The Dallas Cowboys are left searching for answers after their strong start to Monday's must-win game, not sustaining enough of their positives for four quarters to come away with a fourth home win. Stacked against four previous losses on the road, the 3-5 Cowboys have another road trip to Philadelphia to look forward to, facing the Eagles on Sunday Night Football this week.
Before focusing on the challenge ahead in the defending Super Bowl Champions, the Cowboys have plenty of issues in their own game that must be addressed immediately.
The Titans scored touchdowns off two Dak Prescott turnovers to swing this game. Prescott's mistakes paired with a missed Brett Maher field goal on the opening drive ensured that Tennessee would remain within striking distance in this game, as well as in their own division race.
First year Head Coach Mike Vrabel and the Titans did a much better job seizing this opportunity than the Cowboys did in their own house, with the NFC East equally up for grabs after Sunday.
As always, here are my post game notes from yet another tough Cowboys loss to justify.
- Dak Prescott's issues started early in this game, as his miss to Amari Cooper on third down in the red zone led to a scoreless trip on Maher's miss.
The big move the Cowboys made coming into this game was trading for Amari Cooper, who did his part in living up to both hype and capital paid by the Cowboys. A more under-the-radar move was the firing of OL Coach Paul Alexander for Marc Colombo, which also appears to be the right decision after one game.
Colombo's line came out inspired and Running Back Ezekiel Elliott rewarded them with some physical running. Their emphasis on getting to the second level more was noticeable, which is when the Cowboys offensive line is at its best.
Maher's field goal would have done little to change the outcome of this game, as the Cowboys must find ways to finish in the red zone, particularly with better passing. Running a fade on third down, Cooper did not have much room to work with in the front of the end zone, but never had a chance on a ball Prescott threw too far and well out of bounds.
With an effort like that on third down, throwing to your best receiver, the Cowboys didn't deserve to score on their opening drive and didn't.
- This is nothing new, but the Cowboys defense did everything it could to keep the team in this game. On the play before DeMarcus Lawrence's forced fumble, Maliek Collins was able to fire off the ball and tackle Dion Lewis for a loss, bringing up the third and long pass rush opportunity for Lawrence.
It wasn't as flashy of a play, but still one that deserves to be remembered from this game by Collins. The Cowboys have to love what they've seen from defensive tackles Antwaun Woods and Daniel Ross this season, leaving Collins to play in a rotation at both the 1T and 3T positions.
Collins has handled this role exceptionally well, making flash plays each week. This stand by the Cowboys defense came right after a Jaylon Smith pass interference penalty turned a third down incomplete pass from Mariota into a first down.
Kris Richard's defense was able to rally and keep the game scoreless, and at least this one time the Cowboys offense responded by putting up their first touchdown.
On a much cleaner route, Cooper freed himself on the goal line and scored on a pass from Prescott with his signature gliding ability after the catch.
- Dak Prescott's interception to Kevin Byard should have never been thrown his direction, as he stared down Cooper the entire play.
On the play before this game-changing turnover, I thought Elliott actually had a shot to score if not for a mistake from rookie Tight End Dalton Schultz. On a slow developing play, La'el Collins was able to get to the edge and make his block, one that Elliott was in position to use and get up the field.
Schultz was overpowered by his defender and instead of trying to sustain the block he released further to the edge, leaving Elliott to be met at the line of scrimmage. Just seconds later, the Cowboys went to the pass and left even more points on the field as the Titans scored off the interception to tie the game.
There's no telling what Prescott saw on this play, as he locked onto Cooper who motioned inside and had to run through two linebackers in coverage. If Prescott could have stepped up in the pocket, there's a chance the ball goes to the outside for Allen Hurns on a much safer throw at the back pylon.
Fading away and feeling the pressure off the edge though, Prescott put the ball where only Byard (who has 10 interceptions since 2017) was going to get it.
- It's inexcusable how much the Cowboys take Ezekiel Elliott out of their own game plan. Once the Titans took a 21-14 lead in the third quarter, the Cowboys ran the ball twice for three yards the rest of the game.
Compared to the Titans nine runs for 36 yards to protect the lead, the Cowboys brass watching from afar had to be sick seeing the road team execute a game plan that the Cowboys seemed destined to play out.
