“America’s Team” seemingly had a full head of steam heading into their nationally-televised Sunday night game with a certain New Orleans team. According to “Cowboys Nation” and plenty of prognosticator infatuation, the Dallas Cowboys – for at least one more week – were expected to extend their winning streak and hold onto their undefeated theme.
While the Drew Brees-less Saints were surprisingly dominant against Seattle, continuing to pair Teddy Bridgewater (comparatively limited) with Sean Payton’s creative genius (temporarily inhibited?) surely suggested they would struggle against “Marinelli’s Men” in battle.
Though the Cowboys were walking tall and ready to play ball, they were shorthanded, as well. Receiver Michael Gallup was still recovering from a repair to his meniscus tear, defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford was still recovering from painful hip bursitis (similar to but not quite arthritis), and defensive tackle Antwaun Woods was still recovering from a sprained MCL.
Regardless, both organizations prescribe to the “Next Man Up” belief that (magically) whisks away most (but not all) depth-driven grief. As “The Tortured Cowboys Fan” has often stated: “Your best ability is your availability, and this game will be won or lost by coaches who take those available (from starters to practice squad martyrs) and apply maximum scheme flexibility.” Coaches will either put their players in a position to succeed or be caretakers to a strangled scheme bleed. Save for that moment when rare talent can demolish slow-drying play-call cement, these facts simply cannot be debated.
“But what you’re talking about is unrealistic perfection!” you shout. The alternative to pushing the situationally-practiced (?) envelope is a slow-growing mental infection (which – in Dallas’ not-so-recent past – became an offensive affliction). A coach unprepared to max out (in every reasonable way no matter the day) is a player-suffocating lout. You never waste an opportunity to extend your lead over your closest division competitor . . . especially when facing an (always sudden) increase in untimely injury weather. You never dismiss a chance to solve potential postseason tiebreakers even if you believe your division and conference-level opponents are patchwork fakers. And – currently, most applicably – you never leave an enemy stronghold intact when there is ANY chance that part or all of your slowly-developing offense fails to more quickly get untracked.
“But why just blame coaches when there were also errors by the players?!” you blurt. While Dallas’ head coach and offensive play-caller may not be the only people abruptly in need of fresh air, yanking off the bandwagon bandage may cause the myopic among Cowboys Nation to really hurt.
The Cowboys lost to the New Orleans Saints 12-10 because marathon-minded Dallas (no matter what Jason Garrett claims or tells his players to parrot) did not have enough respect for General Patton’s, err, Payton’s shorthanded men. They believed they could stick with what worked in the past, but their mistakes ruined their ability to outlast. While Marinelli’s Men made a pretty-stifling, plenty-exhausting game-long stand, Kellen Moore’s offense suffered another slow start so bland with play-calls suddenly-but-familiarly obtuse, and (with the exception of only a handful of series) they played not to lose.
But . . . what if this approach was all just a sick and twisted ruse?
Conspiracy At Least In Theory
Jason Garrett – last season – (allegedly) chose to continue with Scott Linehan over potentially having a better, more-collaborative, less-predictable offensive game plan. While Garrett chose not to remove some of the shrink wrap from Linehan-disciple and then-QB coach Kellen Moore, “sources” hinted that loyalty to his mentor was Garrett’s core reason. Perhaps if you ask Cowboys Nation, placing loyalty to one tired man (not named Tom Landry) over even the (remote) possibility of greater success for an entire organization sounds a lot like treason.
Following Dallas’ deeper run in the playoffs that did not quite achieve the desired payoffs, Garrett defiantly announced he and his teacher would continue going steady, but Linehan was quickly escorted out after a brief word from Principal Jerry. And what happened after a full offseason (of OTA’s, training camp, and preseason) and three highly-successful regular-season contests in which everyone in the Cowboys’ organization and numerous talking heads in and around NFL circles declared 2K (Kellen and Kitna) the perfect pairing to pump more air into Prescott’s attack? Garrett (allegedly) overrode at least part of Moore’s plan for Dak in the Big Easy, assumed a falsely-shallow moat, failed to force Ezekiel Elliott down the Saints’ collective throat, and made fans avoidably queasy.
