FRISCO, Texas -- Well, technically speaking, I was right?
I obviously didn’t mean to be, but thank God for the power of phrasing.
This time last week, I said we weren’t going to learn anything new about the Cowboys in Week 6 – or at the very least, we weren’t going to learn anything good.
Man, I’m glad I threw in that final phrase, because we definitely learned new stuff about the Dallas Cowboys last week – and it definitely wasn’t good.
There’s no need to rehash a Sunday loss on a Thursday, but the Cowboys showed new levels of sloppiness last weekend that I didn’t previously believe them capable of. It defies explanation that you can win the turnover battle, perform better on third down, outgain your opponent – and still lose.
We can say what we want about slow starts and all of that stuff. The bottom line is that this Cowboys team doesn’t succeed when it gets thrown out of its preferred game plan. We saw it in New Orleans when they couldn’t run the ball, we saw it against Green Bay when they kept turning the ball over, we saw it in New York when they couldn’t set the tone early.
To this point in the season, this team hasn’t shown an ability to adapt to the twists and the turns of a game. It’s an indictment of the on-field execution and the pre-game preparation.
That can change. It did last year. But it’s been an ugly three weeks, and it’s going to take a heck of an effort on their part to right the ship this weekend.
1. This column tries hard to avoid dorky, clichéd and overwrought topics of discussion. So what we’re not going to do is wig about about Doug Pederson’s confidence in his team.
The Eagles’ head coach went on his weekly radio appearance in Philadelphia and expressed a boatload of confidence in his guys, saying “we’re going to go down to Dallas, and we’re going to win that football game.”
Good for him. As far as a supposed “guarantee” goes, that’s about as tame as it gets. I guarantee you every team in the NFL feels far more confident than that behind closed doors. But if Pederson wanted to take his confidence public, good on him. There’s nothing wrong with having confidence, or with trying to inspire your players.
I spend way too much of my time listening to boring, nothingburger quotes to be offended when someone in the NFL finally says something interesting. Be like Doug Pederson. Be more interesting.
2. If you’ve followed this team for longer than 15 minutes, you don’t need me to tell you Jason Garrett values consistency.
Across good times and bad times over the years, the Cowboys’ head coach has shown a remarkable ability stay even-keeled, approaching things the same way in good times and bad.
It has drawn him some praise in that timespan – but realistically, it’s been a lightning rod for criticism. Garrett never switches things up, and that doesn’t sit well with fans and media when things aren’t going well.
“You’ve got to be careful about using the word ‘always’ and ‘never,’” Garrett said on Monday. “But for the most part, I think what players are looking for, what a team is looking for is consistency – things you believe in, a structure and something they can fall back to and base the foundation.”
Obviously, the state of the team right now begs the question of how solid that foundation is. The Cowboys have started slowly three weeks in a row, and some of their core tendencies like dominating with the run game and preventing big plays have failed to shine through.
Garrett was asked Monday if there’s ever a time that calls for a drastic shakeup of that consistent approach.
“Again, that’s why I said don’t use ‘always’ and ‘never,’” he said. “There’s always a time where if you feel the team needs to respond differently, that’s part of your job.”
Make no mistake: if Garrett sees fit to drastically change his approach, he’s going to do it away from the prying eyes of fans and media. But if this trend extends into the bye, with the Cowboys sinking to 3-4 and second in the NFC East, this could be the time to make that exception.
3. I talked about it on Monday’s episode of “Cowboys Break,” and I’m still trying to make sense of it days later.
Excluding the end-of-half situations, when they had no choice but to throw the ball, the Cowboys were presented with 24 1st-and-10 opportunities last week against the Jets. They ran the ball on 17 of those opportunities for a hefty 71 percent.
It seemed like lunacy at the time, and I don’t feel much differently about it now. The decision killed clock in a game the Cowboys trailed by as much as 18 points. It killed their margin for error by shortening the game.
On top of that, it honestly didn’t work all that well. The Cowboys averaged 3.8 yards per carry as a team – which was also Zeke Elliott’s individual average. On those 17 1st-and-10 opportunities, he generated one explosive run, five runs that gained four or more yards – and 11 runs that barely moved the sticks, if they moved them at all.
The logical response is that the coaching staff didn’t trust Dak Prescott’s offensive tackles to protect him if he was simply dropping back and throwing. That makes sense. But there are other ways to move the ball than to simply charge into the teeth of the defense.
Jet action has disappeared from this offense. Tony Pollard has next-to-no role at this juncture. Quick throws and receiver screens don’t seem to be something the Cowboys are particularly interested in calling.
I don’t know why that’s the case, but I’m not sure it’s smart. As things sit right now, the Cowboys aren’t good enough to go hat-on-hat and play bulldozer ball. It didn’t work at all in New Orleans, and the results were mediocre at best in New York. Some tinkering doesn’t sound like the worst idea in the world to me.
4. I don’t want to beat this into the ground, but I’m just going to post this quote from Cowboys chief operating officer Stephen Jones back in April.
Jones, right after the 2019 NFL Draft: “I think this guy can be a lot different than just a space player. There are guys who are convicted in our room. There are some guys who are a little more worried that you can’t give him too much. But Pollard is a real running back. I think he can give you plays between the tackles, I think he can give you plays as a true running back.”
That quote is obviously about Tony Pollard, who Jones compared to Alvin Kamara after he was drafted.
And honestly, Pollard has shown flashes running between the tackles. He had a 100-yard day against the Miami Dolphins in Week 3, and he got three carries for 13 yards against the Jets.
It’s really not the honest-to-God running that makes me wonder about Pollard, though. Ezekiel Elliott is doing just fine. What bothers me is everything else. We saw Pollard boast a Kamara-like skill set in the preseason, and we heard the coaching staff gush about his aptitude during training camp. They said he was handling everything they threw at him.
Fast forward to Week 7, and he’s playing 18 percent of this team’s offensive snaps. But stats lie. Take away the first three weeks, when the Cowboys were blowing out the opposition and Elliott was just returning from a monthlong holdout, and his participation plummets to a measly 6 percent.
He has played 14 total snaps in these three losses. He hasn’t caught a pass since Week 3.
The Cowboys drafted him for a reason. They raved about him throughout training camp for a reason. They have multiple offensive playmakers dealing with injuries. But none of that is a good enough reason to find a use for the very, very fast running back hanging out on their sideline.
I don’t get it.
5. Allow me the opportunity to talk out of both sides of my mouth.
It’d be silly to act like this game isn’t important. It’s the Philadelphia Eagles. It’s a division game. It’s a three-game losing streak. It feels like the weight of the world rests on the Cowboys snapping the skid and going into the bye week with the division lead.
And yet, what will the world look like if they lose? Assuming they don’t do something drastic, like fire someone, they’ll be 3-4 overall and 2-1 in the division. One game out of first with a chance to get some very important players healthy heading into the second half of the season.
In other words, they’ll be exactly where they were at the break last season. When they came back from that, they dropped their first game to Tennessee before rebounding on a 7-1 run down the stretch.
No, they’re not going to pull off another blockbuster trade like they did for Amari Cooper. But there’s no less than five key starters on this team who are currently injured, who will likely be feeling much better after a week off. From there, they’d have nine games to try to right the wrongs of these first six weeks.
No, it wouldn’t be ideal. That’s not my point. I’m just trying to say: we’ve learned many times that there are a lot of twists and turns in a season. As heavy as this game feels right now, I’m not convinced the circumstances are quite as dire as we want them to be.