Here are my 10 quick points from the Cowboys' 34-17 loss in Baltimore.
McCarthy can't get this group going.
The Cowboys have lost six of their last seven games due to a series of repeat errors that boggle the mind. From the silly penalties to untimely turnovers to blown assignments, the Cowboys have played bad football from Week 1 and McCarthy's inability to solve the team's biggest problems is disappointing based on his championship pedigree. The one-time Super Bowl winner is ultimately responsible for the Cowboys' failures as the leader of the team. Considering how the team has looked under McCarthy's direction, Jerry Jones has to wonder if the veteran coach has the ability to right what appears to be a sinking ship.
Why didn't Zeke get more touches?
Perhaps Kellen Moore believed the Cowboys' best path to victory was through Andy Dalton and the team's other playmakers but it was a little surprising to see Elliott's role diminished in the second half after a solid start. The All-Pro runner had it going against the Ravens with 53 rushing yards on 10 carries in the first half, including a 13-yard run that showcased his speed, vision, and burst. Elliott's strong performance should've prompted Moore to give him more touches in the second half, particularly with the game within reach until the fourth quarter. The Cowboys' RB1 should've been the centerpiece of the offense's game plan with a backup quarterback and a patchwork offensive line facing one of the NFL's top defenses but Moore opted to feature others instead of leaning on the talented workhorse.
The O-Line holds up against the Ravens' formidable frontline.
The Cowboys' patchwork offensive line was expected to get pushed around by the Ravens' rugged front but the unit held its own in the trenches for 60 minutes. The Cowboys rushed for 100-plus yards (28 carries for 111 yards) and surrendered just a single sack on 49 dropbacks. Although Moore protected the unit by featuring a game plan littered with quick passes and screens, the Cowboys' front five kept the Ravens from harassing Dalton in the pocket for most of the game. In addition, the quintet moved defenders off the ball and created a few creases for Elliott on the ground. Given the presence of two undrafted* free agents (Brandon Knight and Terence Steele) on the edges, the performance of the Cowboys' offensive line should earn solid marks in film sessions this week.
Tony Pollard adds some juice to the lineup.
The second-year pro continues to impress as a big-play specialist. Pollard ripped off a 66-yard kickoff return that showcased his speed, quickness, and wiggle as a kick returner. He made a few would-be tacklers miss in traffic and flashed some elusiveness in the open field as he set up the Cowboys in prime scoring position. Pollard's juice and big-play ability add a dimension to the Cowboys that is desperately needed to spark an offense that's struggled to put points on the board.
Andy Dalton earns solid marks as a game manager.
The veteran gave the cowboys a chance to win with his efficient effort from the pocket. Dalton completed 31 of 48 passes for 285 yards with two touchdowns and an interception while connecting to eight different receivers. The veteran excelled directing the Cowboys' quick-rhythm offense that featured an assortment of quick outs and hitches designed to get the ball out of his hands quickly. Although the small ball approach didn't produce any explosive plays, it enabled the Cowboys to counter the Ravens' aggressive tactics without giving up negative plays. Overall, Dalton played well enough directing the Cowboys' conservative offense to guide the team to a win if the complementary football game plan was executed properly on the other sides of the ball (defense and special teams).
Greg Zuerlein comes up short.
The Cowboys' conservative complementary football game plan hinged on the contributions of the kicking game. The team needed to keep the pressure on the Ravens by keeping the game within "one-score" range until the fourth quarter. To execute this strategy, the Cowboys were counting on Zuerlein to guarantee them at least three points whenever they entered the red zone. Against the Ravens, the veteran kicker torpedoed their tactical plans with three misses from a reasonable distance. Sure, Zuerlein missed a pair of 50-yard attempts that were at the edge of his range but he came to Dallas with a reputation for nailing long-distance kicks. The veteran has a 60-percent career conversion rate on field attempts from 50 yards or longer (34 of 61 attempts), including a 75-percent success rate (15 of 20) from 2017-19. With the veteran unable to put the ball in between the uprights from long distance, the Cowboys missed out on an opportunity to knock off an AFC playoff contender.