If this is at all true (that conservative Garrett could not bear it and saw no better, less-stuffed recourse to pursue in a still-winnable game), what an unnecessary shame. Though only one sack (on the game’s final series) was allowed by Dak, even couch cushion coaches understood that “The Great Wall Of Dallas” (after going all-ground-game-in to drown the ‘Fins) struggled against the Saints’ much-improved defensive front, generating no more than a 45-yard grunt.
And with not a single hint of “the sky is falling” in regressive play-calling, resulting in no real push to produce more than run-game mush, surely there was something “someone” could do to give the Cowboys an offensive kick in the tush? YES, by the fumble bug both Zeke and Jason Witten were horrifyingly bitten. YES, an injury-impacted Amari Cooper was (inconceivably?) penalized for multiple pass interference calls which helped trigger offensive stalls. YES, the normally-reliable Randall Cobb twice “appeared” to become a pass-catching slob (though the fingertips end zone miss was far from a well-targeted lob and he deserves just a bit less sass for missing another Prescott behind-the-back pass).
“Don’t say it! Don’t you say his name! My GAWD! Just stop setting your sights on Dak Prescott’s game!” you insist (not wanting to see the on-field leader of the Dallas Cowboys unfairly dissed). Dak Prescott is the most important player on the Cowboys’ roster . . . especially whenever play-calling and run-blocking have combined to become a (temporary?) game day imposter.
While Dak’s performance against the Saints was not bad, a difference-making, team-raising experience could have (and should have?) been had. THIS is the quarterback curse, for better or worse. After three aerially-encouraging games, did a combination of Cowboys’ conceit, Saints’ defensive improvements, terrible plays by teammates, familiarly-flat play-calls, and, AND one player’s unwillingness (to push the boundaries of what is possible) allow Dallas’ winning streak to go up in flames?
“You’ve got some guts in the face of an unforgiving Cowboys Nation, or you’re completely nuts and need a permanent vacation.” – you approximate (against even the suggestion that Prescott might have been able and empowered to more successfully control the Cowboys’ game day fate).
Dak – since day one – has shown a willingness to do whatever is asked of him to get ‘er done. It is for what his coaches explicitly do not ask that perhaps Prescott should be taken to task. When a play-call or in-progress designed play is about to turn to crap, a quarterback, “the unquestioned leader of men,” has a choice every now and then to salvage the situation and personally, bravely bridge the gap. No, no, not quite like “That Announcer Guy,” but it is both acceptable and often, situationally necessary to follow your gut or instinct and make a play on the fly.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, you’ve made this wish list observation before, but there is no play in which Dak would ever force his way, or the chance at his new, market-setting contract goes right out the door!” – you chuckle (against a reality that may eventually buckle).
In the same vein of Garrett choosing Linehan over an improved opportunity to win more and sooner, would Prescott really choose to exactly and repeatedly do what he is told (even if “situational awareness” practically screamed for him to be uncommonly bold) . . . all to ensure that contract-offering Jerry remains completely sold? Logic (?) dictates the long-suffering and Super Bowl-starved among Cowboys Nation would go absolutely lunar.
Perhaps – to explain it in a different way (for those fans who are much harder to sway) – Dak and Co. until this year, leaned heavily on YAC (Yards After Catch) allowing both Prescott and his coaches (whenever uncomfortable) to blow the short game hatch rather than use more deep passes to steer. YAC, however and after all, does have another meaning just as redeeming. YAC (You Also Can) – if embraced by everyone – fulfills an entire game plan. And there is irony in going with full-blooded YAC against a Saints defense that seemed willing to allow opportunities through a short-pass (and occasional RPO) attack. Those same dink-and-dunk yards (in such a low-scoring contest and for which Dak previously received such brutal protest) were certainly there to be collected rather than seemingly rejected (in favor of watching Zeke run into a French Quarter wall which, in part, led to the Cowboys’ fall).
But what the heck does The Tortured Cowboys Fan know? This is all just the stuff of conspiracy, at least in theory. There you go.
Will They Or Won’t They?
America’s Team and the Green Bay Packers face off once again at AT&T Stadium this Sunday, and if the Cowboys do not have their aggressive-minded heads on straight, there could be an early “mayday, mayday, mayday.” There is little room for debate.
