On expectations and another mediocre Cowboys season

Sep 17, 2017; Denver, CO, USA; Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett reacts in the fourth quarter against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
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It’s frustrating, but it’s probably for the best the Cowboys won’t make the playoffs. Their only hope for making playoffs noise came from the fact that a lot of NFC teams are similar kinds of untrustworthy, and the best team, the Eagles, lost their most important player. But, they were never a great team or even a particularly good one this year.

There were all kinds of plays in Sunday’s games that summed up the nature of this year’s dysfunction. The most obvious, of course, felt like one we’d seen a million times, and it involved every person on the offense. After getting to the 3-yard line, with eight minutes left and a small deficit, the Cowboys tried a sneak rather than hand it off to the recently returned Ezekiel Elliott.

They then, naturally, tried a pass from the two rather than hand it off to Elliott, which naturally resulted in a holding penalty that pushed them back ten yards, which led to another pass that naturally resulted in an eleven-yard sack, which ultimately led to a missed 34-yard field goal attempt. 

There’s honestly no point in having drafted Elliott where they did if you’re not going to hand it to him within three yards of the end zone. But the key point is that every play in that drive was a preventable disaster.

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They could have run on first, they could have avoided the sack, they could have made the field goal. My least favorite play of the whole sequence, believe it or not, was a seven-yard completion to Jason Witten on third-down, twenty-three yards from the goal line. 

Witten is an amazing player who pretty much always makes the catch and who has been the ‘Boys safety valve for years in just this way. But he also only makes yards after the catch in very special circumstances, of which safety-valving is not one. Dak’s throw, which did not come under significant pressure, amounted to a concession that a medium-length field goal was the best they could do, and they kind of got what they deserved for that.

We’ll leave 2017, ultimately, not really knowing what we’ve got, which is the saddest part – since it’s not missing a playoffs they probably wouldn’t have advanced in. There’s no way to deny the fact that Dak Prescott regressed in year two, now most of the evidence is in. He’s apparently terrified of throwing a deep ball, which is ironic because their two best chances of the game came courtesy of defensive pass interference calls on long passes.

You’ll forgive me for thinking that if there hadn’t been a 43-yard PI in the 3rd quarter, they wouldn’t have gotten a field goal out of that drive, and the goal-line disaster described above came after a 29-yard PI call.

But we also don’t really know what the problem is. When you have a running back who’s so likely to get four or five yards when you need three, and you don’t rush him, it’s not his fault, it’s the coordinator’s. When you have a WR, like Dez Bryant, who’s still a good deep threat with suspect hands, but you can’t throw deep, it’s not his fault.

In fact, the Cowboys in all but the one way that counts, more or less outplayed the Seahawks on Sunday – Russell Wilson was 14/21 for 93 yards, and led the team in rushing with 29. When you can’t beat a team that can’t move the ball more than that, no matter what else happens, it seems likely it’s the coaching.

And, again, with all that, the Cowboys will be no worse than 8-8, which is as good or better than five of the last seven seasons. If they get to 9, it’ll be their third best season since 2009, and tied for the fifth-best since 2003. With heightened expectations comes heightened scrutiny, and this feels worse than a six-win season therefore. This is still, however, a young and talented team and we don’t know what will happen next.

 

Is it reasonable to assume the Cowboys will make the playoffs next season or are they doomed to mediocrity again? Share your thoughts with Andy @andytobo.