ATLANTA –If you've heard it once, you've heard it 500 times, and about half of that was this week alone.
The Cowboys love to use the phrase "Next Man Up" around here. The concept makes sense and it's a good mantra to follow. Injuries happen in this league, and everyone needs to be prepared to step in when their number is called.
The problem with this specific slogan was that it refers to a singular player. In this case, the Cowboys needed it to be "Next Men Up," as in a few guys who needed to take their games up a notch, or six.
Yeah, they were outplayed by the Falcons. You can say they were probably out-coached and out-schemed.
But what you can't argue is that this team was simply out-manned.
It's not an excuse. There are no excuses in football. No one cared that Odell Beckham Jr. was out for the Giants. No one cared that David Johnson was out for the Falcons. No one cares the Packers are struggling without Aaron Rodgers.
So no one really cares the Cowboys were without Tyron Smith, Ezekiel Elliott, Dan Bailey and then Sean Lee for most of this ugly performance.
When Adrian Clayborn is headed to the Pro Bowl, he's not really going to care that he's there because Tyron Smith was out with a groin injury.
So no one cares about the Cowboys for their lack of superstars sitting out. But there's got to be some middle ground between feeling sorry for yourselves and pointing out facts.
Great players are great players for a reason. They help you win games and without them, especially a few at a time, it's tough to recover.
If Alfred Morris, Rod Smith or Darren McFadden were considered starting tailbacks in the NFL, other teams would've signed them.
If Chaz Green was a top-caliber tackle, he would've likely started on the right side and La'el Collins would've stayed at guard.
If Mike Nugent was as consistent as Dan Bailey, he wouldn't have been available when the Cowboys went looking for kickers.
And if anyone could fill in for Sean Lee when he's not in the lineup, the Cowboys certainly wouldn't have lost to the Rams, Packers and now the Falcons.
It's just the nature of the business. Losing one key player is tough. Losing four against a team that went to the Super Bowl the previous year is too much for any team.
However, before this gets too far down the "It's Not Their Fault" path, let's remember there are two sides to this pancake, as Bill Parcells would always say.
Losing those guys in one game makes it tough to win. But there is no excuse for a 20-point blowout.
The Cowboys didn't execute as players. They didn't seem to have the best scheme to start with and they certainly didn't adjust well on the fly.
Long before people started asking in the press box who owns the NFL, yes not the Falcons record but the NFL record for most sacks in a game, maybe the Cowboys should've made some major adjustments to either give Chaz Green help or simply get him out of the game.
It's not like Byron Bell hasn't started games in this league as well. Sure, Green has gotten more snaps and he's a third-round pick the Cowboys are hoping pans out. But it wasn't panning out Sunday. He was striking o ut, over and over. Yes, he gave up five of Clayborn's six sacks but if Dak Prescott wasn't as strong and mobile as he is, it could've been 10 or 12.
This is your franchise quarterback and he's taking a beating. It's like buying a brand-new sports car and just cancelling your insurance. Let's face it, the left tackle is supposed to protect your greatest asset on the field. And it wasn't happening. I really don't think the move to Byron Bell should've occurred midway through the fourth quarter.
Ok, let's talk about the running backs. What I don't understand is what happened somewhere between the first preseason game where Darren McFadden was starting with Zeke out, and now when he gets one carry in the game Elliott is suspended.
All along, the Cowboys made it clear they were keeping him on the roster for this very moment. And it arrives, and he doesn't play? So why is he on the roster then? Hey, we all know I'm a die-hard Arkansas Razorback fan and McFadden is easily one of my favorite college players to watch. Maybe I'm biased here, but I still think he has enough juice and power to create a spark in the running game. He's certainly earned that, not only in his career overall but just a couple of years ago when he ranked fourth in the NFL in rushing despite missing six starts.
If he's clearly lost that many steps in his game, then why stash him on the roster for so long. And why wait until the fourth quarter to give him an East-West sweep with Terrance Williams leading the way as a blocker.
As for the kicker, there's really nothing the Cowboys can do there. They just have to know going into games that Nugent isn't reliable like Bailey. A field-goal attempt over 40 yards is going to be somewhat questionable and the range over 50 yards is also iffy.
How many times on Sunday did the Cowboys get inside the Falcons' 40 – knocking on the door for a field goal – and something would happen to stall the drive? The answer is about four times. But it was a sack here, another sack there – and there and there – and then a holding call or another flag over there.
And since we're questioning the play-calling and schemes … why must we wait until late in the fourth quarter to realize Jason Witten can move the chains? No, it's not going to lead SportsCenter's Top 10 plays if Witten runs nine yards, turns around, claps his hands twice, and gets the pass for a first down. But about three or four of those in a drive has the offense in business once again.
There's a reason Tony Romo used to rely on that very play in the two-minute drill and so many other times on third downs. Witten is crafty, he knows how to get open and he catches the ball. Seven targets on Sunday resulted in seven catches.
When in doubt, dump the ball off to Witten and get the offense on track.
The Cowboys lost this game for many reasons, some of them occurred long before Sunday. But they were basically blown out for the way they reacted, and sometimes failed to react.
Garrett always always always preaches to his team to "Be your best regardless of circumstance."
The circumstances were bad. The performance was even worse.