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Spagnola: The Worst It’s Ever Been For Cowboys Offense Past Three Games
ARLINGTON, Texas – Some Thanksgiving, huh.
Never seen anything like this.
You probably haven’t either.
Not even the old-timers, going way, way back to this franchise’s 1960 inception, 58 seasons ago.
Why in the past three games, and no surprise, three consecutive losses, here is what the Dallas Cowboys have produced:
Against Atlanta, 7 points.
Against Philadelphia, 9 points.
Against LA Chargers, 6 points.
Come on, not the Dallas Cowboys. Can’t be. The foundation of this Dallas Cowboys franchise has been offense. Always has been, right from the start with Tom Landry, a great offensive innovator. Great quarterbacks, two in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, three in the Ring of Honor with another on the way. Great running backs, two in the Hall of Fame, three in the Ring of Honor, one the NFL’s all-time leading rusher. Great wide receivers, two in the Hall of Fame, three in the Ring of Honor. Always eye-catching tight ends.
Why 38 times the Cowboys have finished among the Top10 offenses in the NFL. Six times they have finished No. 1 in the league. Twenty-two times in the Top 5.
But over these past three games the Cowboys have suffered epic offensive futility. Epic, now, having failed to score at least 10 points three consecutive games. So, let this sink in:
In the 58-season history of the Dallas Cowboys, totaling 887 regular-season games, they have never, ever – ever – failed to score at least 10 points in three consecutive games.
And unfortunately for the 93,012 folks who chose to spend their Thanksgiving afternoon here at AT&T Stadium, and no telling how many millions more witnessing on TV history being made on this glorious (outside) Thursday afternoon without even realizing.
Now several times the Cowboys failed to score at least 10 points in two consecutive games. Actually, last happened in the 11-5 season of 2009, and they actually won one of those, beating Washington, 7-6. And in that 7-9 season of 1990 the Cowboys twice went two straight failing to score at least 10 points.
But look, this never happened in the 0-11-1 inaugural season of 1960. Never happened in the next all-time worst season, 1-15 in 1989. Not even in the 6-10 season of 2010 when Tony Romo missed 10 games. Or the 2015 season when he missed 12. Or those seasons from 2001-2004 when the Cowboys quarterback carousal was spinning madly out of control.
Just unprecedented offensive failure.
And it’s not like they have been playing Monsters of the Midway defenses. Or the Steel Curtain. Or heck, Doomsday I or II. Sure, Philly is pretty darn good. But come on, Atlanta and LA Chargers. Why the Chargers came into the game the No. 32-ranked defense against the run. And all the Cowboys could manage is 79 yards rushing, just 179 yards passing, just 247 total – heck just 84 at halftime.
What the what?
“We’re not playing well,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. “We’re not a good team right now.
“We’re in a funk or whatever you want to call it,” quarterback Dak Prescott said. “It’s not fun to be in.”
My guess is, it’s not much fun to watch, either.
Now I’m sure, everyone has run out of digits pointing fingers at the culprits for this three-week offensive brownout. Jones. Garrett. Linehan. Dez, and his band of wide receivers. Dak. The offensive line.
Yep, same group that moved this Cowboys team through a three-game winning streak, posting a 5-3 record at the halfway point of the season. Same group that powered this Cowboys offense to six consecutive games scoring at least 28 points, including four games with at least 30 points.
Oh, wait, with one exception: Ezekiel Elliott. That’s right, Zeke, at the eight game mark the NFL’s second-leading rusher and scorer. Zeke, who had become the identity of this Cowboys offense, maybe of this team. The guy who juices of the offense, inspires the defense and energizes the locker room with his sort of spontaneous personality. Sort of reminds me of the 1999 season, the Cowboys after a 10-6 previous season get off to a 3-0 start before Michael Irving suffered a season-ending that turned into a career-ending back injury, the Cowboys losing four of the next five leading to 8-8.
