Offense a No-Show Through the First Three Quarters in 16-8 Loss at Carolina
I’m writing this recap of the 16-to-8 loss to the Panthers during the team charter’s return flight from Charlotte to DFW. It’s a quiet ride, that’s for sure. There’s nothing to celebrate when you not only drop the regular season opener, but have such a poor showing by the offense. A valiant effort by the Cowboys defense went for naught because the Cowboys offense was so anemic.
Here are my 5 Observations from the Cowboys’ Sideline:
Mike McCarn via AP
Cowboys Offense Was Late to the Party
Kickoff was pushed back 10 minutes because of a weather delay during pregame warmups. One of the rainstorms that passed through downtown Charlotte included some lightning, so the Bank of America playing field and fan seating had to be cleared. The stadium looked empty as fans left their seats to seek shelter along the concourses. The players/coaches went to the locker rooms. Once the lightning threat was over, warmups were able to resume and we were lucky the game was only pushed back by 10 minutes.
But apparently nobody bothered to tell the Cowboys offense that it was okay to come back to the field because they didn’t bother to show up for the game until the 4th quarter.
The lone Cowboys’ score of the day (Zeke Elliott 4-yard TD run, followed by Dak Prescott’s 2-yard run for a 2-point conversion) came with only 8:51 left to play in the game. The touchdown/conversion cut the Panthers’ lead to 16-8. The closest the Cowboys came to a score in the first 3 quarters was late in the 3rd quarter, but new kicker Brett Maher missed a 47-yard field goal attempt.
Overall, it was an ugly, ragged effort by the offense. Dak Prescott was sacked 6 times, including a sack/strip/fumble late in the 4th quarter to thwart any game-tying rally. The Panthers’ front-7 was dominating at times on Sunday. Rookie left guard Connor Williams had his “welcome to the NFL moments” courtesy of Panthers DT Kawaan Short who tallied 2 of the defense’s 6 sacks.
How bad was it for the Cowboys’ offense? Perennial Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith was called for two penalties…in the 1st quarter! Overall, the Cowboys committed 10 penalties on the day. Whenever there was any momentum building up, a penalty would quash the drive.
Cole Beasley had a good game. He was targeted 8 times and caught 7 passes for 73 yards. Free agent addition Allen Hurns had the Cowboys longest play of the day: a 20-yard reception. But overall, the revamped WR/TE corps could manage only 170 receiving yards. That’s now 7 consecutive games (dating back to last season) in which Dak hasn’t reached 200 passing yards in a game. Dak was under pressure all game and there was no flow to the offense. Dallas managed only 60 yards of offense in the 1st half.
Heck, the offense only managed to reach the red zone once the entire game. That’s pathetic. They finished with only 232 total net yards, 138 net passing yards, and just 3.9 yards-per-pass completion. Zeke averaged 4.6 yards-per-carry which is good, but he only carried it 15 times. That’s just 69 rushing yards for Zeke, including the 4-yard touchdown run in the 4th quarter. It’s hard to run against the Panthers: they were the only team in the NFL last season that did not allow a 100-yard rusher.
The Cowboys Offense Hung the Cowboys Defense Out to Dry
The Cowboys defense played hard and, other than some very obvious missed tackles (including a couple by Sean Lee, which is unusual), the unit played well. DE DeMarcus Lawrence was a beast. He led the team in tackles (7), recovered a fumble, and recorded 1 of the defense’s 3 sacks (Jaylon Smith & Maliek Collins got the others).
Have you ever heard of Daniel Ross? He’s a defensive tackle and this is his second season with the Cowboys.
James D. Smith via AP
He made a huge play in the first defensive series when he forced a fumble by Panthers’ running back Christian McCaffrey. The Panthers had driven into the red zone, so Ross’ big play kept the Panthers off the scoreboard.
The Panthers’ first touchdown of the game occurred following a long punt return of 30 yards by Damiere Byrd. It set the Panthers offense up at the Cowboys’ 35-yard line. A tough run up the middle by McCaffrey helped set up the score. Cam Newton ran the ball in from 4 yards out to give the Panthers a 7-0 lead.
Cam’s running ability is what made the difference in this game, and not just on his touchdown run. He was the Panthers’ leading rusher with 58 yards on 10 carries. On several of his rushes, he ran through attempted tackles by the likes of Sean Lee and rookie DE Dorance Armstrong. Safety Jeff Heath made a great open field tackle on Cam, but more often than not, Cam was gaining yards after contact (which is something you don’t see from NFL quarterbacks that aren’t named Cam Newton).
