Despite all the changes this off season, we sit in the exact same place we were last year – a year that saw us finish with an 8-8 record and miss the playoffs. After a resounding win over the Giants, the Cowboys could not find a way to beat their week 2 opponent and sit at 1-1. At least this year, they showed up for the game. Instead of a 27-7 thrashing at the hands of a suprisingly good Seahawks team that would go undefeated at home, the Cowboys lost a 17-16 game in Kansas City. They were in it to the end and frustratingly, this was a game they could have and should have won. But, a loss is a loss.
Let me predict the game this week. We will struggle against St. Louis but ultimately win a close game. That’s what happened last year as we hosted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and squeaked out a messy, unimpressive 16-10 win. I think this game will be see more scoring but the outcome won’t be clear until the very end.
What happened to the excitement and optimism that permeated Cowboys Nation just two short weeks ago? What happened in Kansas City was more than just a loss. It underlined for the entire NFL to see that these are still the same old Jerry Jones’ Cowboys. You can change titles, change coaches, change a few players, but the same old issues are still there. Our running game is not a work in process – it’s non-existent. DeMarco Murray looks slow and is missing holes. Lance Dunbar could have been a nice change of pace but can’t hold on to the football.
What hasn’t changed is Dez Bryant. He’s a force out there. The Cowboys were exploiting him early in the game with great results and then suddenly, inexplicably went away from him. Their first possession of the third quarter with a 10-7 lead, the Cowboys drove all the way down to the KC 5-yard line. Facing 3rd and goal from the 9 after a sack on first down, a short completion on 2nd down, and then a false start penalty on Leary, the Cowboys lined up with 3 receivers to the right. Dez Bryant was all alone with single coverage on the left. He’d been dominating the KC defensive backs all day. The obvious play is to go to Dez on a fade or a back shoulder throw in the end zone. But, the Cowboys run a bubble screen to wasted draft pick Terrance Williams and lose 3 yards. They settle for a field goal instead of extending their lead and set themselves up right then and there for a one-point loss. You could feel it coming.
Here are a couple other observations from the loss:
> This defense is good, but when we had to have a stop – knowing the Chiefs were going to run the ball – we couldn’t do it. As good as our linebackers can play, there were badly missed tackles on that late drive by all three. We also did not create any turnovers after getting 6 in game one. I’m not ready yet to say this defense is going to better at taking it away until they can do it consistently. That starts with a pass rush
> If anyone ever doubted that a punter can win games, this game was textbook as to why field position counts. The KC punter, Dustin Colquitt, buried the Cowboys time after time including killing the ball at the 4-yard line for the Cowboys desperate last possession leaving them an very improbable 96 yards away.
> Brian Waters will be an improvement in the run game at guard, but we need him to play the whole game. Pass protection in general was better but broke down at critical points in the game.
> Lance Dunbar is a better running back right now than DeMarco Murray – but he has to hold on to the ball. His fumble was a killer and inexcusable. It probably means his touches will be severely limited and precisely the time we need his speed and productivity the most.
> Not sure if Romo’s ribs started to bother him, but that was maybe the worst 4th quarter performance I’ve seen from him. His whole throwing motion seemed different and he had no zip on the ball at all. Worse, he had no accuracy. He wasn’t knocked down a lot but gave up a fourth quarter fumble himself and just looked off – except for the one long pass in the 4th quarter that was dead on and that Dez Bryant uncharacteristically dropped.
The good news of course is that every other NFC East team lost too. So, even at 1-1 the Cowboys remain tied with the Eagles for first place. And, the team that many picked to repeat as division champs – the Redskins – is 0-2 and looking nothing like the 2012 team so far. Dallas didn’t lose any ground in the division, but if anyone watched the Seattle – San Franciscon game Sunday night, it’s pretty obvious those two teams are in a different league. There is little doubt either of those teams would wreak havoc on this Cowboys team in their current state.
But, the 49ers are 1-1 right now as well. The Falcons and Packers – two teams many picked to win their divisions – are too. It’s a long season. Still a lot of football to be played. But, the ‘Boys had better get their act together and put up some Ws now in the early part of their schedule. The back half of the schedule is brutal.
So, next up is the St. Louis Rams. A home game against a team that they should – and must – beat. No excuses. The Cowboys are out of excuses. Go Cowboys!