Hopefully everyone has had some time to let Sunday’s loss settle, and can look at it with a level head.
Easier said than done, I know.
Two words can essentially sum up the 31-30 Cowboy loss in Motown: Calvin Johnson. Megatron amassed 329 receiving yards and a score on 13 catches as he carved up the Dallas secondary like a month-early Thanksgiving turkey.
It was supposed to be a shootout between two 4-3 teams potentially destined for the playoffs. For three quarters, Dallas vs. Detroit did not go as advertised, as it was just 13-7 Cowboys 75 percent of the way through the contest. But 41 total points were scored in the fourth quarter, with Detroit scoring the final seven on an 80-yard drive that lasted only 50 seconds.
A breakdown of the gut wrenching one-point loss, including the positives, the negatives, and a (tough to find) glass-half-full outlook:
Sean Lee remained in excellent form as he turned in another double-digit tackle performance and intercepted two Matthew Stafford passes. It was the fifth straight week in which Lee recorded ten or more tackles, and the two interceptions pushed his career total to 11, which is tops among all NFL linebackers since 2010. Lee also moved up to second in the league in total tackles in 2013 with 71.
Lee’s two picks accounted for half of the four takeaways the Cowboys’ defense. It’s difficult to look past the numbers 329 (Johnson’s receiving total) and 488 (Stafford’s passing total), but one thing that is undeniable is that the Dallas defense has figured out a way to create turnovers under the tutelage of Monte Kiffin. The defensive unit eclipsed its takeaway total from all of last year on Sunday.
It’s becoming a staple of this piece, but six targets are not nearly enough in the direction of Dez Bryant. The hype leading into the showdown between nearly identical teams built up the matchup of stellar wide receivers in Dez and Megatron. While Johnson was the recipient of 16 targets from Matthew Stafford, Dez had only six balls thrown his way all game – at least two of which were nowhere close to catchable. No matter which was you slice it, your no. 1 playmaker has to be more involved than six targets, especially if you’re throwing it 30 times.
And the Dez Factor becomes even more important when the ‘Boys can’t establish a running game. Six different Cowboys combined for 26 carries and only 62 yards (2.4 yards per carry). Joseph Randle got the bulk of the work, but was the least effective rusher, gaining less than two yards per carry. Bill Callahan tried to throw a wrinkle at the Detroit defense with two different wide receiver end-around plays, but those gained a meager six total yards.
It’s certainly understandable if a team struggles in the running game against Detroit, as the Lions stack over 600 pounds of defensive tackle in the middle of their defensive front, but they have somehow surrendered 108 yards per game on the ground.
Another negative that stands out from Sunday’s loss has to be clock management in the final minutes. With a three-point lead and 3:33 left to play, Dallas managed to run only a minute and nine seconds off of the game clock while Detroit used just one timeout. Even worse was after Detroit’s turnover on downs – which should’ve iced the game – with 1:24 to play, the ‘Boys burned only 22 seconds of the game clock. Twenty-two…
The Lions used their final two timeouts in the first 10 seconds of that drive. And honestly, I’m not sure who should absorb more blame for the ensuing third-and-14 play, Tyron Smith or Jason Garrett. With Detroit out of time outs and only 1:14 to play, Tony Romo could’ve easily taken a knee, run out the play clock, and Dallas could’ve punted to pin the Lions deep in their own territory. At a minimum, that would’ve burned 40-45 seconds of the game clock.
Instead, Phillip Tanner got the carry – seemingly logical, still, as this too keeps the clock rolling – and took it nine yards. But Smith was flagged for holding, which stopped the clock before a Dan Bailey field goal with 1:07 to go. A quick side note worth mentioning is that, if Bailey’s kick was in the air for three seconds (which makes sense on a five-second play), then almost 14 percent of Dallas’s final drive time consisted of the field goal’s flight through the air. It doesn’t matter how you draw it up, a professional football team needs to figure out a way to run more than 22 seconds off the clock with under a minute and a half to go in a one-score game.
The Lions marched 80 yards in 50 seconds – including a 40-yard pass to Kris Durham (who? Exactly…) – to render the poor clock management costly.
Terrance Williams set a rookie franchise record by catching a touchdown for the fourth consecutive week. And the Baylor product is showing real signs of being able to shoulder a significant role in the aerial attack, especially in the absence of Miles Austin. Williams saw 10 targets Sunday, and recorded a 60-yard catch-and-run despite having only two catches. While that’s not a ratio anyone in the organization wants to see, and is substantially worse than Williams’s season thus far, it shows that Romo trusts him enough to give him the most targets of any receiver.