If not for the lost opportunities in the red zone, the Cowboys would've been in position to protect the lead in the same fashion the Titans did so well. Even still, it's no surprise that the Cowboys didn't score again after the Titans marched down the field off Prescott's fumble.
All of the burden fell on Dak from this point on, and without any impact from Elliott the Cowboys looked lost at the most critical points of this game.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
At 3-5, I'm not sure it's a good thing that the Cowboys remain in contention for the NFC East this season. This was just the third loss under Jason Garrett the Cowboys suffered as a team already under .500, falling two games under for the first time since 2015.
Monday night was below any fleeting standard the Cowboys have for not only this season but their future. Creating a positive outlook for this team likely requires serious change, which the Cowboys won't be prompted to do without being convinced a miraculous run to the playoffs isn't happening.
At this point, a Cowboys win next week on the road (0-4 this season with 13.5 PPG) would feel just as miraculous. Without it, this team would have their sixth loss by week 10 also for the first time since 2015 - when all six losses of a seven game slide were started by Brandon Weeden or Matt Cassel.
Taco Charlton Isn’t Going Anywhere After Strong Preseason Week 3
Dallas Cowboys Defensive End Taco Charlton might be turning things around. The former first round draft pick didn't have a great couple of seasons to start his career off, which forced him to be in a battle to earn a spot on the Cowboys 53-man roster this offseason. Three weeks into the preseason, it looks like he's a lock to make the team. In a "Dress Rehearsal" game that went great for the Cowboys, Charlton's performance was among the best players.
A couple of weeks ago, I discussed how the Cowboys' younger defensive ends could force the team to move on from Taco. From Dorance Armstrong to Jalen Jelks, there's a handful of promising players that were participating in a positional battle that one way or another, included Taco Charlton.
However, the Michigan product showed up to play versus the Los Angeles Rams with two passes batted down. Despite making such plays, we still hadn't seen much from him in the pass rush department.
That changed against the Houston Texans last Saturday when he managed to get two sacks (one strip-sack), two forced fumbles and a recovery. This was undoubtedly Taco's best game in his career. He still has a lot to prove, but it was definitely good to see him have a "breakout" preseason game.
With such performance, it doesn't seem like he'll be going anywhere in 2019. Charlton won't be a starter for this team, but he could become a very important rotational piece for Rod Marinelli's defense. He has a great opportunity to find playing time during the first two weeks of the season before Robert Quinn returns from suspension.
One unfortunate note was that in his best game yet, Taco went out injured twice (ankle). The first time he went back to the field to get some more but had to walk off the field for a second time. Hopefully, he's able to play next Thursday but I wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't after having a breakout game versus the Texans.
Taco Charlton still has a very long way to justify being a first-round pick, but his play against Houston was a start. It will be very interesting to see how he plays in the 2019 regular season. He'll have to fight for playing time and he'll have to make every snap count to turn his career around.
HOU 0, DAL 34: Defense Dominates in Dress Rehearsal Game
The Dallas Cowboys couldn't have scripted a better result in tonight's dress rehearsal game against the Houston Texans. All three phases of the game made big plays as they dominated 34 to 0.
The night belonged to the defense as they terrorized Houston's starters and reserves along the offensive line with 8 sacks. Taco Charlton, a former first-round pick turned outcast was the star of the night with 2 sacks, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. In my opinion, if there were any doubts about him making the roster he put them to bed tonight.
Kerry Hyder showed once again why he's one of the smartest free-agent signings of 2019. After being a lost man in the 3-4 defensive scheme with his former team the Lions, he's done a really good job applying pressure even though he hadn't recorded any sacks in the first two preseason games. However, tonight he recorded 2 sacks and reminded everyone of the player who had 8 sacks in 2016.
The young guys weren't to be left out in this defensive clinic. Dorance Armstrong, Trysten Hill, Daniel Wise, and Joe Jackson all had half sacks. Rookie Safety Donovan Wilson had one of the plays of the night with a beautiful interception as he tapped both feet before heading out of bounds. Cornerback C.J. Goodwin, who will probably make the roster on his special teams ability, got in on the interception party himself high pointing a contested pass.
