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Eatman: Injuries, flags aside, what about run D?


GLENDALE, Ariz. – Everything matters in football.

If you want to blame this game on too many penalties, go for it. You're not wrong. If you want to say the Cowboys were flat because they suffered a lot of key injuries late this week and just couldn't overcome it, there's probably some merit there.

If you want to say the offense is the reason this team lost because the red-zone issues once again were a problem, that's definitely true as well.

But there's another part to this ugly 28-16 loss to the Cardinals, proving yet again that weird things tend to happen here in Arizona.

To me, what happened with this defense, especially against the run?

Trevon Diggs' injury was a huge blow, but does that mean they can't tackle James Conner? Does that mean they no longer can hold up in the trenches, allowing 7.6 yards per run and 222 yards overall?

I get it, the knee bone is connected to the hip bone, so that being said, there's always some trickle-down effect when there is a key injury to a player such as Diggs. But there is no excuse for 222 rushing yards.

There is also no excuse for this team needing to get off the field midway through the fourth quarter and allowing a 69-yard pass to a receiver who was in a different zip code than the closest defender.

My point to all of this? Sure, the injuries to Diggs and the three starting offensive linemen affected the Cowboys and contributed to the way they played. And the injuries on top of that were too much to overcome. But the fact is, if the Cowboys weren't getting gashed on the run at a seven-yard clip, this game definitely goes the other way.

And the Cardinals ran the ball in a lot of different ways. Joshua Dobbs had a 44-yard run on the first drive of the game that fooled the Cowboys and seemed to set the tone for a heavy dose of misdirection runs all game long. Give Arizona credit for not only calling a lot of cut-back runs, but the running backs were able to make the plays in the open field and expose the over-aggressive defense.

Now, without me really watching the game again and studying the film, my initial impression is that this might be the downside of having undersized linebackers – converted safeties – who are coming up into the box to stop the run. Then again, I saw true linebackers that had difficulty getting off blocks at times.

And this is also what you get when you have a defense that is always applying pressure and looking for sacks. Sometimes it allows wide-open running lanes, which happened on two long runs of 40-plus yards.

I still think the Cowboys have more talent, but it wasn't as one-sided as we might have thought.

We all know games are won and lost at the line of scrimmage and this one was no different. The Cowboys were getting moved around on defense, and offensively they didn't make enough push when they really needed it, such as in the red zone.

I think the offensive line played OK, considering the missing pieces, but some of the penalty issues were on them. But also, when they got inside the 20-yard line, the Cowboys kept trying to run the ball and there was no room for that.

Trust me, there's finger-pointing to go around for everyone. It's not just the offense, or the coaching staff, or the play-calling, or the refs or, of course, the defense.

But let's not forget, this defense has been getting some comparisons to the 1985 Bears or the 2000 Ravens or even some of the Doomsday Defenses of the Cowboys back in the day.

And I'm not giving up on saying this can be a really dominant defense at some point this year, but you can't give up 400 yards to Joshua Dobbs and the Cardinals and 222 rushing yards and want to be in the elite category – at least not right now.

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