Admittedly, there is very little to not like about that win over the Saints. The domination - particularly in the 1st half - put my chin on the floor and I was unable to recover my chin until the Saints finally were able to muster together an offensive effort that resulted in a field goal in the 3rd quarter.
Watching, you could not help but consider the story behind the game - the Cowboys were utterly embarrassed last year by the Saints to the tune of 49 points compared to a measly 17 points, most of which was garnered during garbage time when the Saints had shifted their offensive machine in neutral.
Sunday night the Cowboys were granted an opportunity to return the favor and they delivered in convincing fashion, excluding a brief scare in the early minutes of the fourth quarter as the Saints attempted to mount a comeback.
All of a sudden, the playoff talk has skyrocketed into the stratosphere and more literally the blogosphere, as fans and fair-weather fans alike are beginning to strap themselves into what looks to be the first really good year for these Cowboys since 2007, starting 3 and 1 for the first time since 2008. The Cowboys' victory over the Saints has analysts and experts donning bibs as they stuff their mouths with crow, suggesting these Cowboys are a different breed; a harkening to the old school smash-mouth run it in your face regardless if you expect it Cowboys led by none other than Emmitt Smith.
Tap the breaks please.
I really hate to be a bad news bear, but I honestly have just one question I’d like answered before I buy into these ridiculous dynasty comparisons: Where is the Cowboys quality win so far this year? Are we calling the Titans, the Rams or the Saints a quality win? How do you define a quality win? Do you simply accept how a team is perceived based off of their nationally conceived reputation or do you feel Parcells was astute in his declaration that your team is what their record is? If you chose the latter, let’s keep in mind that this year’s iteration of the Saints just fell to 1 and 3, the Rams are 1 and 2 (week 4 bye week), and the Titans are 1 and 3.
I get it. The Cowboys looked really, really good and played a complete game; they executed cleanly with few penalties – and have done so much of the year, I might add - and the game Sunday night against the Saints, and arguably one of the most intelligent Head Coach / QB duos in the league, was clearly managed to perfection by Head Coach and both the offensive and defensive coordinators.
The machine ran very well, all said and done. Again, not a lot to - if anything - complain about – save maybe that heart attack they nearly gave me when the Saints came within 2 touchdowns of tying the game.
I absolutely loved how the defense attacked the ball. Every Saints offender who happened to touch the ball received several different hand slaps from several different Cowboys that night, as the Cowboys made it their personal mission to force incompletions and turnovers. If the Cowboys play like that, they have a chance against every team on their schedule.
But there is a question that still floats around my mind like a bloated cadaver in a vast turbulent sea, origin and destination unknown – was it truly a quality win, or are we simply allowing the Saints' reputation and their embarrassment of our Cowboys last year to cloud our judgment when assessing the weight that win carries?
The Cowboys have a running back who has run for over 100 yards and scored at least 1 touchdown in the first four games for the first time since Emmitt Smith did it in 1995, which is very good company to be in. You could further say, with little to no argument from the masses, that here we have the best running back of the Cowboys since 1996, Emmitt Smith falling off somewhat in the later stages of his career.
You could even say Dez Bryant is the most naturally gifted receiver the Cowboys have ever had; albeit, it is still too soon to say the “best” since Michael Irvin, when you consider T.O.’s complete body of work. Nevertheless, Dez Bryant doesn’t even have to catch the ball to have an impact on the game. His reputation alone affects the passing to other receivers almost as much as play action, since his presence on the field demands the attention of at least two defenders at all times.
But was it a quality win?
You could make a similar argument about the offensive line; not just dominating, but executing intricate pulls and quickly moving from their first blocking assignment to their second assignment with ease - it was truly a thing of beauty.
The Cowboys may not ride this line into the championship this year, but if the Cowboys can keep these boys intact and add a similar talent to replace Doug Free, this offense will be a force to contend with for years.
No argument on that here. But bringing the narrative back to this year, was it a quality win?
