Cowboys Caught By Cats With Next Opponent Looming Large

Adjustments are a part of life. Those who intermittently ignore this fact are bound to encounter occasional strife. Those who regularly defy this daily detail are fated to see their goals continually derail.

The urban definition of insanity is “doing the exact same thing over and over again, expecting the result to change.”

Adjustments become even more important when your decisions impact those around you; who may be specifically conditioned (with rare exception) to seek your guidance on how, what, where, when, and why to do.

A professional football organization, comprised of 46 active game day players divided among offense, defense, and special teams. This requires all types of plans, chief among them being the forward-thinking kind.

“America’s Team” traveled to Bank of America Stadium to play their first game of the 2018-2019 NFL campaign. Roster deficiencies were well-documented for both the Dallas Cowboys and the Carolina Panthers, yet the game would largely be decided by self-inflicted mental pain.

Cowboys Nation would suffer cardiac arrest watching what felt like a mudslinging contest. While “Marinelli’s Men” demonstrated significant-if-imperfect competitiveness, “Linehan’s Clan” showed its 2017 coyote ugliness. The Cowboys would lose to the Panthers 16-8 in a way that fans absolutely love to hate.

Teams win and lose, it is HOW a team can lose that intensely bothers fans. If a team truly competes and still gets beat, the losing team receives less heat. If a physically-equipped team stutters (in the absence of creative play-call rudders), angry fans search for their box cutters.

“Even the best-laid plan can end up in the can, but the Cowboys had all offseason to flexibly formulate the right plan, hire the right messengers to implement that plan, and acquire the right talent to execute that plan,” fans would passionately plea.

“The Cowboys had all offseason to blah, blah, blah” is what the coaches and players might as well have been hearing; unless they were being addressed by GM Jerry Jones in a manner far less endearing.

Among Jason Garrett’s many management mantras is his “right kind of guys.” While that concept has ideally been about avoiding players so bogus, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan continues to engage in play-calling hocus pocus.

One might say Linehan embodies the very name of Jane’s Addiction’s “Ritual de lo Habitual” album. His career body of work (not just with Dallas) revolves around a ritual beating of his habitual, predictable play-calling drum.

If so “many people within NFL circles” insist Jason Garrett and Scott Linehan really know their stuff, then Garrett and Linehan are clearly obstinate towards making any significant, systemic or situational play-call adjustments in favor of making the Cowboys’ road any less rough. Stubbornness to the point of stupidity becomes constricted by the concept of adjust or bust.

Former Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman said during the game, “I’m not seeing any creativity.” Instead of conveying any hint of objectivity, Stephen Jones generally dismissed it as armchair quarterback negativity. Jones believes the players will come around towards better execution of called plays. He believes in Dallas’ CCC (Creatively Challenged Coordinator) and does not see him becoming a Cowboys casualty.

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Technicalities or imperfections are to be expected, but using continuously using technicalities as the excuse should be roundly rejected. As long as you continue to call plays so robotically, players will not feel encouraged enough to perform autonomously. Carefully threading the needle to bypass clear fault may finally bring one or more coaching opportunities to a grinding halt.

“Fit the system to the players, not the players to the system.” – Bill “The Big Tuna” Parcells.

“Altering his system to fit his players is one of Bill Parcells’ best attributes.” – Jerry Jones (who only brought Parcells to Dallas to help him land “Jerry World,” a fact about which he made no bones).

“Trust the system” is what every coach tells every player, but if those coaches refuse to adjust their systems to fit their available athletes, their team rarely have a prayer. The ability to adjust is a must. Adjustments are not merely a choice but a requirement in today’s NFL environment.

It Figures

“The Tortured Cowboys Fan” tries hard to avoid being “just another numbers guy,” but here are some critical figures on the fly.

Dak Prescott, in his last nine games, has gone 164-260 pass attempts for 1,676 yards with 6 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, about a 75.0 passer rating, and his yards per attempt is a shade over 6.5. Over that time frame, Dak has been sacked 28 times, and Dallas’ record is 4-5.

Receiver snaps in Carolina saw Cole Beasley with 43, Allen Hurns with 38, Deonte Thompson with 30, Michael Gallup with 29, Terrance Williams with 19, and Tavon “I’m Not A Bust” Austin with 9. Outside of two underwhelming punt returns, Austin had one carry for one yard. After how he was (under)utilized by the Rams, and after the way Linehan praised his new “web back,” the kickoff to a fresh approach should not have been this hard.

Dallas point totals in the same games: 7, 9, 6, 38, 30, 20, 12, 6, and 8. So, going from 6 to 8 must mean the Cowboys are about to change their fate! Right? Depending upon who you ask, you might be told to “go, um, fly a kite!”

People who watched the games could see those poor-protection-effected numbers would make it hard for anyone to survive. Poor play calls, however, tend to provoke poor decisions, which beget missed assignments, which beget awful accuracy that collectively crushes a team’s chances to establish some bedrock and begin to thrive. And that is just in reference to the Cowboys’ offense, which (like a poorly potty-trained pet) repeatedly left an odoriferous field position mess for the defense.

