Here are my 10 takeaways from the Cowboys' 49-38 loss to the Browns:
This one is on the players.
It is easy to pin the blame on Mike McCarthy and his staff after watching the Cowboys drop another game due to a collection of silly mistakes and miscues. But pointing the finger at the coaches would absolve 53 players who deserve criticism for their effort. The Cowboys are playing harder or smarter than their opponents, and the losses will continue to mount until they closer attention to the details. McCarthy can harp on this point in each and every practice or team meeting but the players need to heed his message but play up to the standard. Right now, they are an underachieving outfit and everyone must do a little soul searching to see if they can find a way to play better on game day.
The turnovers are killing the Cowboys.
The turnover battle is the biggest deciding factor in the outcome of games. That's why it's not a coincidence that the Cowboys added another L to the loss column with a minus-three differential against the Browns. The fumbles are particularly disturbing due to the careless nature displayed by the Cowboys' skill players. The lack of ball security is alarming after losing multiple fumbles in each of their games this season.
No answer for the Browns' running game.
Whenever an opponent rushes for 300-plus yards, it signals a lack of discipline, toughness, tackling and gap control. The Cowboys were not only dominated in the trenches by the Browns' offensive line but they allowed a stable of runners to run roughshod on them between the tackles and on the edges. The loss of Nick Chubb to an early injury didn't slow down a vaunted rushing attack that utilized a mix of straight-forward runs and misdirection plays to churn out 7.6 yards per attempt in a dominant effort. Although the NFL is regarded as a passing league, the Cowboys will not win if they allow opponents to grind it out on the ground whenever they want.
OBJ goes bonkers.
Despite the narrative surrounding OBJ, he remains one of the top playmakers in football. The Cowboys were well aware of his dominance due to his success against them as a member of the New York Giants and they had to expect the Browns to feature their WR1 against a secondary that's struggled in recent weeks. That's why I'm stunned that the Pro Bowler enjoyed a banner day (five catches for 81 yards with two scores; two rushes for 73 yards and a score) with all eyes on him as the Browns' top playmaker on the perimeter. Sure, the Cowboys' cornerbacks were overmatched against No.13 but allowing him to get loose is unacceptable for a defense that had to expect him to be featured prominently in the game plan.
Can Mike Nolan fix the defense?
The million-dollar question floating around Cowboys Nation revolves around Nolan's ability to fix a defense that's given up at least 38 points in each of the past three games. The Cowboys are unable to stop the run, pass or trick plays, and their overall effort has been embarrassing. From missed assignment and blown coverage to a lack of discipline and attention to detail, the Cowboys' defense looks like a Pop Warner outfit at times. Despite having a number of Pro Bowl-caliber players at his disposal, Nolan hasn't been able to get this unit to play to their individual and collective potential. The veteran defensive coordinator will need to lean on his experience and wisdom to craft a plan that will enable a struggling collection of defenders to play fast and free on the field.
Dak's numbers are empty calories.
Prescott is playing like a Top 5 quarterback with three straight games with 450-plus pass yards. He has shown the football world that he can sling the rock with the best of them but the Cowboys' pass-heavy approach continues to be a losing proposition. The offensive line isn't built to handle almost 60 passing attempts with suspect pass protectors (Terence Steele, Connor Williams, and Joe Looney) doting the starting lineup. The heavy emphasis on passing exposes their flaws and creates opportunities for the defense to feast off their miscues.
The pass-centric game plan also increases the opportunity for Prescott and Co. to turn the ball over under duress. With each pass attempt, there are four possible outcomes (completion, incompletion, interception or sack) and 75% of those possibilities are considered negative outcomes. The Cowboys even up their odds by adding more balance to their offensive attack. With better balance, the team will avoid the negative plays that lead to costly mistakes and losses.
Myles Garrett imposes his will.
It didn't take long for No.95 to make his mark as a disruptive pass rusher against the Cowboys. He whipped Terence Steele early and often off the edge to register a pair sacks, including a strip-sack that helped the Browns seize the momentum in the game. Garrett's superior athleticism and skill overwhelmed Steele (and Brandon Knight) as he harassed Prescott repeatedly off the edge. The Cowboys undoubtedly entered the game with a plan to neutralize Garrett, but the former No.1 overall pick dominated his match-ups on the edge.
Browns go trick-or-treatin'
Halloween is a few weeks away but that didn't discourage Kevin Stefanski from treating the Cowboys to a bag of tricks on Sunday. The Browns successfully executed a reverse pass for a score on the game's opening drive with Jarvis Landry dropping a dime to OBJ for a 37-yard touchdown. OBJ tallied 73 additional yards on a pair of reverse/end-arounds that showcased his exceptional speed, quickness, and running skills. The misdirection and deception exposed the Cowboys' lack of discipline and attention to detail on defense. Moreover, it enabled the Browns to chalk up a handful of explosive plays that decided the game.
Zeke versatility stands out.
The Cowboys would love to get Elliott more involved as a ball carrier but the leaky offensive line (and huge deficits) makes it hard to commit to a grind it out approach. Kellen* Moore has done a great job of getting No.21 his touches in the passing game on an assortment of swings, screens, and check-downs. As a result, Elliott continues to make an impact as a playmaker (125 scrimmage yards on 20 touches) despite receiving a less than ideal workload as a runner.
The special teams' gaffes continue.
The unorthodox two-point conversion after Odell Beckham, Jr's third score didn't matter much in the end but it is another example of the lack of awareness on the special teams' units. After a terrific effort by C.J. Goodwin to block the PAT, the Cowboys inexplicably attempted to pick up the ball after it crossed the line of scrimmage. Jaylon Smith's misplayed effort resulted in Stephen Carlson recovering the ball in the end zone for two points. These mental errors show a lack of awareness, understanding, and preparation. The Cowboys must improve in these areas to win close games in the near future.
The Cowboys are back at AT&T Stadium next Sunday, October 11th to take on their rivals, the New York Giants. A limited number of tickets are on sale now. Get yours now before they sell out!
Details on all of the health and safety procedures you can expect at AT&T Stadium this season can be viewed at www.DallasCowboys.com/safestadium.