After lighting the world on fire during the first three games of their season, the Cowboys high flying offense came crashing back to Earth on Sunday night in New Orleans. Dallas was dominated by the Saints defense from the jump, taking their first loss of the season, 12-10.
There's not much introduction to do to these game notes. The Cowboys offense was putrid, gross, and disappointing. For a unit that was supposed to have put games like these behind them, Dallas sure looked like the inept offense we saw for much of 2018.
Let's hope this doesn't become the trend.
- Let's start with some positives from Sunday night. Simply put, linebacker Leighton Vander Esch was awesome. Vander Esch finished with 11 tackles on the night, and looked like his rookie year self in terms of his sideline to sideline athleticism and sure-tackling. Sure, he and the rest of the Cowboys missed a few tackles on Alvin Kamara, but overall they stuffed one of the best runners in all of football for much of the night. Both Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith had themselves good bounce back games after some early season struggles.
- Robert Quinn…what else is there to say? Quinn has been incredible during his first two games with the Cowboys, and racked up two sacks on Sunday night. His quickness off the ball and bend around the edge are eye-popping. He creates quick pressures and seems to be around the quarterback on every passing attempt. Trading a sixth round pick for Quinn is looking like an absolute steal for the Cowboys thus far.
- Now onto the bad. And, unfortunately for Cowboys fans, there was a fair amount of bad on Sunday. Center Travis Frederick struggled mightily against the Saints interior front. He and Connor Williams seem to have some miscommunication when passing off stunts, and it caused interior pressures at times. The entire offensive line was, well, bad when running both outside and inside zone as well. La'el Collins and Tyron Smith each had plus-games in my book, but the interior of this line got their butts kicked for four quarters. This offensive line made Malcolm Brown look like Aaron Donald on Sunday night. They have to be better, that's all there is to it.
- The Cowboys coaching staff could've helped this offensive line out, though. Dallas' line couldn't create any movement on the ground, but the predictable early down runs put the line and the running game at a disadvantage. Dallas couldn't get anything going on the ground all game, and yet they continued to pound their head into the wall. Dallas faced second and long after second and long, putting increased pressure on a passing game that was missing one of its top two targets. Outside of the opening drive in the third quarter, this offensive gameplan was stale.
- Michael Gallup is needed in a bad way. Not only was Devin Smith invisible on Sunday night, but each of the Cowboys other two pass catchers outside of Amari Cooper (Randall Cobb and Jason Witten) made key mistakes which ended important drives. Witten's fumble might've been the play of the game for New Orleans, as the Cowboys passing game looked to be hitting a rhythm before the turnover. Randall Cobb had a huge third down drop as well, when he had room to run after the catch to possibly create a much needed explosive play. The Saints secondary had been getting killed by just about every passing attack through three weeks, so it's certainly disheartening for the Cowboys to not find any success whatsoever.
- Chidobe Awuzie vs. bigger receivers on those back shoulder throws continues to be a problem. He's almost always in-phase and ready to make a play, but just about never does. He got beat by Michael Thomas on a couple big second and third and longs this week. Thomas is a beast, and he's going to win those sometimes, but Awuzie is getting beat by everyone on these routes.
The offensive line got manhandled for much of this game, the play calling seemed stale and uninspired, and the Cowboys offense looked like the constipated unit we saw for the first half of 2018. Games like these are why paying any running back they way the Cowboys have paid Ezekiel Elliott is a dangerous game to play. He's an elite back no doubt, but even elite backs require so much to go right around them in order to be successful in the run game.
Still, the season is far from lost, and the Cowboys offense should be able to bounce back rather quickly from this disappointment. This is too talented a unit to put up more performances like this one.
Throw this game in the trash and let's move on to Green Bay.