Monday, September 17, 2012
Mistakes, mistakes, and even more mistakes.
It started with the most demoralizing mistake a team can have; a fumbled kickoff return off the opening kick from the uninspiring Felix Jones.
Followed by a roughing penalty on Josh Brent.
After that, a dropped interception by Bruce Carter (would have been a tough play for sure).
Then, a dropped pass by Jason Witten. There will be more of those.
Next, came a blocked punt, where Dan Conner cannot hold his man off. The punt is returned for a Touchdown.
Then, Dez Bryant drops a pass that nearly hits him in the face and would have had the ball down to about the Seattle 10.
On the next play, Tony Romo makes about as poor a read as a QB can make, throwing into a crowd of defenders from across his body and across the field. Horrid throw that is intercepted and taken the other way, and snuffing out a drive that took points off the board.
Next came a deep throw where Witten is there and again seems to be in a position to make a play for a huge gain, but the ball falls harmlessly and curiously to the ground.
Then, came the unintentional comedy of a snap that hit Romo in the stomach as he is clearly not expecting it to arrive from Ryan Cook. This, leads to a frantic recovery and a conceded play which effectively threatens to kill another drive.
Then, the 1st Quarter ended.
That's right. That entire list of football follies all happened in the 1st Quarter of a game in which the Cowboys had 11 days to prepare and to be ready when game-time arrived in a difficult place to play.
And in the end, they would suffer a very humiliating defeat. One in which the Seahawks special teams would essentially score 10 points in the first 5 minutes, and that would be enough to win a game in which the Cowboys offense accounted for a total of 7 points the entire day.
We asked all week if the Cowboys would be able to handle the role of a "front runner". In this generation of Dallas Cowboys football, most cringe at the idea of giving the football team credit because the second these Cowboys are allowed a pat on the back after a game like their season opener in New York, then the team seems to fall flat on its face. Theories abound about why these Cowboys do so poorly when they taste success, but the sample size seems large enough that it should at least be considered. When they are told they are great, they usually respond by underestimating their next opponent or next challenge. Did it happen in Seattle? That point could be debated for sure.
Once the Cowboys played into the hands of the Seahawks by falling behind by double digits and allowing a rookie QB who was making his very first start in front of his home fans, then they were left scrambling the rest of the day. And that is what Pete Carroll and the Seahawks were hoping for. And the Cowboys obliged them.
That would allow for the Seahawks to play downhill the rest of the game. Running the ball with their battering ram Marshawn Lynch and only passing when they care to put themselves in those situations. And in those scenarios, they were facing running fronts and 3rd and shorts where rollouts and safe throws were available for Russell Wilson. And his efficiency on the day was everything a coach could dream for a rookie. The Cowboys barely troubled him all day long.
Meanwhile, on offense, because of their foolishness, the Cowboys allowed the Seahawks to dictate the situation to them. Gus Bradley, one of the more anonymous defensive coordinators in the league, did a fantastic job of bringing pressure when the Cowboys were clearly not prepared to handle it and then only bringing 3 and forcing Romo to find the tight windows down the field. It certainly helps when you set up plenty of 3rd and Long situations, but I thought the Seahawks won the situational game all day long.
But, perhaps the most demoralizing aspect of a game like this was simply to find out that the Cowboys did not suddenly become a physical football team that would not finish 2nd in a street-fight. Seattle tested the Cowboys physical resolve all afternoon, and the Cowboys did what too many Cowboys teams in the past have done; they finished 2nd.
They certainly did not keep Romo clean nor did they open up lanes for DeMarco Murray. As the game went on, and the stadium grew louder, I thought that the offensive line did not look any more fortified with their new additions than the 2010 or 2011 versions that were simply not good enough. The Cowboys fell back into their familiar trap of shotgun offense and hoping that they could spring a big passing play in the face of the pressure rather than show patience and systematically pick the Seahawks apart. The Cowboys were looking for 3 pointers and home runs when the situation dictated composure and execution. And the receivers down the field were surrounded by defenders that wanted to knock them silly. And footsteps were heard all day as catchable passes were dropped.
