Machota: Cowboys’ first loss came down to 2 plays; 10 other takeaways from Sunday night

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By Jon Machota 3h ago

Jason Garrett’s name was trending late Sunday night on Twitter. He’s no longer the head coach of the Cowboys, but the team’s 20-17 season-opening loss to the Los Angeles Rams led to many drawing comparisons to Garrett’s Dallas teams of the previous decade.

New head coach Mike McCarthy and his staff had nowhere near the offseason a new coach is usually allowed to make significant changes while preparing for a season opener. The absence of minicamps, organized team activities or preseason games made it extremely difficult to put an entirely new, successful product on the field. The changes are going to take some time, particularly on defense.

Offensively, more than 17 points were expected. The Cowboys averaged 27 per game last year, and this offense should be better.

Dallas ran 69 offensive plays in Sunday night’s season opener at brand new SoFi Stadium, but the loss came down to two particular plays.

The first: Fourth-and-3 from the Los Angeles 11-yard line with 11:46 remaining, down 20-17. The second: Third-and-10 from Dallas’ 34 with 31 seconds remaining, same score.

Instead of having Greg Zuerlein kick the 29-yard field goal to tie the game, McCarthy chose to be aggressive. With Dak Prescott in the shotgun and rookie wide receiver CeeDee Lamb lined up to the left of the formation, the Cowboys ran a play where Lamb ran a shallow crossing route to his right, hoping his defender would get caught up in the bodies in the middle of the field. He did not. Lamb made the two-yard catch but was immediately brought down by Rams safety Jordan Fuller.

“The conservative play there is to kick the field goal,” McCarthy said. “I just felt really good about how we were moving the football. … Analytics would tell you to go for it there, but there are other factors into that. You have to look at your variables and trust your players.

“I think especially your first time going out into a game, I want our offensive guys to play wide open. We have that capability. I’ll pull back when I feel like it’s in the best interest of the team. I clearly recognized it was a three-point game. We still had a lot of time left. I just thought that would have been a huge momentum play for us at that particular time.”

Prescott said he loved the aggressiveness in that situation.

“I think that was a point in the game, (if) we’re able to get that first down and punch it into the endzone, we’re looking at a whole different ball game,” the Cowboys QB said. “I think it was a momentum chance. I love the play call. We just weren’t able to get it.”

On the Cowboys’ final opportunity to tie or win the game, they began at their own 9-yard line with 2:28 remaining and one timeout. It took Dallas six plays to gain 25 yards before attempting the deep ball throw to Michael Gallup. Prescott threw an accurate pass, and Gallup made the impressive grab while sprinting down the left sideline. But two flags were thrown, calling Gallup for offensive pass interference after he and Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey battled for separation.

“Honestly, when you’re playing away, you’ve got to make sure you know you’re playing against the refs and the other team,” Gallup said. “It is what it is. They’re going to call it like they want to call it. We’ve got to keep playing through.

“I could’ve at least tried to pull my arm straight through, but I kept toying with him. I guess I can see it a little bit. I don’t think it was enough (to call).”

Had the play stood, Dallas would have the ball at the L.A. 19 with a half-minute left.



(Photo: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports)

“Watching it live, it just looked like two guys hand-fighting,” McCarthy said. “I thought it was well-executed. I was surprised there was a call there, either way. Obviously disappointed in the call, particularly at that point in the game. I thought they let both teams play tonight, and you just usually don’t see that, particularly in a critical point in the game.”

NFL referee Tony Corrente said after the game that the penalty was “clear and obvious on the field,” calling it a “full arm extension that created separation.”

“In all situations that would be called,” he said. “We’re not going to allow that at any time of the game.”

Corrente added: “There were two officials from two different angles that had a very good look at it, and they didn’t hesitate whatsoever, it was that clear and obvious.”
Here are 10 other notable takeaways from the Cowboys’ season opener.

1.) National anthem. Dontari Poe became the first Cowboys player to take a knee during the national anthem. The veteran defensive tackle had been clear about his intentions since signing with the team in March and throughout training camp.

