Well, that sure was an ego-deflator. For two months, the Dallas Cowboys have been flying high on a six-game win streak that included a victory last week in which Dak Prescott sat out to let his calf heal. Still, the Denver Broncos showed up desperate to get their season back on track on Sunday, and the Cowboys took one on the chin. It’s the first abysmal performance in which Dallas could not right the ship and get things going.
In the past, Cowboys fans have grown accustomed to their team putting out an occasional dud of an effort, and that’s what Sunday was; a dud. A hungry Denver team outplayed Dallas in every way imaginable and handed America’s Team their second loss of the season.
It’s frustrating to lose in a game where the opponents just flat out wanted to win more than the Cowboys. This team has shown signs of taking the next step toward being a possible contender in the NFC. One loss doesn’t change that, but it certainly puts Dallas on notice that they can be beaten on any given Sunday if they don’t show up ready to play. I’m sure the Cowboys thought they were prepared to win against Denver, but the Broncos’ desperation for a victory should be a wake-up call for this team.
The hunger and intensity can’t be overshadowed by complacency. Let’s take a look at the positives and negatives from the Dallas Cowboys’ 30-16 loss to the Broncos.
Takeaways From the Dallas Cowboys Week 9 Loss
Rookies continue to progress
It may not seem like there were many positives to take away from this loss, but there were a few. Micah Parsons continued his stretch of outstanding play with ten tackles and 2.5 sacks. He’s been nothing short of sensational since coming out of the bye week.
While the Cowboys had tackling issues for most of the contest, Parsons and fellow linebacker Leighton Vander Esch were the two players who were strong and disciplined at the point of attack. Perhaps his most significant contributions came on blitzes where he put an end to several drives. The Dallas Cowboys had chances to get back in the game in the second and third quarter, and his sacks set them up.
Osa Odighizuwa also continues to make flashes. While he hasn’t been as consistent as Parsons thus far, he looked dominant early in the contest. Odighizuwa repeatedly got into the backfield and disrupted the run in the early going and had several plays throughout the night that continued to show what he’s capable of at the three-tech. Between his and Carlos Watkins’ play on the first several drives, it appeared Dallas would dominate the line of scrimmage in this one. Unfortunately, we didn’t see the same productive play from Chauncey Golston at end.
I’m also still waiting to see Dallas slide Kelvin Jospeh into some defensive packages to get his feet wet. Still, Odighizuwa looks to be a future star for this team, and Parsons is already there.
Wake-Up Call delivered
It’s never fun to get punched in the mouth as Dallas did, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. Before the Minnesota game, the Dallas Cowboys had gone through a spell of starting flat against inferior opponents. We seemed destined to for an upset like this, and while the Vikings game was a bit different, it’s understandable that they dialed up their focus a notch considering Prescott wasn’t playing. Still, the Broncos didn’t just upset America’s Team. They embarrassed us on our home field.
As I said earlier, they beat us in every way possible, and in the end, the Cowboys were left with egg on their face. Now, Dallas has to live with it for a week. Professional athletes can claim to block out the outside noise and the media, but that’s just not possible with today’s modern technology and social media. The Cowboys’ effort (or lack thereof) has been mocked on every media outlet, and deservedly so.
They are poking the bear, and make no mistake about it, Dallas’ play this year has made them a dominant force in the NFL. How the Cowboys respond will be determined in the coming weeks, but we will find out who likes being the target of ridicule and who refuses to let it happen again.
This could be the reality check they needed to understand just how difficult it is to win in the NFL because over the last several months, it hasn’t seemed all that tough. Still, at 6-2, Dallas controls their spot in the division and the conference. How they respond will say a lot about this team’s character.
Failing to match intensity
While this wake-up call may turn out to be a good thing, there is nothing fun about getting embarrassed on your home turf by a team you should beat. Yes, it happened across the NFL this week.
The midway point of the season is always a dangerous time because teams that are riding high start getting a little complacent, and struggling teams start doing the math. Still, no matter how good the favorite or how bad the underdog is, two teams playing with different intensity is a recipe for disaster.
We saw that against Denver, and no matter what Dallas did, we just couldn’t get out of the funk. There is no reason Randy Gregory should struggle to get pressure against a pair of backup tackles when he’s been playing lights out for the last several weeks.
There is no reason a journeyman like Ronald Darby should consistently blanket guys like Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb. While Tim Patrick is a very underrated player, he shouldn’t be embarrassing Trevon Diggs snap after snap. However, that’s what happens when one team wants to win more than the other. Hungry players see their game get elevated while the rest struggle to have an impact. And while some may point to luck being on Denver’s side on several occasions, determined players have a way of making their own luck.
That’s what happened on Sunday. Even when Denver saw multiple starters miss the game and a handful of others get injured, they kept their edge. The Dallas Cowboys have gotten away with coming out flat or unfocused too many times this season, and now we have proof of how vulnerable it can make them.
I don’t know what it is about Denver, but the last several meetings between these two teams have seen the Dallas Cowboys struggle to tackle. It’s been C.J. Anderson in the past, and last Sunday, anyone wearing orange looked like Earl Campbell. Yes, desire had a lot to do with it on Sunday, but there were also plenty of lapses in technique and discipline. Tackling high is never going to be a good idea in the NFL, and we saw it too often.
Maybe Dallas didn’t read a single scouting report on Javonte Williams coming out of North Carolina, but the guy doesn’t go down easy. He led the country in broken tackles a year ago as a Tar Heel, breaking a tackle every .48 carries, according to Pro Football Focus. That’s every other run. Still, Melvin Gordon, Tim Patrick, and Jerry Jeudy didn’t look too shabby either. They played with heart, but it had just as much to do with Dallas coming in high or failing to wrap up and finish.
This can’t be an issue moving forward. While our defense is improved, it’s not entirely fixed. A lot of our success has stemmed from opponents abandoning the run, effectively making them one-dimensional. The offense has had a lot to do with that, but the defense has been very strong against the run as well. However, if Dallas fails to do that, we see just how much work the front office has left to do on our defense.
The bottom line is this team tackled poorly, and it led to Denver limiting the Cowboys to less than 20 minutes in time of possession. That’s not a recipe for success, considering Dallas has one of the top offenses in football.
Dak Prescott’s Rust
This was a game to forget for the Dallas Cowboys’ signal-caller. Prescott’s ball placement and touch were an issue throughout the night, leading to an abysmal performance.
However, what really shocked me about his performance were his decisions. On the first fourth down, Dallas was outnumbered in the box, considering Prescott has not been a running option this year. Either he needs to check to a pass on that play, or he needs to switch to a run that doesn’t allow Justin Simmons to be a factor coming from the backside.
A designed run to the play-side A-gap puts Simmons in position to make that stop, and Ezekiel Elliott deserves part of the blame too. You can’t cut back knowing you’re outnumbered over there. There may not be a running lane on the play side, but he needs to carve out a yard.
He didn’t even peak at the backside drag on another fourth-down attempt, choosing instead to throw to Noah Brown. Patrick Surtain got away with holding Brown out of the break on the play, but he should have been the final option in the progression. Prescott looked at the flat, which was covered up, but never got his eyes on Schultz, who was several steps ahead of his defender.
However, the worst was the miss to Lamb on fourth down. Prescott missed several opportunities for big plays, but fourth down isn’t the time to swing for the fence. He had a step on Stephen Weatherly, and getting the first down should have been the priority. Instead, Dallas failed on their third fourth-down attempt of the game. You can chalk it up to rust or even pressing to do too much, but it wasn’t a great day for Prescott.