In 1999, the Indianapolis Colts had a magical season, going 13-3 after being mired in mediocrity or much worse for most of the decade. That Colts team hosted division rival Tennessee in the first playoff game ever played in Indianapolis. The Colts, however, could not stop running back Eddie George and fell 19-16.
A year later, the Colts had another year of maturity, but they stuggled to a 7-6 record. A late run allowed Indianapolis to enter the playoffs, only to lose in the wildcard round of the playoffs.
By 2001, the same team had a complete collapse, losing seven of eight games to finish 6-10. This was the season when former coach Jim Mora uttered his infamous statement, “Playoffs? Don’t talk about playoffs. Are you kidding me? Playoffs?”
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After recording the 13-3 record in 2007 before losing to a division rival, the 2008 Cowboys have fallen fast. This team will be lucky to match the 10-6 record the Colts posted in 2000. At this point, I’m betting against it.
If this were merely a matter of the Cowboys lacking discipline, that would be one thing. But there are parts of this team that weren’t great last year and have become worse this year. Today, all of these flaws were on full display, which led to the sickening 34-14 loss to the lowly Rams today.
1. Special Teams Coverage
After Dallas scored on the opening drive, the special teams followed up last week’s performance by giving up a 32-yard return to the St. Louis 38. Sure, the Cowboys held for the most part on the two other kickoffs, but teams can rest assured that they will have one big return against the Cowboys in every game.
2. Weak Secondary
Dallas looked pretty good on its opening drive, but the defense could not sustain the momentum. Rookie receiver Donnie Avery ran right by Anthony Henry for a 42-yard touchdown. If there were safety help on the play… oh, never mind. Why provide safety help?
As a backup between 2005 to 2007, Marion Barber had a total of six fumbles. As a starter in 2008, he has five. The only good thing to come from Barber’s first quarter fumble was that the Rams missed a field goal attempt afterward. Of course, it didn’t matter.
Brad Johnson’s three picks were not surprising, given that he was way off all game. Whatever his experience was supposed to do for him today… failed.
The Cowboys had eight penalties for 56 yards. The timing of several of them were awful.
* On 3rd and goal from the Dallas 2 in the 1st quarter: Greg Ellis was called for defensive holding, giving the Rams a first down.
* 24-yard pass play to the St. Louis 5 on a pass to Jason Witten was negated by a penalty on Witten.
* On the first drive of the second half, Dallas moved the ball to the St. Louis 24, facing a 3rd and 1. Flozell Adams was called for a false start. Johnson hit Witten for five yards, setting up a 4th-and-1. Dallas appeared to get the first down on the next play, but Martellus Bennett was called for false start. Nick Folk then missed a field goal.
5. Poor Tackling
I am not going to take the time to watch how many tackles the Cowboys missed today, but tackling has been a chronic problem for quite some time. Ken Hamlin missed a tackle on one of Steven Jackson’s touchdown runs today, and there were other culprits here and there was well.
6. Pass Rush
One of biggest weaknesses the Cowboys had under Bill Parcells was the complete lack of pass rush. It didn’t matter of the Cowboys blitzed, moved guys around, danced a jig, or whatever, the team seemed to fall into quicksand once it tried to rush the passer.
It isn’t any better now. DeMarcus Ware is a monster, but nobody else can put pressure on the quarterback consistently.
7. Pass Protection
Unlike the Cowboys’ defensive line, the Rams had no trouble pressuring Brad Johnson today with their down linemen. Johnson had trouble getting his feet set, thanks to a terrible effort by Marc Columbo and an even worse effort by Flozell Adams.
None of these things and none of the general discipline problems appear to be getting better at all. It is a lost franchise right now that is headed for its third 9-7 season in the past four years. The good news? 9-7 won’t qualify for this team for the playoffs, so we won’t have to watch another loss there.
Put all of this in perspective:
* In the case of the Colts, Indianapolis had to go through a new head coach starting in 2002 and had several playoff failures before finally winning a playoff game in 2003. If Dallas followed this path, the Cowboys wouldn’t win a playoff game until 2011.
* In the Cowboys’ franchise history, the Cowboys did not win a playoff game between 1967 and 1970. If this season is analogous to 1968 and if everything worked out the same, Dallas wouldn’t win a playoff game until 2010.
At this point, we need to start hoping that history is completely irrelevant.