It was almost certain that the Dallas Cowboys would have a bad game or that luck would go against them at some point this season. But It is hard to believe just how terribly things went as they dropped an absolute clunker against the Denver Broncos, 30-16. As bad as that seems, it was really worse than it looked, as some late, truly meaningless scores were all that prevented the shutout. Whether it was almost total impotence on third and fourth downs, falling prey to a little known rule on a blocked punt, struggles along the offensive line, or the repeated miscues and failures by their star players, the Cowboys looked like anything but a contender for the top seed in the NFC.
They still sit at 6-2 and have plenty of time to get right, but this was a systemic failure for the organization. This should have been a great matchup for them. Instead they were pushed all over the field on both sides of the ball. Nothing worked for them. This is going to be a long week for the team, and hopefully they will come out next week against the Atlanta Falcons and find the formula for success again. That may be a tougher task than we might have thought as well, as the Falcons just handed the New Orleans Saints a defeat.
The first half was an unmitigated disaster for the Cowboys. Things just were not in-sync for the Dallas offense, as their first two possessions both ended in failed fourth-down attempts. Despite the departure of Von Miller, the Broncos defense was fierce, getting constant pressure on Dak Prescott, capitalizing on Terence Steele being forced into switching to left tackle with Tyron Smith out. Prescott was not able to roll out and find receivers as we have seen so often. What has been one of the most potent offenses in the league was nearly shut down, held to just 109 yards and a big fat goose egg on the scoreboard in the first half. The malaise was not just with the quarterback, either.
As mentioned, Denver was able to get pressure consistently, even when they only rushed three. That included a big sack just before the two minute warning when they really needed to get something going. Meanwhile their secondary was doing a solid job and they lived up to their reputation against the run. It didn’t help when Tony Pollard dropped what could have been a big-gainer to help kill a chance to get something going in the second quarter. Another drop by Amari Cooper in the third quarter killed Dallas’ first drive of the half. Both Pollard and Cooper had not had a drop all season.
But there was no question that Prescott just did not look right. His throws sometimes seemed off, particularly on his deep attempts. Perhaps the injury is still bothering him, or he was rusty. In either case, things were just ugly for him most of the game. And the Denver secondary just made it harder, knocking balls away and continually frustrating the offense.
Even worse was the way Teddy Bridgewater exploited the Cowboys’ pass defense, while they were also running roughshod over Dallas at times. Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon combined for 96 yards and a touchdown on the ground in the first half. They would continue to get long runs as the Broncos just kept the ball away from the Cowboys. Bridgewater was 12-16 for 154 yards, including a near perfectly thrown 44-yard score to put them up by two scores just over three minutes into the second quarter.
No one looked worse in the first half than Trevon Diggs, who was flagged twice, one a pass interference that set up the first score for the Broncos. Added to how the pressure on Bridgewater was on again/off again, it let to a first half in which the Cowboys were dominated in a way they hadn’t been all season and a 16-0 deficit.
If there was a bright spot for Dallas early, it was the continued outstanding play of Micah Parsons. He had a sack and a half in the first half, and then added another on Denver’s opening possession of the second. That set up what should have been a huge play for the special teams, as Malik Turner got in and blocked a punt. But because the ball was touched by the Cowboys beyond the line of scrimmage, the Broncos were able to recover the ball and retain possession. It was another in a long line of things that were going wrong for Dallas. Then two plays later, Williams just refused to go down on a play when the defenders thought he was being thrown to the ground by Justin Hamilton, and wound up going for 30 yards. It would lead to a field goal that pushed the score to 19-0 with just 23:08 left in the game before Dallas ever got the ball after the intermission.
Another thorn in the side for the Cowboys was wide receiver Tim Patrick, who had one big catch after another. Jerry Juedy was also doing damage as Bridgewater just continued to pick them apart.
After the Prescott and the offense finally got the ball in the second half, they faced another fourth down after that Cooper drop. But pressure again moved Prescott, and he missed again on a deep throw to Lamb - and gave the Broncos the ball at the Dallas 40 with an opportunity to largely put the game away. They were, however, unable to get a first down and Brandon McManus missed a 53-yard attempt after making one of the same length earlier. It gave the Cowboys a chance to get into the game.
But they would stall again, and as time ran down in the third quarter, Denver was able to run the ball and dare Dallas to stop them. Despite the Broncos having three backups on the field on their offensive line, the Cowboys just did not have an answer. And when the Broncos weren’t bullying them on the ground, they were getting chunk pass plays. The coup de grace for the game was then delivered when Dan Quinn dialed up a big blitz to try and get the ball back on a 3rd-and-14 and Bridgewater found Kendall Hinton for 40 yards to the three-yard line. Two plays later they pushed it in for a 27-0 lead with 11:24 left in the game there was no chance left for the home team.
A major factor throughout was the remarkable ineptitude of the Dallas offense throughout. They only had 13 yards in the entire third quarter, and were unable to hang onto the ball, putting more stress on the defense. Through the first three quarters, Denver had a staggering 33:15 to 12:45 advantage in time of possession.
Now it is time to lick their wounds and try to figure out if this game was an aberration or an indication that they are just not as good as we thought.
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