The Cowboys Lost Because It's Hard to Win With an Awful Defense and a Worse QB

This picture is worth all of these words.
This picture is worth all of these words.

One of the realities of the salary-cap era in the NFL is that flawed teams can still win Super Bowls. The 2011 Giants lost seven games. The 2012 Ravens lost six, as did the 2010 Packers and the 2007 Giants. If a team can do one thing really, really well, league-promoted parity gives that team a puncher's chance to win the whole damn thing. That's why the Cowboys 6-1 start inspired so much hope. Throughout the six game winning streak that followed Dallas' season-opening loss to the 49ers, the team did one thing, run block, better than any squad in the league.

Over the last two weeks, that hasn't changed. Despite losses to the Redskins and the Cardinals, the Cowboys still block for their halfback better than anyone. They've dropped to 6-3 because the broken transverse processes Tony Romo suffered midway through the third quarter against Washington have upset the fragile balance protecting the rest of the Cowboys from being exposed.

Sunday afternoon, Brandon Weeden couldn't do the one thing Dallas needs its QBs to do this season, convert on third down. Not including the garbage time drive that ended in a three-yard touchdown to Dez Bryant, Weeden was 2-7 on third down, including a crucial red zone interception by the Cards' Tyrann Mathieu early in the third quarter and a seven-yard pass to Jason Witten on a fourth quarter third-and-eight. Weeden insisted on throwing the ball in general direction of Dez Bryant repeatedly -- Dez' first catch was his ninth targeted -- despite blanket coverage from Patrick Peterson, one of the best corners in the league. The offense couldn't stay on the field; it lost the time of possession battle for only the third time this season, and the defense couldn't get off of it.

The idea that the 2014 Cowboys defense is any better than the 2013 Cowboys defense is a vicious rumor born of a ball control offense and the Cowboys having played only two teams -- New Orleans and Washington -- who rank in the top 10 in total offense. Against the Cardinals, Rob Marinelli's defense gave up more than five yards a play again. Combined with the Cowboys' offense inability to get first downs, the defense was exposed on the scoreboard for the first time since week one, giving up three passing scores to Carson Palmer as part of the Cardinals' 28-point attack. Given enough opportunities to bend, the Cowboys defense will break, every time.

The silver lining, similar to last week, is that what happened Sunday is not necessarily predictive of what will happen for the rest of the season. Romo will be back -- hopefully after staying home from next week's trip to London to take on the Jaguars -- to get Dez out of jail. Murray had his hundred-yard game streak broken, but looked consistently dangerous despite the Cardinals loading the box on almost every play and showed no signs that his historic workload was weighing on him. Even the pass rush showed signs of life in short bursts. If Henry Melton, Anthony Spencer and 2014 second rounder DeMarcus Lawrence -- who saw his first NFL action Sunday after missing the first half due to injury -- can gel, the defensive line could be an asset over the last seven games, rather than just not being a liability at best.

Odds and Sods

  • Dr. Jerry made an appearance after the game. reassuring everyone that Rolando McClain's lower leg injury was nothing serious.
  • Scott Linehan's play call on the unsuccessful fourth-and-one early in the fourth was dumbfounding. He didn't try get Murray on the edge with the Cardinals consistently putting eight and nine guys in the box, which didn't make any sense.
  • Weeden didn't complete a pass to a wide receiver until the 10:52 mark in the third quarter. That pass was caught by Cole Beasley.
  • Weeden threw a second-quarter pass so far behind Terrance Williams that referee Craig Wrolstad had to explain that it wan't intentional grounding. Weeden "wasn't under pressure," he said.
  • As part of a celebration of service members, a Navy SEAL and a service dog rappelled onto the field from the JerryTron, far and away the best part of the game day experience for Cowboys fans.

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