Monday, November 02, 2015

The Morning After - Seahawks 13, Cowboys 12 (2-5)

43 days ago, the Cowboys last won a football game.  I am guessing a drought like that is generally a good sign that your season has gone into the dumpster.
43 days in the wilderness...wandering....looking for an answer.  Somewhere.  Anywhere. 
Maybe it is this retread life-long QB who can save us.  Nope.  Let's try another one.  Grab the one who has played on all of the other teams in the league.  He is slightly better.  Not really.  Keep looking.  Maybe it is that third guy who is over there on the bench and never played a snap in the NFL.  Maybe he is the one who can save us.
But, what could it hurt to try?  That is where we are - where numerous people want to try the kid who has never taken a snap.  
43 days in the football desert is enough to make a team see things off in the distance that look like an oasis of hope. 
Perhaps it is the sack machine who is suspended by the league.  He can save it...  Or maybe it will be the return of the franchise wide receiver.  Surely, when he comes back...
One of these combinations is likely to stop the bleeding, right?  Hello? 
This team will win another game this year.  I am sure of it.  Now, the question becomes whether it will happen while this team is potentially still alive.  If, in fact, you are optimistic enough to think 2-5 is still alive, that is. 
When Tony Romo was injured back on September 20th, the initial thought in every reasonable thinking Cowboys fans' mind was simply that the season is likely over.  The one thing you simply cannot do in the NFL is to lose your starting QB for 2 months.  The math doesn't work out.  It can't be done.
But, then, the dust settles, and you start to try to figure out a way to break the code.  The reasons are obvious.  This is not a video game that you simply hit "reset" and start over.  No, if you are going to start over in the NFL, it takes a year off everyone's contract and career and it requires 12 months of waiting.  Nobody has time for that.
So, if you are like me, you get out the schedule and talk yourself into stealing a game here and a game there.  Surely, if you must play for 2 months without Tony Romo, you can get three wins somewhere in there, right?
Or at least two?  How about just a win against anyone? 
This season is not what we had in mind as we stood in Oxnard looking at a very deep, talented, and confident team that seemed comfortable laying out their navigational path to the Super Bowl.
On Sunday, the Cowboys were in a very advantageous position in the game entering the 4th Quarter.  They had outgained the 2-time defending NFC Champions in yardage and were going in to take the lead after that aforementioned sack machine just turned the game on its ear by batting a pass into the air that he intercepted and then tried to return to the end zone.  If the offense can't score, maybe Greg Hardy can. 
He tried.  But, was tripped up at the 16-yard line.  Down 10-9, the Cowboys now had the ball given to them inside the Seahawks 20-yard line with something any observer would label as the "golden opportunity that they simply cannot afford to waste."
Perhaps this is the point of the column where I should give my overall global view of this mess as it pertains to the coaching minds that run the Dallas Cowboys.  I understand a careful and cautious approach to running the tactics during this stretch.  The worst thing you can do is to take unnecessary risks that end up hurting your opportunity to steal a game.
BUT.  You are a clear underdog.  Everyone is expecting you to lose to the Seattle Seahawks when they have their MVP-caliber QB and elite defense and you don't. 
So, if you find yourself in a spot in a game like this and you have a chance to either take the game by the horns or you can carefully run 3 plays and then kick a field goal to go up by 2 points with 14 minutes to play, I would respectfully beg you to roll the dice just a bit and try to get that 7 points. Then, maybe even go for 2 points.  You simply owe it to yourself and to that locker-room to be bold and courageous and to dare to win the game.
Instead, the Cowboys ran McFadden to the 12-yard line to set up 2ndand 6.  Then, they tried two of the more careful pass plays they could design.  On 2nd down, they threw a quick WR bubble to Cole Beasley where the ball arrived at the 15, and was just out of Beasley's reach.  If caught, the ball might have made it back to the line of scrimmage or a modest gain.  It was incomplete.  On 3rd down, it was a similar concept to the other sideline, where the ball hit Darren McFadden at the 15-yard line and then he bowled down to the 8.  Now, at 4th and 2, the field goal team rushed on. 
The offense actually had 9 plays inside the Seahawks 25-yard line on Sunday.  I assume if you would sit down Jason Garrett and Scott Linehan and tell them you would have three different opportunities where you would work your way down that far against the fantastic Seattle defense, they would be delighted.  Then, I would imagine they would realize that they better get at least one touchdown and maybe two if they want to win.
But, on their three occasions to get the ball down there against Seattle, they did the following:
On the first trip, which was also their very first drive of the game, they worked all the way down and instead of attempting to move the chains with a 4th and 1 that might have set the tone for the day, they ran on Dan Bailey to take 3 points. 
