Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
The Cowboys report card is going to be ugly.
So, remember a couple weeks ago (15 days in fact) when your Dallas Cowboys were riding atop the NFL with an undefeated team that was beating up opponents?
Yeah, me either.
That once promising start seems like an illusory dream at this point. The latest nightmarish chapter was Sunday’s embarrassing defeat to the previously winless and unquestionably bad New York Jets. Let’s go to the grades:
Simply put, there’s no other grade for losing to the Jets. Not only were they winless, they weren’t even competitive, losing their last three games by an average of 20 points. The Jets’ offense had two touchdowns going into this game; they recorded three against Dallas in the first half alone. The Jets offense was averaging 187 yards per game; they had 247 in the first half against Dallas.
The Cowboys again looked like an unmotivated, undisciplined, unprepared, sloppy group. Penalties, dropped passes and blown assignments seemed to doom every possession. Body language was atrocious as the players looked beaten and disinterested on the sidelines.
Six times the Cowboys have taken the field in 2019 and six times they’ve allowed the opponent to score first. Dallas would manage only six first half points after scoring exactly zero the previous week. They’ve scored a total of nine first half points in their last three games. How bad was it in the first half?
RT if you’re an able-bodied football player in the New Jersey area who would like to suit up for the #DallasCowboys in the second half against the Jets.
— SportsDay Cowboys (@dmn_cowboys) October 13, 2019
The defense, once looked at as a possible top five unit, instead looks wholly inept and completely clueless. The Jets walked up and down the field during the first half, recording touchdown drives of 55, 92 and 65.
The team is on pace to record 13 turnovers and 37 sacks; the first number is truly terrible and the second mediocre. Those seem like good words to describe Kris Richard’s beleaguered unit.
I have supported Jason Garrett throughout his tenure as Cowboys head coach. I was never under the illusion he was Bill Belichick or Jimmy Johnson, but I thought his teams played solid, disciplined football. I can’t say that any longer.
A team with talent at every position simply isn’t living up to expectations. I said last week whenever multiple groups of people are failing to live up to expectations then those in charge should be held responsible.
Garrett’s teams have not come out ready to play once in 2019. The first half performances from this team this year have varied from maddeningly frustrating to outrageously horrible. Games in weeks 1-3 often saw the team stumble out of the gate, then get their bearings and eventually put away over-matched opponents. Weeks 4 through 6 have seen the team simply get their brains beat in during the first half. Consider the following:
After taking big first half leads against the Giants and Redskins Dallas had a small lead against Miami and has trailed badly in each of their last two games. In fact, in the last three games Dallas has been outscored 47-9 in the first half; that’s an average of 16-3. You’re going to have a hard time winning games when you’re down 13 points going into the second half and – guess what – they’re 0-3 during that time.
Teams start badly sometimes. You can’t take the field jacked up for every game. But this is terrible and when it happens over and over then the man in charge must be held accountable.
I’m also befuddled by what we’ve seen schematically and strategically from the offense these last few weeks. Kellen Moore was the NFL’s latest offensive wizard a few weeks ago; using his “modern” concepts Dallas was rightly being praised for making things easy for the players by employing pre-snap motion, complimentary pass routes, play-action passing and an overall aggressive approach.
Absolutely none of that was on display against the Jets. If you had told me this was a 2018 game with Scott Linehan making the play-calling I’d believe it because we saw a lot of first down runs, ineffective play-action and a lot of simple vertical routes.
What happened to the modern offense we saw back in September? I’m convinced Jason Garrett has put the clamps on Moore and has effectively tied his hands behind his back. I simply can’t believe that Moore, after the success the team enjoyed offensively early in the season, decided on his own he needed to abandon those strategies and adapt the Cowboys’ old Linehan approach. I believe only Garrett would have imposed such thinking on Moore. (For the record, most of my BTB colleagues disagree with my thoughts on this).
Beyond scheme, the Cowboys have also reverted to Garrett’s ageless, conservative “play not to lose” strategy that generally insures they lose:
The Cowboys have run the ball on 55% of their first- and second-down plays today.
This would be the highest rate in the league this season even in close-game situations—but they’ve spent most of the time trailing. https://t.co/K0X0exmt7l
— Cowboys Stats & Graphics (@CowboysStats) October 13, 2019
In short, I think Garrett’s fingerprints are again all over this offense and there’s a direct connection between Garrett’s increased involvement and the offensive struggles we’ve seen since New Orleans.
