The Dallas Cowboys opened their 2020 season the only way they knew how: With a heartbreaking one-possession game loss. Getting an early leg up on the Philadelphia Eagles, who lost to the Washington Football Team, would have been a huge step towards another NFC East title. Instead, both Philadelphia and Dallas both find themselves 0-1 and bottom of the division.
Two key plays are going to stand out when looking at the loss. First, the fourth-down decision inside the red zone down three points and then the offensive pass interference call Jalen Ramsey was gifted by the referees. Both can be seen as incredibly frustrating calls that hindered Dallas’ chances of beginning the season 1-0.
However, I am here to tell you that those two plays are not the reason the Cowboys lost in Los Angeles. Here is why:
Beginning with the fourth and three decision, for years the gripe about Dallas has been the uber-conservative decision making by Jason Garrett. Once Mike McCarthy was hired, we knew that was going to change.
For once, a Cowboys head coach willed up the courage to make an aggressive play call, and guess what? It failed. Tight end Dalton Schultz did not run his route deep enough to separate CeeDee Lamb from rookie safety Jordan Fuller.
Cowboys ran mesh on fourth-and-3. Schultz (86) needs to run his route deep enough to let Lamb (88) run underneath it at the first-down mark. Instead, Schultz ran his route at the first-down mark, which forced Lamb short of the sticks. pic.twitter.com/G3uT5HIGvy
— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) September 14, 2020
If Schultz is a yard or two further up field, not only does Lamb pick up the first down but he possibly even gets into the end zone. We have seen his yards after the catch magic across the middle of the field at Oklahoma.
Then, once the play had been well-executed, the Cowboys are winning and Mike McCarthy is considered a genius. Taking the three points to tie the game was the easy route but McCarthy decided to run his luck. It failed this time and it will probably fail again.
But when the aggressive nature does work, it will feel like a weight has been lifted off the city of Dallas.
Moving on to borderline criminal call given on Michael Gallup on the potential game-winning/tying drive. Although biased, the call on the field seemed to be incorrect. A no call would have been a safer decision than throwing the flag and negating a huge play.
If Gallup’s catch had stood, Dallas would have been inside field goal range, sending the game to overtime at minimum pending a Greg Zuerlein kick.
However, a single decision by the referee is rarely ever the reason somebody loses a game. Only in cases such as the 2018 NFC Championship game between the same Los Angeles Rams and the New Orleans Saints can say it directly affected the game.
The reason Dallas lost on Sunday is because of the same play-calling endured throughout the end of the Garrett era. Conservative on early downs, leading to longer second and third downs and eventually punting.
Before the final drive, Dallas ran 29 first down plays. According to Warren Sharp, of the 17 run plays called, 4.8 yards were gained per carry. When Prescott was tasked with dropping back and throwing the ball, a significant spike occurred. 11.1 yards were averaged, usually resulting in another first down.
Dallas on first down….
17 runs to 12 passes
runs averaged 4.8 YPC
passes avg'd 11.1 YPA
Dak completed 11 of 12 att
— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) September 14, 2020
Saying offensive coordinator Kellen Moore should be calling a passing play every single first down would be unrealistic. It would show too much tendency one way or the other, giving opposing defenses a serious advantage.
However, when the difference between a pass and a run is a staggering 6.3 yards per play, a 17:12 run to pass ratio is unacceptable. At the very least, it needs to be balanced. A more favorable outcome though would the two being flopped, passing it 17 times and running the ball 12 times.
Dallas’ offense had the Rams on the ropes a couple of times and it all came from fast-paced action ran through Prescott. Both touchdown drives were scored in under three minutes. Prescott averaged 13.0 yards per attempt on first down and the Cowboys were flying down the field. It is no coincidence those are the two drives touchdowns were scored on.
Of course, not every drive is going to be like those. Prescott could miss a throw or two or something such as a penalty kills the drive. But when shown good results throwing the ball on early downs and moving quickly, it should be consistently attempted to achieve those results more often.
Sadly, this is not the 2016 season where Elliot can run nearly every play, and a rookie Prescott makes the occasional play. It needs to be flipped. Lamb was drafted with the No. 17 overall pick to give Prescott three weapons worthy of being considered No. 1 targets. They need to be used early and often in drives.
Elliot is still a valuable asset that can be used just as well in the passing game as he has been over the years running the ball. Against the Rams, he had three receptions for 31 yards and a touchdown. It would have been two receiving touchdowns if not for a downfield pass interference call on Schultz.
Garrett neglected Elliot in the passing game. McCarthy and company have the opportunity to change that.
If blaming the offense does not do it for you and you want to look at the defense, you could. However, it was an exceptional second-half response from Mike Nolan’s group. Drive in and drive out, the defense put the offense in a position to win the football game. Whether it was the interception from Chidobe Awuzie or the big third-down tackle from rookie Trevon Diggs, the defense did its part in the second half.
Going into Week 2 against Atlanta, something has to change in order for the Cowboys to get back to .500. There is a reason Garrett was finally let go after nine years. His tendencies and mindset were tried and tested and ultimately resulted in the same thing every time, failure.
McCarthy needs to bring his new aggressive approach and install it into Moore’s mind when calling plays next Sunday. Not only is it statistically proven to work out better but results have been shown on the field with the two touchdown drives against Los Angeles.
Things will eventually change within this offense. Let’s hope it is sooner rather than later.
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