DETROIT – With a minute remaining before halftime, I sat in the press box wondering just how the Cowboys were actually winning this game. They were getting out-muscled on both lines of scrimmage and Dez Bryant had just one target.
Later in the third quarter, as I packed up my computer, the same thought came over me. *The Cowboys are in the lead here? They have a great chance to win this game? *It just seemed like Calvin Johnson had already made too many plays for the Cowboys to be in front.
And in the fourth quarter, even down to a few minutes, I still couldn't believe the Cowboys were in a position to win this game as Lions fans were leaving the stadium. Detroit seemed like they owned the game other than a handful of gifts they delivered to the Cowboys throughout the day. I couldn't believe the Cowboys were about to win this.
Yet, why am I surprised the Cowboys aren't 5-3 and coming home with a three-game winning streak and a two-game lead in the NFC East? [embedded_ad]
I guess it has something to do with getting the ball back with 1:24 left with a three-point lead and in your opponent's territory. When that happens, it's pretty safe that you're going to win this game and get out of town.
Then again, when you can't run the football – at all – it changes things. And with the same broken record that I've continued to play over and over, I'll say one more time: The Cowboys simply won't win anything if they can't run the football.
Blame the secondary for letting Calvin Johnson dominate a game like I've never seen before. Blame the game management on that last offensive drive. Blame the holding penalty on Tyron Smith, which wasn't even accepted, but still might prove to be one of the biggest penalties of the season. It certainly is at the halfway point.
Blame all of those things that led to the Lions' dramatic 31-30 win over the Cowboys in the final seconds.
I blame the running game. And with that, it's time to get some help in here.
Now, eight games into the season I'm not sure what kind of options you've got. Sure, there are tons of rumors out there that the Cowboys are interested in trading for guys like Adrian Peterson or Maurice Jones-Drew or Darren McFadden. None of those scenarios seem that likely. I'm sure the Cowboys could pull it off trade-wise, send a few picks and maybe a player or two. But cap-wise, it would take some hefty maneuvering and shuffling with current contracts, along with the new one you're receiving to make it work.
And most of the time, I'm usually the one balking at such Madden-like moves, but the Cowboys have to do something.
What they have right now is not working and this season is going to slip away if they don't fix it. Over the last three games, four different running backs have toted the ball. None of them are getting it done. Sure, they all have shown flashes, but none of them are consistently producing like this offense needs.
And no, it's not all on the backs every time. The offensive line doesn't always get the necessary push and it happened over and over in Sunday's loss to the Lions where the big boys of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley were too strong for the interior line that featured rookie center Travis Frederick, first-year guard Ron Leary and Mackenzy Bernadeau, who played most of the game when Brian Waters went down with multiple injuries. Yes, the line is different without Waters, who more than held his own against Suh when he was in the game.
But it's not just about the blocking. The running game doesn't scare anyone. The backs don't scare anyone, even when they get the ball in space.
It doesn't matter who it is – DeMarco Murray, Joseph Randle, Lance Dunbar or Phillip Tanner – none of them ever seem to make people miss in the open field. I'm not saying they have to be like Reggie Bush, who had a key fumble in the game, but man, can someone make a juke or something? This is one of the worst defenses in the NFL and they couldn't move the ball at all on the ground.
Time after time the defense gave the ball to the offense with great field position and the offense couldn't do anything with it – or at least not enough. And why was this? Because of the running game.
It's downright atrocious at times, especially when three different drives began inside the Lions 35-yard line. Of those three possessions, twice the Cowboys settled for field goals and they scored one touchdown. And that occurred after Sean Lee's interception return to the Lions 4. But after a loss of one on a run by Randle and then an incomplete pass, it took a ridiculous catch by Dez Bryant in the end zone to get the score. How many other teams in the NFL can pound the ball in with a few hard-nosed runs?
The Cowboys simply don't have that ability.
Other key moments in the game showed this team's inability to run. After the Cowboys recovered a Johnson fumble (which was probably the only negative thing he did all day), the Cowboys had a first down at the Lions 35, thanks to a personal foul penalty on Detroit. So what happens? A run by Randle nets no gain, followed by two incomplete passes. It forces a 53-yard field goal from Dan Bailey.
To me, the drive that ultimately cost the Cowboys the game occurred with about 3:33 remaining after the Lions scored to cut the Dallas lead to 27-24. That's when they could've put the clamps down and won this one. Instead, they simply couldn't run the ball, or the clock for that matter. A run for minus-3 by Randle, followed by a 1-yard run from the rookie, forced the Lions to call a timeout. On third-and-12, the Cowboys opted for a pass to Cole Beasley, which landed two rows into the stands. To me, that play right there prevented the Cowboys from winning. If they could've run the ball and forced Detroit to call a timeout, they would've won the game when they got it back and the Lions would've had just one timeout. Heck, even a sack by Romo would've been better than an incomplete pass to Barry Sanders, who was up in the club level after being honored at halftime.
Once again, the Cowboys felt like they had to get the first down because of a third-and-12 situation, which of course stems from the lack of a running game.
And on the final possession, I don't blame the Cowboys for running the ball every down. That's when you're supposed to run it and force the Lions to burn their timeouts. Some might argue the Cowboys should've just knelt on the ball on third down, but they were thinking about getting a field goal. That possession is always hard to run the ball for a first down with defenses playing so stacked to the line that it's daring the offense to throw. Still, get some positive yards and whatever you do, don't hold.
But they did. It stopped the clock. The Lions got it back and that's all they needed to go win the game.
Yeah, blame Brandon Carr for getting torched by the NFL's best receiver. Personally, this loss stems from the fact the offense couldn't run the ball.
It's time to make some kind of change. If you can't pull off a trade that works, then figure out if there are any veteran guys out there who can provide more production than what you're getting.
It starts with Murray, and he's just not dependable. He's pretty good when he's healthy. He's outstanding against the Rams. Since the "healthy Murray" isn't always around and St. Louis isn't in the Cowboys' division, you can't count on him to be there when you need him most. Apparently there was some miscommunication this week in terms of Murray's availability. Some people I talk to said he was ready to play. Others say he limped around practice and wasn't ready. Either way, he took a bunch of reps – reps that should've gone to Randle or Tanner or Dunbar.
Again, I'm not saying to turn back the clock and come full circle on the Herschel Walker trade and give Minnesota a ton of picks for Peterson. I'm not saying they should get McFadden, Jones-Drew or Chris Johnson. But they might want to see what's realistically out there. And maybe you can get one of those players and make it work.
Something else at running back is needed. This game is just further proof of that.