Heartbreaking. It seems like I have said something like this before. It seems really familiar. Too familiar. This feeling in my gut seems too familiar for my liking. As I sit here, I feel helpless, lost, and empty. I just do not know how I can shake it. Close, but never quite there.
What is a fan to do?
You live and die with your team. But it’s hard not to transpose the disappointment with anger. The sadness to outrage. How can they let this happen? How can they do this to me!
Know the feeling? I am sure you do. It is hard not to succumb to resentment. But let’s let reason take hold and try to look at the game objectively. I watched for a second time (I still expected them to win in overtime the second time), I have looked at various plays, and I have read what the pundits have to say. I have heard Broaddus talk about how close the Cowboys rushers were and Garrett point out that the Boys continue to fight. So should I be optimistic after six losses? Should I really believe we are one player away?
Before I get into the grades, here are some general thoughts.
I do not care what excuses the pundits will use, the Cowboys pass rush just is not good. They are averaging 1.8 sacks a game. That is the same as last year. Over the last 3 games, they are getting a sack on 3.23% of plays, one of the lowest percentages in the NFL. Now I am not a genius, and I am not claiming I understand the minds of the Jones’, but I imagine they cannot be happy that they spent a wheel barrel full of money on a DE with major off the field baggage, another tractor full for an “elite” three technique, and used the last two second round draft picks on young “pass rushing” DEs (one which you gave up picks for), all to average the same amount of sacks per game as they did last year. So let’s not sugar coat it or talk about how close we were to getting to the QB, or spit out stats like how many QB hurries the defense had; the Boys are simply not getting to the QB or stripping the ball.
That is the real reason the Boys lost on Sunday night. Period.
And when your line is not getting to the QB, blitz. If your LBs can’t blitz (and McClain looks like he cannot), then get a LB who can. You have to generate a pass rush to win. Simple as that.
Can we get a turnover? I have never seen a stretch like this. .5 turnovers per game. Wow. I wonder what the record is. Has to be close to it. If the lack of pass rush lost the game, the lack of turnovers is losing the season. The Boys have to find a way to make a play. I really thought Jones would bring that dynamic, but even as well as he is playing, he has not come up with a single turnover (nor has Claiborne, nor Carr, nor Church).
The DL and LBs have to help too. But if you can’t get to a QB, you can’t strip the ball. If you need an example of how to do it, look at how Graham made the Boys All-Pro tackle (Smith) look silly and cause two strip sacks. Hopefully the Boys will study that tape and learn a few things.
What do the Cowboys do for conditioning exercises?
Why are they so tired in the fourth quarter?
This is the difference in losing the last six or going 3 and 3. I have never seen a team that regularly is so exhausted in the fourth quarter. If I am the Cowboys coaches, I have the team running sprint drills until they puke. Conditioning wins more games than most fans realize. This lack of conditioning is directly on the coaches and the Jones’. This country club culture will attract players, but it will lose you games as well.
The biggest thing the Boys miss on offense is Romo’s ability to spread the ball and hit 8 or 9 receivers. This game the only options were Dez, Witten, and Beasley (finally), with a couple of throws to Williams or Whitehead. The Boys have to find a way to get more people involved in the game.
Anytime Dez is working one-on-one throw him the ball. Don’t waste time looking at anyone else. Just go to him. Every time.
Now with that said, let’s get to the grades.
Quarterbacks: Grade C+
I would have given Cassel a solid B, but the pick six was a killer. Although the terrible route by McFadden had as much to do with it as anything. But Cassel misread it and stared it down.
He made the biggest mistake a QB can make. He made up his mind who he was going to before he ever left the huddle. Should have had a better pre-read.
He was actually very lucky on the pass to Lucky too. You know the one. The one Dez saved him by out leaping everyone for the score. Yeah, that pass was ill advised but well executed. Dez saved him and gave the Boys a chance.
That said, Cassel finally realized that Beasley is the Boys number two receiver. Hopefully, he remembers next week against Tampa Bay. Overall, Cassel was able to get the ball down field most of the game, and he did his part to give the Cowboys a chance to win, so he gets a C+.
Running Back: Grade B
McFadden was good. The reason for giving him a B grade rather than an A was two blown blocking assignments and the terrible route on the pick six. On that route, McFadden has to drive the LB back into a back pedal before making his cut. That is fundamental football. As good as he was at running the ball, that play is the one that probably cost the Boys the game. It certainly was a big contributor to the loss.
McFadden’s running was solid. He got tough yards, fell forward, was elusive at times, and made positive yards when he could have been tackled for a loss. Hard to ask for more than that.
Offensive Line: Grade C+
The O-line is hard to grade. If you grade on the run game, they probably deserve an A. But in the pass game they allowed 4 sacks and many hurries, so I would give them a D. If the Boys had won then I probably would give them a B-, but since they lost, I give them a C+.
I thought Smith struggled against Graham. It just wasn’t that he gave up the two strip sacks, but Graham had multiple plays where he disrupted the run game as well. Now Smith struggling is still pretty good. He certainly moved his side of the line on many positive runs.
I thought the rookie La’el Collins held his own against a pretty tough matchup. He did allow some penetration and missed a couple of stunts, but overall he was solid.
Free had a pretty good day. He looks to be getting healthier. He was a force in the run game both at the point of attack and on backside cutoffs. He has been the weak link a good portion of the year, but he seems to be getting back into form.
Frederick and Martin were consistent. For most of the night, they got movement on an interior line that is among the best in the league. They did lose some battles, but I would say they got the best of their matchups for most of the night.
