Heartbreaking. Didn't last week start the same? For that matter, hasn't the last four weeks been the same story? The same result? The same formula? The Boys jump to a lead, falter in the fourth, have a shot, but can't get a stop or make a play when it matters. I am ready for a new byline.
It was another heart breaking loss that this time sealed the fate of the Boys. Unless Tony Romo can come back and win seven in a row, which should win him the MVP if he does, then the Boy's playoff chances are shot. The Philadelphia Eagles or the New York Giants will surely get to nine wins, so the Boys would have to be near perfect.
For those of you who think Romo being back is going to magically resolve all of the issues the Boys have and he will single-handedly turn a 0-7 team into a 7-0 team (or even 6-1), let me be the first to wake you up from your dream. Good teams do not lose seven games in a row. I do not care how many injuries they have. When Brady went down, the Patriots went 11-5. Good teams find ways to win. But the Cowboys find ways to lose. Romo will help, but this is a .500 to .600 team with him – right now. There are just too many other issues that need to be addressed.
Let's take the Bucs game, specifically, and look at some specific reasons that the Boys lost:
Dez, Dez, And Dez – If you're going to cry for the ball, then make the play when they throw it to you. Dez Bryant had three chances to make a play and he dropped the ball and/or did not even try to make the play on the ball. His crying to the refs is getting worse and it is becoming a distraction to himself. He is more worried about the calls than making the play. And his route running is getting worse. He relies on his power and strength, but he needs to learn to run routes to create space as well.
I personally do not see him as a top 5 receiver right now. I can think of eight or nine receivers I would take over him. We can have that debate later. The difference in this game was the Bucs number one receiver, Mike Evans, had a couple of drops too but came back and made plays when they needed him to; Dez did not. That is the difference.
The Cowboys Did Not Adjust – I thought the Bucs would play deep safeties and not load the box. Play conservatively. But their game plan was to load up the box to stop the run and they blitzed more than I have seen.
They played Sterling Moore on Dez one-on-one and the Boys did not test him. They should have thrown it to Dez every time there was a single coverage on Tampa's corners. But the game plan never changed. They never adjusted. They never came out of their conservative game plan and went at the corners. How can you let a team cover Dez one on one and not go after that – repeatedly? Especially when you know how bad the corners are. Look at how the Bucs used Evans. They went to him time and time again when the Boys played single high safety. The difference in this game was the Bucs adjusted and went to their big time receiver and the Boys did not.
Cassel Did Not Audible To Favorable Plays – An example is when the Boys were backed up near the goal line. The Bucs showed eight in the box. They had single coverage on Dez to the outside, the Boys have an inside run called. Cassel had to see the alignment (or he should not be starting), but rather than audible out, he runs right into the blitz and the Boys almost took a safety.
All day long there were chances to audible to single coverage plays. But Cassel seemed afraid to audible out. Jameis Winston – a rookie – seemed to do better to audible out of a bad play call than Cassel. This was a big difference in the game.
In The First Half, Cassel Did Not Give Dez Opportunities To Make Plays – Now, see point one, when Dez did get chances to make plays he did not come through. But Cassel had several opportunities in the first half to hit Dez either on long plays or in the end zone, but he threw it long or out of bounds rather than give Dez an opportunity to make plays. Contrast this with Winston, who gave his receivers every opportunity to make the plays.
Fortunately, the Dallas secondary was up to task most of the day. But, Cassel failed to do the same with Dez. He overthrew him rather than put it up short and let Dez jump for the ball. Did he not see the “Hail Mary” catch Dez made last week? Why throw a ball out of bounds when Dez has Sterling Moore on him in the end zone? The game could have been much different had Cassel trusted Dez as much as Winston trusted his guys.
You can tell the mindset of Winston was to win the game while Cassel was trying not to lose the game. That is until the last two passes to Dez when he threw it to Dez expecting Dez to deliver. He finally did the right thing, though Dez disappointed (See point one on why the Boys lost).
Yes, the ball could have been inside more, but I do not have a problem with the decision to try Dez on a safety. I just wished he would have done the same earlier in the game.
The Cowboys Offensive Line Struggled Creating Seams For The Running Lane – The run game for the Cowboys could have been better. While the Bucs were more aggressive stacking the box than I expected, the Boy's line could have controlled them better. I thought this was the worst day for the line since the Patriots game.
