We’ve witnessed all kinds of twists and turns with the Dallas Cowboys over the last few seasons, but I don’t think any game quite compares to the 29-24 loss the Cowboys suffered to the New York Giants on Sunday. The Cowboys once again outplayed their opponent, only to lose because of costly turnovers. Sitting at 3-4 and with road games in Atlanta and Philadelphia on tap, it’s certainly appropriate to question whether or not the ‘Boys’ season is, more or less, over.
Let’s start with the good; Rob Ryan’s defense is playing magnificent football. As I predicted before the game, the Cowboys sat back in Cover 2 and Cover 2 Man-Under for the majority of the contest, daring the Giants to run the football. New York could never get anything started on the ground, rushing for 3.68 YPC. Through the air, the Cowboys held Eli Manning to just 192 yards, 6.62 YPA, no touchdowns, and an interception. Neither Hakeem Nicks nor Victor Cruz totaled more than 46 yards.
We also saw a career game from tight end Jason Witten. Proving Week 1 was a fluke, Witten erupted for 18 catches on the Giants in Week 8. He was critical in moving the ball up the field in the final minutes of the game, working against safeties and corners alike. It’s a shame more people will be talking about the crushing loss than the incredible game from Witten.
Jason Garrett will again preach execution this week, but the Cowboys lost because they weren’t put in a proper position to succeed. Exhibit A: Dez Bryant on punt returns. Despite the occasional big return, everybody and their brother knew Bryant shouldn’t be fielding punts. In addition to being a key cog on offense that would be extremely difficult to replace, Bryant is careless with the football. It should have been a simple risk-reward decision for Garrett, and the potential upside of Bryant as a return man sure didn’t outweigh the risk. It’s a shame that the Cowboys, including their coaches, continually need to learn after they’ve already made a costly mistake as opposed to beforehand.
Tony Romo’s first interception was a poor decision and Bryant should have turned his route inside instead of running it into the safety. Having said that, I’m sure the Giants saw that play on film. Of the Cowboys’ 21 playaction passes on the season up until that point, nine (42.9 percent) had been the same play and throw—a post to Bryant. Predictability isn’t only about certainty—if the Giants knew the Cowboys love to throw that post to Bryant following a playaction look and Bryant has yet to run deep on such a play, they’re going to jump it.
The Cowboys have run only nine screens all year, four of which have been to wide receivers. The lack of playaction passes and screens means the passing game includes little to no deception. Defenses can sit back and trust what they see. Although Garrett thinks his players are so good and his offense so flawless that the team can consistently execute against other professional athletes, he’s wrong. The Cowboys won’t win until the players are no longer placed in sub-optimal situations.