It’s never a good day when the Cowboys lose, but it’s especially painful when we had already gotten a little taste of victory. Sure, nobody was counting their chickens when the Cowboys took an eight-point lead into halftime against the Los Angeles Rams, but let’s not kid ourselves – we were feeling pretty good.
In just one half of football, the offense had put up 280 total yards and had scored 24 points. And it wasn’t just that they were winning, but also how they went about it. The team had 133 yards rushing by halftime, which was more than they’ve had in any full game this season. In short, the first half Cowboys got back to doing what they were so good at doing in 2016.
But then the worm suddenly turned.
The holes that Ezekiel Elliott had in the first half suddenly stop being there. The throws Dak Prescott was making earlier in the game started missing their mark. And the defense, time and time again, couldn’t get the Rams offense off the field. Before we knew it, the Cowboys were fighting for their lives on the final drive as we watched Zeke come up a yard short on a game-ending fourth down play.
And just like that our hopes and aspirations of a pleasant work week sponging off a Cowboys victory were crushed. Thanks for nothing.
Over the next few days, we’ll spend time pondering the “what if’s?” What if Ryan Switzer didn’t muff that punt? What if a Cowboys player jumped on that loose ball down by the goal line after Jared Goff lost it? What if Terrance Williams catches that two-point conversion?
There are a lot of things we could point out that played a huge role in the Cowboys loss, but there is one thing that continues to stand out as a radical stimulus to whether or not this team wins football games – the running game.
Yes, it was there early, but then it suddenly faded and with it went the Cowboys chances to win the game. When the running game is ineffective, other things start crumbling around them. Prescott is then asked to make more plays for the offense.
Don’t get me wrong, he’s made more than his fair share of big plays for the offense. He was outstanding escaping the pocket and would end up throwing three touchdown passes, but there were also many times in the second half where he couldn’t connect with his receivers.
According to @PFF, Dez Bryant was targeted 13 times vs. the Rams, catching 6 of the 7 catchable passes for 98 yards— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) October 2, 2017
The protection, which has been so good in the past, wasn’t there. And that is not a good thing when you’re asking your young quarterback to go out and win the game.
And let’s not forget the defense. We are not going to try to convince anyone that the Cowboys have a strong defense – we’re more sensible than that. But what they do have is an opportunistic defense. They didn’t finish top five last year in points allowed because they dominated their opponents. And at times this season, they have flashed some of that same type of play where it looks like they have the upper hand.
But it all falls in a line with the offense. Even more than that, it all falls in line with a dominant ground attack. Last season, the Cowboys would run more than any other team in the league. They would also run on first down more than any other team in the league.
And when it came to finishing the game, no team ran more than the Cowboys in the second half. They would dominate the time of possession and they would be one of the top teams in the league at sustaining drives of ten plays or more.
But these same things aren’t happening in 2017.
The backbone of this team that carried them to a 13-3 record and the top seed in the NFC last season, has cracks. The Cowboys have three All Pro offensive linemen on the team, but for the first time ever – they are having fits fending off the defense.
And with two new guys on the line, it presents a real challenge for this unit to get back to where they were. And when you include the tight ends, they need the group as a whole to get hats on hats and open up more running lanes.
They need their All Pro running back to hit those holes hard and have productive plays on first down. Once this starts happening, other things will fall into place. Their young quarterback will then be kept in third and manageable situations and the likeliness to keep the chains moving will increase.
Opposing teams will start having to air it out and take more chances and the opportunistic defense will get their chance again. With several players soon to be returning on defense (David Irving, Sean Lee, Anthony Hitchens, and Chidobe Awuzie), they’ll gain some much needed reinforcements.
This is what worked for them last year and they need to find that same mojo if they are to get back to Cowboys football. Save the running game, save the season.
What do you think are the cause for the Cowboys struggles so far? Do you see them getting back on track? Share your answer with Dan on Twitter @DannyPhantom24.