The Dallas Cowboys’ loss to the Seattle Seahawks stung. Just like the first game of the season, they had a real chance to win it, but made far too many mistakes to do so. This week, we have some lessons to take away from the game.
We are three weeks into the season, and there are questions about the Mike McCarthy hire, the retention of Kellen Moore, and even some calling for everyone, except maybe Joe Philbin, to be fired.
At this point in a young season, it might make sense to preach patience. We have only seen three games played by the team, with no preseason work and limited camp practices after a completely cancelled offseason program. We’ll go with the term “growing pains,” which seem to be very much in effect for the Cowboys.
Much of the Cowboys fanbase was all in favor of Jason Garrett being fired. There was a widespread perception that Dallas was indeed a broken team that needed a near complete coaching staff teardown and rebuild, because there was so much to be fixed.
It’s likely to take some time for all of that to be fixed. It’s not realistic to expect that McCarthy would be able to come in an revamp so many things right away, especially with the bizarre offseason that was caused by the pandemic.
Checking in on the other new coaches around the league can be instructive. Matt Rhule of the Carolina Panthers and the head man of the Washington Football Team, Ron Rivera, both also are off to 1-2 starts - and Rivera got his one win over one of the other dismal NFC East teams, the still winless 0-2-1 Philadelphia Eagles. Joe Judge has yet to find a victory with the New York Giants, despite having former head coach Jason Garrett as his offensive coordinator.
Sorry. That was low of me.
Only Kevin Stefanski has led his team, the Cleveland Browns, to a winning record at 2-1. And one of those wins was over those fighting Football Teams, while the other was against the Cincinnati Bengals, who just went through the sister-kissing exercise with the Eagles. We’ll have a direct look at what he is doing as the Browns are headed to AT&T Stadium this Sunday.
Creating success in the NFL, which is basically all about winning games, is just flat hard. New coaches generally mean new schemes and terminology, which has been offered as a reason for the defensive problems so far. The retention of Kellen Moore may be the chief reason that the offense has put up some gaudy numbers so far, which we’ll be looking at further.
Now, this does not mean that there doesn’t need to be a bit of head knocking going on. Mike Nolan may well have been too aggressive in trying to change the defense, especially given how many new faces he also had to incorporate. And John Fassel has to do something about the special teams, stat. Maybe start with trying a new kick return man, because Tony Pollard has not contributed at all, except in setting up the opponent by muffing a kickoff on the one-yard line. I mean, who muffs kickoffs? And Greg Zuerlein needs to prove that Fassel was right in choosing to go with him as the kicker.
I mentioned Philbin above, because while so many positions were struggling for the Cowboys, he managed to not only come up with a workable plan when Joe Looney had an ankle issue and then Terence Steele had to leave the game due to an apparent case of foot poisoning, he found a way to improve the performance of the offensive line by putting Tyler Biadasz at center, then shifting Zack Martin to right tackle while putting Looney at right guard. If the impressions of many that this was a better line than they started the game with are correct, it could be very important. McCarthy said on Monday that La’el Collins is not close to being ready to come off IR. Having Martin at tackle creates a real shortage of depth in the interior of the line, but if the team can find a way around that, we may see this experiment extended on Sunday, depending on Tyron Smith’s health.
The real thing is that the Cowboys took several seasons to get in the shape it was in 2019, and it is going to take more than three games to get things fixed. It may take more than a full season to really get things on track. McCarthy is clearly coaching to win, but that doesn’t mean he is going to just get it all in place this year. That in no way means he was the wrong hire. It just means he is human and not a football miracle worker.
Besides, remember this time last year when the Cowboys were 3-0 and we were all making plans for the Super Bowl? It’s too early to think we know how this is all going to turn out.
Whatever else is wrong, the deep passing game is alive and well for Dallas
The unfortunate loss and the three turnovers by Dak Prescott sort of hid the fact that the Seattle game was the second huge offensive performance by the Cowboys. They were not garbage time wins, as Dallas came all the way back to win against the Atlanta Falcons, and had a brief lead in the fourth quarter in the loss on Sunday.
What they were was a team fighting desperately to overcome its own mistakes. That is, of course, a rather huge problem in itself. But the fact the team could cover so much ground and put up a lot of points is noteworthy. If they can continue to have that much firepower while cleaning up some of the other issues, then this team may be in better shape than many realize.
That is not to say that Prescott will have a lot of 450+ yard performances. But one thing that we frequently complained about in the past was the lack of big plays from the offense. Suddenly, those are coming in bunches. The past two games have seen seven plays of over 40 yards, and nine falling between 20-39. For years, we wished that the Cowboys would use the deep pass more. They are certainly doing that now. The wide receivers are also racking up the yards after the catch, and now Cedrick Wilson had inserted himself into the equation with a breakout game in Seattle.
It sadly was not enough to get the win. But for two games now, the only thing that has really stopped the Cowboys offense has been the Cowboys offense. Just eliminating the turnovers could be all they need to start piling up some wins.
Hey, it’s the NFC Least, after all
There is not much glory in being the least incompetent team in a division closely resembling a flaming industrial sized refuse container. But a ticket to the playoffs is still the result. And there is a real possibility that the Cowboys we see in December could be a much better unit that the one we had in September. There is just tremendous room for improvement. Meanwhile, they now own one of only two wins by the entire division. The opportunity is certainly there.
That guarantees nothing, but it is not illogical to think that the team will begin to settle down, take better care of the ball, find some consistency in pass coverage, keep increasing the pressure on the opposing quarterback, and get some kind of improvement on special teams. If it does, Dallas could be more than a sneak in, one-and-done playoff team.
Of course, you could probably make some of the same claims about the rest of the teams in the division. It’s just that those huge passing days are a bit unique to the Cowboys, and we have also seen a spectacular first three games from pass rusher Aldon Smith, who is exceeding even the wildest predictions for him. And the young talent is also there, as CeeDee Lamb and Trevon Diggs have shown they deserve to be starters, while Biadasz may be on the cusp of the same.
There is a lot of football to be played. If we can just see more good and less bad, this early season angst will soon be forgotten.