FRISCO, Texas – This is the shame of it all.
Just when you thought it was OK to emerge from the dark room to shout, by golly, these Cowboys have solved their inability to stop the run after the first two games of the season, yep, that Achilles heel of last year's defense, the boogie man appears once again.
Cardinals run for 222 yards.
Another one of those mobile quarterbacks goes for 55 yards, and as if right on cue, 44 of those yards on the second darn play of this past Sunday's game.
And as if that weren't enough damage, a wide receiver lining up in the backfield rifles right through the defense untouched for a 45-yard touchdown jaunt.
Why, in this game, just five plays – five now – a total 157 yards rushing, an average of 31 a carry.
Problem not extinguished?
And now who should come snooping around, maybe even sniffing, but the New England Patriots and head coach Bill Belichick, noted for exposing opponents' weaknesses. Along with big-headed running back Ezekiel Elliott, certainly motivated to have the last laugh at the expense of the team releasing him after seven years of service to save salary cap bucks.
"Coach (Joe) Whitt said this was an anomaly," safety Jayron Kearse points out of the run defense severely leaking in the 28-16 loss Sunday to the previously winless Arizona Cardinals.
"The positives of failure is that you always learn," position-less Micah Parsons says. "I don't want to take a double-L. You never want to lose and not learn. … Last week just wasn't perfect."
No, it wasn't for sure, giving up 400 total yards, three touchdowns, three field goals and for sure some of the momentum and goodness established the first two weeks of the season with this poor performance against the Cardinals, who have now beaten the Cowboys in seven of the past eight games in the series. That's going all the way back to 2008, the Cardinals blocking a Cowboys' first-possession overtime punt, recovered in the end zone for the walk-off victory.
This an anomaly?
Or is that Achilles from past seasons still ruptured?
We're about to find out over these next three weeks.
- Scrambling QBs: Part of this problem stopping the run has been opposing quarterbacks setting sail with the football. And that reared its ugly head on the second play from scrimmage against the Cardinals. QB Joshua Dobbs faked a handoff to running back James Conner and kept it around the left side for 44 yards when Parsons bit hard on the fake, failing to set the edge from his right defensive end position. Dobbs finished with 55 rushing yards, and when adding that to the 43 of Giants QB Daniel Jones and the 36 of Jets QB Zach Wilson, that's 134 rushing yards by the first three quarterbacks on 24 carries – 34 percent of the 394 yards rushing the Cowboys have given up in three games.
- Look Out Below: We knew the Cowboys went into the season with a lack of experienced offensive depth, and of course missing three starters in the loss to the Cardinals: Zack Martin, Tyron Smith and Tyler Biadasz. Well, things didn't look any sunnier in practice on Wednesday, none of the three practicing, spending their time rehabbing. And worse, Chuma Edoga, the only experienced backup on the line and who started at left tackle in place of Smith, was limited in Wednesday's practice with his previously ailing elbow acting up. That likely meant fifth-round draft choice Asim Richards getting snaps at left tackle, rookie free agent T.J. Bass, who made his first NFL start Sunday for Martin, still at right guard and Brock Hoffman – elevated from the practice squad for the third and final allowed time on Sunday – at center after starting his first NFL game in place of Biadasz against the Cardinals. Prayers going up for at least two of those three starters returning by Sunday. Or at least someone around here laying hands on these guys.
- Reinforcement: So to fortify depth at the center position, the Cowboys signed former 2018 Cincinnati first-round draft choice Billy Price out of Ohio State, 6-4, 308, who turns 29 on Oct. 11. Price started 11 of the 11 games he played last season for Arizona and 15 of 16 games in 2021 with the Giants. Price also has started eight games at guard and was last with the Saints this offseason before getting released.
- Zeke Coming Home: Been rare for prominent released Cowboys players to meet them with another team as will Elliott this Sunday at AT&T Stadium with the Patriots. Off the top of my head, can think of three for sure: Emmitt Smith, released in 2003, returning with the Cardinals that season; DeMarco Murray, his final year with the Cowboys in 2014, returning the next year with the Eagles; and then cornerback Terence Newman, whose last year here was 2011, actually playing against the Cowboys two more times – in 2012 with Philadelphia and 2016 with Minnesota. Oh, and if we go way, way back, the Cowboys did meet up with former starting quarterback Craig Morton in Super Bowl XII, the Doomsday II defense annihilating the Broncos, 27-10, intercepting Morton four times before he was lifted from the game in the third quarter. Sort of ironic that Zeke shows up when the Cowboys are struggling in the red zone, scoring touchdowns on just three of 11 trips these past two games, and also struggling to score touchdowns inside the 10-yard line, just four on 10 opportunities in three games. Now then, last year remember of Zeke's 12 rushing touchdowns, 11 were no more than 10 yards out and seven of those no more than two yards. Just sayin'.
- Short Shots: Remember worrying about upcoming workload for Tony Pollard, since he never has been the lead dog with the Cowboys or at Memphis in college. But tell you what, the Cowboys certainly aren't babying him, his 74 touches from scrimmage lead the NFL after three games and so do his 62 rushes, one more touch than the Niners Christian McCaffrey and two more runs … Funny guy Belichick, saying when asked about Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce apparently dating Taylor Swift, "Well, I would say that Travis Kelce has had a lot of big catches in his career. This would be the biggest." … Strange series with the Patriots, the Cowboys holding the overall edge 8-6, but after winning the first seven meetings they then lost the next six before beating the Pats in OT in 2021, 35-29, on Dak Prescott's 35-yard touchdown pass to CeeDee Lamb to finally beat Belichick with New England but without Tom Brady … This would seem rare, but in the past two games the Cowboys offense has snapped the ball 83 times against the Jets and 75 in the loss to Arizona.
And the final word this week goes to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones from the NFL meetings on flagship radio station 105.3 The Fan when asked about his memories of Ezekiel Elliott, released this offseason for salary-cap reasons and signed toward the end of training camp on Aug. 16 by the Patriots. While Jones would not say if or what the Cowboys might do to remember Zeke's seven-year contribution to the franchise Sunday at AT&T Stadium, he did go on to say this about his three-time Pro Bowl running back who twice led the NFL in rushing (2016, 2018).
"I know he was one of the best teammates I've had the privilege of seeing on the Cowboys. For his team, he was inspirational. He was inspirational before the games. His practice habits were off the charts. He would basically practice as if almost every play were for all the marbles. He had very unique skills as a running back, and boy, he could lower that pad and lower that center of gravity.
"I know this, I didn't see him up close and personal, but as far as a back the opposing team hates to tackle, I think he's at the top of the list – (Earl) Campbell of Texas and the Houston Oilers, seems to have that thought. But boy, Zeke took a toll on those defensive players.
"So I'll always remember that, and I'll remember his positiveness and his perfect mentality to play this game and be a pro."
A nice final shot, no?