Without significant effort, it was difficult in 2013 to keep track of who was playing defense for the Dallas Cowboys. The names are as obscure as some of those who played in the replacement games in 1987.
So let’s have fun with it. In the puzzle below, find the names of the players who played on the defensive line for the Cowboys in 2013.
Everyone knows the Cowboys set a franchise record for futility on defense by allowing 6,645 yards. The team allowed 432 points, which is the second-highest total in team history.
The highest total remains 436, set by the 2010 Cowboys. A difference? The 2010 team only scored 394 points, while the 2013 team scored 439.
* * *
Those 439 points rank fifth in team history behind the 1983 team (479), the 2007 team (455), the 1980 team (454), and the 1966 team (445) p0ints.
Of course, the 1966 team still has the mark for most points scored per game, as the team averaged 31.79 per game in a 14-game season.
* * *
The Cowboys ranked 5th in the league in points scored but only 16th in yards gained. The #16 ranking is the lowest finish for a Dallas team since the Cowboys ranked 30th in 2002.
* * *
The Cowboys finished with a turnover ratio of +7. This ranked 9th in the league, which is the highest such rank since 2007.
Dallas had a turnover ratio of -13 in 2012 and -11 in 2008. Fortunately, those are the only two seasons since 2006 in which the Cowboys have had negative ratios.
* * *
The Cowboys tied for 29th in the NFL in total number of penalties with 112. Dallas ranked 7th in 2012 with 89 and tied for 2nd in 2011 with 85. The yards given up via penalty increased from 726 in 2011 to 875 in 2013.
* * *
The Cowboys had 42 sacks in 2011. That number decreased to 34 in 2012 and 2013.
* * *
The Cowboys were among three teams (Denver, Baltimore) to attempt seven field goals of 50 yards or more. Like the Broncos and Ravens, Dallas made six of them.
* * *
Lastly, the Cowboys tied for 7th in the league with an average of 4.5 yards per rushing attempt. However—and this will surprise nobody—the Cowboys ranked 31st in rushing attempts with 336.
Know Your Dallas Cowboys has existed since 2006, covering eight seasons. This period includes some of the most frustrating points in franchise history. I need not summarize.
Add another gut wrenching loss to the mix of gut-wrenching losses suffered during those eight seasons.
With the division title and a playoff berth on the line, the Cowboys appeared to have lost by the middle of the fourth quarter. Trailing 17-16, the Cowboys faced a 4th and 1 near the Philadelphia 40. Jason Garrett decided to go for it, but Kyle Orton’s pass was deflected at the line of scrimmage. The Eagles then drove the ball down the field for the next 5 minutes and scored to make it a 24-16 game.
Dallas faced a 4th and 9 from the Eagle 32 on the next drive, and the situation looked bleak. But then Orton found Dez Bryant over the middle, and Bryant not only made the first down but also made it all the way to the end zone. The Cowboys could not convert the 2-point conversion, though, and still trailed 24-22.
The defense that has not been able to stop anyone all year made a critical stop, and the Cowboys got the ball back at their own 32 with 1:49 remaining.
Tony Romo was not the quarterback, but the result was just all too familiar.
Orton tried to get the ball to Miles Austin on the first play of the drive, but Orton underthrew his receiver. The ball hit Brandon Boykin in the chest, and the interception effectively ended the Cowboys’ season.
Orton and Jason Witten had good games on paper, but both made critical mistakes. Witten could not manage to knock down a poorly thrown pass in the first half, and the play resulted in an interception. The Eagles turned around and scored a touchdown. DeMarco Murray fumbled earlier in the game, and the Eagles turned around and kicked a field goal.
Including the 4th and 1 play, the Eagles were able to score 17 points off Dallas mistakes. Those points were just enough to keep the Cowboys out of the playoffs for the fourth straight year.
It has become easy to forget that the Dallas Cowboys were supposed to have turned a corner in 2009 when they beat the Philadelphia Eagles in back-to-back games. The first win clinched the NFC East title for Dallas. The second gave the Cowboys their only playoff win since 1996.
Here are the video highlights. Some faces are the same, but you will see quite a bit of Marion Barber and Patrick Crayton, along with big plays by Felix Jones, Doug Free (on Jones’ touchdown run), and Jay Ratliff.
With their season on the line, the Dallas Cowboys found a way to turn a 14-6 halftime lead over the Washington Redskins into a 23-14 deficit.
