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Spagnola: No Matter, Tuesday Is Just As Bad


FRISCO, Texas – So much has been made of the Cowboys playing their first Tuesday night game in 61 seasons.

From the looks of things, this could have been the first game of the season.

Could have been high-noon Sunday.

Could have been a stormy Monday.

Could have been a Sunday night.

Could have been late Sunday afternoon.

Could have been Thanksgiving Day.

All looked the same to me.

Still getting run … right over as if road kill.

Run over to the left. To the right. Up the middle. Around the edges.

Take your pick.

But gosh darn it, come on, not again. Not when the Cowboys knew the Ravens were going to run right at them. Not when the Cowboys knew the Ravens, averaging 157 yards rushing a game, led by their leading rusher Lamer Jackson, who just so happens to be the quarterback, too. Not when they knew the Ravens likely were licking their chops, knowing they were going to face the NFL's worst rushing defense, giving up 156 a game.

Heck, 156? The Cowboys wish that's all they had given up. Why, by 1:46 left in the _first half_ they already had given up that much rushing, plus two more yards. The first friggin' half.

"The keys to the game was stopping the run," Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy said in an understatement, "and we definitely didn't get it done tonight."

No, they didn't. The Ravens ran for 2-9-4, needless to say a season high.

Or as Mike said, this time in a slight overstatement, "But hey, 300 yards is obviously astronomical."

Other-worldly, too.

Hey, at least it's not the 307 Cleveland ran for. But certainly more than the 261 Arizona went for. Or the 208 the Washingtons went for the first time around, and the 182 they went for on Thanksgiving.

Oh my, just thought of this: That's giving up 476 yards rushing in the past two games, solidifying their spot as the 32nd ranked rushing defense in the NFL and now making a run, with four games left, at becoming epically bad in franchise history.

Check this out: At the risk of rubbing it in, of the 401 yards gained by the Ravens, ending their three-game losing streak to move to 7-5, they totaled 206 of them on just seven plays – 38 yards, 37, 36, 30, 24, 21 and 20. And only two of those were passes, both touchdowns, Jackson's 38-yarder to Miles Boykin, just his second of the season, and 20 yards to Marquise Brown. The rest, all runs.

But think about that. Those seven plays total 206 yards, averaging out to 29.4 yards a play.

That's, like, unthinkable.

More like inexcusable, Baltimore putting up the fourth-most rushing yards in franchise history, and only the goal line keeping them from going for 300-something.

"It was really the big plays, particularly in the first half," McCarthy said. "Their big-play production I thought was a huge factor in the game."

And if you were scoring at home, it was Gus Edwards going for a season-high 101. Jackson for 94, second most this season. J.K. Dobbins, fresh off the reserve/COVID-19 list, 71, his second most this season.

Worse, a couple of big plays were just crushers when they occurred. Like on a fourth-and-2 at the Dallas 37-yard line, with the Cowboys leading 3-0, Jackson goes basically untouched for the touchdown against a Cowboys defense basically geared up to play the pass.

Then there was the third-and-1 at the Baltimore 34, and Edwards goes 30 yards. Or the time in the third quarter facing third-and-10 at the Cowboys' 34, Jackson runs for 14 yards and the first down. Next play, the 20-yard touchdown pass to Brown.

Or take the Jackson touchdown pass to Boykins. Just because the Ravens tipped an Andy Dalton pass at the line of scrimmage, leading to an interception at the Cowboys' 38, doesn't mean the defense has to give up a touchdown on the very next play on another busted coverage rearing its ugly head.

"We're just not getting it done on the defensive side of the ball," Cowboys COO Stephen Jones lamented Wednesday morning, then adding, "when you don't (stop the run) you end up in the type of situation we're in right now."

See, the Cowboys (3-9) just couldn't take a hint from how the Giants went to Seattle to beat the Seahawks or the Washingtons went to Pittsburgh to upset the erstwhile undefeated Steelers. Why, the Giants only scored 17 points. Their backup quarterback only completed 13 passes for 105 yards. But they held Seattle to just 12 stinkin' points. And the Washingtons only scored 23 points. They ran for a robust 45 yards. But they held Pittsburgh to just 17 points.

Defense, right?

Foreign concept to these Cowboys, who have now given up at least 30 points seven times in 12 games with a grand total of 75 points in the past two games.

And think about this: The franchise single-season record for most opponent points is the 436 of 2010. With four games to go, the Cowboys already have given up 393. That's on pace for 524 points at their current 32.75 average.

Yet, the Cowboys continue to play their nickel defense against teams knowingly wanting to run the ball. And it doesn't matter if those teams are in a two-tight end formation or using a fullback, there the Cowboys are trying to line up Jaylon Smith on the line of scrimmage and leaving the second level up to Leighton Vander Esch and some 210-pound soaking-wet safety. It's just not working, yet they stubbornly soldier on.

Just a shame to lose to a team whose quarterback completes only 12 passes for 107 yards, with 58 of those coming on just two plays. Meaning, the other 10 completions went for a mere 49 yards. I do not lie.

On top of that, we know the Cowboys are offensively challenged, mostly since they are starting backups on four-fifths of their offensive line. And even though the Cowboys did pile up 388 yards of offense against a really good Baltimore defense, they are having trouble coming up with chunk plays.

Thus, too many field-goal attempts, and even at that, Greg Zuerlein converted on only one of four tries Tuesday night, a real buzz kill.

"But at the end of the day, we needed to throw some bigger punches there and we needed to get on the board with touchdowns," McCarthy said. "We didn't get that done."

No, the Cowboys didn't. And even though they hung in there for a half, trailing just 17-10 – and might have even been closer than that if this officiating crew hadn't missed CeeDee Lamb quite obviously being interfered with at the Baltimore 34-yard line with 13 seconds left in the second quarter, though who knows what might have taken place with yet another field-goal attempt – the Ravens were connecting with their own big punches.

So understandably here sit the Cowboys on this Wednesday at 3-9, two games behind the 5-7 Washingtons and Giants with just those four games to go. And after not likely getting back to DFW in the morning until around 3:30, but then heading to Cincinnati on Sunday with only four days between games.

Hope is fading faster than the winter sun.

"Well, that's where we are as a football team," McCarthy finished up saying Tuesday night. "The only ones who can change that is us. We didn't play good enough to win tonight. That is a very good football team. We knew that coming in here. Until we take the steps of playing well in all three stages, particularly for all four quarters, we're not going to win these kinds of games.

"That was evident tonight."

No matter what day of the week it was.

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