Spagnola: Welcome To Quarterbacking The Cowboys, Where Blitzes Come From Everywhere

FRISCO, Texas – Shame, shame, shame. Shame on Dak Prescott.

He's not going to win 15 consecutive regular-season games this year.

He's not going to do what no other Dallas Cowboys quarterback has ever done. Not Don Meredith, not Craig Morton, not Roger Staubach, not Danny White, not Troy Aikman, gosh, not even Tony Romo. Two of those guys are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Three of those guys are in the Cowboys famed Ring of Honor. Another has a chance of landing in both.

And all of those guys played for some of the greatest teams in franchise history, and believe me, they were great. This is not the greatest team in Cowboys history … yet.

So what the heck?

This isn't fantasy football. This is real stuff with real opponents. If you can't appreciate what's taking place here, then as I like to say, go see a movie. At least you'll probably know the ending, lessening your disappointment if that's how it ends.

Come on, the Dak dude AND the Cowboys lost a game this past Sunday night, by all of 10-7. Look, 10-7, now. On the road. In the cold. On a less than ideal playing surface. Against an NFC East team that has now won seven of its last eight games. After winning 11 straight. At some point, they indeed were going to lose.

Yep, I get it, the New York Football Giants, with the exception of playing at their home, were in the same conditions. Yet with Eli Manning, the two-time Super Bowl champion, and Odell Beckham Jr., the one-handed bandit, and against this Cowboys defense, the one that has been questioned since the beginning of training camp, the one that has been maligned since the start of this season, those Giants score all of TEN points. Gained all of 260 yards. Totaled just 12 first downs. Turned the ball over three times. Got sacked three times.

Come on, now. The Cowboys AND Dak lost that game by this much – maybe the width of my EliteBook 2570p HP laptop.

Yeah, it was that close.

And now the king of the hill during that unprecedented winning streak in Cowboys history is being kicked to the curb by far too many because he has now won one game on the road against a playoff quality team by too narrow a margin (Minnesota) and lost the next game to a team now trailing the Cowboys by only two games in the East with three to play despite all that winning that has gone on over the previous 12 weeks.

Seriously?

But then none of this backlash should surprise me. Lose one game and Dak can't handle it. Lose one game and Dez Bryant suddenly is totally overrated. Lose one game and Scott Linehan, the guy many were promoting to Assistant Coach of the Year, now is being accused of being on prescription dumb pills because he continued using running back Lance Dunbar in a two-minute offense as he had during the 11-game winning streak.

This is nothing new. Go ask that Cowboys Mt. Rushmore of quarterbacks. Meredith prematurely retired because he got tired of hearing all the noise. White continually was buried because all he could do was lead the franchise to three consecutive NFC title games and four straight playoff appearances. Darn him, he wasn't Roger.

And here is breaking news: Aikman didn't win every game he quarterbacked. Seriously, it's true. Saw him lose three games in 1992, three in 1993, four more and an NFC title game in 1994 and four more in 1995, and those were the glory years. Saw him ripped in 1992 after the Cowboys, who had won eight of their first nine games, lost one, 27-23, to the Rams. Saw his QB IQ questioned in 1994 when driving inside the 10-yardline for the winning score threw the ball underneath to a wide open Jay Novacek, who is tackled a foot from the goal line as the clock ran out in a 19-14 loss to Cleveland.

Hey, saw him booed off the field in that 2000 loss to San Francisco when Terrell Owens' touchdown spike on the midfield Star at Texas Stadium was in my opinion the second-most egregious event of the day.

And they all probably thought only defenses blitz you.

So I get it. And best of all so does Dak, well aware of what comes with the dinner when playing for the Cowboys. Hasn't changed in 57 years. Cowboys lose and it's the quarterback's fault. And dutifully he fell on his sword this week, saying things like, "I just had a bad game." Or, "I think I was a little anxious." Or, "I've got to be better throwing the ball, communicating, just got to be better."

What he should have added was this:

Man, we've got to do a better job of combating blitzes.

Or this:

Man, we have to have better communication with our wide receivers so they recognize when blitzes are coming.

Or this:

We can't miss assignments or fumble the ball during a last-gasp drive for the winning touchdown.

Or this:

We can't have holding penalties when Cole Beasley twice drives the ball into scoring territory with a catch and a punt return.

But can't do it. First of all, there is not enough room under that bus for all that. Secondly, he knows it's one game, and that he needs all those guys to continue rowing with him through this monstrous seven-game stretch against teams still in the playoff hunt with three games to go that won't end until the Cowboys face Tampa Bay on Sunday and then Detroit the following Monday, both on national TV at AT&T Stadium.

[embeddedad0]Now, this in no way is suggesting Dak was perfect this past Sunday night, completing just 17-of-37 passes (45.9 percent) for 165 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions (one not his fault) and a season-low passer rating of 45.4. He wasn't. He missed some throws. He missed some blitz recognitions. But you know what? Every quarterback isn't perfect. These facets usually are only noticed when you lose.

This also: The Giants and cousin Steve Spagnuolo (OK, I jest) did a great job of minimizing his security blanket, tight end Jason Witten, doubled most of the time and tripled one time that I saw. He also decided, what the hell, we aren't letting this rookie sensation sit in the pocket as if on some South Pacific beach. He sent those Giants defenders in waves, especially on third downs, and the Cowboys, who had converted those money downs 48.5 percent of the time over the first 11 games, suddenly go 2-of-24 in the past two.

But here is the key: First and second downs, since the Cowboys ended up converting 1-of-18 of those thirds when facing third-and-6 or more these past two games. For the season over the first 11 games, the Cowboys had converted 58 percent of their third-and-5s or less. Hmmmm. All third-and-longers do is invite defenses to send the house at you.

And guess what? As the Giants blitzed more than is their nature this past Sunday night, I'm betting so do the Buccaneers (8-5), riding into AT&T on a five-game winning streak, having held four of their last five opponents over the winning streak to no more than 17 points without blitzing a whole lot.

Nope, these aren't your grandfather's Bucs, or mine.

So when you watch this 7:30 p.m. kick on Sunday, don't just look at the game. Watch it. See what is happening up front, see if Tampa Bay crowds the line of scrimmage as did the Vikings and Giants, even the Redskins and Ravens, too. See if the Cowboys are up to the task to counter. Don't be that guy who resorts to crediting the quarterback for all that goes right and blames him for all that goes wrong.

And remember, this is a rookie quarterback, even if Dak hasn't acted the part. His experience is limited. His pre-snap ability is limited. And this game right here just might be that test Bill Parcells always preached when it comes to young quarterbacks:

How does the guy react after getting kicked in the mouth with the noise swirling all around? What's his nature in practice after having a two-interception game? How does he respond when so many are looking sideways at him after a loss to see how he responds?

Does he go out and nail it, or does the external combustion bust him?

Well, uh, you'll know it when you see it.

Pretty funny guy, aren't I.

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