The season is not over, despite what many say and believe.
The decree was on repeat Sunday night after the Cowboys let another halftime lead slip away.
“It’s over. Mail it in.”
The Cowboys lost a heartbreaker to the New Orleans Saints in overtime, 26-20. Many fans of the Cowboys, faced with the reality that Tony Romo isn’t walking through that door before November 22nd, sounded off. The team is dreadful, their offense looks pathetic and the defense can’t stop anybody. Cancel the rest of the season, folks!
Some of this is true. The offensive line has not played up to expectations. They are too often being defeated by the players lined up across from them and no player on the line seems to be immune. But the offense isn’t a problem. If someone proclaimed a Brandon Weeden led offense would average 24 points a game, most fans would be estatic.
The defense on the other hand, hasn’t come through the last two weeks, but that also shouldn’t be viewed as a disappointment. For the majority of the Saints game, and important stretches of the Falcons game, Sean Lee was not on the field. This is while Greg Hardy, Ro McClain and Randy Gregory are all sidelined for various reasons.
Fact: the defense is a different animal when Sean Lee is on the field. Fact: Sean Lee has missed key portions of the last two games, and we’re only through a quarter of the schedule. Regardless, this team continues to count on him while the young pups get acclimated.
The job of the coaching staff is to get every player to commit the same level of effort and concentration despite the fact that so many of their leaders and best players are sidelined. The job of the coaching staff is to not allow brain farts like Andrew Gachkar not staying on the ground, to end up losing the game for them. To step in when Anthony Hitchens isn’t getting the guys in the right situation.
It’s unacceptable for a coaching staff with this much tenure to be ill-prepared for the situation and not use one of their two overtime timeouts to prevent Drew Brees from talking advantage of clueless Damien Wilson and Keith Smith. There’s no excuse for not paying attention there. Overtime is sudden death, for all intents and purposes. You use your timeouts whenever you have anything that isn’t right, because you will rarely have a two-minute drill in OT that you need to save them for.
Last week it was 10 men on the field for a 2-point conversion try. This week, Dallas had 12 men on the field for a punt that allowed the Saints to then try a 52 yard field goal that they converted. Think those three points mattered in a game that went to overtime?
The Cowboys have inexplicably kept Lucky Whitehead on the 53 man roster and active on game day despite never giving him a chance to showcase his incredible return talent. The edict on returns is that if you have someone capable of excelling there, that isn’t a regular, that you allow them to do that job so as to not risk the injury of someone integral to your offense. One would be hard-pressed to say there has been a more integral part of the Dallas offense than Lance Dunbar over the first stretch of the season. Still, despite only averaging 24 yards a return, Dallas kept him as the kick return man and slot receiver Cole Beasley as the punt returner who’s duty it has been to fair catch almost every punt (9 of 14 opportunities).
So what happens? Lance Dunbar, playing in front of his hometown crowd, inexplicably brings a kickoff out of the end zone to try and make a big play. He’s stopped around the 10 yard line and ends up injured and likely lost for the season with torn ACL and MCLs in his knee. What was Dunbar giving the team in kick returns that Whitehead couldn’t have? Dunbar hasn't returned a kick for a score in his professional career. That’s an unsound coaching decision that will now affect the offense for the remainder of the season.
The play calling was confusing at certain points as well, but it’s always a slippery slope for people on the outside to criticize play calling. You never know what is being done to set up things as the game moves along or what matchup might be getting targeted. However, it’s fairly common knowledge that Terrance Williams isn’t the guy you throw fade routes to, yet that seemed to be the only call in the playbook once Dallas got into the red zone. They tried it unsuccessfully on back-to-back plays, and then again on the game-tying drive that eventually worked with Williams making a diving grab on fourth down.
Last week, leading 21-14 with time winding down in the first half, Dallas was driving when Weeden found Dunbar for a 22 yard gain down to the Atlanta one-yard line. The Cowboys called a timeout. Why? It stopped the clock when you don’t want to leave any time left for Atlanta to counter. Make the Falcons use one of their timeouts, instead of saving them for on offense. If a timeout must be called, at least wait until the play clock is near 0. Nope, coaching gaffe, led to the Falcons scoring right before the half.
These are reminiscent of the errors that Dallas would make on a regular basis prior to 2014. It appeared that the majority of these mistakes were corrected last year, but maybe they were just covered up by the comprehensive excellence that is Tony Romo’s late-career.
The Cowboys offense is even more hamstrung with Dunbar done for the year. The defense is getting reinforcements, but it probably would be a little foolish to anticipate Hardy and McClain showing no rust. Times are hard for the Cowboys right now. The coaching staff is right there with the players who must improve their performances if Dallas is to weather the storm.