How? A fumble by fullback Tyler Clutts, who had not touched the ball in a regular season game since 2011, set up a touchdown. A Tony Romo interception on a play where Dez Bryant fell down set up a second touchdown. A completely stupid personal foul penalty on J.J. Wilcox allowed Washington to continue a drive and kick a field goal.
So when the Cowboys took control of the ball with 14:46 left in the game and trailing 23-14, it was easy to make a couple of assumptions.
First, it was easy to assume the Cowboys would not run the ball again for the rest of the game. And second, it was easy to assume this team was just about ready to quit.
Both assumptions were quite false.
On the Cowboys’ first drive of the fourth quarter, DeMarco Murray carried the ball 8 times for 26 yards, helping Dallas to move the ball 71 yards to set up a field goal.
When the defense needed to make one stop, the defense came through, stopping the Redskins after one first down.
The Cowboys’ offense took the ball at the Dallas 13 and had to move the ball 87 yards in 3:39 to win the game. It was that simple.
Two passes, including a 51-yarder, to Terrance Williams gave the Cowboys a chance to score the go-ahead touchdown. The Cowboys moved the ball to the Washington 1 at the two-minute warning.
It appeared that the biggest concern was not whether the Cowboys would score but whether the Redskins would have too much time to drive for the game-winning field goal.
However, Washington stuffed Murray on a 2nd-and-goal from the 1. Then disaster struck, as Murray tried to reverse his field on an outside run, and he somehow lost 9 yards. Dallas faced a 4th-and-goal from the 10.
Romo had one more chance. He bought some time on the play before looking to his right and finding Murray. Romo threw to the back, who dove into the end zone. The extra point gave Dallas the lead.
The Redskins still had 1:08 remaining but had no timeouts. A penalty moved the ball back to the Washington 13. The maligned Dallas defense needed to make plays.
And it did. Yes, the plays stopped a 3-11 team playing with its backup quarterback, but the Dallas defense forced a turnover on downs, giving the Cowboys a chance to play for the NFC East title against Philadelphia next Sunday.
* * *
The final couple of games for Dallas are similar to the final games in 2009. That year, the Cowboys had a 9-5 mark when they visited Washington in week 16. The Cowboys qualified for the playoffs with a win over the Redskins, setting up a season finale with the NFC East title on the line.
Dallas thumped the visiting Eagles in week 17 and then beat the Eagles again for the franchise’s only playoff win since 1996.
* * *
A few notes about stats:
- Murray now has 1,073 rushing yards, making him the first Cowboy since 2006 to rush for at least 1,000 yards.
- Bryant caught his 12th touchdown reception, matching his number from 2012.
- The Cowboys allowed 297 yards, bringing the team’s average yards per game down to 418.6. This still ranks dead last in the NFL.
The 2013 marks just the fourth time in franchise history that the Cowboys have begun a season at 7-7. The three previous seasons were 1965, 1986, and 1999.
None of those seasons was memorable. However, each was noteworthy in the context of franchise history, as may the 2013 season. Below are some comparisons.
What happened in 1965? Dallas had suffered through five straight losing seasons and began the 1965 season with a 4-7 record. The worst loss was a 34-31 defeat to the Washington Redskins in a game where the Cowboys led 24-6 in the third quarter and 31-20 in the fourth quarter. However, Dallas did not lose another game during the regular season and finished with a non-losing record for the first time in franchise history.
What happened in the seasons that followed? The Cowboys became contenders one year later, going 10-3-1 and facing the Green Bay Packers in the NFL Championship Game. Dallas would not suffer through a losing season for another 20 years.
Why could the 2013 Cowboys be like the 1965 Cowboys? The 1965 squad featured a strong core of younger players reaching their prime. This group included Bob Lilly, Mel Renfro, Lee Roy Jordan, Bob Hayes, Cornell Green, and so forth. The 2013 squad has young talent as well in the form of Sean Lee, Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith, DeMarco Murray, Bruce Carter, and so forth. The team suffered through bad losses similar to the defeat to the Redskins in 1965, but the current Cowboys usually display resiliency.
Why might the Cowboys have a different future than the 1965 Cowboys? By 1965, Gil Brandt had begun to set himself apart among other head scouts. The 1964 draft for the Cowboys was one of the very best in franchise history, and the direct result was the team’s immediate improvement. In contrast, the Cowboys have had some mediocre-to-poor drafts during the past several seasons. Lee and Bruce Carter are frequently injured, and Bryant has not shown much leadership. Moreover, Jason Garrett has not proven he can manage a game effectively as a head coach, which is something Tom Landry started to prove after 1965. Hard to believe this current team would have 20 straight winning seasons.
