A 3-5 start for the Dallas Cowboys has all but rendered their season as nothing more than a campaign to save jobs. It’s been well documented that Jason Garrett is on the hot seat and his return as a head coach for 2013 is questionable. But Garrett doesn’t play left tackle and he has yet to throw an interception.
As much as we want the blame the sideline and front office for the disappointing product put on the field through eight games, we must also deal with the reality that execution, more than play-calling, is the true source of the Cowboys’ failures thus far.
The collective record of their opponents in the first half of the season is 44-23, counting two games against the first place Giants, meaning the hardest part of their schedule is over. Their next five games are against teams that are sub .500. Obviously, it’s far too early to count them out the NFC East which went 0-4 and failed to score more than four touchdowns collectively last week. But it’s not too soon to look back at the close losses they’ve had that could have dramatically shaped their outlook going forward and assess the blame accordingly.
If you watched the way the Eagles offensive line played on Monday night you might have found a tiny bit of gratitude for the five guys that are lining up in front of Tony Romo. The silver lining is always relative and always best described as “things could always be worse”.
But that’s a terrible outlook to have in the NFL, where the mantra has always been, and will always be, “we have to get better”.
Tyron Smith was supposed to make the Cowboys offensive line better. He was supposed to protect Romo’s blindside and provide the confidence that at least the left side of the line would be locked up with some consistency. The opposite has been true.
Smith is currently ranked by ProFootballFocus as the 45th worst tackle in the league (out of 69). He has been incredibly erratic and unreliable. Add that to the fact that he is the second most penalized left tackle in the league (Russell Okung) and it’s no wonder why the Cowboys offense has been so inefficient.
I could stop right here and leave it as “see Tyron Smith”, but it’s much worse than that.
Doug Free is the $32 million mystery that encapsulates the Cowboys organization. He’s the absolute definition of overpaying for a player based on one good year.
Honestly, it’s hard to blame Jerry Jones for being excited about Free. He did a good job after he took over for an injured Marc Colombo late in the 2009 season. He did an even better job in 2010 after he was moved from right tackle to left tackle and was one of the best run-blockers in the league.
Then 2011 happened. And the theory prevailed that moving Free back to right side of the line would solve his problems. In 2012, of the 69 ranked tackles previously mentioned, Free is 61. He is accountable for more penalties than any other right tackle and tied with Okung for the most penalties of all tackles. He has allowed the third most quarterback hurries with 28 (if you’re wondering, Smith has the allowed the 10th most with 21).
The Cowboys offense has averaged 18.8 points-per-game, bad enough for 26th overall. Penalties and poor blocking are two of the biggest reasons for that unfortunate ranking and Doug Free and Tyron Smith are two of the biggest offenders. They will need to play marginally better if this offense is going to improve.
It’s obvious that the owner of the Cowboys doesn’t trust Dez Bryant after he enlisted a set of rules by which Bryant must live by. It’s also obvious that the quarterback doesn’t trust him after he stopped looking for him on the field.
Bryant is seeing fewer targets than Miles Austin and Jason Witten. Sunday night amplified that situation when he caught one ball for 15 yards on four opportunities. Injuries haven’t helped, but Bryant’s inability to make plays when he’s called upon is becoming an epidemic.
His greatest weakness is best described as accountability. Drops are one thing, in which he ranks fifth in the league. His production as a teammate is a whole other thing.
Case in point was on the final drive in Baltimore when Bryant ran a quick slant with 26 seconds left to play. He caught the ball but was brought down immediately, gaining only two yards. The situation should have been obvious: get on the line and snap another play. But Bryant proceeded to argue with the ref, presumably hoping for a flag.
Nothing is more baffling or more frustrating than seeing a wide receiver waste valuable seconds by jawing for a penalty. It’s completely unacceptable and on a long list of problems Bryant has provided since being drafted by Dallas.
With contract negotiations pending, Tony Romo isn’t doing himself any favors. I’m still of the opinion that statistics don’t define quarterbacks, but 10 touchdowns to 13 interceptions more than define five losses.
Three of those losses were decided by a touchdown or less. That includes the previously mentioned game against Baltimore in which we blamed Dez Bryant for mishandling a last-minute drive. But Romo is first to blame. He should have seen his wide receiver getting caught up with the referee and called a timeout immediately.
Romo was brilliant in the first game of the season against the Giants. He was the reason they lost in Week 8 against the Giants. He was the reason they lost when they hosted the Bears. Nine of his 13 interceptions came in those two games.
Even against the undefeated Falcons, Romo led the Cowboys into Atlanta territory time and time again, only to stall out and settle for field goals.
How is it possible that an offense could rank 6th in total yards yet 26th in total points? Sure, we can blame the coach and the offensive line and play-calling and wide receivers. But at the end of the day, it comes down to the quarterback. Especially if he is a veteran and is coming off of the best season of his career.
We expect more from Romo. He’s supposed to be a leader and so far all he has done is lead his team into unwinnable situations. By no means am I suggesting that he should be replaced. But it’s becoming obvious that the chances of the Cowboys making the playoffs, and winning in the playoffs, will always hinge on who shows up; the Week 1 Romo, or the Week 8 Romo.