DALLAS — If the debut result at SoFi Stadium is to be believed, and seeing is believing, then you were fooled and hoodwinked by the Dallas Cowboys. If you bought into the hype, as most observers of the team did, then the Mike McCarthy era had an inauspicious beginning.
All summer, without seeing a single snap from the Cowboys on either side of the ball, there was an outpouring of optimism for the perpetually optimistic franchise. The organization had brought in talent and changed the majority of the coaching staff, which was supposed to be one of the biggest problems that led to an 8-8 season without a playoff appearance for Dallas in 2019.
After one game into the 2020 season, it doesn’t look like much has changed at all.
If you hated how Jason Garrett’s offense always seemed conservative, you saw much of the same from McCarthy’s group on Sunday night in Dallas’ 20-17 season-opening loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
There were too many first down runs from Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard. And if the Cowboys were worried about starting rookie undrafted free agent RT Travis Steele, they showed it by not allowing him to pass protect on a higher number of occasions, and then they suffered for it when they couldn’t hide their intentions on third-and-long situations.
In addition, there were too many short throws to the sticks on third downs and comeback routes instead of pushing the ball down the field.
Where was the pre-snap motion or the offense attacking the middle of the field? Where was the aggressive offense that was going to put up 40 points on every defense they played? Of course, the offense can’t carry the full load of blame.
The Dallas defense whiffed on far too many tackles to give the Rams extra yards. Failing to bring down the ball carrier on first contact put the Rams in manageable third down situations. That led to a 55.5% third down conversion rate for Los Angeles, an unacceptable number.
It’s tough to win games when your defense can’t get off the field, or when they don’t seem to be prepared for the opposing offense’s best play.
The Rams and Sean McVay’s offense bludgeoned the Cowboys with play fakes, bootlegs, and misdirection where Rams receivers were left running free. The play worked over and over again, as the Dallas defense had issues stopping one of McVay’s signature calls.
Truth be told, the score could’ve been a lot worse than it was. The Rams controlled the game from the outset with only a missed field goal and lucky break on a Chidobe Awuzie interception to keep the Cowboys hanging around.
Yet the Cowboys were in the game late. McCarthy chose to bypass going for a game-tying field goal attempt in the fourth quarter. Had it worked, perhaps the game goes the Cowboys’ way. It was an aggressive decision and about the only thing that demonstrated that McCarthy was the coach of the team and not Garrett.
The fourth-and-three play failed as rookie WR CeeDee Lamb ran a route that was short of the first down marker, another Garrett staple that fans of the team hated. Lamb caught the pass but was brought down immediately short of the critical first down.
Weren’t we told how good the Cowboys’ receivers were in the open field this summer? Perhaps the offensive hype train needs a tune-up.
Even after the failed fourth down try, Prescott and the offense had two more attempts to drive the field to either tie or win the game late in the fourth quarter. Both drives stalled and on both possessions there were too many short passes that saw Rams defenders squatting on the short passing game.
We can argue about the validity of the offensive pass interference call on Michael Gallup inside the final minute that ruined any chance of the Cowboys tying, or winning, the game. The truth is, the Cowboys put themselves in the position of having to make every play go their way in order to win the game.
When you play close games, you force the breaks and bounces to have to go your way. That’s a tough way to win football games. The 2019 Cowboys found out the hard way that it’s not a successful strategy; the 2020 version didn’t appear to learn that lesson.
This game was another chance for Prescott to return to his late game form. In his first three seasons, he had the most comeback wins in the NFL. Last year, he failed to bring the Cowboys back in any of his fourth quarter opportunities.
Another chance for Prescott and another missed opportunity.
If you thought things were going to be different for the Dallas Cowboys under a new head coach, the Week 1 returns don’t paint a pretty picture. The 2020 Cowboys looked a whole lot like the team of the past 10 years.
With the Dallas Cowboys, it’s better to trust results than to believe the hype.
Are the 2020 Dallas Cowboys looking too much like the 2019 Dallas Cowboys? Share your thoughts with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.