“It’s just bringing more awareness to what’s going on in this world, to the racial injustices that are going on, to the oppression that’s happening to my race, the Black people,” Poe said. “It’s not something that’s going to be solved in a day. People keep asking me, ‘What is he doing?’ It’s bringing more awareness. This is letting people know, and this is my way of fighting it. It’s the beginning of it. We might not see change in my lifetime. I do want to start it by doing the simple things, such as kneeling to let people know that I feel this way. I feel hurt with what’s going on. I feel like everyone needs to be accountable. The police need to be held accountable. And the world needs to hold them accountable. That’s basically it and that’s how I feel about it.”

Poe said he told teammates and coaches he planned to kneel before the game.

“My teammates were telling me that they didn’t want me to do it by myself alone because we’re a team,” he said. “But I had told them my mind was already made up, and I felt this way. And if they didn’t, don’t do it. Don’t do it unless your heart is there like mine was. I appreciate my guys for sticking with me for being behind me.”
Poe said there were no hard feelings about none of his teammates joining him.

“No,” he said, “not at all.”

2.) Several costly injuries. Tight end Blake Jarwin, linebacker Leighton Vander Esch and offensive tackle Cameron Erving each sustained injuries that prevented them from returning to the game. Jarwin suffered a non-contact knee injury that is feared to be season-ending. Vander Esch is expected to miss an extended period of time with a fractured clavicle. Erving will miss an undetermined amount of time with a knee injury that happened when the back of his leg got rolled up on while he was blocking on a field goal attempt. Veteran Joe Thomas filled in at middle linebacker after Vander Esch exited. Sean Lee is on injured reserve for two more weeks, but he could potentially fill that role when he’s able to return. Dalton Schultz stepped into the No. 1 tight end spot in place of Jarwin. Schultz is a better blocker than Jarwin, but Jarwin is a much better receiver.

3.) Right tackle. The biggest surprise before the game was that McCarthy decided to go with undrafted rookie free agent Terence Steele as the starting right tackle over the veteran Erving. McCarthy said Steele earned the opportunity because of the way he improved throughout training camp. Steele will likely stay in the starting lineup for the next two games with La’el Collins on the three-week injured reserve.

“Terence earned it,” McCarthy said. “He came in Day One and went through the conditioning phase and the different phases, phase two, to the end of training camp and he’s a great young man, can’t say enough about him. He just kept getting better and better. Obviously the opportunity presented itself for him to get more reps. Both Cam and LC (Collins) dealt with injuries during training camp and he earned that opportunity tonight and I thought he went out there and battled.”

4.) Not enough pressure on Jared Goff. The argument can be made that there wasn’t much pressure because Goff did an excellent job most of the night getting the ball out of his hand so quickly. But there were too many times when he looked comfortable in the pocket in a matchup where the Cowboys defensive linemen should have had the upper hand against the Rams offensive linemen. Goff was sacked once and hit three times. As a point of comparison, Dak Prescott was sacked three times and hit seven. Standout edge rushers DeMarcus Lawrence and Everson Griffen did not record a sack or a QB hit. They combined for two passes defensed and four tackles.

5.) Bright spot. Aldon Smith had the most productive night along the defensive line. He generated the most pressure on Goff, sacking him once and hitting him two other times, including once in the face to force an interception. The play should have been flagged, but the officials missed the call. Smith also had a game-high 11 tackles.

“I was able to make some plays, but I also missed some plays,” Smith said. “I’m tough on myself, but I did some things well, I did some things that I can get better at.”
Smith’s sack came in a big moment. With a little over seven minutes remaining, he brought down Goff on third down, forcing a Rams punt. The Cowboys had so much trouble getting off the field on third down that Los Angeles wasn’t forced to punt for the first time until the final minute of the third quarter.

“This guy might end up with 15 sacks this year,” NBC TV analyst Cris Collinsworth said during the broadcast after Smith’s sack. “He has been really impressive to me.”