Darren McFadden Missed Opportunities – McFadden had his worst day since the Patriots game as well. While there were not many running lanes throughout the game, there were times when they opened and he was slow to attack. A couple of outside runs could have been big gainers had he not hesitated and attacked the outside.
There Was No Offensive Creativity – The game plan was vanilla. There was no creativity. Cole Beasley was a non-factor, Lucky Whitehead had only two plays called for him. There were no drags, no screens, no picks; pretty much nothing but vanilla plays.
No Pass Rush – The Boys are still struggling to put pressure on the QB. But for a couple of plays, Winston had all day to look at his receivers. What was thought to be a positon of strength at the start of the season has turned into a position of weakness this year.
The Cowboys Linebackers Are Ineffective At Blitzing – If you want to understand why I say this, go back and look at the LBs for the Bucs and how they blitz as compared to the Cowboys. The Boys LBs run up and once there is a blocker, they stop. They do not have the will or determination to get to the QB.
Blitzing the LBs was almost a waste. Yes, Rolando McClain hit the QB twice. But one was on a delay where there was no chance of getting home in time and the second was a blown blocking assignment. If you really want to understand why I say this, go back and look at how often the Boys blitzed this game (more than most) and how ineffective the LBs were on the majority of blitzes. Then look at the Bucs LBs blitz and how effective they were. It was a huge difference in the game.
McClain Vs. Alexander – If you really want to understand how important a middle LB is in this scheme, look at Quan Alexander for the Bucs. He was everywhere. The rookie outplayed McClain in all aspects. Blitzing, stopping the run, pass defense. Alexander played like I was hoping McClain would this year. Alexander was a force. It's a big difference in why the Boys lost this game. In fact, I would say Alexander was the MVP for this game for the Bucs.
Meanwhile, McClain was just another player. The quality of the middle LB play was a big reason why the Bucs won and the Boys lost.
With that said, let's get to the grades for the units this week.
Quarterbacks: Grade D
Cassel played not to lose the game, rather than playing to win it. He had Dez one-on-one most of the day and did not try to take advantage. He had Dez in the end zone one-on-one with Sterling Moore and he throws it out of bounds. He has Moore covering Dez on a fly and he throws it 10 yards long. He had chances and just didn't try to make them.
Cassel was gunshy and it cost the Boys opportunities. There were many plays that Cassel could have audibled to single coverage on Dez and he simply did not take advantage.
Running Back: Grade C-
While there were not as many running lanes in the Bucs game, McFadden was also not as decisive in this game. I feel like McFadden needs initial success to trust what he is seeing. If the defense is having success, he becomes hesitant. The Boys need more from him. He has to hit the hole more decisively. Patience is good, but hesitating is not. There is a big difference.
Offensive Line: Grade D+
The O-line is always the hardest to grade. The Buc's defensive line is good and caused havoc. This is made worse by the fact they have very good linebackers and hit their gaps aggressively. But that said, the line did not create the running lanes that they have been. Now McFadden did not hit some holes that were there quickly enough, so they were not as bad as the yardage says they were. Their pass blocking was only satisfactory as well. So I gave them a D for run blocking and a C for pass blocking.
I did think there were some bright spots. The rookie, La'el Collins, held up very well against a tough match-up. Doug Free struggled on a few plays, but he is looking healthier. But overall the Boys will need more from them if they are going to make a run.
Receivers: Grade C-
Believe it or not, Terrance Williams had a better day than Dez. Cassel used him on “ins” which is where he is most effective. I would have liked to see him on a few drags too, but at least Cassel has developed some timing with him on the 15 to 18 “in” route. I gave Williams a B grade for this game.
Dez did not have a good game. Partially because he was not given chances when he was one-on-one. But later, when he was given chances, he came up short. Overall, you have to give Dez a D for his drops and for not attempting to make a play on the last play in the end zone.
I can't really grade Beasley or Whitehead because they were not used. So you have to say they get a D because they did not influence the game at all.
Street did make a good catch, but as most of the year, he has had minimal impact in games.