The Cowboys technically made their first playoff appearance after the 1965 season, facing the Baltimore Colts in the Playoff Bowl. This game featured the second-place teams from each conference and was known as the Loser Bowl. Dallas lost 35-3.
What happened in 1986? The Cowboys began the 1986 season with a 6-2 record and looked like a playoff team. Then Danny White broke his wrist in a game against the Giants, and the Cowboys could only manage one win over their last eight games. The 7-9 record marked the first losing season for the franchise since 1964.
What happened in the seasons that followed? Two years later, the Cowboys were the worst team in the NFL. Tom Landry was fired in 1989 after the team posted a 3-13 record and Jerry Jones bought the team from Bum Bright.
Why could the 2013 Cowboys be like the 1986 Cowboys? The 1986 Cowboys had star power in the form of Tony Dorsett, Herschel Walker, Randy White, Danny White, and some other recognizable names. However, the team had drafted poorly for most of the 1980s, and the team simply had no depth at most positions. The current team has likewise suffered from poor drafting. Though the Cowboys have star players, they also lack depth in most key positions. The Cowboys do not have enough talent across the board to suffer losses at key positions. The injuries this year have contributed heavily to the team having the worst defense in franchise history.
Why might the Cowboys have a different future than the 1986 Cowboys? The Cowboys have more young talent than the 1986 team had. The Cowboys lost receiver Mike Sherrard to serious injuries in 1987 and 1988, and the team had to start over again at the receiver spot. The lone star by 1988 was Walker. The current team has Bryant and Murray along with some other talented skills players. Moreover, the current team operates during the free-agent era, whereas the league did not have Plan B free agency until 1989. The Cowboys could find free agent talent to replace aging or injured stars faster than the team of the late 1980s could.
My opinion: the best thing to happen to Jerry Jones would be the worst thing to happen to Cowboys’ fans, and that would be a disastrous season (like the 3-13 season of 1988). Why? Because Jerry would have little choice but to accept that the way he has operated the franchise is not going to lead to another Super Bowl appearance in the foreseeable future.
What happened in 1999? The Cowboys jumped out of the gate with a 3-0 start. However, once the Cowboys lost Michael Irvin to a career-ending neck injury, the team struggled. Dallas led in every game of the season but could only manage an 8-8 finish. The team luckily made it into the playoffs but lost to Minnesota in a forgettable game.
What happened in the seasons that followed? The Cowboys suffered through salary-cap hell along with some bad personnel decisions. Head coach Dave Campo saw his team record three consecutive 5-11 seasons between 2000 and 2002.
Why could the 2013 Cowboys be like the 1999 Cowboys? The current team has suffered from being in salary-cap hell and bad personnel decisions. Even dedicated fans would have a difficult time naming the guys playing defense in 2013, and the Cowboys will have limited ability to address weaknesses on defense because of more cap problems in 2014. Falling from 8-8 to 5-11 is not hard to imagine.
Why might the Cowboys have a different future than the 1999 Cowboys? In 1999, Jerry was still hanging on to the idea that the franchise could return to glory with just a few missing pieces, such as a good second receiver or a good defensive end. The cornerstones of the dynasty, though, had little left in the tank, and once they were gone, the team had to start over again. The current squad is not in such a dire position. Tony Romo is playing better now than Troy Aikman was in 1999 and 2000. The team might lose DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, along with some others, over the next couple of years, but it does not appear the team will face such a precipitous drop in talent that the team experienced in 2000 and 2001.
Based on a search I ran on Pro-Football-Reference, the Cowboys have a combined record of 223-11 in games where they led by at least 10 points in the fourth quarter. Here is my Facebook post about this search:
Between 2005 and 2010, the Cowboys could and often would turn to running back Marion Barber, who had a knack for making key first downs and allowing the Cowboys to run out the clock.
The Cowboys lost two games during that span in which the team led by as many as 10 points in the fourth quarter—a 14-13 loss to the Redskins in 2005 and a 20-13 loss to the Steelers in 2008. Barber did not play in either game, as he was not yet part of the offense in 2005 and was injured in the 2008 game.
The Cowboys struggles against the Steelers in 2008 were similar to those in recent years. Dallas had a 13-3 fourth-quarter lead and attempted to kill the clock. However, the team could only turn to Tashard Choice, who struggled to run the ball. Once the Steelers tied the game at 13, the Cowboys had to rely on Tony Romo to move the team into field goal range.
