In a span of 12 months, the Cowboys have gone from first-to-worst in the NFC East. After another “close but no cigar” loss, this time to the Jets by the score of 19-16, the Cowboys are officially out of contention in the woeful NFC East and eliminated from the playoffs.
A team that finished in first place in the NFC East last season with a 12-4 record is now 4-10 with two games left on the schedule.
For our C.S.I. unit, they need overtime pay. When it comes to Cowboys’ losses in 2015, there’s a long list of usual suspects that require further scrutiny.
Worst Offender #1: OFFENSE CAN’T FIND THE END ZONE:
The Cowboys reached the end zone only once against the Jets on a 10-yard touchdown catch by Dez Bryant late in the 2nd quarter. Three others drives resulted in Dan Bailey field goals. Simply put, the Cowboys cannot score touchdowns with their backup quarterbacks.
In their 10 games without Tony Romo (broken collarbone), the Cowboys offense has scored 14 touchdowns.
To be fair, the Cowboys got a spark when Kellen Moore replaced an ineffective (again) Matt Cassel at quarterback at the 11:16 mark of the 2nd quarter. Cassel had completed only 3 of 8 passes for 37 yards and had thrown one of the lamest, most miserable interceptions you’ll ever see which was picked-off by Darrell Revis. Cassel was playing dismally, but the energy level of the entire building was lifted when Moore entered the game.
Keep in mind that Moore, who has been in the NFL for four years, had never played in a regular season game. He also is listed at 6’ 0” and 200 lbs, but that’s very generous. He may be 6’ 0” wearing high heels, and weigh 200 if he puts rocks and rolls of quarters in his pockets.
Let’s just say that Moore is not physically imposing. Head coach Jason Garrett calls him ‘the paperboy’ because he looks so young. Still, fans wanted to see him. Actually, they wanted to see anyone other than Cassel.
Moore’s first-ever NFL pass went for minus-1 yard to Terrance Williams. His second pass was intercepted by Jets safety Marcus Gilchrist.
But the next possession, Moore connected with Dez for 14 yards. The Cowboys had to punt on the possession, but they moved the ball a bit and Moore looked better than anything fans had seen from Cassel the previous couple of games.
The Cowboys got the ball once more before halftime and that’s when Moore connected with Terrance Williams and Brice Butler for good gains to move to the red zone. Then Moore got the ball to Dez who did the rest, running the ball in from 10 yard out for the lone Cowboys’ touchdown of the game.
On the ground, the Cowboys fared well against the league’s #1 rated run defense. Darren McFadden rushed for 100 yards and averaged 6.2 yards per carry. Receiver Lucky Whitehead looked good on a reverse, rushing for 33 yards down the left sideline.
The Cowboys were making some pretty good gains against a tough Jets defense.
But…another of our Usual Suspects rears its ugly head again…
OFFENSE CAN’T CONVERT ON 3RD DOWN
The Cowboys offense once again was horrible on 3rd down conversions. It’s the same thing we chronicled last week. On Saturday against the Jets, the Cowboys were 2 of 11. The previous two weeks they were 1 of 11 and 1 of 9. Not to do too much math here, but that’s 4 of 31 (12.9%) during the 3 game stretch. Awful. Just awful.
But when you have 10 losses on the season, all the blame doesn’t rest on the offense. Another of our Usual Suspects…
DEFENSE CAN’T MAKE STOPS AT END OF 4th QUARTER:
For the fifth time this season, the Cowboys defense allowed the opposing to score the game winner on its final drive. This time around, it was Jets kicker Randy Bullock nailing a 40-yard field goal with :36 left on the clock. Bullock had earlier missed an extra point and a 35-yard field goal.
This Saturday night was the same song, 5th verse for the defense. They played so well for most of the game, but couldn’t close out the victory. The Cowboys offense actually gave the team a 13-9 lead heading into the 4th quarter, but the Cowboys defense allowed a Fitzpatrick-to-Decker 3 yard touchdown pass with just under 9:00 to play, then the final Jets drive that culminated in Bullock’s game-winning kick.
If you’re looking for positives, there was outstanding play by defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence who had big tackles-for-loss as well as another sack. Lawrence now has 6 sacks in his last 6 games. Middle linebacker Sean Lee was a tackling machine, again, as was safety Barry Church who stuffed the run. But a mistake in coverage by rookie cornerback Byron Jones in the game’s final minute (and late help by safety J.J. Wilcox who was in Cover-2) allowed Jets receiver Kenbrell Thompkins to get down the right sideline for a 43yard gain to set up the winning kick.
And this may be damning with faint praise, but the defense did actually record a takeaway. That would be single, as in one, takeaway. Unfortunately, the Cowboys offense turned the ball over four times.
Which leads us to another Usual Suspect…
TOO MANY TURNOVERS, TOO FEW TAKEAWAYS:
Cowboys QBs threw 4 interceptions, three by Moore and one by Cassel. That’s now 27 turnovers on the season, tied with the Colts (heading into Sunday’s games) for the most in the NFL.
The Cowboys defense actually did record a takeaway in this game when cornerback Terrance Mitchell (Who?) intercepted a Ryan Fitzpatrick pass in the 3rd quarter. What you haven’t heard of Mitchell? He’d been on the 53-man roster about 30 hours before he made the play. He was promoted from the practice squad on Friday in advance of Saturday’s game.
Mitchell, who was pressed into service as the nickel cornerback because of injuries at the position (Mo Claiborne, hamstring) is the first Cowboys cornerback to record an interception in the previous 560 pass attempts. It’s a dubious streak that stretched back to Orlando Scandrick picking off a Jay Cutler pass in Chicago in December 2014.
So the Mitchell INT counts as a plus, but the Cowboys QBs’ four interceptions are the negatives. The Cowboys finished the game with a minus-3 turnover ratio. Add that to their previous total, and you get a whopping minus-18 for the season. Yes, it’s the worst ratio in the NFL.
Finally, just because it’s crazy that Jerry Jones can spend over a billion dollars on a stadium that doesn’t translate into a homefield advantage…let’s add one more to our list of Usual Suspects:
LACK OF HOMEFIELD ADVANTAGE:
Maybe the Cowboys could petition the NFL to schedule all of their games on the road. The Cowboys do not have the edge on their homefield. Their overall regular season record at home since AT&T Stadium (then Cowboys Stadium) opened in 2009 is 27-28. This year, the Cowboys are 1-6 at home. They’ve lost 9 of their last 11 games at home.
SO WHAT’S NEXT?
Well, there are two more games to play beginning with next Sunday at Buffalo, followed by the regular season finale at home hosting the Redskins. The Cowboys will have a chance to play spoiler against the rival Redskins who still have a chance to win the NFC East.
With all playoff hopes lost, Tony Romo will likely be placed on Injured Reserve this week. Kellen Moore will get a chance to start these final two games…and he’ll also get first-team practice reps, something he’s never gotten as a backup QB or practice squad member. Moore should look even sharper next weekend with a full week of practice reps.