The Dallas Cowboys' blowout loss to the Washington Football Team on Thanksgiving Day was a microcosm of how the 2020 season has gone for the Dallas Cowboys. Injuries on the Cowboys' first offensive possession to Cam Erving and Zack Martin had the team playing with another set of tackles.
The Cowboys have now lost La'el Collins, Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, Brandon Knight was out for a stretch, and Cam Erving to injuries this season. Terrance Steele is the only tackle that the Cowboys have deployed this season that hasn't missed a game due to injury.
And despite the injuries, the Cowboys couldn’t get out of their own way either. Drops, penalties, missed tackles, and another fumble by Ezekiel Elliott were just as much of a problem as the injury situation was.
But that’s how 2020 has gone.
To have a chance to win football games this season, post-Dak Prescott, the Cowboys have had to play clean football games. They haven't.
It was never realistic for the Cowboys to be the same explosive offense. However, it's a reasonable expectation to think if your team can keep from turning the football over that they'd have a chance to win the game. And it wasn't your backup quarterback that did so either. It was your star running back that once again put the ball on the ground.
The defense has had its moments the last few weeks but fell back to earth against a Washington offense that found a way to win by getting the ball in the hands of their running backs. Antonio Gibson had another very productive day for the Football Team, and the Cowboys defense couldn’t make enough stops to get off the field.
Though the defense didn’t do much to help aside from the gifted interception thrown into Jaylon Smith’s arms, it was the self-inflicted miscues that killed this team. Yet again.
CeeDee Lamb dropped a touchdown in the end zone. And while it was in tight coverage, we’ve seen Lamb makes some incredible catches that we have high expectations that he’ll make every catch. That was one he absolutely should have caught.
Ezekiel Elliott continues to struggle with fumbles. Even as he and the offensive line seemed to be getting somewhere on the ground, Elliott coughed it up again at the end of a run. That’s something he and the Cowboys coaching staff will have to take a long look at during the offseason to try and correct. His contract is such that he isn’t a candidate to be released in the 2021 offseason, and it’s doubtful that a team would trade for Elliott. So, they have to get him right. It’s unrealistic to expect Elliott to run well with this offensive line, but he has to do his part and not turn the ball over.
And let’s not forget some questionable coaching decisions.
On their first fourth down attempt of the game, the Cowboys lined up in a heavy package and looked ready to run the football. Instead, with CeeDee Lamb one-on-one with Ronald Darby, Andy Dalton threw to the rookie wide receiver. Lamb was pretty blatantly interfered with and was unable to make the catch. A no-call from the officials turned the ball over on downs to Washington. While the officials missed that call, it wasn’t the best decision from Kellen Moore or Andy Dalton.
It was a short 4th and 1, and that’s a time when they should have run a quarterback sneak with Dalton, much like they did on their next 4th and 1 opportunity. Whenever the ball is within half a yard of getting the first down, a team’s best choice is to run the sneak.
Then came another fake punt, and like the ones before, this one didn't work out.
Cowboys ST coach John Fassel said the first option on this fake punt was for Cedrick Wilson to throw to punter Hunter Niswander. But the Washington DB played it perfectly. They expected him to run with C.J. Goodwin. Goodwin wasn’t even the second option pic.twitter.com/INkDaFds4t
Fassel explained the design here that the punter was supposed to be the first read.
Yes, you read that right. Cedrick Wilson, on the end around, was supposed to target Punter Hunter Niswander on the play. Washington covered it perfectly, and Wilson never got the ball off. It's certainly easy to question the down and distance and the Cowboys' field position when they went for the fake. I get that. I also think that that's a place and time in the game where it's doubtful for any team to call a fake punt. The point is to try and catch the opposition off guard. They didn't, and it didn't work.
My biggest issue is running a fake deep in your own territory where the primary option is for a wide receiver to throw the ball to a punter. Seriously, if you're going to do that, you might as well line up in your offense and run a play.
It's been a rough year for the Dallas Cowboys. Injuries, coaching decisions, and overall poor play have led to their 3-8 start through the first 11 games of the season. Each of those things was on full display on Thanksgiving Day. And what we saw on Thanksgiving is the reality for this team this season.
Though the previous three weeks provided a semblance of hope that the Cowboys could turn their season around and make a run toward the playoffs. The number of injuries at key positions they've suffered and the mistakes they've made in games have been too costly to overcome.