For much of this season, the Dallas Cowboys defense has held this team’s head above water, keeping them in every game and giving the offense countless opportunities to post a record better than the 3-4 mark they entered Monday night with. What’s more, after Baltimore‘s performance Sunday, the Cowboys defense officially became the top-rated total defense in the league, allowing just a hair over 17 points per game. With a home game against the Tennessee Titans following a bye week, it looked to all be there in front of them as they tried to recover their season.
The Cowboys were unbeaten at AT&T Stadium this season. The bye week meant extra rest and additional preparation, although, to be fair, the Titans were also coming off a bye. It also didn’t hurt that Dallas had a new number one receiver in Amari Cooper to show off. His debut alone was all but guaranteed to invigorate Dallas’ sputtering offense. And for the first two or three possessions, it did just that. Then something strange happened. The vaunted Cowboy defense seemed to fold.
Following Dak Prescott‘s ill-advised pass into double coverage on 2nd and Goal, Marcus Mariota and company marched 80 yards down the field to tie the game at 7. The Prescott pass wiped away an opportunity to take a two score lead, and that’s not even counting Brett Maher‘s missed 38-yard field goal on the team’s opening drive. So rather than leading 17-0, or at the very least 13-0, Dallas found itself in a tied ball game despite forcing 2 turnovers in Tennessee territory and controlling the first 11 minutes of the clock. Although the defense would nearly create its third turnover of the half, a third fumble recovery would be overturned upon further review, allowing Tennessee’s drive to continue and ultimately find the endzone for a 14-7 lead.
Entering the contest, Marcus Mariota had thrown just 3 touchdown passes, and yet on Monday Night Football, he seemed to dissect the Cowboy secondary on 21 of 29 passing for 240 yards and 2 touchdowns. He also added a third touchdown on the ground to ice the game in the fourth quarter. This was the 30th ranked offense in the NFL, scoring a meager 31 points across its past 3 games before dropping 28 in Dallas against the supposed number 1 defense. Are you kidding me?
As for the Dallas offense, it moved the ball well early, though two of those possessions came with the benefit of a short field, only to stall out yet again. The heart of the offense’s identity, Ezekiel Elliott racked up 70 total yards in the first quarter alone. That’s a fine start for a workhorse back. But how did he end the game? With 112 total yards and barely any touches in the second half.
The offensive line was dreadful, giving up 5 sacks in the second half, though Dak did them no favors on one of those plays as he held the ball for nearly 5 seconds before finally eating a sack and coughing up the ball. Despite blowing the opportunity for a big lead in the first half, the Cowboys found themselves in a tied game with the ball in the third quarter. And it’s important to remember that right before the aforementioned Prescott fumble, the line was flagged for not one, but two costly penalties that moved the offense into a long yardage situation and effectively neutralized Zeke for the remainder of the possession. With Zeke no longer a threat, the burden fell squarely onto Dak Prescott’s shoulders, which promptly led to 7 more Tennessee points.
Despite catching 5 passes for 58 yards and a touchdown, Amari Cooper could not save this Cowboys team from itself. The playcalling continues to be hyper-conservative and greatly flawed on a week-to-week basis. The few strengths Dak Prescott does possess are routinely cast aside and all but forgotten over the course of a game. The head coach, meanwhile, has had every excuse over the years, turning over his entire staff and both of his coordinators multiple times throughout his tenure. And yet here we are. The offense doesn’t work, even with a true number one receiver back in the fold. The defense, though talented, still has some very real problems that surfaced after 7 very solid games. Even the kicker, who just two weeks ago had been riding a streak of 16 consecutive made field goals missed a short 38 yard kick, marking his second straight miss and third overall.
The Dallas Cowboys may be young but on almost every front this team is broken. The quarterback has significantly regressed over the last year and change. The running back hasn’t looked dominant in several weeks now, if not longer. The offensive line Dallas sunk more than $100 million into, though its been without Travis Frederick, has shown itself oftentimes to be a liability with costly penalties and seemingly constant pressure. And now the defense, the one piece to this machine that was humming along and performing at a high level, just let a mediocre offense walk into its house and punch it in the nose. But worst of all is the coaching staff. Jason Garrett has no idea how to fix this team. It’s time for a change, but can Jerry Jones finally admit he was wrong about Garrett and fire the second longest tenured coach in team history? If not then this team’s very leadership is broken.