The most disturbing thing about the Dallas Cowboys’ loss in Seattle had nothing to do with the final score. It’s the fact that a team coming off one of its most physical training camps in years was manhandled by a Seahawks team that’s never been known as the Monsters of the Midway – or Puget Sound.
It remains to be seen just how bad Sunday’s 27-7 loss was because it’s tough to predict where either team is headed. But in the here and now, it seems fair to pass judgment on a Cowboys team that was physically whipped in every phase of the game by a Seahawks team that was coming off a season-opening loss to the surprising Arizona Cardinals. Raise your hand if you predicted the NFC West would be one of the toughest divisions in the NFL.
Another look at Sunday’s loss (I’m a glutton for punishment) confirmed for me what a lot of us suspected. There were Cowboys players who appeared to tap out of that game as the Seahawks continued to bludgeon them with teeth-rattling hits. For starters, wide receiver Dez Bryant wanted no part of the middle of the field after being rocked a couple times in the first half. On one awful drop that would’ve set up the Cowboys deep in Seahawks territory, Bryant appeared to “hear footsteps” even though the nearest defender wasn’t within five yards of him.
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett was in full droid mode at his day-after news conference Monday. There wasn’t a hint of disgust in his voice during a clinical analysis that couldn’t have played well with angry fans who yearned for him to call out underperforming players such as Bryant and the team’s portly tailback, Felix “Porkchop” Jones. He was asked repeatedly whether the Cowboys lost their resolve in the second half.
“I don’t think at any point we lost our competiveness or our fight,” said Garrett.
But the Cowboys did shrink as the Seahawks embarked on two touchdowns drives that covered 178 yards. The most curious decision to me was defensive coordinator Rob Ryan not putting more pressure on rookie quarterback Russell Wilson. The previous week, Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton dialed up blitzes nearly 50 percent of the time while battering Wilson in the Cardinals’ 20-16 win. Horton told me last week that Wilson rarely even got to his second read.
Perhaps Ryan figured that All-Pro outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware didn’t need any help since he was lining up across from reserve left tackle Frank Omiyale. But save for the time no one blocked Anthony Spencer, Wilson had plenty of time in the pocket. He didn’t put up big numbers, but anyone referring to him as a “bus driver” didn’t pay close attention. He used his athleticism to scramble and make plays on the rare occasions he felt pressure, and he delivered a perfect pass to tight end Anthony McCoy when the Cowboys had a – wait for it – coverage bust.
Last season, Ryan had the built-in excuse of not having any offseason with players who were mostly unfamiliar to him. He doesn’t have that excuse now, and that’s why it’s hard to understand why this alleged mad genius deployed such a vanilla game plan. Hopefully it had nothing to do with that dramatic haircut that is bound to inspire another generation of “bowl” cuts in North Texas.
The Cowboys were bound to come down to earth after that win in the Meadowlands, but it was hard to predict the type of crash we witnessed Sunday. Garrett will hopefully relieve Jones of his kick-return duties this week, and no one would’ve complained if he presented the former Razorback with a pink slip. Jones was drafted in the first round to be a complementary back to Marion Barber. And he’s had some good moments as a change-of-pace back in his career. But he reported for camp out of shape and promptly failed a conditioning test. This might be a good time for Garrett to show how accountability works, but of course the head coach answers to the biggest Razorback fan of them all.
And he still thinks it’s ludicrous to consider cutting ties with Jones. On Tuesday, the owner wasn’t even sure Felix should lose his job on kick returns.
“I don’t know about that,” Jones told 105.3 The Fan. “I think we saw him be quick at practice last week. I think we need to give him a little more room out there.
“Felix has returned a lot of kickoffs in his time – All-American twice in college as a kickoff returner. We have over the years been reluctant to use him as a kickoff returner because we didn’t want to risk injury, but we’ve decided this year to use him as a kickoff returner. He should be a great asset for us. That’s the way it remains.”
But Jerry, wasn’t Jones at least 20 pounds lighter at that point? Oh, I guess no one actually asked him that question.
It’s too early to make any wide-sweeping declarations about the 2012 Cowboys. But Sunday didn’t offer any encouraging clues.
In fact, two wildly different outcomes only reminded us of teams of the past.