It wasn’t the opening game that Cowboys fans were hoping for, a 20-17 loss to the Rams. But that’s life in the NFL. Each week is a grind and if a team isn’t prepared, they will walk away with the loss. Most games contain a mix of the good and the bad, so we’ll examine that for the Cowboys, and throw in a little ugly.
It’s only Week 1, and the loss wasn’t in the division
One of the best things any Cowboys fans can take away from the loss was that it’s only Week 1. Sure, every team wants to start out with a win, but there is plenty of time to right the wrongs and climb right back into contention. Especially since the Cowboys didn’t lose a division game game like a certain other NFC East team.
With a new coaching staff and no preseason, there should be some expected “getting acclimated” issues for the team. They just can’t let that spill over into Week 2.
The pass rush is germinating
This wasn’t necessarily obvious in the game because the Rams were intent of getting the ball out Jared Goff’s hand as quick as possible. The Rams rarely went downfield in the passing game so sacks were hard to come by. But if you watch the tape, the Cowboys pass rush was beating the Rams line on a fair number of downs, they just didn’t have time to close the deal because of the aforementioned quick passing.
If the Cowboys would have only played their secondary in tandem with the pass rush (more on this in a bit), things might have been different. Between Aldon Smith, DeMarcus Lawrence and Everson Griffen, the Cowboys will have a workable pass rush.
The receiving corps is strong
Amari Cooper had a great game except for allowing Jalen Ramsey to dislodge the ball on a crucial third-down play. Cooper had 10 catches for 81 yards and was the Cowboys main force in moving the ball through the air. CeeDee Lamb looks like he belongs with a strong rookie showing (except for his route depth on 4th-and-3). Michael Gallup is still the deep threat and was robbed of the biggest play of the game (more on that later). Even without Blake Jarwin, the Cowboys can move the ball through the air.
Losing two starters in the first game is a blow to the Cowboys. The silver lining is that Leighton Vander Esch will be back by mid-season, but Blake Jarwin’s absence means the Cowboys have no credible threat at tight end. They may need to look outside the organization for someone to fill in this year.
The secondary was passive
This was one of the most confounding things in the game. The Rams showed their hand early when they threw short pass after short pass. Instead of forcing the issue and bringing their secondary up tight, the Cowboys kept giving the Rams receivers a nice cushion at the line of scrimmage and the Rams just kept taking it. It helps account for the Rams efficiency on third down conversions (9 of 17).
If the Cowboys would have forced Goff into holding the ball for a half second longer, or more, the pass rush might have started to get home and force the errors Goff is known to make. Instead, the Rams wore the Cowboys out in the flats.
Troubles on the offensive line
It wasn’t a jailbreak or anything, but the Rams defensive line won plenty of the battles in the trenches. Yes, a lot of it was Aaron Donald who worked the Cowboys interior, including Zack Martin, consistently. But they also got sacks from Leonard Floyd and Michael Brockers. Prescott found himself under duress and throwing early on multiple occasions, suffering seven quarterback hits during the game.
La’el Collins still has two more games out, but Terence Steele wasn’t the Cowboys only problem. They need to tighten up on the offensive line.
Dedication to running, specifically on first down
This point can’t be brought up enough. We were promised a new, modern NFL offense. Instead, we got something that strongly resembled the past few years under Jason Garrett. Runs on first down, very little creativity, and an unwillingness to put the ball in Dak Prescott’s hands. The few times they decided to air it out consistently and let Prescott get into a passing rhythm with tempo, the offense looked much better.
This isn’t just about calling more pass plays than run plays. It’s about throwing the ball on first down and letting Prescott work an uptempo game with plenty of passes. The run game needs to be a secondary part of the offense, even with Ezekiel Elliott being as good as he is. Step it up, Kellen Moore and Mike McCarthy.
The offensive pass interference call
Look, there was hand-fighting on the play because Ramsey realized he was beat and grabbed Gallup’s arm. This forced Gallup to work his arm free. You can’t call one without the other. The best course of action would have been to let the play go. But Ramsey’s “sell job” after getting beat was enough to convince the refs. It shouldn't have come down to that play for Dallas, but let’s face it, they made the play and should have been afforded the opportunity to tie with a kick or win it with a touchdown. As McCarthy said, it makes you sick.