Two weeks into the 2013 season, Dallas Cowboys fans could be forgiven for thinking they were experiencing déjà vu. Last year, Dallas traveled to New York for the season opener and came away win a win, only to follow it up with a big loss to the Seahawks. Seattle failed to make the playoffs in 2011, but went on to become a legitimate threat in the NFC last year. This year, the Cowboys hosted the Giants in the opener, and again came away with the W. But Week 2 would again prove to be a stumbling block for Dallas, as they lost to the new-look Kansas City Chiefs by a point. When Head Coach Jason Garrett called for more balance, surely he didn’t mean on their record.
Although the Cowboys suffered a close loss to a promising Kansas City squad, it seems as if an air of panic may already be settling in around Dallas. Many fans and members of the media are wondering if the Cowboys can reach the heights that Owner/General Manager Jerry Jones promised after installing changes in the offense and defense. Against the Chiefs, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo lacked efficiency while running the no-huddle, the running game continued to struggle, and the defense failed to reproduce the encouraging six-turnover display from the week before. It may be just two weeks into the season, but the worry for many fans is that this may be yet another mediocre year for the Cowboys.
It is too early to say that this team is heading back for another 8-8 season, but the concern is warranted. After all, this is a franchise that has gone 105-105 since 2000, with a .500 record in the past two years. The franchise is seemingly stuck in neutral, with no signs that the engine is going to roar back to life.
Winning cures everything however, and a few wins could go along way for both fans and players. In order to win, they need to return to basics and reduced their emphasis on creativity. Fundamentally sound football may be boring, but it can also be dangerous.
On offense, the Cowboys must commit to running the football. To shore up the porous offensive line, the Cowboys should look to offensive guard Brian Waters to open holes for the running backs. On the few drives he was involved in, the Cowboys were successful. Look for Waters to be dominant against the St. Louis Rams. Also, Cowboys running back Demarco Murray must return to being patient, letting his running lanes develop before making an early move and missing holes that have yet to develop. His lack of patience and early contact with defenders is part of the reason why the team is only averaging 3.7 yards per attempt.
The passing game has been OK to this point, but Romo’s lack of accuracy has been a concern early on. His tendency to dance in the box, rather than setting his feet, could be another factor in his delivery. But a key to the passing game that must be exploited is throwing the ball to Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant when he is facing single coverage. When #88 is facing single coverage, it seems like no defensive back can cover the freakishly athletic wide out. In last week’s game, the Cowboys were on the Chief’s 9 yard line on 3rd and goal. They had a set screen for Cowboys receiver Terrence Williams which didn’t go for any yards and the Cowboys were forced to go for a field goal. If Tony were to look to his left, he would have saw one on one coverage with Dez. That is when you throw up a fade and let your playmaker go make a play in the end zone. That’s how you win in the NFL, with touchdowns not field goals.
After holding the Chiefs to just 17 points on Sunday, the defense remained impressive, but were far from perfect. The fact that Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith led the Chiefs in rushing is encouraging for the Cowboys’ run defense. However, it is a frightening thought that they let Alex Smith lead a team in rushing. Containing RG3 and Michael Vick will surely be a more difficult task. The team’s lack of turnovers in Week 2 was unnerving considering the defense is built to create them each series. The defense must continue to be aggressive and take advantage of the opportunities the offense gives them. And finally, the defense must continue to make big plays late in the game. With less than a minute to play, and only one point separating the two teams, the Cowboys let Chiefs’ running back Jamaal Charles eat up the clock as he ran wild. To be an elite defense, you must be able to make stops late in games.
The Dallas Cowboys have the talent to become Super Bowl champions, yet they have the mentality of an 8-8 franchise. The Cowboys must step up and fix their issues against the St. Louis Rams this Sunday, or it very well may be déjà vu all over again.