Scattershooting


the scouting department, the front office personnel, and each will have their personal favorite, but if they had the answer then all this losing would have been resolved by now. 

So as a last resort, Phillips declares on Monday his team must get back to basics, that focusing on "fundamentals" is the only way he knows to dig out of this ever-deepening ditch the Cowboys are spinning their wheels in without any traction. I mean  

So suggesting that I know the reason - or that you know the reason - would seem almost trite, as if deciding just what remedy you subscribe to the most for solving the common cold. But if I may, and before I get to the intangible heart of this matter, let me suggest some tangible evidence, even if both are like the oldest axioms in the game of football: 

The Cowboys can't run the ball and can't stop the run, a sure recipe for disaster. 

Now, I can bore you with a bunch of numbers, like the Cowboys are the 31st rushing offense in the NFL or that only seven teams rush for fewer than the Cowboys' 3.7 yards a carry, with five of those at 3.6. Or how about this, only Buffalo has rushed for fewer touchdowns than the Cowboys' two or that only two teams in the league have fewer than the Cowboys' two runs of 20-plus yards. 

Now you can sink your teeth into those numbers, meaning if you can't run for squat then all that is left is throwing the ball, and even if you do that as well as anyone in the league, if you have this propensity for dropping passes into 360-pound defenders' laps you are in deep do-do. 

And you also can sink your teeth into these suddenly troubling numbers: While the Cowboys have just 10 runs of 10-plus yards, and just two in the last three games (14 and 17 yards), their opponents have 24 such runs and 11 in the past three games totaling 200 yards. 

So if you are keeping up, you're asking, why is that? Why can't the Cowboys run the ball effectively? Why can't the Cowboys stop the run? Aren't these the same guys as last year, the ones who posted more total offensive yards than any team in club history while not allowing one single opposing running back to gain 100 yards? 

Yep, and therein might be the answer to this confounding riddle where every time you think you've found the right twist something else turns badly wrong the other way. This is essentially the same team as last year, save a push with Doug Free starting for Flozell Adams and Alan Ball starting for Ken Hamlin, and what with David Buehler kicking instead of Nick Folk. 

The only addition of substance the Cowboys have made this season is Dez Bryant, the young one who lately has been playing like a man, not only as a wide receiver but also as a punt returner who just might get him some kickoff returns Sunday night in Green Bay, too. Involve him as much as possible and as much as he comprehends offensively. 

This then, if you remember, was my fear early in the season, that this was a stale team. That if you are not getting better in the NFL - you are staying the same - you are getting worse, and by returning 20 of 22 starters by choice the Cowboys essentially have stayed the same. Same with the coaching staff, the only change of significance being the return of Paul Pasqualoni as the defensive line coach. 

All the same players, but now save Tony Romo, out with the fractured collarbone, all the same coaching voices. The improvement had to come from within, and so far it hasn't. 

Is there time left? Not much. Is it possible? The odds are long. 

"Everyone is searching for answers," Cowboys linebacker Keith Brooking said, "like what is going on?" 

So heading into the tundra that shouldn't be frozen - yet - the retired Blackie could have started off this Sunday's notes column with his signature, "Scattershooting while wondering whatever happened to the Dallas Cowboys?"     

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