It took four games, and only one loss, for Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett to find himself in familiar territory: perched atop the hot seat.
Overwhelmingly impressive during Dallas’ early-season winning streak, the team’s offense went MIA against the Saints on Sunday night. It was a collective failure as each individual unit failed to get going in the raucous Superdome, where New Orleans eked out a 12-10 victory.
But the blame game starts at the top, and the crap rolls downhill, collecting at Garrett’s feet, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones strongly indicated after the defeat.
“Obviously we’re very disappointed. … Let’s give them some credit. Their defense was the biggest concern for me coming in. They did a great job. They won a hard fought game. But they won it with a good scheme, good coaching,” Jones said, via The Athletic.
From the opening whistle, the Cowboys were unable to sustain drives. And the few times they did, the officials would find someone to flag, such as star wide receiver Amari Cooper, who was called for two highly questionable offensive pass interference penalties.
The issues ran a lot deeper, however:
- Ezekiel Elliott fumbled (also questionable) and averaged roughly two yards per carry.
- Dak Prescott was held without a touchdown pass while tossing an interception.
- The offensive line created little push, consistency blown off the ball by New Orleans’ front-seven.
- Dallas logged just 257 scrimmage yards; they were 4-for-11 on third downs and held the ball for only 23:56.
- The Cowboys lost to a team down its Hall of Fame quarterback and allowed the Saints to beat them without reaching the end zone.
It was the inaugural and inevitable clunker by wunderkind offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, whose playcalling was too conservative at times. Moreover, it was a reality-check moment for the 31-year-old, though fingers aren’t being pointed his way.
As the team’s leader of men, Garrett ultimately shoulders the responsibility. He’s credited when Dallas stacks the dubs, and should be equally panned when they’re mauled for 60 minutes.
Say what you want about Jones — he’s correct. The Cowboys were outphysicaled, outplayed and outcoached by Sean Payton. This was not as close as the score suggests. One team wanted it bad, the other just plain performed badly.
Welcome back to the public eye, Jason.
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Garrett Defends the Rushing “Attack”
I put attack in quotes because 45 yards on the ground, on 20 attempts, is absolutely abysmal, especially since Prescott accounted for seven yards on a scramble. If you thought the Cowboys were forcing the issue by stuffing it in Zeke’s stomach on first- and second-down … well, you thought correct.
Appearing on 105.3 The Fan on Monday, Garrett addressed Moore’s tendency to dial up run plays on an almost-scripted level. The Saints ranked near the bottom in run defense but obviously were stout Sunday, prompting a question — why keep forcing it at the forefront? — for which Garrett had no answer.
“I don’t know that it was put more on the forefront,” he said. “We obviously want to run the football and we want to attack through the air. And that was the plan going in was to try and do both. That’s always really our approach, attack both ways. We try to do that throughout the game. We had some success at different times doing each, it wasn’t consistent enough throughout.”
Defense Isn’t Mad at O
As uninspiring as Dallas’ offense was, the defense was the antithesis, holding Teddy Bridgewater to 193 scoreless passing yards and registering five sacks, including two by veteran fill-in starter Robert Quinn.
If there’s anybody who should raise a stink about Garrett and company, it’s Quinn, who was arguably their best defensive player, finishing with three solo tackles, three QB hits, two tackles-for-loss, a pass deflection and the pair of takedowns.
Quinn, though, took a measured approach, affirming that each side of the Dallas ball contributed to the result. No one person or play shoulders the brunt of responsibility. You win as a team, you lose as a team.
“I wouldn’t say the offense let us down. We could’ve created more turnovers on defense. It’s a team effort,” he said, per The Athletic. “You can’t point your fingers at anybody. You say (the offense) played poorly, well we could have played better.”
Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL