Sports

Cowboys’ defense couldn’t save day, but could be sign of things to come


For the majority of the season, the Dallas Cowboys’ offense has been charged with carrying the burden for the 2021 season. They were unable to come through on those promises on Sunday, as the offense was inept at basically every level and every position in their 19-9 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. So in a disheartening loss, why should there be any belief that things will be ok?

The loss dropped Dallas’ record on the season to 7-3, as they still enjoy a 2.5 game lead over the suddenly competitive Philadelphia Eagles for the NFC East’s automatic berth into the playoffs. The Cowboys have a far way to fall before that comes into question, but they did miss out on a golden opportunity in the conference playoff race. With just three days of rest between now and the next game —taking on the Las Vegas Raiders Thursday on Thanksgiving — one might want to move past this contest. However here are some takeaways from the failed midterm.

Defense is becoming elite

(AP Photo/Reed Hoffmann)

In all honesty, this should be the biggest takeaway from the Cowboys’ performance, but it has no shot to be. When a team loses the way Dallas did, there’s no way a silver lining is going to be the prevalent storyline.

But after what Dan Quinn coordinated against an inferior Atlanta offense in Week 10 rolled into stopping a vaunted Chiefs offense in Week 11. It doesn’t look like it, but Dallas absolutely solved the Chiefs offense after a shaky start. Scripted plays and a Prescott fumble led to an early nine-point deficit and the Chiefs were still rolling on their third drive that gave them a second score less than a minute into the second quarter.

From that point forward though, the defense was lights out.

On the next two drives, the Dallas defense didn’t allow the Chiefs past their own 37. The next KC possession started at their 45 and ended two plays later on a strip sack by Micah Parsons, who had two takedowns on the day.

Dallas intercepted Mahomes on their opening possession of the third quarter, then forced a three-and-out the next time out. Five straight stud defensive series for the defense before allowing a field-goal drive that was stalled by a third-down sack by Dorance Armstrong.

It wasn’t perfect, but when looked at from the perspective that Dallas is playing without DeMarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory and Neville Gallimore along the defensive line, along with Brent Urban, it’s a second-straight impressive performance by a team that should just get healthier.

Rattled by the road crowd

(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

The way the Dallas Cowboys started off the contest, one would think they weren’t prepared for the frenzied environment that Arrowhead presents to opponents. Few outdoor stadiums can create the atmosphere that there is in Missouri, and adding a red-hot Cowboys team to the equation whipped the fans up even more.

After a distrastrous (for them) start to the season at 3-4, the Chiefs had won three straight against lower-tier teams. The Cowboys were a prove-it game for them, much like Kansas City was a prove-it game for Dallas. The environment was chaotic and the reality of the Dallas situation landed squarely on an unprepared Dallas team. Overthrows and errant passes, drops, false starts, encroachment calls… they all seemed to result from the club being rattled to start the game.

There may have been as many as 20 plays called combined offense and defense before Dallas made what anyone would consider a truly positive play.

The Cowboys have been clutch in tough environments before. Their showing in Tampa Bay in Week 1 and wins at Minnesota and New England proved that. On Sunday though, they weren’t ready for the environment they’ll have to face if they don’t earn the No. 1 seed in the playoffs.

Injury issues: Next Man Up is a Bald Faced Lie

(AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

Part of the explanation why things went bad on the road is because of a time-tested fact about sports. Role players perform above expectation at home, and struggle in tough road environments. Sure, bit players can perform great while away from their friendly confines, but it isn’t normally the rule, rather the exception.

On Sunday, the Cowboys role players certainly shrunk from the moment. On the opening drive, Noah Brown dropped a third down pass and he’d drop another later in the game. Cedrick Wilson dropped two passes as well. Crowd noise impacted Justin Hamilton and he went offsides on a crucial third-and-two on the Chiefs first drive. Terence Steele stood still when the ball was snapped leading to a strip-sack of Prescott on Dallas’ second possession.