The next occasion, now in the 2nd Quarter, they rode a series of Matt Cassel scrambles to work down to the Seahawks 24.  This time, the boldest shot they took was a Darren McFadden pass to James Hanna on 1st down.  From there, they were very cautions with a Christine Michael run and a quick dump off to McFadden which would then result in another Bailey field goal. 
Finally, the third trip, as the game turned to the 4th Quarter, they threw those two passes behind the line of scimmage to Beasley and McFadden.  Yet again, they would settle for three and not risk a thing.  No risk, no reward.
Now, let's be clear.  Riding Matt Cassel's arm is not ideal.  He clearly scared either himself or the coaching staff (or both) with his multiple mistakes in New York against the Giants.  He has limitations and his judgment might be chief amongst those limitations.  But, if the game against those Seahawks depends on the ability to get one touchdown against them and you have 3 chances inside their 25 to do it, don't you owe it to yourself to put in your best passing opportunity and pulling the trigger? 
It was going to be your only chance unless they were hanging all of their hopes on the idea of a play where the defense actually carries the ball all the way to the end zone themselves. 
To put it anther way, doesn't Garrett turn to Linehan at some juncture of that game and tell him that our only chance is to count on our QB to make one play.  Let's call it and if the ship goes down, at least they went down swinging.  One other convincing piece of evidence would be that if they just kick field goals, odds are that they would need Cassel to lead a drive the entire length of the field against this defense.  What has better odds?  One play or asking for a full drive? 
Instead, the head coach who appears to be just as risk-averse as any coach in the business spent another afternoon seemingly unwilling to roll the dice.  And again, with frustrating faithfulness, he called another game that seemed to ignore the idea that they were underdogs and expected to be the 2nd best team on the field. 
I expected them to call the game as if they had nothing to lose.  Instead, given their conservative portfolio in the red zone - and no, asking a running back to throw a pass on 1st down is not aggressive (it is a gimmicky ambush shot in the dark) - you could argue that they believed that 12 points could win the game. 
Beyond that, he received about as strong a game as he could hope for from the defense.  They hung in there and kept Seattle from any explosives besides the one 22-yard completion to Luke Willson that went for a touchdown.  One explosive allowed all day by the defense and then two game-turning stops late in the game in the form of the Hardy interception and then the blocked field goal by the rookie David Irving? 
The recipe was followed by the defense.  They were not perfect, but they put in - for the 2nd straight week - about as much fight as you could expect from them.  They are not a dominant defense (Seattle and Denver showed us what that looks like), but they are pretty good right now and seem capable of keeping the Cowboys in any game. 
But, at some point, the Cowboys are going to need to embrace their role as a longshot and go down throwing haymakers.  2-5 is a horrendous spot to be in after being 2-0 on September 20th, but it almost seems like the Cowboys are still playing conservatively to protect their lead. 
This just in - there is no lead left to protect, Coach.  Now, you are no longer being hunted and are back to being the hunters.  With that comes the disposition that you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by being bold.
Instead, they loaded up their running game and attempted to run the ball down the Seahawks throats.  And during the game they had 26 running plays (not accounting for the Cassel scrambles off passing calls) for a total of 86 yards.  3.3 yards per carry is a rather predictable result and it was that good because the Cowboys offensive line is formidable.  You see, Seattle is so good defensively that they often reduce good Quarterbacks and offenses to a pile of rubble.  They obliterate bad ones.
Which is why, for me, on this depressing Monday where the pulse of the 2015 Cowboys is now down to its weakest point, it is so bothersome that Garrett seems to refuse to be bold. 
4th and 1.  You are sitting at their 15-yard line.  Go for it.  Try to run a sword through their chest.  Maybe it won't work, but taking three points in each of your three golden opportunities is not going to win this game against this opponent.  Bailey kicks.  Boldness saved.
Be bold.  It's the 4th Quarter.  You are down 10-9, it is 2nd down from the 12 yard line.  Take a shot.  You have Williams and Bryant and Beasley and Witten.  Richard Sherman won't be covering them all.  Keep the running back into protect and take two shots into the end-zone to go get 7 points. 
It may not work.  And if it doesn't, people might be mad at you for not taking the field goals.  But let them say what they want.  At least you will be able to look yourself in the mirror and know you wouldn't lay up at the Masters. 
You were going to go after a win that your team desperately needed.  September 20th was too far away to play for a 12-10 lead. 
43 days and counting.   The search for the oasis continues.  At some point, you might need a bit more courage to find it.

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