Honestly I would fire Jason Garrett right now. Given a Super Bowl-caliber roster Garrett has somehow turned it into a middling 3-3 team that’s now trending in the wrong direction. He’s never been able to get his team up for the biggest games and now seems to have lost them.
Not a good look for Jason Garrett. pic.twitter.com/g005ZJVwRl
— RJ Ochoa (@rjochoa) October 14, 2019
I don’t believe the 2019 season can be saved with Garrett continuing to “lead” this unit.
And Kris Richard? Whoo boy has this guy been overrated by Cowboys faithful. He’s taken a unit that was stubborn and hard to play against but couldn’t generate many turnovers and big plays and turned it into a unit that’s soft and easy to play against but still can’t generate turnovers and big plays. The worst of all worlds!
Richard stubbornly continues to play Chidobie Awuzie despite teams successfully picking on him game after game. Meanwhile Jourdan Lewis rots on the bench. Lewis again proved Sunday he’s the only secondary player seemingly capable of making big plays with a key interception that ended a Jets’ scoring threat. He was only in the game due to injury and you have to wonder what exactly he has to do to earn playing time under Richard.
I’ve been a Cowboys fan since the 60’s so I’m old enough to know that if they lose the quarterback will get ripped. But on the long list of problems with this team the quarterback isn’t remotely close to the top of that list. Prescott played about as well as could be hoped for given the circumstances:
- Both starting tackles out
- #1, #3 and #4 WRs out
- Five drops from his receivers
- An offensive coordinator/head coach who had him playing in an outdated, simple, highly-predictable scheme
Prescott was a warrior Sunday. He was hit nearly a dozen times and many of those were truly hard hits. Prescott was repeatedly driven into the ground and took hit after hit after hit. He ended up with 277 yards on 40 attempts without a touchdown or interception for an 87 rating. He also ran four yards for the Cowboys’ final touchdown, putting them into position for a tie with a two-point conversion.
— Steven Van Over (@StevenVanOver) October 13, 2019
Dak did miss on a few targets and took a bad sack when he had a chance to throw the ball away. If everyone had played as well as Dak played, however, Dallas would have won this game by ten points. Dak absolutely was not the problem Sunday – and hasn’t been the problem this season.
RUNNING BACKS: B
You can pretty much write the same things about Ezekiel Elliott. Zeke accounted for 152 yards and a score Sunday on 33 touches. He also drew a key, long pass interference call to set up the final Cowboys’ touchdown. There was an absence of highlight-reel plays but Zeke consistently moved the chains and was the core of an effective running game.
— NFL (@NFL) October 13, 2019
I was disappointed to see Tony Pollard get only three touches, all running the ball. I do not believe Pollard has been targeted even once in the passing game this season and that seems absurd to me. Seems like having him on the field on, oh, I don’t know, maybe that 2-point try to tie the game might give opponents some match-up problems, but who am I to ask such questions?
WIDE RECEIVERS: D-
Barely above an F here as the wideouts dropped four passes by my count. Tavon Austin and Cedric Wilson combined to catch ten balls on 13 targets for 110 yards. That’s the good news. The bad news is Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup combined for 51 yards on nine targets. Gallup dropped a couple of balls and each would have been a first down. It was a disappointing day for the youngster who has looked like a breakout player most of 2019. Cooper of course injured his “quad” and missed most of the game.
With Randall Cobb and Devin Smith inactive this left Dak throwing to his fifth and sith receivers for most of the game.
TIGHT ENDS: B
This group gave us about what we’ve come to expect. Jason Witten, Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz combined for eight catches on 12 targets for 69 yards. Not anything special but they are contributing to the passing game. Witten is on pace for 60 catches and 600 yards which, again, isn’t special but it’s something.
Of course, Witten’s numbers would have included a touchdown if the referees didn’t call Cedrick Wilson for interference for (checks tape) running a pass route and getting mugged by the defender:
This questionable AT BEST offensive pass interference penalty negates a Jason Witten touchdown catch from Dak Prescott.
Tony Romo, by the way, did not like the call. I agree with him. pic.twitter.com/8b5rpRTAIR
— Tom Downey (@WhatGoingDowney) October 13, 2019
There was also this non-call; had the personal foul been called (as it should have) it’s likely one of the Jets’ touchdowns is instead a field goal:
— Gavin Spittle (@gjspittle) October 13, 2019
Look, good teams don’t lose to teams like the Jets because of a single bad call. But it is frustrating that every Cowboys close loss seems to include an egregiously bad call that somehow benefits the opponent.