Mike Nolan doesn't have an answer for the Ravens' running game.
The Ravens' ground and pound attack is one of the most difficult offenses to defense. Greg Roman utilizes a variety of pin-and-pull schemes, read-option concepts, and pre-snap motions that tests the discipline of defenders while challenging their toughness with a downhill approach. To combat the Ravens' physical smoke-and-mirrors attack, Nolan needed to put his defenders in optimal positions to blow up the pullers when maintaining gap integrity at the line of scrimmage. The Cowboys couldn't execute the plan early with the Ravens producing three 30-plus yard gains and 161 yards on the ground in the first half. The defense didn't fare much better in the second half with Ravens putting the finishing touches on an effort that featured almost 300 rushing yards on 37 attempts. Lamar Jackson, J.K. Dobbins, Mark Ingram, and Lamar Jackson took turns bludgeoning the defense between the tackles with the Cowboys offering little resistance. After watching his defense give up 200-plus rushing yards for the fourth time this season, Nolan has to get back to the drawing board and craft better plans for the defense going forward.
Jaylon Smith LVE and Sean Lee don't get it done.
The Cowboys' keys to stopping the Ravens' running game start with the eye discipline and gap control integrity of the linebackers. To have any chance of slowing down the Ravens' misdirection running game, Smith, LVE and Lee needed to be able to master the shell game and find the ball before runners split the creases between the tackles. In addition, the Cowboys' linebackers were tasked with containing Jackson on designed QB runs and read-option plays that flowed with and without the pulling action of the offensive linemen. The trio failed miserably in their roles with the Ravens gutting the Cowboys for almost 300 yards. Smith, LVE, and Lee looked lost attempting to locate the ball at times, including No.55's confusion on Jackson's 37-yard touchdown on a fourth-and-two conversion. The bewilderment continued throughout the night with the Ravens' baiting and switching each member of the LB corps with their misdirection scheme. The overall lack of discipline and awareness from the veterans is one of the reasons why the Cowboys couldn't contain the Ravens' dynamic rushing attack.
The secondary can't get on the same page.
Communication woes and blown assignments have been a year-long problem for the Cowboys' defensive backfield. The unit has surrendered big play after big play due to confusion in the back end. the trend continued against the Ravens. Darian Thompson appeared to blow coverage on Miles Boykin's 38-yard touchdown. The veteran safety retreated into zone coverage with the rest of the defensive backfield locked onto the assigned receivers in man coverage. The mental lapse led to an easy score from an offense that struggled to move the ball through the air.
Rashard Robinson gave up a touchdown to Marquis Brown when he failed to plaster the Ravens' receiver on a scramble situation. The lack of discipline and focus from the cornerback is another disturbing trend that the Cowboys haven't fixed this season. Robinson has to recognize a scramble drill quickly when the play breaks down and immediately hug his receiver. Although the play happened quickly, it is a play that's been practiced (hopefully) and he should react appropriately whenever it occurs in the game.
Can the Cowboys pick up the pieces?
The Cowboys must answer the million-dollar question with their focus, preparation, and effort over the next few weeks starting with their work getting ready for the Bengals. Despite the disappointing play this season, the Cowboys still have an outside shot of winning the NFC East if they can get on a streak and receive a little help from their division rivals. With that in mind, McCarthy has to find a way to sell hope to his squad and get them to play with the urgency needed to make a playoff push. The odds are long but the Cowboys will get a chance to show the football world what they're made of with their play over the final quarter of the season. If this is a prideful bunch, we will see them make the corrections to their biggest issues and play their best football down the stretch. I'm not overly optimistic of seeing a drastic change after watching this group for 12 games but stranger things have happened so I'm holding out hope from a dramatic turnaround.