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Spagnola: No Coincidence: No Zeke, No Points; No Lee, Too Many Points
ARLINGTON, Texas – Swear, when this one was over, caught myself doing a double-check.
Was the score really Cowboys 9, Eagles 7 at halftime?
So how the heck did we get to Eagles 37, Cowboys 9 late Sunday night before 93,247 mostly stunned people at AT&T Stadium, probably leaving hot under the collar after tolerating a second consecutive second-half brown out and leaving the Cowboys no more than a so-so team, 5-5, and having lost touch with the NFC East Division-leading, high-flying Eagles, now 9-1, a four-game lead over the second-place Cowboys with now just six to go.
Looks like after this beat down, the NFC East will fail to have a repeat division winner for a 13th straight season.
Hate to over-simplify things, and certainly not making any excuses, but here is all I know: Prior to the Atlanta game, the Cowboys had scored at least 28 points in six consecutive games. They had piled up more than 400 yards of offense in three of those six games. Scored 25 touchdowns.
They had won four of the six, and scored at least 30 points in the ones they lost.
But in the past two games, the Cowboys have scored a total of 16 points. Have failed to gain more than 233 yards in either game. Have scored just one touchdown now in their past 23 possessions. And needless to say, they’ve lost both games, marking their worst loss since AT&T opened in 2009, the worst back-to-back losses since Jason Garrett took over as interim head coach and worst back-to-back losses period since the 2004 season when they lost three consecutive games by 22, 28 and 20.
Yep, that bad, turning a hopeful 5-3 into a precarious 5-5.
So, well, maybe Ezekiel Elliott is this team’s engine. Maybe Tyrone Smith is irreplaceable. Because all I know is with those two guys on the field the Cowboys were riding a three-game winning streak. Without those two guys, they now are saddled with a two-game losing streak and must play again on Thanksgiving Day against an L.A. Chargers team having put up 54 points on Buffalo Sunday.
Oh, and we can add Sean Lee to that equation, too, since the Cowboys now are 5-1 this season with Sean Lee on the field and 0-4 without him. And in those four games the Pro Bowl linebacker has missed the Cowboys are giving up an average of 33.5 points a game.
Maybe we have a much better understanding of what irreparable harm really is because, frankly, this is no coincidence.
Now, in this one, let me give you three numbers that will tell the story in living color.
First, in the first half Sunday night, and unfortunately before a national television audience, the Cowboys held the Eagles to just 35 yards rushing. In the second half, the Eagles ran for 180 yards. Worse, the Eagles had three runs totaling 118 yards and the other 30 just 97.
Say what, what?
“The biggest thing we emphasized coming into the game is stopping the run,” Garrett said, knowing they got stung for a 71-yard run and a 30-yard run.
Next, the Cowboys failed to score a touchdown, settling for three field goals, and you guys know what’s coming next: The more field goals you kick, the closer you are to losing. Just can’t have the opening kickoff returned to the Philly 37 and then gain just seven yards, having to settle for a Mike Nugent 48-yard field goal. Can’t, for the second consecutive game, drive for a first-and-10 at the 12-yard line and have to attempt a field goal. At least this time Nugent hit from 27 yards out.
So again, that’s one touchdown in the past two games, and we have to go back to 2003 to find the last time that happened, the Cowboys actually beating Buffalo 10-6, followed by a 12-0 loss to New England.
“You can’t score nine points and expect to win a game in the NFL,” a wise Alfred Morris pointed out. “You can’t win games like that, expecting to get field goals and win games.
“It came back to haunt us.”
And third, speaking of something haunting, there is this: In the first eight games of the season, quarterback Dak Prescott was sacked just 10 times. In the past two games, he has been sacked 12 times. Twelve now, four more times Sunday night, and hit six times, coming to 16 in the past two games.
My gosh, do you know what that does to your net passing yards total?
Well, last week against Atlanta it was 126. Sunday night, 113. Added together would total merely an average performance.
And, of course, worse, Dak was intercepted three times and lost one fumble, meaning the Cowboys have turned the ball over six times in the past two games. Still think this two-game offensive quake is coincidence?
The first one wasn’t his fault, yet another catchable ball bouncing off Terrance Williams for an interception. The second he forced into double coverage, he himself calling it “boneheaded, simple as that.” And the third, while scrambling, he was anticipating Brice Butler turning left in the end zone when he went right, “a miscommunication.”
“We’re not putting it together,” said Dak, who finished with an abominable 30.4 QB rating, needless to say a career low. “We get the running game going and the passing game is not. We get the passing game going and the running game is not.”
Well, while the Cowboys are 5-5, three of the next four opponents they play – Chargers, Redskins and Raiders – are but 4-6. And that other game? Well, the Giants are 2-8.
After that, there are two games left and Zeke’s six-game suspension will have expired.
Then it’s Seattle, 6-3 heading into Monday night’s game against Atlanta, and then of course the regular-season finale at Philadelphia. Heck, maybe by then, at the rate they are going, the Eagles will be resting their starters.
As for the other MIAs, there would seem to be a chance Tyron Smith (groin) goes on Thursday against the Chargers, and if not, then more than likely against the Redskins the following Thursday night.
Kicker Dan Bailey (groin) is close, real close, and in fact there is a chance he’d be ready for Thanksgiving, and if not, he seemed pretty confident he’d be good to go for the Redskins.
As for Lee (hamstring), who was doing what he could on the sideline to help out the linebackers, best case would be Washington, and for sure after the extended break for the Giants on Dec. 10. And potentially complicating his absence is Anthony Hitchens leaving the Eagles game in the fourth quarter with a, cringe, groin injury, potentially knocking him out of the Chargers game.
All that is bad enough, but again, Zeke still must miss the next four games. And that’s daunting at this point if you consider what has taken place with him on the field (NFL’s second-leading rusher and second-leading scorer) and without him, possibly giving Judge Failla a better definition of irreparable harm.
And even though the Cowboys won’t dare say it, they darn well know Zeke’s absence harms this team. And please, do not tell me, well, the Cowboys did run for 112 yards. Yeah, right. Those were the hollowest 112 yards you’ll ever see. I mean, tell me this, how many touchdowns did they run for?
So yes, a tall task going forward, but actually somewhat manageable if you can total more than the one touchdown the Cowboys have in the past two games and give up fewer than the 47 second-half points they’ve given up in those same two.
“Coach Garrett couldn’t put it in better words in giving our options,” Dak said after the game, “all the way down from 11-5 to 5-11. It’s up to us to figure out what we want to do, and it’s about coming in and getting back to work, and we’re going to do that tomorrow.”
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