OFFENSIVE LINE: C-
As noted, Prescott was under siege the entire game. It’s a wonder he’s still standing, let along making plays and nearly leading the team back from a 24-9 fourth-quarter deficit. But we also have to acknowledge we had Cameron Fleming and Brandon Knight playing at the tackle positions.
It did take a while but the offensive line eventually started opening holes for the run game. But they simply could not give Prescott enough time on most plays.
DEFENSIVE LINE: F
I’m a huge Demarcus Lawrence fan. He combines a relentless motor with a scholarly dedication to technique that makes him a nightmare for opposing tackles. So it’s hard to understand how, when facing off against a rookie making his first start, the only time he was mentioned was for jumping offsides. I honestly can’t recall Lawrence making any plays the last several weeks. He was absolutely invisible Sunday.
As was everyone other defensive lineman not named Robert Quinn. Quinn recorded both of the team’s sacks Sunday, and now has five of the team’s 14 sacks while playing in only four games.
Look, if Lawrence is hurt then maybe he needs to sit until he can get right because right now he’s not contributing and it’s hurting the defense. The rest of the unit failed to make a single noteworthy play.
On the one hand, the Cowboys run defense looked more like what we’ve come to expect over the years. The Jets gained only 56 yards on the ground and accomplished almost nothing in the second half.
But we again saw both Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch getting lost and being a step slow, especially on releases out of the backfield. LVE, in particular, is a shell of his 2018 version. He’s making very few plays and frequently runs himself out of plays with bad angles. It’s a bizarre development and has me personally wondering if Kris Richard’s approach with his players isn’t helping.
I’m going to set this play up by reminding all that the New Jets had scored two offensive touchdowns prior to playing the Dallas Cowboys and Chidobie Awuzie:
The longest TD from scrimmage this season.
— NFL (@NFL) October 13, 2019
The defender NOT in the picture when Robby Anderson caught a 92-yard touchdown is Chidobie Awuzie. Prior to this catch, Anderson had 112 receiving yards on the season, so he nearly matched it in one play.
One also has to wonder about Jeff Heath. He generally lines up 25 yards from the line of scrimmage and if you line up that far back I assume your number one assignment is to not let anyone get behind you for a big gain. Those smarter than me will probably tell me that’s not his assignment but again, what is your assignment when you’re always 30 yards from the play?
Jets receivers were often running free and clear through this overhyped group of mediocre defenders who seem entirely incapable of making any plays. Oh, except for Jourdan Lewis. Lewis, of course, rarely sees any playing time because he’s short and Richard likes tall.
All he does, however, is make plays like this:
— Cowboys Videos (@Cowboys_Videos) October 13, 2019
I can’t be certain, but based on history I seriously doubt Byron Jones, Awuzie or Anthony Brown catch that ball. I give Jeff Heath a 50/50 chance. On a unit that seems allergic to making plays on the ball you’d think Lewis’ ball-hawking skills would be in demand but no, apparently Richard, Marinelli and Garrett are happy not forcing turnovers. Or making other key plays such as this:
— Steven Van Over (@StevenVanOver) October 13, 2019
Without the play of Jourdan Lewis, only in the game due to injuries, the grade for this group would be an F.
SPECIAL TEAMS: F
Now, you could say this is a harsh grade. After all, the special teams didn’t do anything particularly bad. There were no long returns. The kicking game largely did what was expected. Even going beyond expectations at times:
— Cowboys Videos (@Cowboys_Videos) October 13, 2019
But for the second week in a row, with the game in question in the second half, Brett Maher missed a field goal that is made more than 90% of the time in the NFL.
Which surprised no one because Maher missing routine, everyday NFL field goals is pretty much what he does. It’s been written about by many that Maher’s inconsistency would cost this team a victory at some point. You can sure argue this was that game as the Cowboys lost by two and field goals are worth (checks notes) three.
How he has his starting job without any competition being brought in is beyond me.
The most disturbing thing to me about Sunday’s game was the absolute absence of emotion from any of the Cowboys. They looked more like accountants reporting for an eight-hour Monday shift than professional football players competing against the best players in the world.
Considering where the team was, what was at stake, the need for a win… that’s astounding. And yet again – that’s coaching. That clip where players ignore Garrett as he’s doing his clapping this is very telling in my opinion. You could argue he’s lost the team and once a coach loses a team he’s done.
I am not a fan of rash, reactionary decisions. And I may feel completely different by Tuesday or Wednesday. But the abysmal job done by the “leadership” group with this team makes me think that without a dramatic change at the top this team will continue to underachieve and ultimately disappoint.