Romo instead threw an interception returned for a touchdown. The Cowboys did not recover.
Without Barber since 2011, the Cowboys seldom rely on their running game to close out games. DeMarco Murray is not the same type of runner that Barber was, and the Cowboys apparently do not trust him to run the ball unless the defense lines up without their safeties in the box. That apparently explains why Dallas was throwing so much in their loss to the Packers.
The defensive alignment never seemed to matter when the Cowboys had Barber, who found ways to make first downs even when everyone in the stadium knew he would get the ball.
In an old post, I wrote a summary of Barber’s best games as of the end of 2009. Here is that list:
Oct. 30, 2005: Dallas 34, Arizona 13
Filling in for an injured Julius Jones, Barber carried the ball 27 times for 127 yards in a 34-13 win over Arizona. With the Cowboys leading by at least two touchdowns, Barber touched the ball 14 times in the fourth quarter.
Oct. 29, 2006: Dallas 35, Carolina 14
The Cowboys had a 21-14 lead in the fourth quarter when safety Roy Williams picked off a pass in Carolina territory. The Cowboys alternated between Barber and Julius Jones, but it was Barber who found the end zone twice in the final three minutes to put the game away for Dallas.
Nov. 12, 2006: Dallas 38, Arizona 10
Dallas dominated the Cardinals in Arizona, taking a 20-3 lead late in the third quarter. In the final 17 minutes of the game, Barber touched the ball 10 times and scored a short run to increase the lead to 27-3 early in the fourth quarter.
Nov. 23, 2006: Dallas 38, Tampa Bay 10
In another blowout, Dallas held a 35-10 lead in the third quarter. In the final 18:36, Barber ran the ball 11 times and helped to set up the final field goal.
Dec. 16, 2006: Dallas 38, Atlanta 28
The Cowboys had a narrow 31-28 lead at Atlanta when the Falcons punted with 8:58 remaining. Barber took over from there, catching one pass early in the drive and then running six consecutive times. The sixth rush was a three-yard touchdown, securing the Dallas win.
Sept. 9, 2007: Dallas 45, N.Y. Giants 35
In a wild season opener, Dallas took a 45-35 lead late in the game when Tony Romo hit Sam Hurd on a 51-yard touchdown. The Giants punted the ball back to the Cowboys with 2:08 remaining. From there, Barber ran the ball five straight times, helping Dallas to run out the clock.
Sept. 16, 2007: Dallas 37, Miami 20
The Dolphins would not give up in the second week of the 2007 season. After cutting the lead to 30-20 with 3:26 remaining, the Dolphins tried an onside kick. Dallas recovered, and on the next play, Barber raced 40 yards for the final score of the game.
Sept. 23, 2007: Dallas 34, Chicago 10
In another surprising blowout in 2007, Dallas held a 27-10 lead in the fourth quarter and took the ball over with 8:53 remaining. Barber touched the ball eight consecutive times on a 78-yard drive, which Barber capped off with a one-yard touchdown run.
Oct. 21, 2007: Dallas 24, Minnesota 14
The Cowboys took a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter. In the final eight minutes of the game, Barber carried the ball 11 times, putting the game away.
Nov. 11, 2007: Dallas 31, N.Y. Giants 20
With Dallas leading 31-20 in the fourth quarter, Barber touched the ball eight times, helping the Cowboys to a key win at the Meadowlands.
Nov. 22, 2007: Dallas 34, N.Y. Jets 3
In a blowout win, Barber touched the ball 11 times in the final 10:47 to help the Cowboys run out the clock in a Thanksgiving Day win.
Nov. 29, 2007: Dallas 37, Green Bay 27
With the Cowboys holding on to a one-touchdown lead with 5:03 left, the Cowboys turned to Barber. He carried the ball seven times for 26 yards to help set up a field goal that iced the game for Dallas.
Dec. 22, 2007: Dallas 20, Carolina 13
The Cowboys’ held a one-touchdown lead with about three minutes remaining. Needing at least a first down, Barber came through with runs of 9 and 11 yards to help secure the win for Dallas.
Sept. 15, 2008: Dallas 41, Philadelphia 37
Barber did not put the game away against the Eagles in the second week of the 2008 season, but his one-yard touchdown run was the game winner in an early season victory.
