Monday, December 28, 2015

The Morning After - Bills 16, Cowboys 6 (4-11)

From my annual Christmas headquarters in rural Wisconsin, I wanted to be here and offer some overall views on the 16-6 loss at Buffalo as this season creeps to the finish line.
This game, like the entire season, was a very tough three hours to endure.  The team lacked any sort of structure in assembling a performance that you could really sink your teeth into on either side of the ball. 
On offense, the idea of watching Kellen Moore with a full week of all of the starting QB reps seemed like a worthy reason to spend the afternoon with the team.  I want this young kid to have some success, if only because I admired his work at Boise State.  He is a unique player who seems to possess something worth investing in - if only to allow him the next 9 months to try to remain a part of the Dallas Cowboys in 2016.  That said, his performance of 13-31 for 186 yards and a passer rating of 48 is going to be hard to sell to the public that feel like they have been served a poor meal all season long. 
I saw a player that once again looked calm in the pocket, appeared to know what he was doing - especially on 3rd down, and possessed the football intelligence to be a prospect as a backup QB.  But, the accuracy wasn't there, nor was any sort of cohesive relationship with his receiving corps that allowed them to appear on the same page on any of those plays where they needed some chemistry and idea of what each other would do.  There was one 3rd down, for instance, on what would be the final snap of Moore's day where he tried to give Terrance Williams a chance to make a play down the right sideline on a 3rd and 8.  So, he lofted the ball down the field in a spot where he thought Williams might be.  Unfortunately, Williams cut off his route and stood still while watching the ball sail 20 yards from where he stood.  Clearly, he thought he was supposed to run a stop, while Moore threw the go-route. 
Both players looked defeated and walked off the field as the punt team came on the field with the Cowboys down 9-6.  There was 7 minutes to play.  They would never get another snap.
It has been that type of year and yesterday in rainy Buffalo, it was that type of day. 
There is no doubt that Kellen Moore is not good enough for his accuracy to be off on a given day.  He has a limited number of throws he can make and, at his size and without any discernible running ability, he simply has to be near perfect to excel at the NFL level.  And against the Bills defense, he wasn't quite there. 
Additionally, the offensive penalties were certainly a killer and the receivers were off all day as well.  The offense put up almost no points, despite being at 50% in 3rd Down conversions and once again scored just 6 points.  That means that with one game to go, they have piled up just 252 points in 15 games.  And, that means, they would need 37 points against Washington next week (don't hold your breath) to outscore any Cowboys offensive year since 2002 when Dave Campo and Quincy Carter were running the show here in Dallas.  I think you know what that means.
Meanwhile, the defense was again the type of unit that seems decent in some respects, but reliable in none.  They can't be counted on to get off the field - see the final 7 minutes again - and they can't be counted to get a QB down when they need a sack badly down the stretch. 
On one hand, it seemed the Bills accomplished very little.  However, at the same time, they racked up 408 yards yesterday in a way that resembled Carolina on Thanksgiving a bit.  That means we aren't really sure what their offensive gameplan was other than just wait out Dallas.  There was never urgency or the need for points and needing to take a risk.  In fact, the curiosity of the back shoulder fade interception right before halftime in still a bit befuddling as Tyrod Taylor evidently wanted to make sure all Cowboys' fans knew who Deji Olatoye was.  He, of course, joined Terrance Mitchell as the only two cornerbacks on the Cowboys roster to get an interception this year.  Let that sink in for a moment.  It is true.
The defense promised us a pass rush that could be counted upon, but for yet another game, they seemed terrified of getting beat with a blitz, so they played passively and depended upon their 4-man rush to get home.  Unfortunately, with the exception of Demarcus Lawrence's pre-halftime sack, there was little impressive about the rush and Taylor navigated all around the pressure with ease and precision.
To be honest, the only detail that matters at this point is that the Cowboys are at least not ruining their opportunity for a very advantageous draft position with some cosmetically enhanced days in December with some wins of little value.  They won the game against Washington a few weeks back, but since then, with Green Bay, the Jets, and the Bills were able to flirt with the result long enough to anger the loyalists, but then were put to sleep with little pomp and circumstance on each occasion.  The effort is there, but the quality is not and for that, this does remind us of those lost years in 2000-2002.
Every day in a season like this, readers want explanations and verification on the blame game.  It is an ugly business to look for people to heap our anger upon, but this team has a large backing and nobody should expect them to pay those stadium prices and then accept a disaster of a season with smiles.  It doesn't work that way.  So, let's walk down the list:
Jason Garrett?  Does he deserve a big portion of blame?  Absolutely.  There is no doubt that I have gone back and forth on Garrett's quality level.  I was convinced he had turned a corner last January and had grown into his role with great and impressive strides forward in coaching maturity.  I wonder now if I have been snowed by the good feelings of playoff success.  This year was going to be a huge task - as this franchise never seems to fare well when there are expectations in preseason, and then it was doomed when they lost their QB in fewer than 2 weeks.  But, that is the job.  We don't fold tents and go home when they pay a head coach $6 million a season.  He has to figure some things out.  Maybe not maintain the high bar and go to a Super Bowl, but the bar of doing the most you can with what you have.  Can you take a bad team and get them to achieve so that they can at least win a few games without Tony Romo? 
Evidently, they cannot.  They seemed tone deaf to their circumstances on offense for much of the year with no risk taking at proper times and sitting on tendencies.  Even worse, they seemed to play games as if they were the favorite and if their backup QB could simply take what was given and never risk the ball.  Not only that, they entered the season with a backup QB they didn't like.  Almost all of this has to go on the head coach.  In fact, if he cannot at least have some roster control after all of these years on his backup QB, then they have wasted $30 million on his new contract. 
Then, the coordinators were unable to really get either side to sustain quality in their objectives.  Scott Linehan was asked to accomplish something resembling league-average, at least, but was asked to do so without a quality QB or RB, it seemed.  Not only that, but the quality WR that was given a king's ransom never looked himself. 
Meanwhile, Rod Marinelli put a defense on the field that seemed limited by its inability to turn a game with some level of game-changing quality.  They never did.  They were beaten badly in the 4th Quarters of games and eventually always broke down first.  It was going to ask a lot of a complimentary defense in 2014 to grow into the side of the ball that would carry the mail, but that never came close to happening.
The coaches had rough years.  The best players were not great at all.
Tony Romo had a broken collarbone.  Twice!
Dez Bryant broke his foot in week 1 right after bagging a massive contract.  His entire season was either missing completely or disappointingly below standard.
Greg Hardy brought all sorts of trouble off the field with the reward of great plays on it.  Not enough.  Disappointing results.
Sean Lee was great in spurts.  Maybe the best of the bunch in 2015, to be honest.
Joseph Randle wasted an amazing opportunity.  Maybe the worst of the bunch, to be honest.
Rolando McClain spent too much time suspended and out of shape. 
Terrance Williams never came close to looking the part of a proper fill-in top receiver.  He came in the 3rd round in 2013.  Gavin Escobar in the 2nd?   JJ Wilcox also in the 3rd
I suppose that leads us to the front office.  12 months ago we were singing their praises.  But, man, the 2013 draft looks pretty bad.  2012 is down to Tyrone Crawford who never distinguished himself after signing his deal and playing hurt.  2014 appears promising with Zack Martin and Lawrence, but what about Devin Street?
And I am not even bringing up the DeMarco Murray contract saga.
The front office, the players, the coaches, and a season that looked so great on paper arrived in Buffalo Sunday as one of those games in the NFL that occurs late in the year between two teams that are simply playing out the string and the game is being shared with about 2% of the country.  The game happened, but it won't be long remembered.
You want to be disappointed and angry, that is available to you.  On Sunday, trying to find something to sink your teeth into for 2016 was pretty difficult.  Maybe you think Darren McFadden's big day is a sign of great success next year, but I still need a stud from college at RB in the draft.  Same for QB and honestly, if this team wants to go places, they need more explosive players at WR and Safety in the spring, too.
If this column lacks direct focus, please understand it is trying to summarize a season that does, too.  This year has been all over the map and it only seems fitting that so many want to discuss Brandon Weeden as the fire roars on about where this all went wrong.  How can he go to Houston and help win games?
Like so many things, it certainly doesn't make the Cowboys season look better.  There are 7 days to go and then many of you can look ahead to spring training or lock in more on hockey season.
And, you know something?  The Cowboys will be more than happy to have this season go away and look for answers elsewhere.
After the game, Jerry Jones didn't say anything publicly.  I wonder if he is considering looking for answers in a more shocking fashion.  He is likely playing the blame game, too, and odds are he isn't looking in the mirror.
Honestly, this season has been such that nothing should be off limits for considering change.  Romo's collarbone is the main reason for this season's results, but it can no longer be used as the cover-up for everything that has occurred. 
I entered the year wondering if the Cowboys were becoming one of those model franchises that might actually be imitated after 2014. 
Boy, I missed on that one.  They look like they could use some serious alterations in the next month.

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