Marinelli’s Men did their collective job in keeping the nimble Newton from completely running wild and preventing mighty mite Christian McCaffrey from totally gouging them on the ground and ripping them with his racetrack YAC.

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While Sean Lee missed an uncommon number of tackles, Jeff Heath also missed on a potential second-quarter interception. It might not have been game-turning but – on such a humid, cramp-creating day to play – it would have resulted in a “get the defense off the field” exemption.

Just when the Cowboys thought they would finally have a balance between the offense and defense for the first time in years, it figures they would have to switch gears.

The Name Game

Cowboys write Jean-Jacques Taylor asked fans on Twitter to describe the first game of the season in four words. Only one acronym came to mind. It seems appropriate for a season that – based (yes, hysterically) upon game one – may prove quite a grind.

Short Shots And Hot Spots

The Cowboys’ new kicker Brett Maher? With but one failed attempt, he further lowered fan expectation. And with every successive crooked creation, wagers will grow on how soon he may be sent on (permanent) vacation.

According to Jason La Canfora (former NFL Network analyst and current host of “B-More Opinionated”) took at twitter bat to the Cowboys Nation beehive back in late August when he suggested defensive end Randy Gregory (forevermore on the suspension bubble) might have steered back in the direction of the same old trouble.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter conveyed the same message on the eve of game one. The shower rods were out en masse and some fans think Gregory may be done.

If anyone paid attention to how well Earl “Practice This” Thomas performed in Seattle’s first game, they know the Seahawks will confidently remind Jerry that anything less than a first-round pick in next year’s draft is absolutely lame. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes to the fact the Seahawks will change their tune as soon as they reach the “love ‘em or lose ‘em” NFL trading deadline . . . and accept less.

While the Cowboys signed veteran offensive guard Xavier Su’a-Filo, the former 41-game starter for the Texans has skills that have simply been slow to grow. After departing the Titans in the preseason, he appeared to have nowhere else to go. He replaces Kadeem Edwards at guard (a position at for which finding depth continues to be hard).

Will They Or Won’t They?

If “if’s and but’s were candies and nuts,” Cowboys Nation would be cavity-riddled or toothless, yet waiting around for coaching tigers to change their stripes is equally ruthless. Bill Parcells was-and-is fond of saying “You are what your record says you are.” The Cowboys are lucky they have at least 15 more opportunities this season to prove the last game one was just a result of rust – not an impending bust – and that Dallas can, indeed, go far.

The G-Men cometh to AT&T Stadium this Sunday evening, pride-driven and determined to leave the host Cowboys and their fans grieving. The Cowboys need to get past their Carolina catastrophe and find a way to take charge against visitors so large.

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It may only be the second game of another survivor season, but a loss by either team to the other is viewed by fans as nothing less than treason. More than not wanting to head into week three with an 0-2 mark, however, is the serious need to avoid seeing offensive output continues to go dark.

Both teams enter Jerry’s Thunderdome with improved defenses, offensive lines in various stages of disrepair, and quarterback quandaries.

Will game two devolve into a mediocrity matchup that makes the collective fanbase throw up?

Will the New York Giants’ offensive line be allowed to muster enough untimely skill to help Saquon Barkley deliver a bitter rushing attack pill? Will Eli Manning be allowed enough space to find Odell “Billion Dollar” Beckham, Jr. stave off imminent retirement planning?

Will Marinelli’s Men tighten up their handful of game one leaks to ensure no one on New York’s offense peaks? Will Randy Gregory have recovered enough from his concussion to be a participant or will the NFL office lay down the mother of all admonishments?

Will Tyron Smith slow his roll with the holding penalties, or will they continue to be a highlight of opposing team amenities? Will he and the rest of the embattled offensive line help Dak avoid another sack and allow Zeke to lay some track? Or will his medically-managed back engage in an early-season attack? Will second-round pick Connor Williams recover enough from a poor game one result, or will Dallas be forced to see if newly-signed Su’a-Filo can be the veteran adult?

Will Dak give himself a chance to better succeed in the event of another potential play call bleed? Will Prescott proactively engage in rollouts, pocket escapability, and the occasional higher-speed run when he senses his pass protection is all but done? Will it simply be too much for him to add some passing touch?

Will the Cowboys’ work-in-progress receivers finally include Zeke for a more dynamic group of retrievers?

Will the Cowboys avert an 0-2 start or will they make deficient performances into an art?

We shall see. We always do.

Eric M. Scharf

Eric M. Scharf

Editor SportsTalkLiine at SportsTalkLine
Dad of dos, husband, and senior creative management specialist for the greater software industry since 1991. Dallas Cowboys and NFL fan since 1976 and writer provocateur as #TheTorturedCowboysFan since 2008.