Cowboys vs. Lions: Takeaways from Dallas' 31-30 Loss to Detroit
The Dallas Cowboys allowed the Detroit Lions offense to rack up 623 yards altogether. Dallas quarterback Tony Romo threw for just 206 yards on the day with little time to scan the field on most passing plays. The Cowboys running game was far from a threat without DeMarco Murray.
Despite all of these faults, it looked as if the Cowboys were going to leave Ford Field victorious. Then Matthew Stafford was given the ball with one minute, two seconds left on the clock.
Dallas has plenty to take away from this tough 31-30 road loss. Let's take a look at what Jason Garrett's coaching staff should be looking for in the film room this coming week.
All statistics were retrieved from NFL.com unless otherwise stated.
Dallas Defense Slows Lions Most of Game
Yes, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin's unit did surrender more than 600 total yards to the Lions. At halftime, however, Detroit had just seven points to show for its efforts. Matthew Stafford and Co. didn't begin to light up the scoreboard until the fourth quarter.
Dallas gave up plenty of yardage to Calvin Johnson in the passing game and gave up 92 yards to Reggie Bush on the ground. Those two players gave Kiffin's crew fits all day, but their play didn't result in too many points until the very end.
Without DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer and former defensive staple Jay Ratliff, the Cowboys defense held strong for much of this game. The issue came in the fourth quarter when the unit couldn't stop a cold.
The bend-but-don't-break mentality that the Dallas D had in this game looked like it might work, but the defense certainly broke in the final quarter. Just one or two scoreless possessions for the Lions offense could have changed this outcome.
Dez Bryant Came Through Targeted
All week long, the pregame hype for the contest at Ford Field came down to Dez Bryant vs. Calvin Johnson. "Megatron" certainly ended Week 8 with the bigger game and the win, but Bryant did his part for Dallas.
Tony Romo and No. 88 connected on just three passes, but Bryant ended the day with two touchdowns and 72 yards. His second end-zone trip of the day accounted for 50 of those 72 yards.
The Cowboys didn't get Bryant too involved in their latest bout, and that might be part of the reason for the Week 8 loss. The Oklahoma State product produced when he was called upon, though, so he did his part.
This Week 8 game won't go down as the best in Bryant's career, but overall he had a complete game from an individual standpoint.
Sean Lee Swarmed to the Ball
Linebacker Sean Lee secured two interceptions for the Cowboys in their latest loss. He now has 11 career interceptions heading into Week 9.
Lee tallied seven tackles and three assisted tackles against the Lions. According to the Cowboys' own True Blue Fan Club, Lee's 10 total tackles made it his sixth consecutive game with similar numbers:
Sean Lee has recorded 10 tackles in this game, making it his 6th consecutive game with double digit tackles. #CowboysNation— True Blue (@TrueBlueFanClub) October 27, 2013
It seemed whenever one looked up at the screen, Lee was in on another tackle or interception. He picked off Matthew Stafford twice in Week 8. The Penn State product wears the captain's seal on the front of his jersey for a reason.
His two interceptions seem insignificant, considering Lee's team lost, but the Cowboys wouldn't have had a lead to blow if not for their star linebacker.
Calvin Johnson Was Unstoppable
The Cowboys defense tried its best, but there was no stopping Calvin Johnson in this Week 8 matchup. Detroit's No. 1 wide receiver caught 14 passes from Matthew Stafford for 329 yards.
In other words, Megatron had more receiving yards than Tony Romo threw for in the game. He also tallied more yards than the entire Philadelphia Eagles offense in Week 8. To top everything off, Johnson marked his place in NFL history with his epic performance, per the Lions' Twitter feed:
The Cowboys probably weren't thinking they could contain Johnson the whole bout coming into this game. They were hoping the defense could at least hold him to 100 yards on the day, not give up more than 300 to Megatron.
Johnson is a certified beast, and he flat out torched the Dallas defense in this contest. There aren't many receivers in the NFL like Johnson, but the Cowboys can't let that happen again this season.
Terrance Williams Leaves Fans Wondering
Tony Romo gave wide receiver Terrance Williams every opportunity to shine in Week 8. Williams broke off that memorable 60-yard reception for a touchdown that gave him four touchdowns in as many games. Williams is the first rookie in Cowboys history to achieve such a feat.
The reason Williams can't simply rest on that touchdown is because he was targeted 10 times and caught just two passes. Williams' other reception was for just four yards. With Miles Austin injured, Williams had a legitimate chance to cement his place as Dallas' No. 2 receiver.
Instead, for most of the day, the Baylor product was inefficient and an unreliable target for Romo. One good catch does not salvage a wideout's afternoon. If Williams had caught just a few of those dropped balls, the Cowboys could have been in a different position in the fourth quarter.
Defense Continues to Create Turnovers
As previously noted, the Cowboys defense had its struggles against Detroit, but creating turnovers was not one of them. Dallas forced four turnovers in Week 8 to add to its 17 coming into Ford Field.
The Cowboys were fighting to rip the ball out of Lions' hands all day long, and Sean Lee was able to pick off two of Matthew Stafford's 48 throws.
Through these turnovers, the Cowboys defense created plenty of chances for its offense to score. It's not the defense's fault the offense didn't come alive until the second half.
If it weren't for the likes of Lee, Brandon Carr and others creating turnovers, the Lions could've found their offensive rhythm well before the final quarter.
While surrendering more than 300 yards to one player is inexcusable, the defense came through on the turnover front. Talent and potential are oozing on this Dallas defense, but there always seems to be one thing ailing it in each game.
Bill Callahan Didn't Give Up on the Running Game
The running game didn't do much for Dallas against the Lions, but offensive coordinator Bill Callahan stuck with it. Some fans might say it's time to ditch the run when things aren't working, but Callahan knows a balanced offense is necessary in Big D.
The longest run of the day came from Phillip Tanner, who tallied a nine-yard carry at one point. Starter Joseph Randle could only muster 26 yards on 14 carries in place of the injured DeMarco Murray.
It wasn't a pretty or even effective aspect of the Dallas offense, but running the ball keeps pressure off Tony Romo.
If he had dropped back 20 more times, the Cowboys wouldn't have had a better chance of winning against Detroit. It would have only made Romo think he had to single-handily beat the Lions defense to get the win. Perhaps once Murray is back in the fold, Dallas' offense will get to reap the benefits of staying balanced.
Offensive Line Gave Tony Romo Little Time
One of the more amazing stats from this game is the fact that Tony Romo was never sacked by the Lions. Defensive lineman Nick Fairley got a few good shots on No. 9 early, but none resulted in a loss of yards for Dallas.
The reason Romo wasn't sacked, however, was not due to stellar play up front but rather his own maneuverability.
Brian Waters was in and out of the game with a knee injury for Dallas. Ndamukong Suh and Fairley got the better of the Cowboys offensive front on several occasions.
Romo had to scramble out of the pocket and make off-balance throws far too many times against Detroit. He made some plays after rolling out, but No. 9 can't always make broken plays into something significant.
The offensive line has been able to keep the pressure off Romo the past few weeks but not in Detroit. With Waters and Co. set to try to stop Jared Allen in Week 9, Jason Garrett needs to coach up this offensive line over the next week.
Alex Hall is a Dallas Cowboys Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @AlexKHall.