Nick Eatman is the author of the recently published ****If These Walls Could Talk: Dallas Cowboys***, a collection of stories from the Cowboys' locker room, sideline and press box, with a foreword written by Darren Woodson.*
GREEN BAY, Wisc. – We all know the biggest reason things have gone very, very south here this season. At this point, no one wants to hear it anymore and I don't blame them.
Romo is hurt. He's been hurt all year and he's probably not going to play another snap this season, so no reason in really hammering home this point any longer.
But as we try to figure out just how a team can go 12-4 one year and now sit at 4-9 just 11 months later, two big non-Romo differences come to mind.
And they were both on major display here Sunday at Lambeau Field:
1 – This defense just can't take the football away from its opponent to save their … season.
2 – The offensive line we thought was absolute dominant isn't really a strength of this team anymore.
If any of those things were different on Sunday, maybe the Cowboys have a legitimate chance to win this game against the Packers, who pulled away for a 28-7 win. Some might say this game was closer than the score. Maybe, considering it was a 14-7 game midway through the fourth and if the Cowboys get Aaron Rodgers to the ground on third-and-9 they get the ball back with a shot to go tie the game.
Instead they lose by three touchdowns.
Seems kind of fitting for this season. If this and if that, and maybe the Cowboys had a chance for this year but they just don't make it happen.
So let's start with defense and the inability to get a turnover.
Last year, they managed to get more than 30 takeaways. Stripping the ball for fumbles, picking off passes, disrupting throwing lanes, getting to loose balls on the ground. You name it, and this defense figured out how to win with less talent but they ended up with the ball.
This year, this defense has added Sean Lee to the mix, Greg Hardy off the edge and Randy Gregory as well. Sure, Orlando Scandrick isn't with the team but Morris Claiborne is playing rather well and he missed the final three quarters of last year.
All in all, this is a more talented team but they have nothing to show for it.
Here against the Packers, with the offense struggling all year to move the ball without Romo, it's up to the defense to be catalytic. They just can't do it.
When I think of this defense in 2015, the word that comes to mind is "sound." This is a sound defense that plays pretty well for the most part. They don't give up a ton of big plays and can occasionally get good pressure on the quarterback.
It's a bend-but-don't-break style of defense. But the problem with that, is when you continue to bend over and over and over, the results become about the same. The idea is that sooner or later, if you keep forcing teams to throw short and try to dink and dunk, once in a while the ball will just come to you.
With this team, it just doesn't.
There are some issues where I think you can place partial blame on both players and coaches. But this one is more about the players. They've been in position all year to get some turnovers, they just don't do it. We've seen blitzes here lately. We've seen press coverage, man coverage. We've seen all kinds of schemes, but at the end of the day, these guys aren't getting the ball out.
And that keeps this defense at sound to solid, instead of good or even great.
Plain and simple, the Cowboys need their defense to be great. Because with this offense, it's the only way to offset what's going on over there.
That takes me back to the second glaring difference from last year. The O-line just isn't the same.
[embeddedad0]You know missing Romo plays a factor here. He does a great job of getting the perfect play against the defense each time. But it's got to be other things, too.
Maybe it's the coaching switch from Bill Callahan to Frank Pollack. Maybe it's the fact DeMarco Murray was a great fit for this offense and the other guys haven't been up to par.
Maybe it's a lot of things, but the facts are this – the offensive line we thought was so good that the Cowboys didn't really need to address the running back position in a major way this offseason, isn't moving people off the ball.
Against the Packers, the Cowboys had a great chance to get on the scoreboard early in the game with a first-and-goal from the 2.
I'm sorry but any team in the NFL should be able to score with that. This team can't even get a yard, and they lose one in the process, forcing them to throw, which results in an interception.
I've said it before and I'll stick to it – I think it's an arrogance this offensive team has to think it's just like last year. That they can simply put a hat on a hat and push people around. That doesn't work this year.
This offensive line isn't exactly mauling anyone anymore. Yeah, they'll open up some holes here and there but when push comes to firing off the ball, it's not happening.
The real frustrating part has to be the fact that the Cowboys continue to run that jumbo "13" personnel formation down there and it doesn't work. It basically puts the entire 11-man defensive front into the box, leaving just nine blockers – all in a tight space in the middle of the field.
When they finally did score, it was in more of a base offense and the receivers were spread to each side of the field.
And honestly, it's not just on the goal line or on third-and-short. This team fails to run the ball effectively throughout the game and it keeps them in so many passing situations.
At least four times in this game the Cowboys were stopped short of the sticks, including three times needing just one more yard. Yeah, that's bad for third-down conversions but it also means they're not running it well on first and second down.
Don't get me wrong – I still think this offensive line is talented. I don't think Zack Martin and Travis Frederick and Tyron Smith forgot how to block, or that they've even regressed individually. But as a unit, it's pretty obvious this O-line isn't what it was last year.
Combine that with an NFL-low eight turnovers, including just seven from the defense, and those two of the biggest reasons this team has so many losses this year.
And once again, it's two of the biggest reasons why the Cowboys got their ninth one here in Green Bay.