That one was a bit of a gut punch. We all just assumed the Dallas Cowboys would continue to roll against the Arizona Cardinals early last week, then saw one injury after another roll up on them. It turned out that the defense really hadn’t figured out how to adjust for the absence of Trevon Diggs. On offense, the makeshift line was part of things, but there also were just too many missed plays as that unit was also a bit out of sorts.
This team can get things turned around against the New England Patriots, but that is hardly assured, and is going to take some real work this week - without getting anyone else hurt.
Here are three thoughts on the Cowboys going forward.
Throw it all out there on offense
The Cowboys accumulated 416 yards of offense, which looks good on paper. Now let me explain how that is deceptive.
Obviously, almost all that came between the 20s, with the team bogging down four out of five times inside the red zone, only coming away with one touchdown and two field goals, as the other two trips ended in a turnover on downs and Dak Prescott’s first interception of the season. Further, the Texas Coast offense seems to be taking the whole short gain ball control thing to an extreme, as Dallas only averaged 5.5 yards per play. They actually gained .1 yard less per pass attempt than on runs. While they had a rather nice looking 185 yards on the ground, that is clearly a volume stat, with Tony Pollard getting 25 carries in the game, and Rico Dowdle chipping in four more. Both averaged 5.3 yards per carry, and normally you will take that all day long. But things ground almost to a standstill in the red zone as noted above.
In some advice for the Cowboys, our own Brian Martin suggested three roster tweaks, like the idea of getting KaVontae Turpin more involved, and giving Hunter Luepke a go as the short yardage/red zone back. They should also get Deuce Vaughn, who didn’t see a single snap on offense, back on the field. And with Brandin Cooks unexpectedly providing little to nothing on offense, give Jalen Tolbert a chance to show if he can add a spark. This offense is currently too plodding. That’s great if you have a two-score lead and just need to burn the clock to get to the win, but it inhales rather strongly when you are trying to come back from a deficit. Mike McCarthy needs to open up his playbook and try some things, because what we saw on Sunday just didn’t work.
Dan Quinn needs his mojo back, stat
The incredible ineptness displayed at times by the Dallas defense was stunning. It was absolutely the last thing anyone expected. Yes, the loss of Diggs is very significant, but this is supposed to be a deep secondary. And maybe this is distorted a bit. They gave up 69 yards on one passing play in a total breakdown, but held the Cardinals to just 120 on their sixteen other completions, or just 7.5 yards per completion, and six yards per passing play outside the one big catch. Maybe it is too optimistic, but they are closer to having this under control than it might have looked.
The pass rush, however, was not nearly as effective as it was the first two games. A part of that was that the old shoe was on the other foot, with Arizona jumping out to a quick two-score lead and leaning a lot on the run to keep the ball and try and build on that lead, as they obviously did.
That was bad news for the Cowboys, because one thing that was badly out of whack was the run defense. When you get gouged for 222 yards at 7.4 yards per carry, you ain’t stopping, uh, stuff. Yes, there were a few egregious missed holding calls, but even so this was just unacceptably soft. And that had very little to do with Diggs being out.
The thing that stuck most firmly in my mind from the game was not a play. It was Micah Parsons at the end of the first quarter, clearly trying to figure out the defensive play call and looking extremely frustrated. That was the clearest sign that there was a major disturbance in the force. Quinn has done some outstanding things with this defense, but as the universal law of the universe states, it only takes one “Aw, crap” to wipe out a whole bunch of attaboys. We saw the “Aw, crap” in Arizona. Time to get to work, coach.
This week is as much a test of mental toughness as anything
The psychology of the team is one of the least understood and analyzed things. It is certainly concerning how the Cowboys responded to some clear adversity. While they were fighting to the end, they just were not executing well at all, and McCarthy and Quinn had no answers for so many issues.
This shouldn't be the start of a downhill trend, but it cannot be discounted as a possibility. This is supposed to be a deep roster. While the offensive line has been tried more than anyone really expected this soon, the rest of the roster also failed.
Almost all teams have real clunkers from time to time, and part of the game is being able to shake that off and come out and play some good football the next week. This has happened much earlier than we imagined it might, and things are just going to get tougher after the Patriots. The season is going to depend on Dallas having some resiliency and resolve. We find out about that on Sunday. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.
Goat sacrifices are not recommended but will not be disallowed.