You could contend Romo is easily the best QB the Cowboys have had since Troy Aikman donned a helmet. This year has served as somewhat of a microcosm for Tony’s career. His first game and possibly the worst showing of his career, gave us a glimpse of the Tony we all know and hate – bad-decision-Tony. Against the Titans, he was demoted to bus driver, while Murray served as the engine that powered the Cowboys back into our collective consciousness as a potential playoff team.
Against the Rams, while the Cowboys smartly ignored the temptation to give up on the ground game despite being down 21 points early, Romo showed his ability to seamlessly maneuver from bus driver to stunt driver, when necessity demands.
Against the Saints, the element that truly made the world take notice of the Cowboys, we witnessed the culmination of every working part explode on the Saints, including the Romo Houdini act often affectionately referred to as Romdini. You could make a logical argument that the season opener against the 49ers may have been a win, had Tony felt then like he looked on Sunday night. It certainly would have been a much easier game to watch, on this I believe we all can agree.
But even had the Cowboys won and sat atop the NFCE with a 4 and 0 record today, could we call any of these victories definite members of the quality win club? The 49ers are struggling as well, sitting at 2 and 2, doing so with a defense that is missing many of the faces that established their identity last year.
So, are we calling game one - if there is such a thing - a quality loss?
You could point to the fight the Cowboys have played with; the never-give-up-ness if you will, particularly on display against the Rams two weekends ago. You could highlight that for once the Cowboys have the offensive line to run the ball effectively. And you could further debate that with an effective run, the avenues for passing open up in direct correlation to a defense's innate response to effective running – bringing the safety up in a support role. You could further surmise that with that same effective run, the play action becomes a kill-shot, the final touchdown to Dez Bryant Sunday night serving as an exemplary illustration of that point.
To that, my friends, I would likely look like a proverbial bobble-head toy as I shake my head somewhat “yes” and somewhat “no.” Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with the above formula; it is a tried and true method of getting wins in any iteration of the NFL, pass-happy or not.
But returning to the prevailing question: what quality team has this method worked against?
Truth be told, we cannot make an argument to say that any of the teams the Cowboys have faced are quality or not because it is honestly way too soon to say – this regrettably applies to our Cowboys, as well. You cannot use a team's production last year to assign a current grade because of roster turnover, the inevitable decline in ability that comes with age, and the handful of other reasons that lead to degeneration in talent. Austin Davis of the Rams very well may be beginning a career that ends with his bust in Canton. Or he could be another mediocre talent in the long line of QBs that the Cowboys defense made look as though they were world-beaters.
Therein is my struggle and my reason to recommend we remain cautiously optimistic as a fan base.
We may not have had as many reasons stacked together simultaneously as we do now since the Cowboys' last hey-day – true story – nevertheless, I suggest we take this ride one game at a time and resist the temptation to offer predictions on how this will end. Sip and savor each victory as you would a vintage spirit of your choosing – be it wine or liquor – but abstain from killing the whole bottle now, because with our senses inebriated the fall is often far more devastating to our well-being than when otherwise sober and alert.
Takeaway Tuesday: Scott Linehan’s Job Shouldn’t Be Safe
The Dallas Cowboys didn't look like they did during their five game winning streak when they entered Lucas Oil Stadium to face a hot Indianapolis Colts team. In fact, they had one of their poorest showings of all season, failing to score a single point all game. Heading home after being shutout 23-0, there isn't much to be said about the Cowboys' performance.
Here's this week's Takeaway Tuesday. This time, instead of talking about many takeaways, I needed to get one big takeaway off my chest. I hope you enjoy. Make sure to let me know how you feel about this topic in the comments section below or tweet me @MauNFL.
Scott Linehan's Job Shouldn't Be Guaranteed Going into the Playoffs
As tough as it is to fire one of your three main coaches when your team is headed into the postseason, the Dallas Cowboys should not rule out moving on from Scott Linehan. One win away from clinching the NFC East, it's not something you easily pull off but Linehan's play calling has been terrible all year long.
