Spagnola: Making Plays Is The Only Way To Get Out Of This Miserable Rut

FRISCO, Texas –Can someone just please make a play?

         Any play?

         Something catalytic. Something to cause a spark.

         Anything, just to get these Dallas Cowboys out of this rut.

         Not my word. Dak Prescott's word. In fact, he invoked the "rut" twice on Sunday.

         First, when asked about these bad times after experiencing the good times the first season and a half of his NFL career.

         "It's frustrating, simple as that," Dak said, "but what it does is makes being on top fun, and that's what it's all about, getting out of these … these … whatever you call them, ruts or whatever they are and getting back to our expectations and standards.

         "We have to find a way for all of us to get out of this."

         And later, when asked if he might have seen this lurking after so many good times, Dak said, "I never expect bad times or going in a rut."

         But a rut is what it is: a habit or pattern of behavior that has become dull and unproductive.

         This Cowboys offense and this Cowboys defense has become unusually dull and for sure highly unproductive.

         As in three consecutive losses.

         As in three consecutive unprecedented beatings, by a combined score of 92-22.

         As in three consecutive games scoring less than 10 points.

         Oh, there is more.

Three consecutive second-half flops, getting outscored 72-6.

         Falling out of NFC East championship contention, very likely still no repeat NFC East champs since the Eagles from 2001-04.

         On the precipice of failing to qualify for the playoffs in consecutive years for the 10th straight season, having to go back to 2006-07 to find the last time, and frankly the only time since 1998-99 after stringing together those six straight playoff appearances from 1991 through 1996.

         It would be easy to lay all of the Cowboys' problems at the feet of Ezekiel Elliott's absence that coincides with this three-game slide, which is a scary thought since he still has three more games to miss during the six-game suspension. Now, that has a lot to do with the Cowboys' sudden fall from grace, constructing a 5-3 record with Zeke and a 0-3 record without.

         But here is what is missing on both sides of the ball during these three consecutive beatings, and reminds me of one of former Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson's favorite sayings as he would exhort his troops on during practices and games while clapping his hands out in front as he was stalking the field:

         "Who's going to make a play … WHO is going to make a play?"

         That's what football comes down to, you know. Not every winning team plays a perfect game. Rarely happens. But it's the team that makes those huge plays on offense and defense that generally wins.

         Jason Garrett probably heard that a thousand times during his two years under Johnson.

         "Making big plays on offense and preventing big plays on defense correlates to scoring more than anything else," Garrett says. "So we value that. At times we've done a good job of that this year, we kept scores down, and at times within games we've done a good job of that to keep the score down. But when they make big plays the likelihood of them scoring increases dramatically, so we have to do a better job there."

         Got that right, on both sides of the ball.

         Take this past game, the 28-6 loss to the Chargers when the Cowboys were shutout in the first half, something that hadn't happened in the previous 29 games, not since tailing the Packers 14-0 at Green Bay in 2015. The Chargers broke off eight plays of at least 20 yards – explosive plays in my books – that included touchdown passes of 42 yards and 27 yards. They also had a 38-yard completion to set up their other offensive touchdown.

         As for the Cowboys? Why, they had all of one explosive play under my standards, Dak's 38-yard completion to Terrance Williams that helped drive the Cowboys to their lone score.

         Again, big plays lead to scores.

         And as for who's going to make a play, well, check some of this out.

         Because this isn't all on the offense. The defense needs to help out, too. Let's start with sacks. In the four previous games to this three-game losing streak, the Cowboys had recorded 15 sacks. During the three-game losing streak, well, just one. That's not going to cut it. Didn't with Matt Ryan. Didn't with Carson Wentz. Certainly didn't with Philip Rivers. And guarantee you it won't with Kirk Cousins, who lives for the big play.

         On the other hand, the Cowboys aren't coming close to doing a good job protecting Dak. He's been sacked 14 times during the three-game losing streak, compared to just 10 in the first eight games.

         Oh, and one more thing since we're talking about who is going to make a play: When it comes to turnovers, opponents have five takeaways in the past three games. The Cowboys? Just one.

         This league is all about making plays: big receptions, big runs, timely sacks. Interceptions and fumble recoveries. The Cowboys have been remiss in every one of those areas the last three games.

         Funny how narratives change. The Cowboys lose three straight, and most figure they are out of the playoffs. The Redskins, with the exact same 5-6 record, win their last game, albeit over the Giants, and just their second in the past six games, and we hear they still have a chance. Go figure.

         But the best advice the Cowboys can heed flashed up on the big locker room message board Sunday afternoon:

         The Only Thing that Matters Is What We Do Now.

         So come on, pray tell, who's going to make a play?

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