The offense has scored fewer points than all but one other team in football, and the defense has lacked the necessary killer instinct, but the one thing that has cost the Dallas Cowboys more than all else this year has been a simple lack of focus.
During the first three weeks, it was all about a slew of dropped passes and avoidable penalties. Monday night, in a bloodbath-style loss to the Chicago Bears, it was a combination of drops, missed assignments, interceptions and botched routes that caused the Cowboys to implode in front of an eerily bipartisan home crowd in Arlington.
Tony Romo was technically responsible for all five turnovers in the 34-18 loss, tying a career high with five interceptions. But make no mistake, this was a team effort.
I don't want to completely absolve Romo of all blame, but he was as sharp as a quarterback can be for a large chunk of the night. A lack of focus from his teammates cost him in a big way early, and he was forcing the issue against a preying defense the rest of the way.
I've said time and again that this team can't succeed on a large scale without Dez Bryant living up to his potential, but Bryant was, again, the team's biggest culprit when it came to mental lapses Monday night, dropping a pair of passes and screwing up two routes.
The first blown route might have cost him a touchdown. The second resulted directly in a pick-six, which swung first-half momentum in Chicago's favor.
And really, the Bears would never look back. Another one of Romo's picks came in desperation mode, only a pair of plays after Bryant dropped a would-be touchdown pass that could have given the Cowboys new life in the second half.
Hang on, Cowboys fans. I'm not done. It went well beyond Dez and Romo. Tony tossed three picks that had nothing to do with Bryant, but one came as he tried to dodge pressure created by the human turnstile that is Mackenzy Bernadeau, while another resulted from a deflection when Kevin Ogletree wasn't able to catch a pass that Romo fired into Ogletree's chest.
No team in this league can afford to make mental miscues at that rate. Does it happen from time to time? Yes, but these types of errors have plagued the Cowboys in three of their four games, thus far, in 2012.
This was supposed to be a thing of the past. This is the Wade Phillips-era nonsense that Jason Garrett, Rob Ryan and Bill Callahan were supposed to correct.
I'm including Ryan because the defense continues to fail to make big plays. Against a weak offensive line and a vulnerable Jay Cutler, it had just a lone takeaway Monday night, while recording only two sacks. It has just four takeaways and nine sacks in four games, and its turnover ratio (minus-seven) is now the second worst in the NFL.
Ryan didn't make necessary adjustments to help cover Brandon Marshall, who destroyed the Dallas secondary. On NFL Network, Darren Sharper called it arrogance, but poor focus from the sideline played a role.
When the coaches can't be trusted to maintain an even keel and adjust to help plug holes (poor Morris Claiborne), how can the players be expected to exhibit a semblance of discipline?
This will be an immensely important bye week for Garrett, Ryan and Co. If the Cowboys don't sharpen said focus over the next 13 days, they'll have extreme problems in Baltimore in Week 6. A 2-2 start isn't disastrous, but there are signs that this team could be a prime candidate to collapse in rather epic fashion.
The Cowboys have the physical tools to win a Lombardi Trophy, but so much of this game is mental. That's a tough area in which to improve on the run. A turnaround isn't impossible, but the Cowboys are digging themselves a rather large hole.
This could be a breaking point for this regime, this quarterback and this entire team. I hate to rehash a sad summer storyline, but remember that with Jerry Jones. The window's never far from closing.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!