The truth is, despite Dak Prescott's struggles and a disastrous offensive line, the offense shouldn't be as inefficient as it is.
Watching a unit that counts with Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and Ezekiel Elliott run a screen pass to Allen Hurns on fourth down and 14 was truly a microcosm of what this year has been for the offense.
Despite having a playoff berth practically clinched, the Cowboys should consider a change at offensive coordinator. Even if they don't fire Linehan, it's clear his play-calling is not good and could cost this team a real opportunity at a legit shot in the postseason. It would be an aggressive measure, without a doubt. The Minnesota Vikings did something similar by firing John DeFillippo a week ago. Based on their 41-17 win over the Miami Dolphins last Sunday, being aggressive sometimes pays.
The Cowboys have arguably the best running back in the NFL in Ezekiel Elliott and yet they continue to misuse him. Whether it's turning their backs on their star tailback or over-using him, this offense has a hard time reaching balance. Dak Prescott's strengths could be exploited even more, but this OC refuses to do so.
As hard as it is to make a drastic change in coaching two weeks before the regular season ends, it truly could end up being a great move by the front office. Sure, Amari Cooper has had monster games since joining the Cowboys, but he could be even more dangerous under another coach.
Cowboys versus Colts was a coaching battle between Scott Linehan and former Dallas Cowboys LB coach, Matt Eberflus. It was the matchup of the week, and one we expected to be fun. Instead, we saw one side completely dominate the other. In the NFL, coaching matters. Probably even more than talent on a roster.
The biggest problem would be, who'd take over play-calling?
Since there isn't a promising candidate within the team, the team's only option would probably be letting HC Jason Garrett take over. It may not be ideal, but it could end up being an improvement over Linehan. Of course, it could also let the front office see what Garrett has to offer as a play caller and consider that when deciding how this coaching staff will look like in 2019.
It's unlikely that we see such a thing occur for the Cowboys, but if the offense has another letdown game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, I don't see how the front office doesn't at least consider this. They should.
Ezekiel Elliott Productive in Cowboys Blowout Loss to Colts
It was as ugly of a performance as we’ve seen from the Dallas Cowboys in the Jason Garrett era. For the first time in a decade and a half, the Cowboys were shut out and it was a game full of bad pretty much everywhere you looked. Everywhere accept Ezekiel Elliott.
What a waste!
Elliott and the Cowboys offensive line played well for much of the game even with All-Pro Right Guard Zack Martin missing his first career start and losing starting Left Guard Xavier Su’a-Filo went out with an eye injury.
On the day, Ezekiel Elliott carries the ball 18 times for 87 yards and added another seven receptions for 41. 25 touches for 128 total yards is a good game, but with nothing else going right for the Cowboys it was a game that ultimately didn’t matter.
The one play where Elliott and the offensive line failed to come through was early in the game in a fourth and one that the Colts defense seemed to have snuffed out and blew up from the start. Elliott was able to convert a fourth and one later in the game. It looked like Elliott was close to breaking one for a long run several times but got tripped up at the end of the runs. He was his typical self this week. Taking runs that looked to be going for a loss and turning them into positive gains.
In the race for the NFL's rushing title, Elliott has extended his lead on Todd Gurley to nearly 100 yards rushing. At 1,349 rushing yards on the season, Elliott will have a great shot to set a career high in rushing yards with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New York Giants remaining on the schedule. The Bucs have allowed the sixth most rushing yards and the fourth most rushing touchdowns in the NFL this season while the Giants have allowed the fifth most rushing yards and the seventh most rushing touchdowns in 2018.
It was a horrendous loss at a time when the Cowboys could have locked up the NFC East and there is zero excuse for it. They got out coached, out played, and were beaten physically on both sides of the ball and that doesn't happen very often, especially to the defense.
