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.
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.
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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.