The Dallas Cowboys are not a playoff team. With or without Amari Cooper, that much is true.
The Cowboys traded a first-round pick for the two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver during their bye week, going all-in ahead of a must-win game against the Tennessee Titans.
So when the Cowboys allowed 14 unanswered points in the second half of a 28-14 loss to Tennessee on Monday Night Football, the spotlight shifted from the optimism surrounding the team following the big trade to the glaring weaknesses the Titans exposed.
“We didn’t see this coming,” Dallas owner Jerry Jones admitted after the game.
“I can’t think of a loss that was this bad at this point of the year,” said Hall of Fame quarterback and current broadcaster Troy Aikman before he called for a “complete overhaul of the entire organization”.
Regardless of whether they saw it coming or not, Monday night’s collapse was a microcosm of the bigger issues that need to be addressed in Dallas.
Let’s begin with the Cowboys biggest strength: the run game. Ezekiel Elliott is one of the league’s premier talents at the running back position. So how could anybody justify the fact that he didn’t have a single rushing attempt in the fourth quarter and was limited to only six touches in the entire second half?
Elliott averaged 6.4 yards per touch for 96 yards in the first half versus Tennessee. He averaged just 2.7 yards per touch for 16 yards over the final two frames.
Part of the problem was the coaching staff’s refusal to stick with the run game once they fell behind by a touchdown in the third quarter. The other issue was the lack of a vertical passing game to stretch the Titans defence and open up space for Elliott to run the ball.
Our NFL analyst Jabari Greer explained what he saw from the Dallas offence after the game.
For his part, Cooper had a strong debut with five receptions for 58 yards and a touchdown on a team-high eight targets. However, he didn’t have a single catch of 20 yards or more and quarterback Dak Prescott was intercepted trying to force the ball to him in double coverage in the end zone for a costly turnover early in the game.
Prescott had only three pass completions on attempts that travelled 10 yards or more downfield. He went 21-of-31 for 243 yards and two touchdowns with an interception
He was also sacked five times. The lack of protection afforded to Prescott by the Cowboys offensive line was another major problem. Prescott was pressured on 48 per cent of his drop backs in the second half. He went 2-of-6 for just six yards and a pick on the plays in which he was pressured.
Getting shut out at home by Tennessee in the second half of a must-win game they had two weeks to prepare represents a low point for Dallas under head coach Jason Garrett. While Jones said he wouldn’t make a coaching change during the season, it appears the writing is on the wall when it comes to Garrett’s long- term future.
The Cowboys won’t get any breaks the rest of the way with one of the league’s more difficult remaining schedules.
Dallas is 0-4 on the road this season. Now the Cowboys have to face the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles and the Atlanta Falcons in back-to-back weeks before returning home for games against the Washington Redskins, New Orleans Saints and the Eagles again.
After falling to 3-5 in a must-win game against the Titans, it looks like things could get a lot worse for Dallas before they get better.
The Monday Night Football drama capped off a wild Week 9 in the NFL.
The highlight of an absolutely loaded slate was the New Orleans Saints handing the Los Angeles Rams their first loss of the season with a 45-35 win.
Drew Brees torched the Rams defence for 346 yards and four touchdowns. Michael Thomas had 12 receptions for 211 yards and two touchdowns, the latter of which was capped off with his brilliant Joe Horn throwback celebration.
While Brees and Thomas were outstanding, it was running back Alvin Kamara that stole the show with another excellent performance against a tough defence.
Kamara went off for 125 yards from scrimmage with three touchdowns in the victory. He accounted for 10 first downs, including four runs of 10 yards or more. Kamara has registered 192 scrimmage yards and five touchdowns in back-to-back wins over two of the NFC’s best in the Rams and Minnesota Vikings.
With Kamara and Mark Ingram III both healthy, New Orleans has one of the NFL’s most complete offences. Now they’ve added another weapon in Dez Bryant, who could be a solid fit as a veteran possession receiver to complement the speed they already have on their roster.
The Saints are marching with seven straight wins. There is no reason to expect them to slow down this week when they visit the Cincinnati Bengals.
On the topic of standout running back performances, it’s worth mentioning that James Conner was outstanding once again for the Pittsburgh Steelers in Sunday’s 23-16 win over the rival Baltimore Ravens.
Conner averaged 4.5 yards per carry while rushing for 107 yards on 24 carries. He added seven receptions for 56 yards and a touchdown as a receiver. Conner has averaged 135.6 scrimmage yards per game this season, which ranks seconds in the NFL behind only Rams running back Todd Gurley.
In the midst of Le’Veon Bell’s continued holdout, Conner has been one of Pittsburgh’s best player’s week in and week out this season. He’s a big reason why the Steelers have won four straight to improve to 5-2-1.
Pittsburgh will need another strong performance out of Conner again this week when they host the Carolina Panthers in a highly anticipated inter-conference showdown on Thursday Night Football.