Oct. 5, 2008: Dallas 31, Cincinnati 22
With the Cowboys barely holding on to a 24-22 lead with 7:39 remaining, the Cowboys turned to Barber, who gained 20 yards on the team’s final scoring drive that put the Bengals away.
Nov. 16, 2008: Dallas 14, Washington 10
The Cowboys were holding on to a 14-10 lead over the Redskins when the Cowboys stopped a Washington drive in Dallas territory. In his greatest effort as a closer so far, Barber touched the ball 11 straight times. His last run on a fourth-and-one play put the game away for the Cowboys.
Nov. 23, 2008: Dallas 35, San Francisco 22
With the Cowboys having trouble putting the 49ers away, Dallas turned to Barber on two fourth quarter drives. He touched the ball eight times, helping the secure the win.
Sept. 13, 2009: Dallas 34, Tampa Bay 21
The Cowboys had trouble putting the Buccaneers away in the opening game of the 2009 season. On a late scoring drive, highlighted by a 44-yard pass play from Romo to Patrick Crayton, Barber ran the ball four times and scored from six yards out, helping the Cowboys to a win.
Nov. 8, 2009: Dallas 20, Philadelphia 16
The Eagles cut the Dallas led to 20-16 with 4:27 remaining in a key NFC East game on Sunday night. With the Cowboys needing first downs, Dallas gave ball to Barber, who gained 23 yards on three consecutive carries. Since the Eagles were out of timeouts, a third down conversion on a pass from Romo to Jason Witten put the game away.
The Dallas Cowboys still control their own destiny and will make the playoffs by winning their final two games.
Few teams in league history have be less deserving if the Cowboys do this. We can go through all the four-letter words and longer words and phrases while describing this team, but we’ve said all these words and phrases before.
The short story: the Cowboys sprinted to a 26-3 first-half lead. The Cowboys were running the ball well. The Packers showed no ability to stop the run. So the Cowboys decided to throw.
And throw. And throw. And throw.
The 26-3 lead disappeared. Tony Romo threw two critical interceptions late in the game, and the Packers surged ahead and won the game.
This is the same basic team as the one that took a 27-3 lead over the Detroit Lions on October 2, 2011, only to allow the Lions back into the game by throwing and throwing and throwing.
That’s throwing picks, as in two interceptions of Tony Romo that were returned for touchdowns to allowed the Lions back into the game.
There have been other absolutely pathetic losses during the Garrett tenure, with the loss to the Lions in 2011 being the worst.
The Cowboys’ defense in 2013 is much worse than then defense of 2011. The Cowboys needed to hold on to the ball at all costs, because this defense cannot stop anyone. Whether the Green Bay quarterback was Aaron Rodgers, Matt Flynn, a 79-year-old Bart Starr, a deceased Curly Lambeau, or any two- or four-legged animal, the Cowboys defense cannot stop anyone.
So when Flynn started hitting anyone he wanted, it came as no surprise. When the Cowboys could not stop Eddie Lacy, it came as no surprise. Any positives from the first-half were a distant memory by the beginning of the fourth quarter.
There are so many reasons for this debacle—injuries on defense, general incompetence on defense, play-calling on offense, Romo’s decision-making, Gene Jones’ selection of “Blue Field Explosions” inside AT&T Stadium (some sort of giant wall drawing; I just looked it up)—that nothing can really explain this debacle.
I won’t try.
* * *
The Cowboys could have wrapped up the NFC East by beating the Packers and Redskins and hoping for an Eagles’ loss to Bears. The Bears-Eagles game will matter only if the Cowboys lose to the Redskins. If the Cowboys win, the season finale against the Eagles is for all the marbles.
I’ll watch, even if I am quite sure I don’t want to watch any of this.
The Dallas Cowboys lost to the Green Bay Packers in the 1966 NFL Championship Game by a final score of 34-27. The Cowboys were in position to tie the game at 34 near the end of regulation.
Facing a 4th-and-goal from the Green Bay 2, Don Meredith tried to complete a touchdown pass on a rollout play, but the Packers’ Dave Robinson got to Meredith before the Dallas QB could find an open man. Meredith was able to get a pass off in Bob Hayes’ general direction, but Tom Brown intercepted the pass to secure the Green Bay win.
The Cowboys originally had the ball at the 2 on their final drive because of a pass interference call. The team lost 5 yards because of a false-start penalty, setting up a 3rd-and-goal from the 6. The Cowboys moved back to the 2 on the third-down play.
Trivia question, answered in the puzzle below: who caught the pass on third down to set up the 4th-and-goal play from the 2?