In the postgame locker room, defensive captain Sean Lee was an unhappy camper. He talked about how disappointed he was in himself for his missed tackles, and he vowed to correct the problem this week before the Cowboys host the Giants on Sunday Night Football.
Nobody in the locker room was happy following this loss, obviously, but the fact is that the Cowboys defense got absolutely no help from the Cowboys offense. The Cowboys offense did not sustain drives which meant the Cowboys defenders got very little rest on a steamy, humid day where the guys were getting gassed.
James D. Smith via AP
Offense Was Awful on 3rd Down
Why couldn’t the Cowboys offense sustain drives? Because they sucked on 3rd down.
Why did they suck on 3rd down? Because they put themselves in 3rd-and-long situations way too often, either because they sucked on 1st & 2nd down, or because of a penalty, or because of a sack.
The Cowboys did not convert a 3rd down in the first half of the game. They converted only 2-of-11 third downs for the game. Don’t worry about finding a calculator and figuring the percentage. It’s a paltry 18%. That’s really low.
The Panthers offense wasn’t much better on 3rd downs. The Cowboys defense overall did a good job in that regard. The Panthers 3rd down conversion rate was 33% (4-of-12).
James D. Smith via AP
New Kicker Brett Maher’s Inauspicious Debut
Three hours before kickoff, new kicker Brett Maher was on the field in shorts/t-shirt. He was at the 40-yard line “visualizing” kicks, and even though there was no football, he was going through his kicking motion.
Meanwhile, there is one guy (I think he was a concessions worker at the stadium) who was a Cowboys fan was sitting in the front row of the end zone, yelling encouragement.
“Wooh…Dan Bailey,” he yelled. “I see you #5, I see you Dan. Go Bailey!”
I was walking beneath the goalpost and turned towards the guy and said, “The Cowboys cut Dan Bailey, that kicker’s name is Brett Maher and he’ll be wearing #2; Dan Bailey’s not on the team anymore.”
“The Cowboys cut Dan Bailey???,” the guy asked, incredulously. “Seriously?”
Obviously that fan was out-of-the-loop and hasn’t read the internet or Twitter this past week.
Maher’s Cowboys debut didn’t get off to a great start. His foot touched the ball three times in the game: two kickoffs, and one 47-yard field goal attempt which barely-just-barely sailed wide right.
Honestly, from field level, I thought Maher’s kick was good. He struck it well, and it had plenty of distance. But at the last second, it must have barely drifted right because he missed by just several inches. Of course, it doesn’t matter if you miss by 6-inches or 60 yards. A miss is a miss.
The attempt came late in the 3rd quarter and would have gotten the Cowboys on the scoreboard. Instead, it was just another offensive drive that resulted in zero points.
I hope Cowboys fans show some patience with Maher (and I hope Jerry Jones does, too) because this is a talented kicker who had such a great training camp and preseason. This is not the result Maher wanted in his first NFL regular season game, but he seems to be strong mentally and I think he will rebound from starting the season 0-for-1 on field goals.
Way Too Many Penalties for Both Teams
The Cowboys (10) and Panthers (9) combined for 19 penalties which is surprising because the Panthers were the least penalized team in the NFL last season, and the Cowboys usually finish the season with fewer penalties than their opponents.
I know, I know. When starters don’t play in preseason games, the first regular season game can look awfully sloppy. Well, this one was sloppy, that’s for sure.
But here’s the bottom line for the Cowboys: an offense that struggled passing the ball and converting third downs cannot afford the self-inflicted wounds of penalties. Not just one, but TWO penalties for delay of game? That’s inexcusable. And a special teams’ penalty on Anthony Brown during punt coverage helped the Panthers’ field position in their final drive of the 2nd quarter that culminated in a Panthers’ field goal.
Aaron M. Sprecher via AP
You just can’t shoot yourself in the foot with double-digit penalties when you’re playing such a close game.
So, what’s next for the Cowboys (0-1) who drop the regular season opener? They host the Giants on Sunday Night Football this coming weekend. The Giants are 0-1 to begin the season following their 20-15 home loss to the Jaguars. Sunday’s Giants-Cowboys kickoff is 7:20pm central.