to put it in clear and concise terms, the Dallas Cowboys have had a totally crappy 2020 season. There are several reasons, from the effects of the pandemic response on the transition to a new coaching staff and the severely truncated offseason activities, to some real questions about just how competent that staff has been so far. The players don’t get a free pass, either, as some notable and highly-paid members of the roster have not offered a good return on the investment. All those things have an element of will, if you will. Decisions and acts of individuals affected all those situations, and different choices might have led to different outcomes, from single plays in a game to the way schemes are installed.
However, the biggest impact on this fetid sewer of a season has probably been the one thing that no amount of coaching or individual effort can avoid: Injuries. While all teams have to deal with them, this has been an incredibly brutal year for Dallas. They are starting their OT3 and OT5, which may be a bit generous since the true OT3 may have gone on IR himself. They also are on TE2 and C2, although both of those have actually gone rather well. The defense has some less impactful injuries as well.
But let us get to the real crux of the matter. Dallas has lost QB1 for the season. QB2 is out for an uncertain time, certainly for this week. QB3 was so underwhelming, the team is looking to start QBwellhewasgoodintheAAF or QBheyhowwasyourtimeinNewYork.
I don’t want to be disrespectful to Ben DiNucci, Garrett Gilbert, or Cooper Rush. But you can be absolutely certain that the team never planned to be trying to decide which of them would start the ninth game of the season against the only undefeated team in the league. Heck, they had no idea that Gilbert and Rush would be part of the equation in any fashion.
Remember back in late July when we were so confident that the Cowboys had a talented and deep roster? It turns out the depth was absolutely fragile. Quarterback is the easiest example to grasp. When Dak Prescott, Andy Dalton, and seventh-round rookie DiNucci were the players in that room, it was believed to be one of, if not the deepest QB group in the league. Yet two injuries and an exposure to COVID-19 have swiftly made it arguably the absolute worst quarterback unit anywhere.
It is a very rare situation, although not, I believe, unprecedented to lose your starter and primary backup quarterback in consecutive games. Further, it is by far the hardest one to work around an injury, especially a season-ending one. What the Philadelphia Eagles accomplished with Nick Foles was remarkable because that kind of thing just does not happen, except of course it did. However, none of the current options for the Cowboys are as good as Foles was, and certainly do not have the experience he did. Foles was actually very much like Dalton, a former starter who was hoping to position himself for a new deal somewhere else. That is not to say that Dalton would have led the Cowboys to the top of the NFC East, but he has a decade of experience, and would offer a better chance to win more games.
He may be back, but when is uncertain. Frankly, with that patchwork offensive line, there is a pretty high risk that Dalton could be hurt again, assuming he does not have a serious bout with the virus and can get on the field shortly.
As with so many things, it really just comes down to numbers and probabilities. What has happened to the Cowboys is just a matter of the odds not being with them this year.
While quarterback is the easiest way to see how injuries can ruin the best laid plans, the cluster on the offensive line are a close second in how they have drug the team down. While most may initially think of the issues with pass blocking, the running game also seems very ineffective. Put bluntly, Ezekiel Elliott is showing little to no ability to find yards without good blocking ahead of him. If your passer is under attack and your running back is getting stopped for little or no gain, you don’t have an offense.
So we were badly fooled into thinking the Cowboys had great depth. Or maybe it wasn’t that the depth was so bad. It just got depleted at a far faster rate than anyone could have anticipated. Remember, both the planned starting tackles and the swing tackle were out for the beginning of the season. When you have to sub in a couple of players that may not have even made the roster without the injuries ahead of them, well, you can’t expect UDFAs to turn into instant All Pros - especially two at the same time.
That didn’t help the offense at all, which may have led to Prescott pressing too hard when he was injured, and was getting Dalton beat up even without the illegal shot to the head. So the injuries had some really unwanted synergy.
The Cowboys tried to have some depth. In Dalton Shultz and Tyler Biadasz, they may just have found it, and you might throw Cedrick Wilson into that conversation. But the rest of the lineup has been too battered for the offense to function, and the defense took seven games to figure out it had to actually play out there. The depth has been spent, essentially, and now any further injuries will just make a bad situation even worse.
Did I mention the Pittsburgh Steelers coming to town? Good times.