The Sunday night loss to the Los Angeles Rams brings about some Monday gloom that typically follows unsatisfying games from the Dallas Cowboys. It wasn’t a pretty performance by any means. The offense was sporadic, moving the ball well at times, but yet they were only able to put 17 points. The defense played on their heels for most of the game, but showed up late to give the team a chance. Unfortunately, the offense just didn’t have it in them to close the deal.
But what can we learn from this game? Here are some revelations from the season opener.
The short game
It was clear that the pass rush was a heavy factor in this game; however, each squad went about it differently. The Rams schemed plays to get the ball out of Jared Goff’s hands quickly and it worked. Goff averaged an impressive 8.9 yards per attempt, but very few of the yards came through the air. Again and again, he would hit his receivers on bootlegs, screens, or misdirection plays and let his teammates do the work.
The good news is the Cowboys defense adapted and these plays weren’t working in the second half.
The Cowboys offense took a different approach. They must’ve felt more confident in the ability of their offensive line despite starting an undrafted rookie at right tackle. All things considered, Terence Steele played fine, but as a whole the offensive line struggled to keep pressure off of Prescott. Of course, Aaron Donald had a little bit of a say in that causing Dak to feel pressure and the offense to become more conservative. A perfect example of this came in the Cowboys second to last series of the game where they went three-and-out. They didn’t even attempt to take a shot greater than six yards.
Prescott did a great job taking care of the ball and not forcing any errant throws, but his decision to lay up short came with a cost. When he chooses to play it safe, it requires good third-down execution to keep the drive going, and Prescott was 1 for 7 on third down. That is a career low for him.
Good showing for the new guys
What a great debut for Cowboys new edge rusher Aldon Smith. He was making plays all over the field and finished with a team-high 11 tackles. Smith even got had a nice pressure on Goff that resulted in the Chidobe Awuzie interception. He also was responsible for the defenses only sack, and it came at a great moment during a key third-down play in the fourth quarter.
Speaking of great stops by a new guy, Trevon Diggs came up huge for the defense on a critical play. Diggs did suffer a few “almost” plays as a pass breakup was just beyond his outreached hands and an opportunity for a pick was lost when he couldn’t come down with a deflected pass. Despite the results of those plays, the rookie corner saved the day when he made a key third-down tackle that gave the Cowboys offense one final chance. Not bad for a corner who is supposed to be a tackling liability.
Fellow rookie CeeDee Lamb was fine in his debut. He finished the game with five catches for 59 yards. Of course, we’d love it if he would’ve had 60 yards as a key fourth-down play proved to be costly. The Cowboys dialed up a good play on fourth down, and while it would’ve been ideal if Lamb got a little deeper on his route to get beyond the sticks, he had a great opportunity to get yards after the catch. Credit the Rams defense for sniffing out the play and making a great bang-bang tackle. The Rams defense did that a lot on Sunday night and it limited the play making ability of the Cowboys receivers.
The sequence of plays where the Cowboys chose to go for it instead of kicking the tying field goal has been scrutinized from all angles. Some don’t like the call, and others don’t mind the call, but didn’t care for the previous third-down run play. After re-watching the tape, it’s really a play that we’re just unhappy with the outcome versus the actual decision itself. Even the run play on third down wasn’t a horrible call as the Cowboys were given a favorable look on defense. If Ezekiel Elliott scampers off into the end zone on that run, we’re sitting here talking about how brilliant of a call that was.
While it may have gone against conventional wisdom, McCarthy took a shot. It didn’t work out this time, but how many times have we listened to fans complain about Jason Garrett playing for the tie. We can’t have it both ways.