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Eatman: Forget Stats; Untimely Offensive Mistakes Prove Costly

Posted Dec 23, 2012

ARLINGTON, Texas – They say the stats don’t lie, but Sunday’s game might challenge that.

So the Cowboys gave up 562 yards to the Saints. They couldn’t get off the field on third downs, allowing New Orleans to convert more than 50 percent of the time. And in overtime, they couldn’t prevent the Saints from marching down the field, even with a crazy fumble they couldn’t come up with.

So with all that … I’m putting this loss on the offense.

I know it sounds odd considering in this league, if you score 31 points, you expect to win. Or at least you should.

But in this game, with this opponent, and these players the Cowboys have pieced together, you should have never expected 31 points would be enough to win.

It wasn’t.

Sure, you’d like this team to pull together at the end and make stops, and if you think about it, they were able to twice in the fourth quarter to even give the Cowboys a shot to rally.

But this game was lost late in the first half and early in the second when the Cowboys just couldn’t take advantage of the Saints’ awful defense. You know, the group that came in here ranked dead last in the NFL, and both 31st against the rush and the pass.

The Saints were also No. 3 in total offense. You knew they would move the ball – they did it against healthy teams and they would likely do it against these Cowboys. And not only that, but the mismatches were obvious. The Cowboys can’t keep a linebacker healthy, especially if he’s an inside ’backer. Well, that’s sort of the player you need to cover both Darren Sproles and Jimmy Graham.

Sproles had 152 total yards and Graham had 80. None of that should be a surprise.

For those who say, “there are no excuses” and “injuries are a part of the game,” well that’s fine. I agree with both statements. But I also consider myself a realist, too, and when you factor all that in, and think about personnel, you should’ve known this game wasn’t about to be won by the Cowboys defense.

Think about what occurred before the game. The Cowboys decided to bench Danny McCray … in favor of Eric Frampton. And then, Charlie Peprah was inserted to rotate with Frampton. That’s all you really need to know about this team and this defense. I mean, McCray wasn’t a starter in college and he’s only playing because Barry Church is out for the season. Frampton and Peprah were on the street earlier this year, signed off their couch to play.

Talk about robbing Peter to pay Paul. You’re basically just throwing stuff at the wall and hoping it sticks.

It’s shocking to me that my Twitter feed gets full of comments that say “Rob Ryan sucks” or “when does he get fired?” Honestly, he’s been pretty dang good considering what he has to work with.

Whether you want to play the excuse game or not … that’s fine. Let’s just shift to the offense anyway.

At this point, the Cowboys needed a big game from the offense. And they got it, but it wasn’t timely.

The stat sheet show us 446 yards of offense, including 416 passing yards from Tony Romo and a career-high 224 receiving yards from Dez Bryant, who probably punched his ticket to the Pro Bowl.

But there were a few problems in the middle of the game. For one, the Cowboys couldn’t run the ball at all, getting just 40 yards from DeMarco Murray, who also had a crucial lost fumble in the third quarter that led to a Saints touchdown and swung the momentum back in New Orleans’ favor.

The Saints were one of the worst run defenses in the NFL and you can’t get more than 40 yards? In fact, Murray’s longest run was just 9 yards.

But to me, the biggest head-scratcher among all this was with Bryant. It’s too bad that his 224 weren’t enough. But after a couple of beast-like touchdown catches in the second quarter by Dez, the Cowboys did what any team would do … they went away from him.

Seriously, he only had two legitimate targets during a 21-minute span of game clock in the middle of the game. And both were thrown out of bounds.

The Cowboys have showed us lately that they aren’t afraid to throw some bubble screens and quick hitches to put the ball in the hands of their playmakers. They did it a couple of times with Miles Austin and Dwayne Harris, but for some reason … not Dez.

To me, it’s like a basketball team that has a 3-point shooter who comes down the court and hits three straight bombs. And then, his teammates don’t pass it to him anymore. Dez was like a player on NBA Jam with fire coming out of his shots. I was thinking, just give the ball to him on every possession at least once and see what he can do.

For the last seven games, Bryant has been uncheckable. Not sure if that’s a real word, but we use it sometimes in the media about a player who just can’t be guarded. Yet, the Cowboys guarded him themselves by not feeding the ball to him.

Yeah, they made it interesting late. That’s pretty much what Tony Romo will do. He’s going to give his team a chance and that’s why he brought them back down 14 in the final five minutes. What a tease.

Then in overtime, when it was time to put the game away, they couldn’t do it. The offense stalled – again on third down. This time, they at least went to Bryant, but Romo’s pass was too high. The Cowboys were good on offense for most of the day, but pretty awful on third downs, going just 2 of 10.

You can put it on the defense if you’d like, but I think we’re past all of that. This is a unit that seemingly has more starters and key players on IR than in the game. And DeMarcus Ware is probably closer to 50 percent of himself than 100. He’s so banged up and missed some key plays with a shoulder strain.

In the press box just now, a reference was made about the Cowboys’ Swiss Cheese defense. It’s more like a Swiss Cheese depth chart.

The Cowboys had to win this game on offense. And while it was pretty good, they needed it to be great.

Fortunately, they will have the opportunity next week to be great. But based off what we saw on Thanksgiving, nothing short of that will do.

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