Here are my 10 quick takeaways from Sunday's game in Washington.
- Mike McCarthy can't get the Cowboys going.
The slow-starting Cowboys continue to undermine their efforts with penalties, miscues, and turnovers in the first half. The Cowboys trailed by at least 17 points at halftime for the fourth time this season and the early deficit was insurmountable against a WFT defensive with a five-star frontline. The uphill climbs prevent Kellen Moore from sticking to a conservative game plan that protects the backup quarterbacks and patchwork offensive line. Moreover, the slow starts and repeated mistakes demoralize a team that lacks confidence and fight.
- The Cowboys' O-Line can't control the trenches.
It is unreasonable to expect the Cowboys' reshuffled offensive line to overpower a premier defensive front but the WFT frontline dominated the trenches. The Cowboys could generate a push at the line of scrimmage to create Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard to maneuver on the ground. And the unit struggled mightily handling the WFT's pressure package in pass protection. The WFT registered six sacks and eight QB hits as they battered and bruised Andy Dalton and Ben DiNucci in the pocket. Although the Cowboys' offensive line has been decimated with injuries, the unit has to play better to give the offense a chance to succeed going forward.
- Zeke never had a chance.
The All-Pro running back was intent on making amends for his disappointing performance in Week 6 but never had a chance to get going against WFT. Elliott was bottled up by the WFT loaded front early in the game but churned out a few positive runs that kept the offense on schedule. The "three yards and a cloud of dust" tactics were part of a game strategy designed to keep the Cowboys in the game by alleviating the pressure on Dalton. With the Cowboys unable to contain the WFT offense and the O-Line losing the battle in the trenches, Elliott never had a chance to make his mark on the game due to limited opportunities on the ground.
- It is Ben DiNucci time.
The seventh-round pick wasn't expected to see time during his rookie season but an injury to Dalton thrust the JMU product into action. DiNucci faced less than ideal circumstances with the Cowboys' offense leaking oil in pass protection. In addition, the running backs were overwhelmed by the barrage of pressures thrown at them from the WFT. The rookie completed 2 of 3 passes for 39 yards, including a 32-yard strike to Amari Cooper along the boundary. Although DiNucci's numbers were solid, he was sacked three times and never settled in as a passer due to steady leaks in the pocket. Overall, it was a surprisingly solid debut for a first-year passer that wasn't expected to see game action this season.
- A quiet day for the Cowboys' WR corps.
The Cowboys appeared to have a significant edge on the perimeter with their five-star WR corps taking on an unheralded WFT secondary. The pregame prognostications were all wrong with WFT holding the Cowboys pass-catchers to 80 receiving yards on seven catches. Cooper accounted for the team's production with CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup registering goose eggs on the stat sheet. The lack of production is partly due to the WFT pass rush limiting opportunities in the passing game but the coverage on the perimeter was solid. The WFT kept the trio from sneaking behind the defense and the secondary's emphasis on maintaining proper leverage played a significant role on a quiet day from the Cowboys' pass catchers.
- Antonio Gibson has his way on the ground.
The WFT ranked dead last in rush offense prior to the game but found a way to put up 200-plus yards on the ground against the Cowboys. Gibson led the way with 128 yards on 20 rushing attempts as the designated workhorse in the backfield. He sliced and diced through defenders while also exhibiting some pop running through arm tackles in the hole. The Cowboys' lack of discipline, physicality, and gap control has been problematic the entire season but surrendering 200-plus rushing yards to a team without stars in the backfield or along the line. It is another example of the Cowboys' defensive deficiencies costing them a chance to win a game that was considered a winnable contest on the schedule.
- The Cowboys don't have an answer for Terry McLaurin and Logan Thomas.
The WFT offensive lineup doesn't feature many household names but McLaurin and Thomas filled up the stat sheet with outstanding production in the passing game. McLaurin (90 receiving yards on seven catches) and Thomas (60 receiving yards) combined for 150 receiving yards on 11 catches as the only options in the passing game with a number of pass-catchers sidelined due to injury. The Cowboys repeatedly lost track of each pass catcher in zone coverage and couldn't contain No.17 or No.82 when locked up in man-to-man. The inability to slow down the WFT passing game is a bit of a surprise based on the lack of firepower available for this game.
- Kyle Allen finds his groove.
The WFT QB1 outplayed his counterparts in a rivalry game. Allen connected on 15 of 25 passes for 194 yards with a pair of scores. He avoided the big mistake and made a handful of key conversions with pinpoint throws or scrambles to keep the offense on the field. The veteran passer did just enough to move the chains and keep the game under control from the opening quarter. The Cowboys needed to disrupt his timing and rhythm to have a host at creating turnovers, but the unit couldn't create long-yardage situations or generate enough pressure to force Allen into a critical mistake.
- LVE and Jaylon Smith are a lethal combo.
The Cowboys' defense has been a huge disappointment but the presence of No.54 and No.55 side by side on the field offers some hope for Mike Nolan. The duo combined for 24 tackles and displayed the synergy that the defense needs to climb out of the cellar. If LVE and Smith can continue to settle in as the designated playmakers in the middle of the defense, the unit can improve quickly with better play at the line of scrimmage and in the secondary. The Cowboys' dynamic LB duo has all-star-caliber potential but they need their teammates to step up and play up to the standard.
- The Cowboys lack of camaraderie, chemistry, and trust shows up on the field.
The Cowboys' issues have been well documented over the past few weeks but the lack of connection between the players and coaches shows up between the lines. This is a selfish group of players that operate as independent contractors and their "me, me, me" ways are one of the reasons why the team is sitting at 2-5. Great teams play for each other with the unit connected like a brotherhood. The bond between each player and coach prompts every individual on the squad to give their best effort whenever they are on the field. In addition, that unconditional love will result in players protecting one another when they believe an opponent has disrespected a team member. With the Cowboys failing to stand up for Andy Dalton after a vicious hit by Jon Bostic, the lack of love and respect is apparent to anyone watching this team play.