The Dallas Cowboys season opener at the Los Angeles Rams didn’t go as smoothly as many had hoped. The Cowboys would lose a close one but that wasn’t the worst part, they also lost two starters, one each on the offensive and defensive side of the football. Starting middle linebacker Leighton Vander Esch went down with a broken collarbone (6-8 weeks) while tight end Blake Jarwin went down with an ACL injury (out for the season).
The overall performance of the team was hit-and-miss during the game. Let’s start grading.
There wasn’t much that you can really point to and say that Cowboys did very well last night. The offense was moving the ball pretty well in the first half but then started to fall behind the chains from penalties, leading Dak Prescott and company to have to try and convert third and longs. On the defensive side of the football, the Rams kept the Cowboys off-balance by running a lot of short routes to keep the pass rush away from Jared Goff. The defense was also gashed by the Rams running game led by Malcolm Brown.
On special teams it was hit-and-miss literally with new kicker Greg Zuerlein hitting one field goal and missing the other. The coverage and return units were serviceable.
Luckily, this is only week one and the team has a chance to build on what they started last night.
This offseason we continually heard how much of a difference we would see in how this team is coached on the sidelines with Mike McCarthy taking over for Jason Garrett. It only took one game to see a difference in one area - a late in-game decision to go for it when the Cowboys were already in field goal range to tie the game. Obviously it shows that he trusts his quarterback but if you are trying to win a game you should always take the points.
On the defensive side of the football, the Cowboys preached this offseason that there would be a lot more press man coverage, and yet they continued to fall back, sometimes into zone coverage. You also didn’t see much pressure on receivers by the cornerbacks at the line of scrimmage. Hopefully we will start to see more of it next week.
Prescott overall played a good game, he was making the right reads and taking what the defense was giving him. He ended the night going 25/39 for 266 yards, one touchdown, and a passer rating of 92.5. But, he did also have a few bad throws and a few missed opportunities to take off and run instead of staying in the pocket and taking three sacks on the night.
Prescott was able to build drives and keep the Cowboys in the game, but ultimately didn’t lead them to a win
Running Backs: A
The running game for the Cowboys led by Ezekiel Elliott was the a bright spot for the Cowboys this week. Elliott was able to rack up 96 yards on 22 carries and one touchdown. Tony Pollard and Prescott would add another 40 yards. What makes this impressive is the fact that they did this against a stout Rams defensive front.
Unfortunately as the game went on the running game wasn’t as effective thanks to the penalties forcing the Cowboys into second and third in long situations. The Cowboys were able to get Elliott and Pollard the ball in the air on occasion and it worked as they were able to compile 53 yards in through the air.
Wide Receivers: B
The group of receivers in this game were doing their best to get open and it was working early on in the game. The big three of Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and CeeDee Lamb combined for 18 catches and 190 yards. Going against one of the best cornerbacks in the league who can basically cut off one side of the field and gaining that many yards is a good sign of things to come. In the future, Lamb will need to do a better job of getting to the first-down marker before breaking on his routes.
Tight Ends: D
After the injury to Jarwin in the second quarter, the tight ends were basically nowhere to be found. Dalton Shultz came in but was only able to reel in one of the four passes thrown his way. The Cowboys are going to have to do some shopping on the free agent market or it’s going to be a very long season with that they currently have on the roster.
Offensive Line: C
When you’re going up against the best defensive tackle in the NFL, and a speedy edge rusher, and only surrender three sacks, that’s not awful. The team has lost their swing tackle for at least the next two weeks and have an undrafted rookie now manning the right tackle position. Terence Steele played okay, but he’s no La’el Collins. And Joe Looney isn’t Travis Frederick and it showed last night as the Rams defensive line was able to get consistent pressure around Prescott. Even Zack Martin had trouble with Aaron Donald.
Defensive Line: C
If you want to grade the performance of the defensive line you’d give high marks to Aldon Smith who wrecked havoc on the Rams offensive line and got in Goff’s face on a few occasions. The rest of the ends were okay with a few good moments. But then you have the defensive tackles who just weren’t able to stop the run again, sound familiar? Whenever the Rams needs those short, dirty yards they were able to get it.
The Cowboys defensive tackles are going to need to do a better job of getting penetration and stopping the run.
Even with Leighton Vander Esch in the lineup the Cowboys linebackers just seemed to be a bit rusty attacking running backs in a real game. After Vander Esch went down things just got worse as they just couldn’t handle the power running from Malcolm Brown. This unit is going to have to step up their game up and start making plays or teams are just going to continue to run all over this defense, again.
Press man fits the players style and if they had decided to play that style of defense more aggressively, they could have done a better job shutting down the passing attack of the Rams. It was also a decent showing from rookie Trevon Diggs; the Cowboys got a gem when he fell to them in the second round. Chidobe Awuzie got an interception and they didn’t give up many deep passes.
This loss all boils down to the coaching staff and their failures in play-calling on both offense and defense. They need to regroup and prepare for another high-powered passing attack, the Atlanta Falcons. You aren’t going to be able to point the finger at the refs after every game, even if it’s warranted.