Following the Dallas Cowboys loss to the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round of the playoffs, we try to determine who deserves the lion’s share of the blame for the devastating defeat.
The Dallas Cowboys were the talk of the NFL during the regular season. Finishing the year on top of the NFC with a 13-3 regular season record, the Cowboys had real Super Bowl aspirations heading into the playoffs. And why not? Dallas had earned a first round bye plus home field advantage throughout the postseason.
Unfortunately, any dreams of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy were dashed by the Green Bay Packers on Sunday after they beat America’s Team at home 34-31. Following the disappointing loss, we try to determine who is most to blame for the abrupt end to the Dallas Cowboys magical season.
Who’s to blame: The Cowboys Coaches
Prior to going into the playoffs, the Cowboys coaching staff elected to rest several of their players in the final game of the season, a meaningless contest against the Philadelphia Eagles. Sacrificing their final contest of the season gave Dallas an “L” heading into the postseason.
Outside of the negative psychological effects not allowing the team to “finish the fight” at the end of the regular season in order to preserve some of their stars, the three-week layoff between games for those players was certainly a factor in Dallas’ sluggish start against the Packers.
Halfway through the second quarter, the Cowboys were down 21-3. The 18-point deficit was Dallas’ largest all season.
The Cowboys coaches also failed this team when it came substitutions. Miscommunication by this coaching staff resulted in several keep plays that forced Dallas into the hole early. Those plays included a slow defensive substitution that resulted in a penalty and a first down on the Packers’ first scoring drive.
Poor preparation by these coaches also resulted in a unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on wide receiver Brice Butler for coming in and out of the huddle during a botched substitution, erasing a long reception by Terrance Williams for a first down. Finally, another late substitution involving defensive end Tyrone Crawford forced Dallas to take a time out late in the second quarter.
The Cowboys coaching staff had an extra week to prepare their team for the postseason. The execution was poor and their decision to rest their players likely is the reason for their sluggish start, and ultimately, the loss of the game.
Who’s to blame: The Cowboys Defense
If you allow the opposing team to score 21 points in the first quarter and a half of a game, you have failed. And Dallas’ defense did just that. Although they made adjustments that allowed their sluggish offense to finally catch up, the Cowboys “D” simply had no answer for Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay’s offense in the first half.
Then the Dallas defense allowed Rodgers and company to score a touchdown on their opening drive of the season half as well! Although the Packers wouldn’t see the end zone again, the damage had been done. The Cowboys ended up tying the game at 31 with :40 seconds left to play. But a poor defensive play by Byron Jones at the end of the contest allowed Packers’ tight end Jared Cook to make a tight rope catch along the sidelines, leading to the game-winning field goal.
Also of note: Not a single Dallas defensive lineman recorded a sack in this playoff contest.
Who’s to blame: The Players
Although the Cowboys players should be commended for battling back in this game, their execution at times was atrocious. In fact, it was hard to tell at times if these players understood the magnitude of the game. Here are some of those I thought played poorly.
Right tackle Doug Free had two penalties in this matchup. Both in the third quarter. One for a false start. The other, a holding call that negated a long run by Ezekiel Elliott. Free’s poor play and inconsistency has been a contentious topic among Cowboys fans for years.
Wide receiver Brice Butler failed to record a single catch in this game, although he was targeted three times. Not only was Butler involved in that early botched substitution penalty, but he also dropped a touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter. It’s time for Dallas to move on from this failed experiment.
Defensive lineman David Irving had four total tackles, a sack and three forced fumbles the last time he faced the Packers. In this playoff rematch, Irving recorded one single tackle. He also jumped offsides, giving a free play to Rodgers. That ended up resulting in the Packers’ first touchdown on a 34-yard pass to tight end Richard Rodgers. We might need to start to calling Irving the “Magician” after this disappearing act.
Ultimately, the devastating loss was a group effort. Although the Dallas Cowboys certainly have a lot to look forward to next season, failing to win a single game in the playoffs is a major disappointment for a team many believe was talented enough to win a Super Bowl right now. This was certainly a major opportunity squandered.