Receivers: Grade B+
Dez isn’t back yet, you can tell he is not at 100%. He certainly is not in shape. But even saying all that, he is the best player on the field when he is on. It is good to have him back. When teams have to double him, they can’t double Witten, or play 9 in the box, or have an all-out blitz. He is a game changer just by being on the field.
It was good to finally have a QB who looks for Beasley. He can be a nightmare when teamed with Dez. Beasley is the Boys number two receiver (third if you count Witten as two) and he deserves more focus in the game plan.
I would give the receivers an A, but William’s hands are still a liability. He could have made a big play on the Cowboys second drive, but dropped a relatively easy, though contested, deep ball. If he catches that pass, the Boys probably get a field goal at the minimum. You just cannot trust a receiver who has to jump into the air and use his body rather than just reach up and catch with his hands. They did use him on a slant and a dig which is how to effectively use him. But his lack of hands really hurt the Boys.
I probably would have scored the receivers higher, but the Boys still have no imagination in how to use Whitehead. He is a weapon that is being poorly used. No reverse, no jet sweep, no screen, no drag, no toss sweep, no using him at RB and sending him on option routes, no imagination at all.
Tight End: Grade B
The blocking was really good. I said it last week, but it bears repeating. The run game got better when Hanna got healthy. Witten is just consistent and a leader.
This is a solid group, even with Escobar not being a factor. Speaking of Escobar, he is not giving enough effort on blocking. On one play there was a run to the left. Escobar was on the right and he exploded (I say that loosely) up and hit his man and just stopped. Meanwhile, McFadden was cutting back and would have had a nice hole, but Escobar’s man came over and met McFadden in the hole. Escobar was there, he just quit on the block. Had he continued with his block it might have been a big gain.
This was not a skill issue, it is an effort issue (or lack thereof).
Defensive Ends: Grade F
What can you say? It is one thing not to have a pass rush but entirely another to give up the edge too. Lawrence gave up the edge multiple times and he was ineffective as a pass rusher. He is getting caught inside way too much. He tries to jump inside the block and then back out before the runner gets there. On a couple of times this year, he has made big plays doing this. But unfortunately, the other 15 times have been big runs to the outside. You have to set an edge.
I really think Lawrence is a right end. I think he would be better there. He seemed quicker last year. I would recommend that that they try to switch Hardy and Lawrence. I think it would make them better against the run and probably would help improve the rush as well.
Hardy had one sack, so it is hard to complain about him. But he has not been dominant the last three weeks against makeshift lines. You would think he could have dominated the game against Lane Johnson, but it never materialized.
Mincey was a non-factor in the passing game, but he is strong against the run. Pretty much the same as all year.
There is nothing really to say; no rush, no edge, run lanes everywhere. Bad day all around. Calling out Lawrence. Be the player we all know you can be.
Defensive Tackles: Grade F
See comments above. No rush, run lanes up the gut, and the O-line dominated you in the fourth quarter. Called it tired, call it whatever, but the Eagles imposed their will on the D-line in the fourth quarter and overtime.
Linebackers: Grade D
The Boys LB play started off well. But it got worse as the game went on.
Lee got hurt. Next play big pass play on a swing and go. Picked on Hitchens until he left. Gachkar struggled against the pass but played the run well.
McClain had the worst game of the year. He seems to be fading not getting into shape. He was dead tired. He is one of the players if he is tired, you take out his heart. He wanted no part of the overtime. He had a chance to make a play on fourth and one, and he simply could not muster the energy to make a play. Really disappointed in the last couple of games from McClain. We can only hope he keeps his head in the game for the rest of the year. That and he gets into shape.
Overall, I could not give an F because they did make some plays, particularly in the first half.
Corners: Grade C
Who would have thought that the corners would be the stars of the defense? But they are the most consistent unit.
Claiborne’s holding penalty hurt, but I think the Eagles would have completed the pass but not for the tug. He has been the best corner for the Cowboys all year. He may not be a Neon Deon, but he is consistent and good. I just wish he could finish a play and get a pick.
Jones had a mixed day. He both played really well and made rookie mistakes by being overly aggressive. Overall, he is becoming a solid starter.
I thought Carr had a really good day in run support. His coverage skills have diminished, but he is a physical corner who can tackle when he needs to. Since DeMarcus Lawrence was giving up the edge all night, he needed to be.
Overall, not a bad day, not a good day, just steady.
Safeties: Grade F
Man was JJ bad. I mean he could not tackle anyone in the open field. On the long run on the Eagles first touchdown, JJ had the containment on the outside and completely whiffed on the play. He took a bad angle and never came close. The result was a long run that got a first and set up the touchdown. Same on the final touchdown. If he makes the stop the Cowboys may keep the Eagles to a field goal or maybe even come up with a big turnover. Instead, JJ takes a wrong angle and whiffs again. JJ is bad in coverage. He takes bad angles on deep balls. He takes bad angles when he is coming up to hit a receiver or runner in the open field. He is simply not a starting safety in this league. He is not making any impact plays or even positive plays and he’s making a ton of negative ones. A change is needed.
After the game, JJ says he is going to work on taking the right angle so it does not happen again. Did he just realize in year three this was an issue? What about all the other times? Did he ignore them? Or did he learn from them too? Or is why didn’t he learn more accurate? He is a liability. I am not sure when the Boys will decide to make a change. Heath can at least tackle someone.
Cover Teams: Grade B
Good coverage all day
Return Teams: Grade A
Whitehead is a weapon. Hope the Boys will use him more.
Overall I would grade the offense as a B and the defense as a D. Most games, 27 points should be enough to win, but when you can’t rush the passer, have no turnovers, and you constantly give up the edge, you are not going to win many games.