A Step Back

Dallas Cowboys desperately need week 3 tune-up

Dallas Cowboys desperately need week 3 tune-up

DeMarcus Ware of the Dallas Cowboys
DeMarcus Ware leads the team in a pre-game huddle. Dallas Cowboys/Facebook
Tony Romo of the Dallas Cowboys
Tony Romo played great for 55 minutes but fell apart in the final five  Dallas Cowboys/Facebook
Miles Austin of the Dallas Cowboys
Miles Austin came up with some big catches once double coverage settled in on Dez Bryant. Dallas Cowboys/Facebook
Dez Bryant
Dez Bryant had a big game against Kansas City, but it wasn't enough to lift the Cowboys over the Chiefs. Dallas Cowboys/Facebook
DeMarcus Ware of the Dallas Cowboys
Tony Romo of the Dallas Cowboys
Miles Austin of the Dallas Cowboys
Dez Bryant

Part of the logic in having head coach Jason Garrett surrender his play-calling duties this season was so he would become better at game management. Garrett faced his first crossroads moment with 3:55 remaining in the game Sunday against Kansas City.

Do you go for it or do you kick the field goal? Down 17-13, Garrett faced that decision. It’s the in-game decisions head coaches are hired to make.

After three abysmal-looking plays, it’s hard to blame Garrett for kicking the field goal, even though it left the Cowboys down, 17-16. He was counting on Monte Kiffin and his defense to bail him out.

It didn’t happen. The Chiefs went to a power running game and chewed nearly all of the 3:55 remaining in the game. Instead of talking about a 2-0 Cowboys start — which would have been the first 2-0 start since 2008 — we’re talking about “the same old Cowboys.” Garrett rolled the dice and lost.

Or at least that’s what the Cowboys fans I was sitting with in Kansas City told me after that loss.

Um, balance?
There was little offensive balance once again on Sunday, as the Cowboys threw the ball 42 times and ran it just 16 times. The indication this offseason was that installing Bill Callahan as the play-caller would remedy the imbalance of last year’s offense.

Tony Romo and Bill Callahan must remedy the offense's imbalance.

Now, all offensive coaches will tell you that they take what the defense gives them, and there’s a degree of truth to that. But what to make of two games in which the Cowboys have thrown it 91 times and run it 39 times? No idea.

Additionally, Callahan and quarterback Tony Romo took an even more conservative approach to Sunday’s game than they did in week 1, leading one to believe that the team lacks confidence in an offensive line that is still trying to find itself.

Brian Waters, the team’s veteran hope at guard, did see some time on Sunday but didn’t really make an impact.
Meanwhile, wide receiver Dez Bryant had a huge game, but his drop on a fly route in the fourth quarter nearly overshadowed his nine-catch, 141-yard performance that included a touchdown.

Under pressure
The Cowboys defense did a better job this week of defending the pass, although it still has issues over the middle of the field when it comes to cornerbacks handing off receivers to safeties in coverage. Either the safeties aren’t closing fast enough or quarterbacks are getting the ball to the receiver before the safeties can react. 

But what really took hold on Sunday’s was Kiffin’s mantra of pressure. The Cowboys slowed down Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles on the ground (though Charles did score a receiving touchdown) and kept quarterback Alex Smith under duress for a good portion of the contest.

Defensive end Anthony Spencer entered the game on the third Kansas City possession and rotated with George Selvie. Getting Spencer back allowed the Cowboys to rotate more defensive ends through the game and keep players fresh.

While DeMarcus Ware had two sacks, the Cowboys received two sacks from the interior — one each from defensive tackle Jason Hatcher and linebacker Bruce Carter. Interior pressure is key because quarterbacks find it more disruptive.

However, the Cowboys didn’t force a turnover and they weren’t able to stop the Chiefs on their final drive of the game. Hard to blame the worn-out defense for the latter, but not forcing at least one of the former sticks out in a one-point game.

High points
Dez Bryant:
Someone asked me late last week if they should be worried about Bryant after his four-catch performance against the New York Giants, because this person had Bryant on his fantasy team. I told him not to sweat it. See?

Bruce Carter: We’re going to start talking more and more about this guy as he settles into the weak side linebacker position in the cover 2 (incidentally, the position future Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Brooks played for Kiffin in Tampa Bay). Carter is no Brooks, but he put together a fine game Sunday, notching six tackles to go along with the sack.

Tony Romo for the first 55 minutes: The game plan might have been conservative, but Romo executed well. The fumble came after he was flushed out of the pocket. He made good decisions and avoided major mistakes.

Low points
Tony Romo in the final five minutes:
And these are the only minutes Cowboys fans really care about. Romo’s last four passes of the game were terrible, and only a fortuitous penalty rescued him from throwing his first interception of the season. Sore ribs or not — and there were some speculation that Romo was compensating when he threw — he has to make those plays when it matters most.

Questionable calls: I’m not a “blame it on the officials kind of guy,” but the pass interference call against Bryant and the pass interference call against Morris Claiborne raised even the eyebrows of the Chiefs fans around me Sunday. After they finished clapping, of course.

The running game: Sunday should have been a step forward for this Cowboys team on the ground. Instead, it was a serious step back. Sure, it’s hard to run on the Chiefs with Tamba Hail taking up space at nose tackle. But the Cowboys couldn’t run the ball period, no mater where they tried.