Sometime during the debacle against the Atlanta Falcons in November the Cowboys' passing game broke.
Maybe, it was the fourth time Dak Prescott was sacked. Or the sixth time. Or the eighth time.
No one knows for sure.
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What we do know is coach Jason Garrett and play-caller Scott Linehan never figured out how to fix it.
In that game, Garrett and Linehan destroyed tackle the psyche of second-year tackle Chaz Green, who allowed four sacks to a random dude like defensive Adrian Clayborn, and never played another snap in 2017.
We can only pray they didn't destroy Prescott, too.
The answer isn't clear right now after Prescott failed to pass for more than 200 yards in only two of the final eight games with six touchdowns and nine interceptions. Four times in the last eight games, he posted a passer rating of 60.0 or less.
"Well, the Atlanta game was certainly a game that wasn't great for us," Garrett said. "It started with the protection. Tyron [Smith] was out in that game, and we didn't handle his absence as well as we could have and should have."
"They [Atlanta] are a good defensive team. But I don't want to say that there was some kind of a trend that happened after that. You want to pull back, you got to be careful about huge generalizations. You want to look at specifics and see the ways that you can get better," he said.
The number one charge for Garrett, Linehan and quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson or whoever replaces him this offseason is to fix the passing game and Prescott.
If that means Garrett must make significant changes to his scheme, then he's gotta do it. If it means releasing Dez Bryant or reducing his role in the offense, then he's gotta do it.
If it means hiring the NFL's brightest offensive mind and letting his good friend Linehan go, then that's what Garrett must do. Look at what Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay did for that offense, taking it from the league's lowest-scoring unit to the highest.
No one said any of those conversations would be easy, but Jerry Jones pays Garrett $6 million a year to make difficult decisions.
"You're always evaluating the scheme first. What are we asking our players to do," Garrett said. "And then you talk about the specific players doing specific things within your scheme."
"Hopefully, your scheme is flexible enough to take advantage of the different things the guys are capable of doing. That's always been our approach. We'll continue to have that," he continued. "Again, we'll be very honest and direct in addressing what we think the issues are and try to make the necessary improvements as we move along."
Understand, you can't win consistently without a good passing game, because every single rule of consequence is designed to aid the passing game, whether we're talking about offensive linemen basically being allowed to hold or the punitive nature of the pass interference rule.
It's too hard for teams to consistently drive 70 or 80 yards and score touchdowns. A negative play, a penalty, a dropped pass can lead to a long-yardage situation on third down and the end of the drive.
If you want to look at why the Cowboys' offense was so pathetic at the end if the season look no further than their inability to consistently throw the ball.
Four times in the last eight games they were held to single digits. In a 21-12 loss to Seattle that knocked them out of the playoffs, the Cowboys didn't score a touchdown. They kicked four field goals and wound up losing a game in which they limited Seattle to 136 total yards.
How in the world does that happen? Everybody must take their fair share of the blame.
You can start with Garrett and Linehan. They didn't do nearly enough to help their receivers get open once it became clear they were no longer consistently winning their one-on-one matchups.
There weren't many rub routs or bunch sets or route combinations that helped create separation for Bryant, Cole Beasley or anybody else. For the second consecutive season, the Cowboys didn't have a 1,000-yard receiver.
Bryant (12.1 yards), Witten (8.9) and Terrance Williams (10.1) each set career lows in average per catch. Beasley averaged 8.7 yards on 36 catches, his lowest average since his rookie year.
Bryant, who's scheduled to earn $12.5 million next season, is the key. The Cowboys must study the video and determine whether he's still an elite receiver. If not, they must find one either in the draft or free agency.
"I don't think, in general, the passing game was consistent enough week in and week out to our level, to our standard, the standard that we've had around here for a long time," Garrett said. "So [Dez] is a part of it, we'll look at it and hopefully improve as we go forward."
Prescott regressed this season, and the coaching staff deserves much of the blame for it. When positioned to succeed as a rookie, Prescott showed he's capable of being an upper-echelon quarterback.
The coaching staff failed him this season. Now, it must fix him.
"You reflect back at other quarterbacks as they have started their careers no one has really had that kind of success like he has," Garrett said. "Now, is he perfect? Absolutely not. Does he need to get better? Absolutely he does. We're focused on that. But he's done a lot of really good things in a short period of time for us. He'll continue to grow because of the kind of person he is."
But it won't happen if Garrett and his staff don't do a much better job than they did in 2017.