First let me say that any NFL game that goes without any penalties being called in the first three quarters is probably not the result of extremely clean play. It’s more likely the result of extremely bad officiating. Like most games, I saw many instances of holding by the opponent’s offensive line that was just not called.
That being said, the bigger issue this season that led the Cowboys to where they are today, preparing to watch the playoffs as spectators, was way too many mistakes along with a complete decimation of the defense due to many season ending injuries. At least I am hopeful that the Cowboys can come up with some kind of plan to stop RGIII and Alfred Morris once all the starters on defense are healthy.
The Cowboys went into this game, basically a playoff game that would decide the NFC East champion, without defensive starters Barry Church, Sean Lee, Bruce Carter and Kenyon Coleman all on injured reserve. In addition, also on injured reserve were linebacker Orie Lemon and slot cornerback Orlando Scandrick.
Add to that Jay Ratliff missing more games than he played and missing this one as well. Also missing was Jay’s primary backup Josh Brent, don’t think I need to go into much explanation there. And then there’s DeMarcus Ware, in this game for quite a few plays, but just a shell of his former self due to shoulder and elbow injuries he has been attempting to play with for several weeks.
Now let’s look at many of the guys the Cowboys have depended on in the absence of all of these injured players. Bet you never heard their names until they became Cowboys. Names like Charlie Peprah, Ernie Sims, Brady Poppinga, Sterling Moore, Michael Coe and Eric Frampton.
These guys are so good that many of them were out of football, until the Cowboys came calling out of necessity. So, as disappointed as we are right now, we need to give Rob Ryan credit for the job he did to hold this defense together and help the Cowboys to win as many games as they did.
But going forward, stupid mistakes can no longer be the hallmark of this team, at least not if they want get to a record above five hundred. Jason Hatcher put the punctuation mark on a season filled with mistakes with his hands to the head of RGIII, with the ensuing penalty that allowed them to seal the game.
I don’t want to leave the Cowboys offense out of this conversation, they certainly had their share of struggles on that side of the ball as well. The three interceptions that we witnessed against the Redskins were too much to overcome. Especially the last one when the Cowboys had a decent shot at getting downfield and scoring.
I am sure the Tony Romo haters will be quick to put the blame on him for the outcome of this season, but it’s a team game. The Cowboys struggled all season with an offensive line that could not get the job done and they certainly struggled against the Redskins. Cowboys’ starting center, Phil Costa, played in just one game and even though there was nowhere near the amount of injuries on offense, the line was just sub-par and is an area of immediate need for improvement.
In the Redskins game, Dez Bryant left the game, when needed most, with a back injury and Miles Austin played sparingly with an ankle injury. When they had to keep him in the game, he was just not close enough to 100 percent to make a difference. And as far as the whole season is concerned, missing DeMarco Murray for six games was the difference between winning and losing some of them.
So where do the Cowboys go from here? This is my knee jerk reaction:
Offense: Kevin Ogletree and Felix Jones need not be offered new contracts. There are some players on the line that will need to be replaced as well. Jason Garrett needs to promote, or hire, a play caller with more creativity.
Defense: The Cowboys should be solid on that side of the ball once all the starters return. If Mike Jenkins is too much of a luxury to keep around, it appears that Michael Coe can play. But, it appears they need to find a solid nose guard.
Stay tuned for future columns with more details on changes this team needs to make.