How 'Bout Them Cowboys?
Cowboys game changers: Dropped passes, dead cats and a beast named MarshawnLynch
Consistency. Every coach in the NFL talks about it. The Cowboys definitely have it.
Every year, without fail, the Cowboys consistently jump around from head-turning victories to knee-slapping losses. The Cowboys are consistently inconsistent. No other team plays as well as the Cowboys do one week, only to turn around the following week and fail in nearly every aspect of the game.
Sure, teams that are favored to win get beaten every week in the NFL, but none in such spectacularly pitiable fashion as the Cowboys. Then, once all the analysts have forgotten there is even a football team in Dallas, here come the Cowboys, out of the blue. The boom-and-bust cycle is the one thing you can count on as a Cowboys fan.
So when it's the Cowboys' time to lose a game, all the stars align. Against Seattle, here are the game changers that turned the Giant killers into birdwatchers:
Bryant and Witten forgot how to catch
It's hard to win when your two best pass catchers can't catch. Jason Witten can't blame his spleen for three balls that bounced off (or through) his hands, but you sure can blame Witten for stalling the offense in the first half. His first drop of the day on third down forced the Cowboys to attempt a punt that turned into seven points for the Seahawks.
But his second drop later in the half was the one that really deflated the tires. With an unabated blitzer hurdling toward him, Tony Romo spins away from the tackle at the last second (a move he had to use four times during the game just to stay vertical), rolls out to his right, starts directing the play on the fly with hand signals and chunks the ball 40 yards down field to Witt. The ball went right through his hands.
For all of the Cowboys consistency errors, Witten has never been one of them, until yesterday. Three drops, three missed opportunities to get the offense moving.
ESPN Dallas gives Jason Garrett an F for his coaching performance yesterday, but you can't do much coaching when your star players don't show up. After running an end reverse to Kevin Ogletree in the first (which used to be Miles' play), the Cowboys followed up a few plays later with a fake end reverse, sneaking out a pass to Dez Bryant. It was his first of two drops for the day. (He also bungled a punt.)
Five dropped balls is all it takes to lose a football game. But, for good measure, the Cowboys had other ways of losing as well.
Felix the dead cat
In football, you have to put contracts and draft position aside and simply put your best players on the field. Felix Jones is not one of the Cowboys' best players. The Cowboys would have been better off with Felix Jones sitting on the bench.
Imagine if the Cowboys sent out 10 players instead of 11 on the opening kickoff. The ball goes out of the end zone, and Romo gets the ball on the 20. Instead, Jones takes it out and coughs up the ball.
From that point on, Jones obviously cared more about clearing his name rather than the good of the team. How else can you explain choosing to return a ball caught eight yards deep in the end zone? No matter where the kickoff landed, Jones was taking it out. His longest return of the day was to the 21-yard line. The risk/reward ratio of Jones getting one extra yard on a kick return vs. fumbling the ball in the red zone is not very good.
Jones needed to fight this offseason to try and regain some sort of role on this football team. Instead, he couldn't even pass the conditioning test to start camp. That's the kind of player you don't want to send on the field.
How to lose to an inferior team: get beat by the run
If Seattle coach Pete Carroll had a dream Saturday night, it would have gone something like this: Cowboys screw up twice in the first five minutes; we get some free points. Romo pulls a Romo; we get a free possession. Russel Wilson plays conservatively and does not pull any Romos. Key Cowboys fail to show up; go into halftime with a lead. Put everything on Marshawn Lynch's shoulders for the next 30 minutes and pray.
Sometimes dreams do come true. The one part of Carroll's dream that is no fluke, however, is Marshawn Lynch. Lynch had only 20 yards in the first half. In the second half, he had 100. This is why they call it "beast mode." To turn on the running game like that — especially when you are holding a lead and the defense knows the run is coming — requires a certain kind of running back. Lynch has the shoulder-down, leg-churning style that can put away games.
Nothing stops a potential comeback like the ground and pound. Add Wilson's scrambles to the mix, and you get a team that put up 182 yards rushing to just 133 yards passing. Had Dallas been able to stop the run in the second quarter, this would have been a very different game.
Jason Garrett needs a killer instinct
Garrett is successful when he turns the game into a chess match. Long drives, precise crossing patterns, running to set up the play action pass — this is what Garrett does well. What he does not do well is alter his game plan when things start going south.
Down 13-7 on your own 45 with less than a minute to go in the first half, it's acceptable not to go for it on fourth-and-3. Sure, the Cowboys needed a spark, but Garrett thought the Cowboys' follies would take care of themselves. Down 27-7 with seven minutes left, on the other hand, you don't punt the ball — even if it's fourth-and-13.
Garrett needs to know when all the chips are on the table. When your team is underperforming across the board and you're down 20 points, you have to make a move. A fake punt or trick play is a good start, but why not just chunk the ball down the field to no. 88 and let him make a play? What Dez lacks in route running he makes up for in sheer jumping.
When the Cowboys dig themselves into a deep hole (which they will again this season), Garrett needs to harness the non-Princeton side of himself and go for the kill.