Tight Ends: Grade C+
This grade was more about Cassel not using them than their performance. Jason Witten was open a lot. Gavin Escobar was used on one seam but they never went back to it. There was so much opportunity, but Cassel and the play calling failed to take advantage. I thought the Boys would run a seam and drag underneath from the 12 personnel, but it never materialized. I thought this was a game that Witten and Escobar could have had big games. It was a lost opportunity.
Blocking was certainly above average and should rate a B grade. So overall, the TEs get a C+ for the day.
Defensive Ends: Grade C+
It's hard to grade the Boys defense. Especially, the ends. They did their job limiting the Bucs to 13 points. So they grade at least a C. But there are still a few areas that need to be improved. The pass rush is the primary area. They did create a couple of sacks but Winston had time most plays. I gave a D + grade on the pass rush. I'm not sure where Randy Gregory was, did he even play? Where is the impact this group was supposed to make? It is an average group at best, and the biggest disappointment of the year.
It was obvious that the Bucs wanted to run the ball and the Boys did a masterful job at stopping that. So they get an A grade for their play against the run. Overall, that averages out to C+.
Defensive Tackles: Grade B
The DTs had a good game against the rush. They were physical at the point of attack. Hard not to give them a higher grade, but we are yet to see the pass rush we were expecting from Tyrone Crawford. He had a sack but it was because of pressure from the DEs.
Overall, the Bucs run game was shut down and so you have to give the DTs a pretty high grade for being physical at the point of attack.
One another note, I thought we would see more of the rookie David Irving at the three-technique. I want to go back and count how many plays he played at the three-tech.
Linebackers: Grade B-
I thought the LBs had a pretty good day. I graded Anthony Hitchens as a solid B+. Hitchens was around the ball all day and he held up in coverage against the running backs. Something the Cowboys have failed to do for most of the season. Hitchens is better as a Will linebacker than he is as the Mike linebacker.
I graded Rolando McClain with a C. McClain made some plays, but he did look like he was gassed again a few times during the game. Part of my grade on McClain is probably influenced by what Quan Alexander did for the Bucs. When you see how effective he was for the Bucs, you can't really give McClain more than a satisfactory grade. Alexander impacted the game, McClain really did not. Alexander seemed like he was involved in every play, McClain was involved in some. When you compare the two, it is easy to see what the Boys are missing in a middle LB.
Corners: Grade B+
Morris Claiborne was turned around on a few routes and had his worst game of the year. Even then, he did have decent coverage most of the day and had a couple of pass defenses. I graded him in the C- range.
I thought Brandon Carr had his best day of the year. He allowed a few passes to Evans, but he had tight coverage even on the completions. I like Carr matched up with big physical receivers. He is at his best. I gave Carr a B+ for the afternoon.
Byron Jones did a good job when he came in for Claiborne. He is the best Cowboys defender at this point. He was able to carry his receiver all over the field and was good in press coverage. Jones received a B+ for his corner play.
Tyler Patmon played the slot and did a solid job of covering a tight match-up. I gave Patmon a B- for his day.
Overall I gave the corners a B grade as a unit because they did not give Winston many easy reads nor a lot of space to make throws.
Safeties: Grade B+
Barry Church had his usual day supporting the run. He did have a couple of blown assignments on the TE in coverage. Overall, he provided a solid day and I graded him in the C+/B- range.
I thought Jones did a great job when he was in at safety. He has more range than any other safety. It also looked like he broke on routes better than any other safety. Add that to his ability to cover and it gives the Boys a lot more flexibility. Unfortunately, when Claiborne went out, it forced Jones to move to corner. I graded Jones as an A- when he played safety.
Jeff Heath got two picks, so you have to grade him high. But both picks were deflections and then he turned around and had an obvious holding penalty that cost the Boys the game. Hard to grade the whole game without being tainted positively or negatively by those plays. Overall, I gave him a grade in the range of a B-.
JJ Wilcox had containment on the touchdown by Winston and got caught up inside again. I have to go back and look at all the plays JJ was in center field but my initial reaction was he had no impact except negative. I will say what I said last week. He is not good in coverage, he does not have range, he takes bad angles on deep balls and when he is the last defender, and he cannot remain assignment-sound when he has containment. The experiment has failed. Why not use White or someone who can make an impact from time to time? Or at least put in someone who can do their assignment?
Cover Teams: Grade B
Good coverage all day
Return Teams: Grade B
Beasley had a good return that impacted field position. Overall a decent day.