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Spagnola: Plain & Simple, Just Not Good Enough


Mike McCarthy used the word "frustrating."

A couple of times.

Disappointing creeped into the conversation, too.

Then he came as clean as clean can be.

"We're not doing the basics," an exasperated Cowboys head coach bemoaned. "Let's quit candy-coating it."

The sad truth is, he's right.

The Cowboys can't tackle.

They can't cover.

Can't stop the run.

Can't block.

Can't protect.

Can't run.

Can't catch

Can't stay healthy.

Can't keep their quarterbacks in the game.

Absolutely can't win.

Washingtons 25, Cowboys 3.

Can't even say, well, hey, they are in the NFC East, and they're at least in first place.

Oh no, at now 2-5, not anymore. That somewhat ignominious distinction now belongs to the Philadelphia Eagles at a less than robust 2-4-1, a half-game ahead of the Cowboy, now tied for second place with the equally 2-5 Washingtons – though technically in third when it comes to head-to-head – both just a game ahead of the 1-6 Giants, if you can digest all that.

And now the Cowboys must travel back to the East Coast next Sunday night to meet those Eagles, and there is a good chance they will do so without either of their top two quarterbacks, Dak Prescott already out for the season and poor Andy Dalton, the recipient of a dirty hit by WFT linebacker Jon Bostic, likely still out of his mind, suffering the concussion that knocked him out of the game in the third quarter with a helmet-to-helmet hit while sliding to the ground. And as bad as he looked heading to the sideline, he'll be hard-pressed to emerge from the concussion protocol in time for the Eagles game.

Maybe rookie seventh-round pick Ben DiNucci is the starter. Maybe recently-signed Garrett Gilbert can lend a helping hand.

But again, mercy me, can any of this get worse?

That is why, and you hate to do this before the official halfway point of the season, the Cowboys must now face the sad truth.

See, for the first six games, trying to explain away that 2-4 start, worst since the 2010 season, we've talked about the turnover differential that digressed to a minus-13 in this game, and might as well have gone to a minus-14 since one fumble had to be recovered in the end zone for a safety to prevent a touchdown.

We've talked about the defense's inability to just about stop you and me from running the ball.

We've talked scheme, dumbing down the offense.

We've talked about a new staff, the COVID-19 infected offseason, shortened training camp and no preseason.

And, of course, and this is real, ad nauseum about injuries.

But at this point, having lost consecutive games, this past one Sunday at FedEx Field to a Washington team that had lost five consecutive games. Having lost now four of their last five, this one to a team that had been unable to score more than 20 points in any of its five consecutive losses. To a team only once during that losing streak able to hold an opponent to less than 30 points. And lost to a team previously tied for last place in total offense, putting up 397 yards on you.

The Cowboys, plain and simple, and this might be the worst indictment of all just seven games into a 16-game season, are …

Just not good enough.


OK, finally, said it.

The excuses no longer relevant.

Why, during the Fox postgame show, analyst Howie Long might have said it best about the sad state of the Cowboys: "It just did not look good at all, and I'm not sure where it goes from here.

"That's the thing, I just don't know where we are going in Dallas."

Neither do they.

Now look, it's one thing to be without your Pro Bowl starting quarterback. We get that. And then it's another thing to lose your 10-year veteran backup quarterback with 6:20 left in the third, now having to play the third guy, DiNucci, who just these past two weeks actually took some Cowboys offensive snaps in practice, leaving them one play away from tight end Blake Bell heading in as the emergency QB.

But if last Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals was not eye-opening enough, we must quit kidding ourselves about next-man-up on this offensive line. This is about as bad as we've seen in decades. Four backups starting. One a rookie center, and he's the backup to the backup to the Pro Bowler who retired. A rookie, undrafted right tackle. A second-year player making his first start at guard after getting his first significant NFL snaps the previous week. And the starting left tackle, a sixth-year veteran just coming off injured reserve for his first offensive snaps of the season, one who missed nearly all of training camp, and sure seemed a shaky backup swing tackle to start with, now taking over for the backup who just had his knee scoped.

This ain't make believe.

Also, don't gloss over this, either. Injuries do matter. My gosh, they are now down to the next, next guys up.

Look, the Cowboys made adjustments to their offense because of these injuries. Shorter drops. Quicker passes. Two-tight end sets. Keeping the running back in at times to protect.

But maybe the worst, least experienced offensive line going up against Washington's prominent defensive front was as big a mismatch as Ali fighting Jerry Quarry. Get this. WFT recorded eight sacks in the season-opening win over Philly. They had just eight more sacks over the next five games.

Against the Cowboys, they recorded six sacks, eight QB hits and forced two fumbles. And if you thought the pressure Dalton was under against the Cards was bad, well, this was like 10 times worse since former Cowboys linebacker and current Washington defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio let out the dogs all day long.

The Cowboys only gained 142 yards of total offense, like nearly 3.26 times less than their previous 464-yard , NFL No. 1 average. And how lame was that total?

Well, glad you asked. Have to go back to the 2001 season opener, with rookie quarterback Quincy Carter making his NFL debut against Tampa Bay, to find fewer, the Cowboys producing just 127 yards of total offense in a 10-6 loss, Carter completing only 9 of 19 passes for 34 yards. That's 310 games ago.

When Ezekiel Elliott was asked to assess things, he bluntly said, "Just how (rhymes with pity) this year's been."

No arguments here

And this defense, Madonna mia. Just historically bad. Again, no more excuses. The Washingtons were dead last in NFL rushing offense, averaging just 82.2 yards a game. Well, all they needed to get it right was face the Cowboys defense, ranking 31st against the run. Well, they are 32nd now, giving up 2-0-8, let that sink in – third time in four games allowing more than 200 rushing yards.

And who did the most damage? Antonio Gibson. Not only did the rookie running back have a career day, 20 for 128 (previous high 55), a touchdown, with a long of 40 right up the gut again, he became the first Washington back this season to gain more than 60 yards in a game.

The defensive tackles keep getting washed out, and once again in 33 snaps (48 percent) Dontari Poe's name did not appear on the defensive stat sheet. And yet again, the Cowboys get hit with a big pass play, rookie cornerback Treveon Diggs, in man coverage, gets caught looking inside as Terry McLaurin runs a nine route, without any fancy move, right past him for a 52-yard touchdown – Washington's longest completion of the season and quarterback Kyle Allen's longest by 23 yards.

Gosh, and you have to go back to 2018 to find the last time Washington ever had more than a 20-point lead; had 400 yards total offense (397 in this one); and the last time held an opponent to less than 200 yards of total offense. Also, the 22-3 halftime lead was WFT's first in nine games.

Just epicly poor for the Dallas defense, the Cowboys now 28th overall in team defense, giving up 408.1 per game, a pace just seven yards away for the most given up in a single season (415 in 2013). And the worst part is, it's not getting any better, no matter who they play.

"We need to get much better," McCarthy said, "and we are running out of time."

True that.

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