These guys are getting extensive playing time because the stars were out with injuries. Brown isn’t playing if Cooper isn’t on COVID list and Wilson isn’t playing as much if Lamb doesn’t leave at halftime with a concussion. Steele is playing on the left side because Tyron Smith’s high ankle sprain. Hamilton is one the roster because there’s no Gallimore or Urban.

Next man up is something coaches tell bench players to try to instill confidence. It’s just not true. There’s a reason players get $100 million contracts and it’s not because they can be replaced game-in-game-out and get the same level of performance. On Sunday, the backups weren’t able to play at their best, and it hurt the club.

Dak Prescott was bad

(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Normally, when other pieces fall down around him, the quarterback has been able to elevate their play. That was decidedly not the case on Sunday as Prescott himself was part of the problem. In most games, his will is able to inspire confidence in the lesser talented members of the team, but it felt like a bad omen when Prescott overshot a wide open Michael Gallup on the opening play of the game.

And it was.

Prescott was sailing passes throughout the day, being woefully inaccurate. It was his first game with no touchdowns and three turnovers since Week 10 in 2017, and he actually fumbled a second time the club didn’t lose.

There were reasons. Chris Jones is an elite defensive tackle and Dallas’ left side of the OL, Terence Steele and Connor McGovern, were not equipped. The timer in Prescott’s head was certainly thrown off and he’ll need to work to adjust. Atlanta didn’t present a challenge in this regard, but Prescott has not performed well against the two AFC West teams that the club has no familiarity with.

Not only that, but from a bird’s-eye view Prescott was once again not up to par when it came to checking out of plays that were runs into loaded boxes.

Prescott knows they have to play better, that he has to play better for this team to reach their heights.

Game planning and decision making didn’t add up

The Cowboys made a series of questionable in-game decisions, too.

When there was a dumb taunting penalty on the Chiefs’ second touchdown, Dallas decided to enforce it on the extra-point attempt. The Chiefs were up 15-3, and there isn’t much difference in being down 12 or 13 points. They could have put the kickoff 15 yards back instead, which would have been a big boost for an offense that was struggling and continued to struggle.

Late in the game, Dallas decided to punt on 4th and 9, down two scores with eight minutes remaining on their own 42. There’s a very limited shot of being able to pull off the comeback, but it’s certainly easier to do so with the ball than to depend on defensive stops in order to.. get the ball back.

In addition, the team refused to course correct when Brown and Wilson were playing poorly. Why didn’t they give Malik Turner a shot? Why didn’t they inject the speed of Tony Pollard, who had 70 yards on nine touches?

The Cowboys were thrown for a loop late in the week with Cooper’s COVID test. They clearly thought that Tyron Smith was going to play, which likely contributed to their decision to insert Connor McGovern in this contest in place of Connor Williams. They didn’t adjust to these things well on Sunday, and for a staff that had been pumped up so much, more was expected out of Kellen Moore and Mike McCarthy.

In general, the Cowboys’ offensive line couldn’t block anyone, and the coaching staff called plays like the offensive line couldn’t block anyone. It was a circular reference that Microsoft Excel would crash over.

Missed NFC opportunity

The Cowboys missed a golden opportunity with Green Bay falling in the early games. Both teams now have three losses on the season, along with the Los Angeles Rams and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who play the New York Giants on Monday night. As Dallas lost to the Bucs already, Sunday’s defeat hurts them in this regard.

Dallas is currently the third seed, but reverts to the fourth seed should the Bucs win.

The Arizona Cardinals won for the second time in three contests without starting QB Kyler Murray to regain the inside track on the No. 1 seed.

Things aren’t all bad, however. The Cowboys just have to be within one game of the Cardinals when they meet in Week 17, because a head-to-head win would be the first tiebreaker. The Packers losing to the Vikings hurts them as a second conference defeat (Dallas has just one) and in the common opponent department.

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