But if we're looking for something positive to take away from this game, it's that with all the offensive line injuries and the poor play of the passing game, Ezekiel Elliott and the running game continues to find ways to shine. With as bad as the loss was, that's something to hang your hat on.
All the Cowboys need to do moving forward is Feed Zeke!
Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Can’t Finish Drives, Division Clinch with Shutout Loss at Colts
What is there to say about the Dallas Cowboys week 15 performance? After five straight wins, the last three coming at home, the Cowboys have only a return home to look forward to, facing the 5-9 Buccaneers on Sunday after a 23-0 defeat at the Colts.
Shutout for the first time since 2003, the Cowboys playoff hopes didn't take a hit despite the Redskins and Eagles winning on the road. Washington's last-second win went final just before the Colts ran the clock out on a game the Cowboys simply weren't ready for.
The Cowboys moved the ball well at times but failed to ever come away with points, opening the door for the Colts to expose this defense like it hasn't been all season. The Cowboys front four was hardly a factor on defense, allowing Colts Running Back Marlon Mack to average 5.1 yards a carry. Scoring the Colts only touchdowns, Mack and Andrew Luck assured the Cowboys running game wouldn't be a factor with their 10-0 halftime lead. Down to three backups at LG, C, and RG, Quarterback Dak Prescott stood little chance to bring the Cowboys back as the second half quickly got away from Dallas.
Internally, the Cowboys will have much more to say about their effort on Sunday, but here are just a few of my observations in the first somber edition of Sean's Scout since week nine.
- The Cowboys defensive problems up front extended well into the second level, with Linebackers Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith both playing one of their worst games of the season.
The Colts took a blocked Brett Maher field goal 44 yards for the game's opening score. Mack accounted for 34 of these yards and the touchdown. On his seven yard run to set up first and goal, Smith was caught taking a poor angle on Mack. The Cowboys were aggressive rushing up the field on the play, with Smith ending up being in the best position to slow Mack.
Vander Esch was sealed and couldn't fight to get off, which happened again three plays later on third and goal. Leighton looking like a rookie for the first time was just the start of the Cowboys problems, and with Sean Lee being active yet conceding starting snaps to him, it shouldn't take long for Vander Esch to figure things out again.
- Jamize Olawale's dropped touchdown on third and goal to bring up a failed fourth and one was the moment the Cowboys were taken out of this game.
This sequence was particularly deflating because the Cowboys did a great job getting down the field to have an opportunity to score. The fourth down decision to run out of a heavy formation, inviting extra defenders to the line of scrimmage, looks especially egregious when stacked against the Amari Cooper rush that picked up the Cowboys initial first down. Rookie Tight End Dalton Schultz got involved, Elliott ripped off a 24 yard run, and the Cowboys still came away empty on this drive.
A year removed from coaching the Cowboys linebackers, Colts Defensive Coordinator Matt Eberflus had his way with Scott Linehan's offense all afternoon, stymieing their most promising drive after Olawale should have scored easily.
- The Cowboys only chance to get back in the game was taken away from them by a Joe Looney holding call, just another example of players that had carried them through a winning streak not playing up to standard.
The Colts took the second half kickoff down the field to extend the lead to 17-0. On fourth and two on the ensuing possession, Prescott hit an injured Cole Beasley for 18 yards to the Colts' 23-yard line. The Cowboys red zone offense certainly doesn't provide the confidence that Dallas would finish the drive, but Looney's hold negated Beasley's catch and forced a punt.
The Colts tacked on a field goal and finished out the game without the Cowboys threatening again. Looney played down to the level of Adam Redmond to his left, who replaced Xavier Su'a-Filo, and Connor Williams in for Zack Martin - though I thought Williams held up fairly well and should be in play to earn more snaps wherever needed.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
The Cowboys can regroup and still accomplish everything they set out for this season, forced to make this loss to the Colts and afterthought like their last one to the Titans became. A five game win streak as a response is out of reach, but a streak of just one is all Dallas needs to clinch the NFC East and focus on improvements for the playoffs.
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