The Dallas Cowboys came out of their bye week with a record of 2-2 into a week 6 matchup with the Baltimore Ravens with two weeks of preparation. The team put together a decent performance on the road against a strong team that rarely looses at home. The Cowboys won the time of possession battle with a possession time of 40:03. The team also dominated the line of scrimmage, and had a whopping 227 yards rushing on 42 attempts. In the team’s 52 year history, the Cowboys have only had one loss when having 42 or more rushing attempts. Unfortunately for Cowboy fans, it was this past Sunday and the team now is 89-1 in games with that many rushing attempts.
After the game there was much talk of why the Cowboys lost. All the national and local coverage has focused on a few key plays as the source of the Sunday downfall. These plays are as follows:
1) The failed 2pt conversion where Dez Bryant fails to haul in the pass from Tony Romo with :32 left in the fourth quarter.
2) The terrible clock management after Dez Bryant caught the ball on the last drive and was downed at he :22 mark of the fourth quarter.
3) The missed FG attempt form Dan Bailey with :06 left in the fourth quarter from 51 yards.
Had any of these aforementioned plays gone differently and in the Cowboys favor, the result could have been a victory on Sunday and this article would have an entirely different tone. However, that was not the case, and the Cowboys are now sitting at 2-3. There are three very difficult games remaining in the second quarter of their season with two on the road. I want to look a little closer as to why this game resulted in a loss, after an otherwise dominant display in the line of scrimmage battle and time of possession. After reviewing the film, I have isolated these key plays:
1) 3rd & 4 at Baltimore’s 12 yard line at the 12:24 mark of the second quarter – - After taking the ball down and scoring a touchdown on their first possession, the Cowboys were doing the same on their second possession. On the aforementioned down and
distance, Felix Jones was given the ball and converted for a first down and got the ball to the Baltimore 7 yard line. However, due to an illegal motion penalty by the two receivers not being set before the ball was snapped, the conversion was called back. The Cowboys were now at 3rd & 9 and did not convert the next play. Instead of being able to possibly put another touchdown on the board, they had to settle for a FG and the score was now 10-3, instead of 14-3.
2) 3rd & Goal at the Cowboy 2 yard line at the 7:37 mark of the second quarter – - On the ensuing drive after the Cowboys went up 10-3, Baltimore drove the ball right down the field on the Cowboys and got to a 1st and goal at the 6 yard line at the 8:23 mark. The Cowboys held firm and went three plays and did not break. Unfortunately, on the aforementioned 3rd down play that the Ravens did not convert, Kenyon Coleman was called for an illegal hands to the face penalty. The Ravens were now given three more downs to score from the two yard line, and Ray Rice ran it in on first down. Instead of the score being 10-6, it was now tied at 10-10.
3) 2nd & 5 at the Baltimore 30 yard line at the 2:58 mark of the second quarter – - After Baltimore tied the score at 10-10, the Cowboys drove back down the field. On the aforementioned play, DeMarco Murray converts the first down and gets the ball to the Baltimore 25. Unfortunately, Tyron Smith is called for holding penalty that was not needed for Murray to advance the ball. This pushed the Cowboys back to a 2nd & 15, and then a 3rd & 10 at the Baltimore 35. On this third down play Romo is put under heavy pressure while looking to convert a pass. He then proceeds to throw the interception, and Baltimore has the ball at their 21 yard line. Baltimore takes the ball down the field and scores a touchdown before the half, going up 17-10. Instead of the Cowboys continuing to grind out the rushing attach and score either a FG or touchdown themselves and keeping the ball away from Baltimore, the holding penalty by Smith caused this chain of events to unfold to end the half.
4) The kickoff at the 11:37 mark of the third quarter – - The Cowboys took the first possession of the second half and scored a field goal. On the ensuing kickoff, a breakdown in kick coverage allowed Jacoby Jones to tie the NFL record on a kickoff return of 108 yards. Jones went basically untouched as the Cowboys coverage team did not stay in their respective coverage lanes (Alex Albright in particular). The score was now 24-13 Baltimore, and the tone had been set.
While there are more plays that could be listed, these are the key plays that set the tone for how the end of the game would be played. Instead of the Cowboys possibly being up 21-6 at the half, they were down 17-10. The owner’s of the NFL wanted parity, and they have it. Any team can win on any given Sunday, and as ESPN’s Chris Berman says “it’s why they play the games”. While a few teams are definitely above and below average, the vast majority are average. Cowboy fans would like to think their team is one of the few that are above, but quite simply they are not. In their last 200 games, they are right around .500. Since they opened Cowboys Stadium back in 2009, they are one game over .500 at home.
An average team must capitalize on opportunities and not squander them away. Regardless of how the last minute of this game unfolded, had the Cowboys played a disciplined game throughout, how the last minute unfolded would have been irrelevant. Teams in the NFL gain experience and continue to grow as the season goes along, hoping for a crescendo as they approach December that they can ride into the playoffs. These teams will suffer losses, but will also get enough wins to keep them in the hunt. With the Cowboys already at 2-3, the urgency must rise. If they continue to make these costly errors and drop games, it will not matter how they are playing in December if they have already lost too many in September, October, and November. I previewed the balance of the Cowboys schedule in last week’s article. Hopefully the Cowboys can tighten up and get the loose ends corrected. Otherwise, before long we will be discussing something with the Cowboys, but it won’t be the playoffs. Instead, it will be what will they do in the offseason to improve the team for 2013.
Follow Craig Cortemeglia on Twitter at @ccortemegliaTLH