The most frustrating part of the Dallas Cowboys 16-8 loss on the road in Carolina is that they once again failed to disprove a popular narrative about them. It will stick with the Cowboys returning home for an NFC East “elimination” game against the 0-1 Giants.
Met with constant questions about their lack of proven receivers, the Cowboys were confident that Quarterback Dak Prescott could silence doubters with new coaches around him on offense. In the end it was a fatal mix of familiarity in OC Scott Linehan and unfamiliarity with his targets that led to Prescott's third consecutive game under 200 yards passing.
After reviewing the film from Prescott's 35 drop backs, it's not too hard to determine who deserves the blame for the Cowboys ineptitude on offense Sunday. The Cowboys were once again painfully predictable in their routes, giving Prescott very few openings to throw into.
A lot of things have to go wrong for any NFL offense to be held to one score however, and in this game it was Prescott leaving a few big plays on the field paired with six allowed sacks that sealed Dallas' fate.
This roll out play here is a stunning example of just how far the Cowboys offense has regressed. A staple of their passing game in Prescott's rookie season, the Cowboys have not had nearly the same success in moving the pocket for Dak ever since.
A close look at the clip above shows why, as before the snap the Panthers are prepared for the only real threat on the play, Terrance Williams in motion across the formation. Shifting to a single high look while maintaining a nine man box (something Running Back Ezekiel Elliott saw plenty of), the extra defensive back on the near side remains in perfect position to take Williams away.
The result is Prescott throwing the ball out of bounds.
The Cowboys inability to creatively use any of their weapons didn't stop here. Relying heavily on simple routes that forced receivers to turn around and see Prescott already in trouble, all of the new teachings from WR Coach Sanjay Lal were wasted in this contest.
Focusing on his players' ability to separate quickly and run precise routes, perhaps the Cowboys second best route runner in Michael Gallup was limited to 29 snaps in his debut. Cole Beasley got off to an encouraging start with seven catches for 73 yards.
To say the Cowboys got all of their offseason decisions wrong after one tough game against a top defense would be an overreaction. There is plenty of merit, dating back to last season, on which to question the coaches that remain on the Dallas sideline. Doing so only in the context of this season opener loses sight of some much larger problems for the Cowboys.
Not only was this clearly a team that could have used a veteran play from Dez Bryant or Jason Witten in Carolina, but one that feels destined to feel the aftermath of what Bryant said on the way out (as well as on Twitter during the game).
So, perhaps the title of this article was just slightly misleading. Make no mistake that the Cowboys don't have the gift of time to fix this offense. Legitimately assigning blame between now and the three days before Sunday Night Football will not accomplish anything.
Head Coach Jason Garrett did put out this fire quickly this week, assuring the media that Linehan will remain the Cowboys play caller. A coach that knows the Cowboys changes for 2018 must lead to success, despite not changing much himself, Garrett's allegiance to Linehan is alarming.
Even more alarming is this final query into the Cowboys ineptitude through the air. When the Cowboys did flash some creativity on offense, their offensive line had several key busts to take away big gains.
Left Tackle Tyron Smith, the second most assured asset on this OL, was called for two penalties that led to Dallas punts. Rookie Left Guard Connor Williams allowed a fourth quarter sack. Fill-in Center Joe Looney performed well in his first start, but was not in position to block in space as much as the Cowboys will hope to see Travis Frederick return to doing. Fortunately, Zack Martin was his usual self, but even Right Tackle La'el Collins struggled against a few speed rushes that flushed Dak out of the pocket early.
There won't be many tenured Cowboys coaches (of which there are already very few) that can survive another season derailed but what's supposed to be the strongest unit on the team – the Cowboys offensive line. It remains too early to predict the team's faith here considering the caliber of players on their line.
It's not too early however for Cowboys Nation to be frustrated in the offensive staff. Overcoming their deficiencies with a weakened OL is likely out of the realm of possibility for the Cowboys competing in a loaded NFC.
With Dak Prescott being the only Cowboys passing game component to question beyond this, week two is set to be a revealing one for the Cowboys at AT&T Stadium.