And then the defense, facing a rookie QB and a team that was missing its starting left tackle. That defense that we thought was ready to unleash some confusion and muscle on a squad that wasn't ready to deal with it. And in the 2nd half, the Cowboys defense was given a lesson in the ground and pound. They could not get off the field as the Seahawks decided to simply test the will and quality of the Cowboys defensive front.
They fed the ball to Marshawn Lynch 26 times and the offense totaled 41 as a unit. 41 carries that each resulted in 4.4 yards. Every time the Seahawks tried to find 10 yards by simply handing off the rock 3 times to their back, they seemed to move the chains. The Cowboys front, even knowing that the Seahawks receivers were largely there for aesthetics, could not shut down the physical attack of Lynch and his mostly anonymous offensive line.
They were beat up by Seattle yesterday. On the scoreboard and in the training room. Who ever expected a wide receiver to knock Sean Lee out of the game - albeit, with what appears to be a clear illegal shot to the head? Who expected Jason Witten to drop more than a few passes? This was a game where the Cowboys were going to have to step up physically to leave with a victory, and they were certainly beaten on those grounds from the 1st play until the game mercifully ended.
And speaking of the game's ending, may I be so bold to ask what the point was of a hurry-up attack with :36 left in a game that you trail by 20? Aside from pleasing fantasy owners, what would have been worth another injury as Romo takes another hit to make a meaningless play? 51 yards does make the horrendous production from the offense look slightly better on the stat sheet, but really? Run a play and get on the bus. Losing a key player for a month from that nonsense would have added injury to the insult that was the entire afternoon.
The Cowboys offense managed just 296 yards yesterday. If you take away the meaningless 51, that put them at 245 for the first 59:24. That number is particularly meaningful because it drops them below the dreaded "250 barrier". In games where the Cowboys achieve less than 250 yards of offense and have no takeaways to make up for it, they are 0-16 in franchise history. If you allow them the 51 yards of garbage time to get to 296 and still no takeaways, then the franchise all-time record is 3-33. The point is, if you get no offense and the defense gets you no gifts, well then, you have no chance. And 27-7 in Seattle fits well with the last 2 games that met that criteria, 34-7 in Philadelphia last year and 45-7 in Green Bay the year before in what is known as Wade Phillips' last game.
But, at least that was Philadelphia and Green Bay. Those were games where the Cowboys were not really being picked by everyone to win. This was Seattle with a rookie QB and a team that had very little confidence or swagger. And Dallas gift wrapped them 10 points of special teams in the first 5 minutes to prop up that confidence to a nice level and to ignite a crowd that didn't really need the help.
It makes you rethink a lot of things. It makes you temper your enthusiasm about Week 1. It makes you tap the brakes on the idea that the Cowboys got their offseason moves completely right. Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne are nice, unless you are playing a team that doesn't seem to care about wide receivers. Then, you kind of wish you had addressed your offensive and defensive lines again. Mac Bernadeau and Nate Livings looked like they were Kyle Kosier and Montrae Holland at times yesterday, having trouble moving players in the run game or keeping the anchor down in pass protection. And the defensive line just wasn't touching Wilson save for the few occasions where Seattle forgot to block Anthony Spencer.
It makes you remember that it is a long season. 1-1 is where you were thinking you were going to be after 2 weeks, but it also better make you write something down so you don't forget it: This team is not good enough to take anyone for granted or to show up and not be prepared to play your best game - especially on the road. Who are the Cowboys to not give Seattle the utmost respect? Who are they to show up and commit nearly 10 self-inflicted errors in the 1st Quarter?
Most of all, it makes you remember that next time you want to compliment this team, you had better slow your roll. They don' t do well when people tell them they are pretty good. Some teams don't deal well with failure. But, this Cowboys team always seems to deal poorly with success.
And that is something they are going to have to learn if they ever want sustained success.