The Dallas Cowboys suck. All right? Everybody caught up? I don’t think anyone can disagree with that sentiment at this point, because the 2019 -2020 Cowboys have been by far the greatest disappointment in the last 5 years. I’ve never seen a team with such a talented young roster underperform this badly and, quite honestly, they do not deserve to make the playoffs at all. The only thing keeping the Cowboys’ season alive is the NFL rulebook which quite honestly does some of the playoff-deserving teams a disservice by letting the champion of each division host a playoff game, regardless of record. What happened this season? Why are the Cowboys underperforming?
A Tale of Bad Coaching
Just when Cowboys fans were relieved of former offensive coordinator Scott Linehan’s departure, incompetent coaching once again has doomed Dallas this season. The most popular statistic associated with the 2019-2020 Dallas Cowboys consists of 2 numbers: 0-5. That there, ladies and gentlemen, is Dallas’s record against teams with a winning record.
While the majority of those teams included playoff contenders such as the Minnesota Vikings, the Green Bay Packers, the New England Patriots, and Buffalo Bills, the loss that every Cowboys fan wants back is the Week 6 loss to the 0-4 New York Jets.
Despite injuries to All-Pro offensive tackles Tyron Smith and La’el Collins, Pro Bowl wide receiver Amari Cooper, All-Pro cornerback Byron Jones, and slot cornerback Anthony Brown, losing to a winless team is no excuse, and there is nothing to blame outside of coaching.
Death, taxes, and Jason Garrett being a terrible head coach should be known as the 3 ultimate truths of life. However, what may be even worse is owner Jerry Jones’ incompetence to fire Garrett during the season. What held the Cowboys back from beating the Rams last year, despite having a stacked roster? Jason Garrett. Who does Jerry Jones treat like the most important member of the Cowboys’ coaching staff? Jason Garrett. What does every smart owner do for his franchise? Not meddle internally, which is exactly what Jerry Jones is doing.
However, while Garrett may be a bad coach, his assistants cannot go without taking blame. The Cowboys’ special teams is the worst unit in the league, by far. They rank dead last in almost every category, and have often ruined field position for both the Cowboys’ offense and defense. If Jason Garrett is gone by the end of this season, I would highly recommend firing Keith O’Quinn as well.
After 3 weeks, the Dallas Cowboys’ rookie offensive coordinator Kellen Moore was crowned as the next offensive mastermind of the NFL. His creativity, especially on offense, was unmatched in the month of September, and made the Cowboys look like a Super Bowl shoe-in, at least in the beginning of the season.
However, the valleys are much worse than the peaks, at least in this case. While Moore is only a rookie, he can’t shoulder all of the blame for this offense, but he still has a lot to learn. The first issue with Moore’s offense is his playcalling, especially with the way he designs his runs.
Just in general, Moore has a tendency (or at least he did when Dallas lost games) to run Ezekiel Elliott out of shotgun, and this resulted in multiple poor performances for the 2-time rushing champion. Zeke either needs to be in the I-formation with a fullback, or just in singleback several yards behind the line of scrimmage so he can get the running start.
While Zeke isn’t the fastest running back of all, his best ability is still getting yards through contact, regardless of whether he’s running between the tackles or outside of them. He needs a running start in order to put his shoulders down and try to earn every yard he can, which keeps the Cowboys ahead of chains on early downs.
Another Zeke-related tendency in Moore’s playcalling is to completely avoid the screen game. He calls it about once a game in the first quarter, when the Cowboys are running the ball well, and believe it or not, it works. Defenses commit to the run, and this leaves wide open space for that All-Pro offensive line to get out and pave the way for Zeke. However, once this play works, the Cowboys’ offensive coordinator completely abandons it for the rest of the game, even when the run is working.
Why Moore doesn’t call this play more is just an anomaly, and he doesn’t get receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup involved in the short passing game as well. While converting long distance downs with longer-developing routes is this team’s forte through and through, Moore needs to open up that aspect of the playbook, because it’s another aspect of this Cowboys offense that can be exploited: especially with the skill position talent that Dallas has.
Finally (I promise), the last, and in my opinion, most worrisome tendency in Moore’s playcalling is his abysmal use of tight ends. Jason Witten is a former shell of himself, and does not have the route-running ability, explosiveness, or the hands he once used to have in the midst of his prime.
