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Cowboys Hash Marks: Trying too hard in the Big Easy

The Dallas Cowboys weren’t able to pull off a win in New Orleans in their first opportunity to prove they belong in the NFC contenders conversation
Credit: AP
Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) carries into the end zone for a touchdown in the second half of an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys in New Orleans, Sunday, Sept. 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Bill Feig)

The Dallas Cowboys sustained their first loss of the season with a 12-10 suffocation at the hands of the New Orleans Saints Sunday night at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

While the season is far from in peril with a 3-1 mark through the first four weeks, and the Cowboys are far from pretenders even after losing to their first good competition of the season, there were some concerns coming out of New Orleans as well as positives.

Giveaways thwarted execution — What the Cowboys demonstrated in their first three games against inferior competition from New York, Washington, and Miami was a high level of execution. Once the Cowboys got rolling on offense, they were unstoppable. In those three games, Dallas didn't come alive until the second quarter, particularly in Weeks 1-2. 

One could see it happening again in New Orleans until mistakes began to force Dallas to slam on the brakes. In the second quarter on Sunday, Dallas started clicking when tight end Jason Witten picked up 16 yards on a third-and-4 from the Cowboys' 31-yard line. Yet, linebacker A.J. Klein forced just the ninth fumble of Witten’s career and linebacker Vonn Bell recovered. 

The Cowboys’ defense forced a three-and-out and gave the offense another chance to get going before halftime. Instead, a dubious review from New York on an alleged Ezekiel Elliott fumble on fourth-and-1 killed Dallas' drive with 1:30 to go until halftime. That was the point in the game where the Cowboys’ offense looked like it was about to activate, right at the same time it had in previous weeks, and the Saints managed to clog the fuel lines at just the right time.

The officiating was substandard but not to blame — For some Cowboys fans, the officiating can be the cause for the Saints edging the Cowboys by two points, with the Dallas defense holding New Orleans to just four field goals. The aforementioned Elliott fumble was baffling, and Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore may have oversold the push-off on receiver Amari Cooper's offensive pass interference calls. However, the Cowboys' Hail Mary drive of the game typified the officiating on the night that even burned both teams. 

When Cooper converted a third-and-12 and the ball came loose, not only did the whistle not blow, but there was no effort to run alongside the Saints defender as he crossed into the end zone. There was no touchdown signal. There was no indication the play was dead or live. 

Forget the Saints having a 12-1 record when Carl Cheffers officiates Saints games – Dallas has a 7-1 record with Walt Anderson, for example. Cheffers and his crew seemed a tad passive, over correcting at times, and indecisive about letting the players play or following the letter of the law. Ultimately, Dallas has to play their brand of football that takes officiating miscues out of the equation, and on Sunday night, they were caught in the funk along with Cheffers' crew.

Robert Quinn complements DeMarcus Lawrence beautifully — The Cowboys found their war daddy with Lawrence. The problem over the past two seasons has been having someone to take advantage of the attention that Lawrence commands. Randy Gregory's availability issues and not finding the right personnel led Dallas to look outside the organization, and thus, the Cowboys traded a 2020 sixth-round pick to Miami for Quinn. 

So far, Quinn has provided speed off the edge not seen since the days of DeMarcus Ware. His 2.0 sacks in New Orleans made it the 13th time in his career he produced a 2.0-plus sack game. At 29 years old, Quinn is at the perfect age for pass rushers where Father Time has yet to put his mitts on them while having access to wisdom from nearly a decade of playing time in the NFL. The Cowboys could get a Pro Bowl season from Quinn if he and Lawrence can continue their tag team off the edges.

Not the same ol' 3-1 — The last time the Cowboys started 3-0 was in 2008, when they failed to make the playoffs and became the only team of the franchise's 15 3-0 teams to fail to make the playoffs. Interestingly, that '08 team lost in Week 4, but at home against Washington. While there are parallels with the 2008 team, they essentially end at that point. 

The '08 Cowboys were veteran-laden, not a young team as in 2019 and not at all cohesive. Coach Jason Garrett has spent the last nine seasons as the club's full-time coach creating a culture of "right kind of guys" who buy into his system, and the ones that don't aren't around anymore. 

It would take the type of in-fighting, and mercurial characters such as Terrell Owens and Pacman Jones, to derail the '19 Cowboys, who have been on a mission ever since their divisional playoff exit in Los Angeles this January.

Do you think Sunday night’s game was more indicative of where the Cowboys are at or do you think it was just a bad game that Dallas can bounce back from? Share your thoughts on the first loss of the season with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.

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