Maybe now you know why the Cowboys, NFLPA and Zeke’s reps were tirelessly working the legal system to keep pushing his six-game suspension back, actually striving to be granted that last preliminary injunction to would allow the NFL’s defending rushing champ to finish the season.
Didn’t work, and, cringe, still has to miss three more games – Washington on Thursday, then at the Giants and Raiders.
Now for the I-told-you-so’s, the ones who wanted Zeke to just take his medicine from the start of the season, since the Cowboys were only 3-3 over the first six games:
After seeing what has transpired these past three weeks against these teams, shoot, the Cowboys might have started off 0-6, burying the season right from the start as they are in the process of doing right now, especially in three tragic second halves when they have been outscored 72-6. That’s right, no misprint, because the depressing thing about this three-game losing streak would be trailing at halftime by only three points twice and actually leading in the other game by two.
Now to the Cowboys credit, they have not offered up the Zeke-less excuse. They have artfully danced around it, conceding he’s such a good, unique player, but never saying this is the sole reason for the offense having gone scoreless in five consecutive quarters and reaching the end zone in just twice in three games. That, too, has to be another one of those ignominious records.
Once again, in the infamous locker room words of Dez Bryant from a few years back, “Fix this (stuff).”
Because suddenly the Cowboys wide receivers can’t get open. Tight end Jason Witten catches seven passes Thursday, but the longest just eight yards. The offensive line, even with Tyron Smith back for Thanksgiving, still is struggling to protect, and sure didn’t help when the Cowboys lost All-Pro guard Zack Martin (concussion) in the second quarter.
And as bad, the Cowboys running backs don’t scare a soul. Not like Zeke. And that’s not their fault. They are who they are, and both Alfred Morris and Rod Smith have done creditable jobs, totaling 57 carries for 246 yards. Problem is just one rushing touchdown, Smith’s two-yard run against the Chargers.
“We have to complement our running game with some explosiveness,” Garrett said, knowing the Chargers had eight plays of at least 20 yards and the Cowboys had one.
To me, that’s the biggest deal. When it comes to Zeke, he’s a threat to go the distance on any handoff from any spot on the field. Defenses respect that threat. Not anymore. They will adsorb whatever the running game produces and double down on doing whatever they need to do to stop the passing game.
And having said that, on Thursday, there the Cowboys were, trailing 3-0 at halftime, first time in the past 30 games they have been shutout in a first half, going back to the 28-7 loss to Green Bay in Game 14 of 2015.
Then, even though they allowed the Chargers to score a touchdown on the opening possession of the third quarter, the Cowboys were only down 9-0. And on third-and-three at the Chargers 34, Dak kept on a read option and scooted 34 yards for a touchdown. Most everyone thought.
But there at the line of scrimmage was a flag: Holding, Tyron Smith, so instead of likely being 9-7, it’s now third-and-13 from the 44. And darn it, the blocking breaks down again, and when Corey Liuget pressured Dak, he had to throw the ball away, forcing the Cowboys had to punt.
“That was a big swing in the game,” Garrett said.
And when the Chargers drove 92 yards in eight plays to make it 16-0, chances are with a struggling offense, and even though the lead was cut to 16-6, the Cowboys were toast.
Add to the mistakes like a questionable pass interference when the Chargers were facing fourth-and-one on Anthony Brown, a Cowboys offensive pass interference on Terrance Williams near midfield and then Dak’s late throw while under pressure from the 13 that was intercepted by Desmond King and returned 90 yards for a touchdown, the Cowboys 5-6 fate was sealed.
That then, brings me back to the old Bill Parcells-ism, when he would repeatedly be asked about how good his team is and always say, “Ask me after Thanksgiving,” because at that point “you are who you are.”
Well, these are the Cowboys without Zeke, 5-6, saddled with a three-game losing streak and a historically frustrating scoring drought, the likes of which we’ve never before witnessed.