With that in mind, Moore, for some reason, decides to use Jason Witten more than young tight end Blake Jarwin, even when Jarwin is by far the better athlete, and is much more efficient with his receptions. While there is merit to the argument that Witten could help develop a talent like Jarwin to break out in coming seasons, there is absolutely no excuse to play Witten more than Jarwin, especially when the team is in win-now mode.
This is also a sentiment I’ll repeat forever: tight ends can be an offense’s most valuable position when used correctly. For example, George Kittle, Zach Ertz, Travis Kelce, Hunter Henry, Mark Andrews, and Darren Waller are all incredibly valuable to their teams because of the volume they get, and some are even more valuable because of how the offense is tailored to their strengths, such as blocking (see George Kittle for more).
I’m not saying that Moore needs to tailor his offense around Jarwin, but the young tight end needs to be much more involved in the run and the passing game, because it opens up Dallas’s playbook. When teams crash down on Ezekiel Elliott, play action bootlegs will gain free yards for the Cowboys, and that’s exactly what they need. This offense is inexcusably almost always behind the chains, and while they excel at converting long yardage situations, they just need to make things easy for themselves, for god’s sake.
Another question that’s trending within the NFL media is “Why can’t Dak Prescott win big games”; an absolutely valid point. If Dak wants to be the highest paid player in league history, he needs to win games against good opponents. While coaching has lost a majority of games for this underperfoming Cowboys team, what goes on between the sidelines also must be taken into account.
For one, Dak Prescott has major issues when it comes to decision-making, and this leads to mistakes, resulting in more turnovers. There was no better example of this than in the Thanksgiving meltdown against the Buffalo Bills. That was an easily winnable game for the Cowboys, and for some reason, they let it slip right through their hands.
The first major mistake Prescott made was the interception thrown to Star Lotulelei on a broken screen pass. While Dak had pressure in his face, there was absolutely no reason to not just throw the ball at rookie runner Tony Pollard’s feet. Instead, Prescott threw it right into the arms of the Bills defender, which led to a turnover in Dallas territory.
Literally the next series, 2nd-year left guard Connor Williams was injured, and then taken to the sideline, replaced by backup Xavier Su’a-Filo. The first play Su’a-Filo was in, rookie phenom defensive tackle Ed Oliver beat the backup left guard and strip-sacked Prescott, leading to another turnover in Cowboys territory. This would eventually lead to a Devin Singletary touchdown.
What made this play completely inexcusable is Dak’s complete lack of awareness. He knew there was a backup left guard in the game, and that his interior pass protection might be compromised. Yet, the Cowboys quarterback, in his 4th season, did not feel the interior pressure, which led to him not eluding it, allowing Oliver to cause a turnover in Cowboys territory.
It’s those kinds of inexcusable mistakes that have doomed the Cowboys this season. As the quarterback who wants to be the highest paid player in league history, Dak has to do a much better job of leading this team down the field, not weigh them down.
The second major issue for the Cowboys’ offense this season has mainly been drops. Ezekiel Elliott, Jason Witten, Amari Cooper, and Michael Gallup have 13 combined dropped passes this season, and while this may not seem like a large figure, most of these have been concentration drops, which are especially concerning for the league’s best offense (statistically).
Finally, the inability to execute in the red zone is my largest pet peeve of the Cowboys’ offense this season. Even though Dallas’s offense is technically 1st in every statistical category, including 3rd down conversions and yards per game, they are only 9th in total points scored and points per game, which is a significant discrepancy with the aggressive, big-play nature of this offense.
Usually, an explosive offense would be able to march down the field and guarantee 7 points on almost every possession, but that just hasn’t been the case with the Cowboys this season, has it? Pretty much everything that can go wrong with this offense will go wrong, and it’s a testament to the amount of talent on this team that they’re even in playoff contention.
From these statistics, it is obvious that Dallas’s strengths lie in marching down the field, but whenever they get inside opponents’ 20 yard line, for some reason, the offense sputters, and they are forced to take 3 (or even 0. Believe me, we’ll get into that too).
For now, there is nothing telling me that this team has the desire to win on the offensive side of the ball. They cannot execute, nor can they adjust against any competent opponent. This team has been given a gift through the lack of competent teams in their division, and unfortunately, their offense is playing as if they just don’t want it right now. This offense just doesn’t want it.