ARLINGTON, Texas – What a mess.
The Browns, the Browns now, 49, Cowboys 38.
The Cowboys 1-3.
After the Game 3 loss at Seattle, 38-31, Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy said, "By no means are we a clean football team right now."
Well, if we thought that was bad, matters grew far more mucky here Sunday afternoon at AT&T Stadium where there were enough Cleveland fans among the 25,021 socially-distanced folks to turn one section of the stadium into a Dog Pound. Heard barkin' for goodness sakes.
And as for those Cowboys faithful here, instead of pulling their mandatory masks down, as most seemingly were, they probably wished they had pulled their COVID-19 protection up – over their eyes.
This was hard to watch. Hard to stomach.
Now, hate to overreact by making four-game conclusions in a 16-game season. Plus, once center Joe Looney went out after the Cowboys first offensive snap they had seven starters sidelined by injury. But still, here be a couple of those conclusions, at least for now.
- The Cowboys don't have enough true linebackers to combat the run.
- The Cowboys don't have the players to dabble from time to time in a 3-4 defensive front.
- The Cowboys don't have the defensive ends to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme or standup as strongside linebackers in a 4-3.
- The Cowboys can't hang onto the football, guilty of three more turnovers, and my guess is when the dust settles after Week 4 their minus-7 turnover differential will be dead last, causing McCarthy to say afterward, "Unacceptable."
- The Cowboys don't have enough quality offensive tackles to counter injuries, and need to quit kidding themselves that undrafted rookie Terence Steele is the answer to replace the missing La'el Collins and Cam Erving at right tackle without considerable chipping help.
- The Cowboys can't continue to test their in-game mortality. It's one thing to overcome 15-point deficits as they had over the previous two games, winning one and grabbing a 31-30 lead in the other, though an eventual 38-31 loss. But falling behind by 27 after giving up 34 consecutive points to the 20th-ranked offense in the NFL is a tad much for even the league's top-ranked offense.
- And this one, well, doesn't matter if it's four games or 40 games, you can't ever – and likely never – win a NFL football game giving up a franchise single-game record 307 yards rushing and expect to win, causing McCarthy to face up, saying, "That's just poor – poor run defense, no way around it."
Here is another word for all of this:
And maybe the most cruel part of this absurdity would be, after all seemed lost when trailing 41-14 with 40 seconds left in the third quarter – must admit quit scribbling down play-by-play notes during the Cowboys' first series in the fourth quarter – here came the cavalry … again … the Cowboys actually scoring 24 consecutive points, drawing within three with 41-38 with 3:42 left in the game.
But this time there would be no "Watermelon Kick" miracles after matching a franchise single-season record in one quarter by converting three successive two-point conversions. Nope, the defense wasn't done giving up rushing yards, even with the Browns lead dog, Nick Chubb, departing with 0:59 left in the first quarter having gained 43 yards in six carries. My gosh, had he remained healthy the Browns might have run for 400 yards under the jurisdiction of former Cowboys offensive line coach/coordinator Bill Callahan, a likely smile hidden under his mask by game's end.
So now here comes Odell Beckham Jr., no one-handed, falling backwards touchdown grab as he did in 2014 against the Cowboys. Nope, this time a 50-yard end around against an over-pursuing Dallas defense biting on the run fake for the coffin-nailing touchdown with 3:25 remaining.
And even at that, the Cowboys managed to pry the coffin top a wee bit open, driving back down field for a first-and-goal at the Cleveland 8-yard line, still 1:42 to play, when Amari Cooper, he of 12 catches for 134 yards and a touchdown, didn't run through his slant route, pulling up and allowing Denzel Ward to intercept Dak Prescott at the 4, saying afterward, "That was on me."
OK, fine. We joked after three games that the Cowboys needed to score 40 points to win since they had given up 97 points in the first three outings of the season, a franchise record. But after this one, giving up 49 points, my gosh, Dak throwing for 502 yards, the NFL's No. 1 offense gaining 566 and scoring 38 points, do we now have to up that projection to needing to score Barry Switzer's "half-a-hundred" to win?
Well, after four games the Cowboys have given up 146 points, that 36.5 points a game.
And get this, my quick research says that is the second-worst four-game stretch in franchise history – spanning now 61 seasons. To find worse, you have to go back to the 0-11-1 inaugural 1960 season when giving up 150 points during the four-game stretch of Games 6-9 against Baltimore (45), Rams (38), Green Bay (41) and San Francisco (26). Why, the 146 is even just one-point more than the four-game stretch during the 2010 season, dropping the Cowboys to 1-7 and ushering head coach Wade Phillips out the door.
And the root of all these points Sunday is giving up the 307 yards rushing against a team the Cowboys knew was going to run the ball. Browns notably use a lot of two tight ends. Use a fullback. Load up with Chubb and Kareem Hunt, then here come some guys named D'Ernest Johnson (95 yards) and a guy off the practice squad, Dontrell Hillard (19 yards), the two having totaled a combined 5 yards previously this season and just 21 for their young careers.
So if a team averaging 5.2 yards a carry was not hurricane flags flying enough during the week, the Browns then average in this game 7.7 yards a carry.
See, the Cowboys had played three pass-happy teams to start the season, teams almost exclusively running three-receiver sets, meaning the Cowboys were playing basically their nickel defense to counter.
This time, though, seemed Dallas would need more of a base defense, using another linebacker to counter those heavy sets. Unfortunately, with Leighton Vander Esch (collarbone) and Sean Lee (sports hernia) still on injured reserve, the Cowboys are short on linebackers. To compensate at times when the nickel wasn't holding up against the run, they tried using the likes of defensive ends Aldon Smith and Dorance Armstrong as standup, strongside linebackers. They totaled just three tackles.
That, too, weakened the defense in pass coverage, the Cleveland tight ends catching nine passes for 71 yards and a touchdown.
Know the next-up Giants are taking notes, plus someone over there running that impotent offense intimately knows the personnel weaknesses around here.
Leave it to DeMarcus Lawrence for some perspective on all this, saying, "I don't feel like we are holding ourselves accountable, including myself. So, I call the (uh, stuff) soft."
And how bad is this four-game start?
Look at it this way. Having already given up 690 yards rushing in four games, the Cowboys are on pace to yield 2,760 yards rushing, wiping out the existing opponent franchise record of 2,636 yards set in 2000.
And when it comes to points, if things don't improve and the unit doesn't get healthier, they are on pace to give up 584 points, wiping out the existing opponent high of 436 in 2010 by 148 points.
Now the good news is, this is just four games. There's 12 to go, and at some point the Cowboys expect Vander Esch, Lee, Chidobe Awuzie and Anthony Brown to return off IR. Plus, this offense is averaging 31.5 points a game, having scored 39, 31 and 38 the past three games. So there is hope. Always is when your quarterback can throw for 450, 472 and now a career-high 502, four short of Tony Romo's single-game franchise record against Denver in 2013, the most consecutive passing games of at least 450 yards in NFL history.
As for wins and losses, McCarthy's first year in Green Bay, 2006, the Packers, after suffering through a 4-12 season in 2005, got off to a 1-4 start but recovered to finish 8-8.
So there is time.
But the clock is ticking … excruciatingly loud.
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.