Sun, 29 Nov 2020

Spagnola: Better Hope They've Hit Rock Bottom

Dallas Cowboys
21 Oct 2020, 19:24 GMT+10

Mickey Spagnola

Mercy me.

Cards 38, Cowboys 10.

Cowboys four more turnovers, no takeaways. That's 15 in six games, a turnover differential of a frightening minus-12.

Cowboys lose another offensive lineman, Zack Martin departing early Monday night in concussion protocol, leaving Connor Williams the lone starter standing.

Cowboys defense blasted for 261 yards rushing and three rushing touchdowns, not quite the 307 Cleveland punched them with, but the fifth time in six games giving up at least 113 on the ground.

Cowboys giving up two more huge plays, an 80-yard Kyler Murray touchdown pass to a wide open Christian Kirk and a 69-yard Kenyon Drake run right through the middle of the defense that's not very defensive.

Poor Andy Dalton. Probably needs to sign up for combat pay. Must have felt he was on one of those darn downtown rental scooters in the middle of 635 and the High Five at like 7:30 Monday morning.

Hello, rock bottom, they hope, the 28-point loss matching the 60-year-old franchise's third worst in its 82-game _Monday Night Football_ history, 10 points less than their _MNF_ debut 50 years ago when these same darn Cardinals shut them out 38-0 for their worst beating, inciting their former starting quarterback "Dandy" Don Meredith, then in the ABC broadcast booth, to break out in song, _Turn out the lights, the party's over._

Now, the party wasn't over back then as we pointed out last week on our _Mick Shots_ podcast, the 5-4 Cowboys not losing another game that 1970 season, winning seven straight before losing 16-13 to the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl V.

The Cowboys can only hope this 2020 party is reversable.

But ... but ... if you can believe this, and I know it's hard to comprehend, and not much of a consolation, but at 2-4, the Cowboys worst start since the 2015 season, the Cowboys still are first-place residents in the NFC East, a half-game ahead of the Philadelphia Eagles (1-4-1) and a full game ahead of the 1-5 Giants and Washingtons.

Not even that could wash out the sour taste in head coach Mike McCarthy's mouth after another home loss at AT&T Stadium with 25,174 bearing witness.

"I'm just irritated with the way we performed," McCarthy said, knowing the Cardinals turned four takeaways into 24 of their 38 points, the fifth straight game the Cowboys have given up at least 34 points, a dastardly 198-point total, or 39.6 a game. "We need to get this turnover ratio - we need to get it right. It's not right, right now."

Nope, not by any means. But just because you turned the ball over at the Arizona 46, their own 27, the Arizona 21 and the Arizona 10, doesn't mean the Cowboys defense has to automatically give up three touchdowns and a field goal.

My gosh, as if that wasn't bad enough, the Cowboys were dead last in turnover differential heading into Week 6 at minus-8, which now has ballooned to a league-high minus-12 with two more lost fumbles by Ezekiel Elliott, giving the Cowboys nine in six games, and two Dalton interceptions, inflating that team total to six.

And the defense? Not sure where to start.

With 4:43 left in the first half and the Cowboys up to their old tricks again, spotting an opponent a 14-point lead, this one 14-0, you'd be hard-pressed to believe that deficit since Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray had completed just seven of 18 passes for 48 yards and the NFL's leading receiver DeAndre Hopkins had just one catch for 13 yards.

But cornerback Daryl Worley, maybe on a busted coverage, gets burned by Christian Kirk by a good 5 to 10 yards, for a one-play, 80-yard touchdown and a 21-0 Arizona lead.

And with nearly all decided, just 1:49 left in the game, eerily appearing as a give-up, Kenyon Drake streaks basically untouched 69 yards for the game's final score. Those 69 yards pushed the Cardinals rushing total to 261, averaging then 7.5 yards a carry, Drake leading with 161 and Murray tacking on 74 on just 10 carries - 56 of those yards in the first half.

Wasn't as if the Cowboys hadn't talked about containing Murray in the pocket and making sure everyone up front maintained their gaps. The defensive ends did a poor job with edge integrity. And once again the defensive front was doing a poor job of keeping the linebackers clean. In fact, for the second consecutive game, defensive tackle Dontari Poe zeroed out on the game-day stats. Meaning no tackles, none assisted, no QB hits. No nothing.

"Just collectively, as a whole, we have to lock in and do it right," said linebacker Jaylon Smith, whose 10 tackles once again led the team. "It's enough talking about it. We've got to do it right. We're grown-ass men. We've got to do it right."

What hasn't been right is locking down after those sudden-change turnovers. Not only did the Cardinals turn those four takeaways into 24 points, but through six games the Cowboys have given up 74 points after turning the ball over, the ESPN stat stating that's the most by any team after six games in the past 20 seasons.

"Adversity football is part of the situational football training that is part of our function," McCarthy said, knowing the Cowboys are not functioning very well under adverse conditions.

Then there is this: Not even 10 minutes into the first quarter, as if it wasn't bad enough the Cowboys were playing without starting quarterback Dak Prescott, without both starting offensive tackles now for the remainder of the season, Tyron Smith and La'el Collins, without starting centers Travis Frederick (retired) and Joe Looney on injured reserve, having lost starting tight end Blake Jarwin for the season, but I'll be, Martin gets kneed in the head by Zeke at the end of a running play, the All-Pro entering into concussion protocol. Now in comes Connor McGovern for his first extensive NFL offensive snaps in just his second NFL season.

If you are scoring at home, that's starting two undrafted offensive tackles, a rookie center and now a guard playing his first significant snaps on that five-man front.

Poor Andy Dalton. Suffered three sacks, eight QB hits, there were seven tackles for losses and the pressure in the pocket was immense. Wasn't in the game plan for the 10th-year veteran, playing in a backup role for the first time in his career, to throw 54 passes, always a sign nothing good would come from that kind of desperation offense.

And if all that isn't enough adversity for one team, the Cowboys did it again, disaster striking on the final possession of the first half and the first possession of the third quarter. Of all people, Michael Gallup drops a potential touchdown pass with 13 seconds left in the second quarter, the Cowboys having to settle for a field goal after having reached first-and-goal at the Arizona 9-yard line.

Then to start the third quarter, because of deferring the opening kickoff, on a third-and-6 from the Arizona 42, on Dalton's 20-yard pass attempt to CeeDee Lamb, Cardinals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick gets away with mugging the rookie receiver, who goes down, allowing Kirkpatrick to easily pick off the pass, all leading to the Cardinals' 79-yard touchdown drive for a 28-3 lead. Deplorably, no call.

Might as well have cranked up the 50-year-old recording of Dandy Don singing in the broadcast booth. The lights were out for good. There would be no stirring comeback for the Cowboys in this one. Not even to just make it close.

"We've got to clean our own house, first and foremost," said linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, returning from injured reserve to play 32 snaps after just 23 in the opener before fracturing his collarbone. "And not worry about doing somebody else's job or trying to clean somebody else's house. We've got to clean our own house first."

And in a hurry since this will be a short week before heading to play Washington on Sunday, knowing, as odd as this might sound, sole possession of first place in the NFC East will be at stake facing a team with only one victory after six games.

It's a challenge because we're dramatically different, personnel-wise, than what we were - anticipated having," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said on 105.3 The Fan the morning after. "I don't need to go down the list, but it's a big one. But that's our game."

And the Cowboys game? Right now?

They are stretching the depth of rock bottom.

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