Games that become real nail biters are usually pretty exciting. But when it’s a game pitting the one win Minnesota Vikings against my 4-4 Dallas Cowboys at home, it is ridiculous and tiring. Why must this Cowboys team always do it the hard way? Why do they almost rise to the occasion, but still lose to the better teams by a field goal or less, and then play down to the level of the worst teams on their schedule? Why do they try to run the ball only around a dozen times against a team that gave up almost 200 yards on the ground last week? Why do they struggle to pass against a team missing a couple of players in the defensive backfield?
A game that I expected to look like the recent victory against the Rams looked more like the recent loss to the Lions. And maybe that’s part of the problem, the loss to the Lions. Despite Cowboys’ head coach Jason Garrett’s assertion that the Cowboys had their best week of practice last week, they looked like they were suffering from a lingering hangover due to last week’s game. But there’s more to it than that. One has to question coaching decisions.
Did they really game plan to run only about a dozen times against a team that gave up almost two hundred yards on the ground last week in DeMarco Murray’s first game back from injury, or did they just find the going tougher than anticipated? One thing I do know is that the more successful running teams don’t give up on it. And even in this game, the Cowboys were doing a very good job of limiting the yardage of Vikings running back Adrian Peterson but they kept going back to him and the result was Peterson breaking off a run for more than fifty yards and eventually running the ball into the end zone for a touchdown.
Fortunately the Cowboys have a pretty good passing game and they played just well enough to score and secure the win at the end of the game. We tend to have thoughts of greatness when talking about the Cowboys passing game, but really though, great players do not struggle like this team does against inferior and short-handed opponents. How much though does that have to do with talent as opposed to the offensive play caller just not calling plays that put the offense in the best position to win the battle?
What does seem clear is that when the Cowboys are in a must pass situation, spreading out the defense with four wide receivers, one tight end and no running back, empty backfield in other words, and using the hurry-up, they can quickly move downfield with a high percentage of completed passes, as we saw yesterday in the game winning drive. With one less receiver and a running back in the spread formation, one would expect the Cowboys would be successful running out of that formation, but they continue to be more insistent on the traditional running formation that has experienced limited success, especially when Murray is unavailable.
For those of us, including me, that thought that the change to Bill Callahan calling the plays would be a positive thing, the game plan, as we see it played out during the game, seems less coherent than when Garret was calling the plays. Does anyone care to join me in petitioning for quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson to become the play caller? Just kidding about that, but my issues with how Callahan has been calling the plays are quite serious.
But maybe I am placing too much blame on Callahan. Everyone should know by now about Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo’s big offseason commitment to more involvement in the game plan. What we don’t know is if there are many running plays called that become passing plays because Romo changed the play at the line. No matter who is responsible for drifting away from the run, it needs to stop.
On defense, it is what it is. The Cowboys gambled by not adding to the defensive line in the draft and lost. The guys in there are playing better than can be expected and they are forcing lots of turnovers, as a result of the new defensive scheme, but they have limitations or they wouldn’t have been available. I must admit that I do get angry whenever I see a picture or hear the name of Jay Ratliff. I’m hoping the legal solution the Cowboys are looking for helps them to recover some of the money Ratliff apparently took in bad faith.
Anyway, I digress. The bottom line is that this defense won’t stop a lot of teams, but they will occasionally get the ball back for the offense. When that happens, the offense needs to turn it into points. It’s all about what Dez Bryant was yelling about on the sidelines against the Lions. When you get the chance, you have to put your foot on your opponent’s throat and don’t let up until victory is secure.