6.) Third down. The Cowboys were poor at getting off the field defensively on third down and they were poor offensively converting on third down. Before Smith’s sack, the Rams had converted on nine of their 15 third downs. They finished nine of 17.

Offensively, the Cowboys finished three of 12 times when faced with third down.

“We have to be better as an offensive unit on third down,” Ezekiel Elliott said. “You know, kind of converting those third downs and keeping the ball moving, and when we get in the red zone, scoring touchdowns. It has got to be mandatory that when we get in the red zone we score touchdowns.”

7.) CeeDee Lamb. There were some bright spots and some plays you’d like to see the rookie have back. Regardless, he showcased some of the traits that should eventually make him one of the league’s top wide receivers. He caught five of his six targets for 59 yards, the second-most receiving yards on the team behind Amari Cooper’s 81 yards on 10 receptions. Lamb also had a 20-yard punt return.

“Honestly, I’m not really too pleased with myself nor my performance,” he said. “I feel like there’s a lot more that I left on the table. There’s a lot of things that I could have had better decision making. I could have played a lot faster. I could have done a lot of things better. I could have been a better option and a better target for Dak.”

8.) Trevon Diggs. Like with Lamb, there were some positives and negatives for the rookie cornerback is his Cowboys debut. He allowed a couple of early receptions despite being in good position. But he later made a huge tackle on third down to force a punt with 2:30 remaining. Had the Cowboys won, his stop on Rams running back Malcolm Brown would have been a bigger storyline.



(Photo: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

“It felt different,” Diggs said. “My first start was cool, just getting adjusted to the speed, getting adjusted to the quarterback. The quarterback is real good. They get paid, too. They make perfect throws and stuff like that. I just had to get adjusted to it.”

9.) Ezekiel Elliott. He played well, scoring both of Dallas’ touchdowns. The first one came through the air and the second was on the ground. On both, the star running back showcased his physical style. Elliott’s workload was a popular debate entering the season with a new head coach. On Sunday, he carried a game-high 22 times for 96 yards and caught three of four targets for another 31 yards. He looked healthy and explosive, a good sign for the offense going forward.

“I think there are some bright spots today on our team,” Elliott said. “Obviously, it was a close game. We just have to be better on third down. We have to convert third downs and score in the (red) zone. … I am happy with how they used me today.”

10.) One-possession games. The Cowboys were an awful 1-6 in one-possession games last year. They’re off to a 0-1 start in 2020. They probably won’t make the playoffs if they don’t finish with at least a .500 record in close games. And they probably won’t win many of those games if they follow Sunday night’s trend of only scoring three points in the second half.

“We just didn’t get it done,” Prescott said. “It’s unfortunate, but it’s Game 1. There’s a lot of football left. I know this is a talented team. We’re going to continue to work hard and get better and improve from this game. We’ll never be satisfied with this result.”
 

Genghis Khan

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“Honestly, I’m not really too pleased with myself nor my performance,” he said. “I feel like there’s a lot more that I left on the table. There’s a lot of things that I could have had better decision making. I could have played a lot faster. I could have done a lot of things better. I could have been a better option and a better target for Dak.”
THIS.

I thought Lamb did pretty well, especially for his first game.

But Lamb's attitude towards a decent debut is what will make him great.
 

p1_

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THIS.

I thought Lamb did pretty well, especially for his first game.

But Lamb's attitude towards a decent debut is what will make him great.
agreed, Im sure he takes the blame for not getting past the sticks on the shallow cross on the controversial 4th and 3. He's gonna be great.
 

ravidubey

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agreed, Im sure he takes the blame for not getting past the sticks on the shallow cross on the controversial 4th and 3. He's gonna be great.
He has no choice on the 4th and 3 I think as there were a bunch of bodies in the way. At least he rubbed the defender off on them and then broke free.

Dak hit him short of the pylon just as the defender had reclosed in on Lamb. Had he waited another half second and thrown Lamb open towards the pylon that would have been a first down.

I don’t know that Dak had another half second to spare, but that play was just the chaos of football, not Lambs fault at all.
 
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