Dak Prescott was only 2 for 5 (11 for 14 in the preseason) but managed to escape what looked like a sure sack and roll to his left and threw a rope to Michael Gallup for a touchdown. The two have shown a lot of growth and chemistry during training camp, something that was missing at times in 2018.
Wide Receiver Devin Smith had 6 receptions for 79 yards while Cedrick Wilson snagged 3 passes on 4 targets. Both receivers are fighting for the final roster spots in the receiver group which they'll have to continue to do next week against the Buccaneers.
Tight End Marcus Lucas had a very solid game with 4 catches for 50 yards. He will definitely be a player to watch in the final preseason game before final cuts are made. Cooper Rush went 15 for 25 and further solidified his position as the primary backup to Prescott. Mike White was also solid going 6 for 9 and tossing a touchdown.
Special teams got in on the action themselves when Linebacker Joe Thomas recovered a blocked punt for a touchdown.
Now the Cowboys have only one more preseason game before the 2019 season begins. All that's left now is figuring out the last few roster spots and staying as healthy as possible. September 8th is right around the corner.
Cowboys Wishlist: Dress Rehearsal Edition
In the NFL, the third preseason week is often referred to as the "Dress Rehearsal." It's usually the week in which starters get the most playing time. That has changed lately, with plenty of teams deciding to take care of their key players instead of risking them on the field. However, the Dallas Cowboys have played their starters on their first two games and there's no reason to believe that will change versus the Texans today.
Here is my wishlist for the Cowboys vs Texans "Dress Rehearsal!" Let me know what your wishes for tonight's game are in the comments section below or tweet me @MauNFL!
Wish #1: Justin Phillips Locks Up a Roster Spot
Phillips has been one of the most surprising players this offseason and preseason. The Cowboys are set at linebacker, but Phillips has made sure to be a tough guy to cut. Last week, he had a remarkable interception against the Rams. Despite making a first step toward the line, he managed to adjust and made the play. He has followed it up with more plays in practice.
If he keeps it up, the Cowboys won't be able to cut him. He has the potential to be a force on special teams and a quality backup.
Wish #2: Devin Smith Makes Things Interesting
The battle for the final wide receiver spots is at full-go. Devin Smith has shined lately, and has risen as a serious candidate to make the roster. However, it seems like other wide receivers have the upper-hand as of now. Earlier this week, I made my Cowboys WR Power Rankings and had Devin Smith at #7.
His TD catch versus the Rams last week was pretty impressive, and I wish he makes a few more plays to make the debate all the more interesting.
Wish #3: Tony Pollard Does It Again
Fifth-round rookie Tony Pollard
stole was the show last weekend as he racked up 51 total yards (five carries, one catch) and a touchdown on Dallas' first offensive drive. He looked impressive as the starting running back, giving us just what we wanted to see.
While many have advertised him as a gadget player, Pollard proved he can actually be a "standard" RB. He ran between the tackles, showed power, balance and great vision. I'm ready to watch it again, this time versus the Texans.
Wish #4: Taco Charlton Shines Rushing The Passer
Taco Charlton has made a couple of plays in preseason on his third year with the Dallas Cowboys. Against the Rams, he batted down two passes and looked good separating from opposing offensive linemen. Charlton has gotten praise from some analysts during these first two preseason weeks.
But I want to watch some quality pass rush from his part. Right now, the Cowboys' roster counts with some promising players, including rookies Jalen Jelks and Joe Jackson. While they're currently below Taco, he must prove he belongs on the roster.
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Zeke Holdout: Remember, Owners Agreed to Renegotiating Contracts
Dallas Cowboys7 days ago
Michael Gallup Showing WR1 Talent in Amari Cooper’s Absence
Player News3 days ago
REPORT: Signs Point to Elliott, Cowboys Finalizing Contract Extension
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
5 Dallas Cowboys Backups Who Have Earned More Playing Time
Player News4 days ago
Report: Cowboys Offer Ezekiel Elliott a Contract to Make him the NFL’s Second Highest-Paid RB
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Dallas Cowboys Defensive Line Looking Absolutely Stacked
Dallas Cowboys7 days ago
Dallas Cowboys 2019 Roster Projection: Preseason Week 3
Game Notes2 weeks ago
3 Studs and Duds From Dallas Cowboys Preseason Week 1 Matchup