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Eatman: Next Man Up Philosophy Has Flaws; Adjustments Big & Small Needed

ARLINGTON, Texas – When the final seconds mercifully ticked off the clock here Thursday night, it was very clear just how the fans who were still around felt about the Cowboys' festive performance.

A chorus of boos was directed at the players, coaches and probably anyone else who had that blue star associated with them.

As a fan, they had every right to be upset. Even the ones at home, full of turkey and dressing all of the fixings of your choice, had to be extremely frustrated with that effort – or lack thereof.

Hey, I understand that it's hard to win in the NFL, especially if you don't have your best players. But I really don't think there are many excuses to be blown out, especially three weeks in a row. And especially when these games are close at the half and the bottom completely falls out in the final two quarters.

Really? This was a 3-0 game when Thomas Rhett was up there on center stage for the annual halftime performance. And it ended up 28-6?

I know we've had columns on this site and other opinions on our podcasts that the whole "second-half adjustments" thing is overrated. But I'm not buying it.

Maybe it's the fact I've seen enough NASCAR races in my life to witness a race team being able to make chassis adjustments, fill up a tank of gas and change four tires – in a matter of 15 seconds. So you can adjust things on the fly throughout the game. I mean, Philip Rivers adjusts the play before a snap, moving a running back out to line up with a linebacker or freeing up a receiver in the middle of the field. Obviously, the Cowboys don't have that luxury right now, but that's not why they're losing games. Sure, it would be nice for the quarterback to be able to make that adjustment, but it's not Dak Prescott's game right now. It will likely get there, but not in the middle of season two.

But his coaches certainly can put him and the offensive players in more favorable situations, and it's not happening right now.

The more I hear the phrase "Next Man Up," the more I'm starting to really hate it.

I get the premise of the phrase. Sure, you want the backup player to step right in and pick up the slack without any setbacks.

But it doesn't happen like that. Not every situation is Kurt Warner waiting in the wings to replace Trent Green and the Rams just go win the Super Bowl. Yeah, those stories are usually sent to Hollywood, or Canton, or both.

In reality, most backup situations call for a change in the philosophy or scheme. I just don't think you can lose Ezekiel Elliott and simply say, "Next man up, Alfred. Go in there and let's play the way we always play." You can't just put Chaz Green out at left tackle and give him little help like you do with Tyron Smith.

You can't play the same defensive scheme with Anthony Hitchens out there as you do with Sean Lee and expect it to be the same just because they're the next guy up.

Think about Dak for a second. When he has a running game that features Zeke, he can certainly play a different style of game, knowing they can pick up more first downs by running.

But without him, Dak needs to be featured a little more as a runner. Look at the touchdown that was called back. That read-option play is working most of the time and it needs to be run with more frequency until it gets stopped. What that will do is free up the middle when Morris and Rod Smith actually get the ball.

The same thing goes with throwing the ball down the field. These opposing cornerbacks know they don't have to cheat back in their coverage because the ball doesn't go deep. When the Cowboys finally did open it up in the fourth quarter, you saw some success.

But it seems like there's a mindset of "sticking to the game plan" even though the game plan was designed for other players.

And it's not just about specific plays either. Earlier this week, I asked Jason Garrett in his press conference about his decision to continually take the ball to start the game when they win the toss. Most teams in the league like to defer to the second half, but not the Cowboys. And it worked last year as they would oftentimes drive the ball on the opening series to set the tone.

Now this team isn't driving down to score at all in the first half, much less the first drive.

Sure would be nice to start off a second half with the ability to flip the script and go get some points. Instead, the opponents have been able to do just that.

With three straight losses – all by 20 points or more – it's safe to say the wheels have come off. This 5-3 record is now 5-6 and even though the schedule doesn't seem too daunting right now, this team has scored only 22 points in three weeks.

Both the Eagles and the Chargers have been able to surpass that in one half alone. That's because they figured out a way to make a few changes in a hurry.

Hopefully, the Cowboys can figure out how to adjust this situation before it's too late. 

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