Tom: Well, this is another fine mess the Cowboys have gotten themselves into.
Tom: I’m absolutely hoping for a real bounce back, but there are a few things that worry me. The first is the evil mastermind of the NFL, Bill Belichick. Kidding aside, he has been a long time nemesis for the Cowboys. He tends to find the chinks in the armor and exploit them. He doesn’t have as much talent on the roster as he used to, but he has managed to overcome that in the past. Plus, right now those chinks look to be more like gaping holes for the Cowboys.
David: I have to say I’m not as worried as you seem to be. The Cowboys’ loss to the Cardinals is, in my opinion, just a case of the players not really taking the opponent seriously. Just like they did with the Broncos or Packers in years prior. It’s frustrating to keep having this happen, and then listen to postgame interviews about how “we needed to be humbled” and “we learned our lesson.” How many times do you have to learn the same lesson before people start to think you’re just not that bright?
All that aside, though, this is also a team that gets up for big games. Playing the Patriots is always a big game, and especially when it’s coming off an embarrassing loss. I think that’s why the team has a tendency to come out and punch other teams in the mouth after a loss, and I expect them to be locked in for this one. The Patriots are easily a better team than the 2021 Falcons or 2022 Vikings, sure, but when a team as talented as the Cowboys play all the way locked in, well, ask Daniel Jones and Zach Wilson what that’s like.
Tom: Forgive me for being something of a worrywart, I guess, but I just have to see it before I believe it. Further, I am much more concerned about the coaching than the players. The talent is fine, especially since Zack Martin and Tyler Biadasz look like they have a chance of making it back for this game. On paper, Dallas stacks up very well with the New England roster.
However, I think both Mike McCarthy and Dan Quinn had very bad games last week. McCarthy’s play-calling was uninspired, even boring. He had no answers in the red zone for the second game in a row, and if that doesn’t change, this game could easily go the wrong way. Where were KaVontae Turpin and Deuce Vaughn? They just didn’t see any use on offense against the Arizona Cardinals. Hunter Luepke’s size and ability may make him a better back near the goal line than Tony Pollard and Rico Dowdle. Defenses can really stack the box there with such a compressed space for the pass defense to cover. Maybe they can try banging Luepke in there, especially if Martin is back in place.
Dan Quinn was just as culpable, with absolutely no answer for runs outside the tackles. There was some obvious confusion about what the defense was supposed to be doing at times. Both he and McCarthy also take a lot of blame for some overall lack of preparedness that game. The injuries losses during the week were a hindrance and apparently a distraction, but a good team has to adjust and overcome, not flounder the way the Cowboys did. I just need some proof on the field.
And the penalties have to stop. Yes, the officiating was pretty horrific, but offsides calls just shouldn’t happen. A lack of discipline keeps cropping up for Dallas, no matter who the coaches are over time, and this should be a major emphasis after that flag-fest in Arizona.
David: Well, I think the Cowboys will do better in the penalty category just by virtue of not facing a center who bobs his head all over the place before snapping the ball. I’m still not sure how he kept getting away with what would be a false start for almost any other center in today’s game.
As for the other issues, I suspect it’s something that is easily fixable. McCarthy himself admitted that he didn’t trust his patchwork offensive line enough early in the game, but even then the Cowboys actually had more yards in this one than the Cardinals. They were still able to move the ball efficiently, but things sputtered out in the red zone. I have a feeling that will get fixed in time, as the Cowboys are without one of their top red zone targets of the last few years in Dalton Schultz. Also, the Patriots rank 21st in red zone defense, giving up a touchdown on two thirds of their red zone appearances. Something’s gotta give; I’ll officially be worried about the red zone offense if they can’t do it against this team.
The run defense was horrid on Sunday, but a lot of it was due to bad run fits in the gameplan design stage, and the Cardinals simply exploiting them. I imagine they sent Dan Quinn a fruit basket to thank him for making life easy on them. That’s very fixable, especially for someone as experienced as Quinn. Also, this defense led the league in run defense by both DVOA and EPA/rush after their first two games, which tells me they’re more than capable of reliably stopping the run. They just need to not offer the offense gaping holes to run through, like they did against Arizona.
Tom: I certainly hope you are right, and that the grapes in that basket were sour. There is still more that needs to be done, like getting better use out of the wide receivers and having Dak throw the ball past the sticks more often. 5.5 yards per passing attempt like last week is not going to get it done. It’s great to see how Brandon Aubrey has flourished after all the hand wringing before the season, but the very fact he has kicked ten field goals already is a bad thing, because those come at the expense of scoring touchdowns.
I will be worried until I see the Cowboys look a lot more like they did the first two weeks in most ways. The running game seems to be clicking, although that is almost all between the 20 yard lines. McCarthy has to be willing to get away from the short yardage game and open things up at times, especially when Dallas does not have a comfortable lead. And Quinn just needs to get out of whatever funk he was in last game.
It’s so much, I do not expect them to solve it all right away. But they have to get some answers on the field against the Patriots. Next week, we will have some idea of what they have accomplished, and what still needs to be done. I just hope it is not a week we are wondering how they move forward at 2-2.