“Dude! Are you still stung by ONE loss to the Saints?!” – you incredulously inquire. The Cowboys – under Garrett – have never demonstrated a consistent, snap-the-neck, killer instinct (really since the last time “That Announcer Guy” and Dez Bryant synched), and their continued inability to do so (particularly against wounded opponents) may one day prove dire.
It is not IF you lose but HOW you lose, and unless the suddenly-resurgent “Hot Boyz” receive some regular and reliable offensive assistance, a still-deadly Aaron Rodgers may be only too happy to hammer home the abuse. Dazzling Green Bay receiver Davante Adams may have been lost to turf toe, but that has never stopped Rodgers from finding another direction in which to go. Packers’ right offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga may have a sore shoulder, but that has never stopped the highly-mobile Rodgers from going extend-the-play bolder.
“But the Packers have one of the WORST run defenses in the league!” you ignorantly squeal (as if a win against Green Bay is a done deal) with a strong scent of bandwagon fatigue. Yes, of course, the Cowboys have the “Banged Up Wall Of Dallas” with Zeke (as a result) appearing to be at less than his peak, and Marc Colombo’s crew should be in the mood to be downright rude. “Garrett’s Gang,” however, has displayed an infrequently nasty habit of lowering themselves to the (dangerously assumed) level of their undermanned foes, and Rodgers is eager to see that their “limited urgency” problem only grows.
SEE Exhibit A – the first half against Miami’s skeleton team in week 3 where the Cowboys were oddly unable to have their way. SEE Exhibit B – week 4 against the Saints where Dallas simply could not opportunistically seize on the absence of Drew Brees towards victory. It simply does not matter if the Packers’ defense has been mentally dense or from (brutally-timed) injuries remain on-the-mend. Dallas (in mimicking Garrett’s steady-as-we-go mentality and outlast methodology) may still find themselves on the losing end if away from this traumatic tradition they cannot bend.
Tyron Smith is understandably out for at least a week to deal with an ankle that aims to rankle. It appears that La’el Collins caught Zack Martin’s “bad back disease,” but they both seem determined to go against a defense they hope can be swatted like fleas. Tyrone Crawford may be returning from bursitis in both hips, but he will most likely still be playing through discomfort to help Dallas right the ship. Antwaun Woods has got the defensive goods, and fans hope his knee truly is recovered, but his healthy presence in the middle helps ensure Marinelli’s Men are rarely ground-game-smothered.
With Michael Gallup’s (completely?) healthy return, will the Packers be able to roll out enough secondary depth to control his burn? Will Gallup rejoining Cooper and Cobb create an impossible coverage job?
Will the Dak Pack (Prescott, Cooper, Gallup, Cobb, Witten, and Zeke) with reasonable time and open running lanes be (once again) sublime and cause Green Bay’s defense considerable pains? Against a defense so (allegedly) frail, will Dallas even glance past "taking what the defense gives you” and really let the offense set sail? Will neglected Blake Jarwin receive more chances to become a touchdown darlin’?
While Kavon Frazier has been lost to season-ending injured reserve, will exciting rookie safety Donovan Wilson be ready to show more of his preseason interception nerve?
Will DeMarcus “Tank” Lawrence and Robert “The Mighty” Quinn be able to take full advantage of Crawford and Woods’ front-line-filling availability with significant sacks, again and again? Will Leighton “The Wolf Hunter” Vander Esch, Jaylon “Smooth” Smith, and Sean “The General” Lee also gain more freedom and add more space to improve the QB and running back chase?
Will Rodgers trick the Hot Boyz with hard counts, or will they (and Tank Lawrence in particular) wait patiently at any and every chance to trounce? Will Marinelli’s Men go the full 60 minutes or allow Rodgers to (once again) make them into last second dimwits?
Will Dallas (at every position and with every assignment) purposely put on a performance that overcomes poor play-call alignment? Will Dallas be deeply driven to turn the Packers into competitive slackers?
Will the Cowboys regain their winning spark on the way towards their season’s second-quarter mark?
We shall see. We always do.
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