After a big win in Week 1 over their NFC East rivals, Dallas were riding high coming into this tricky road game in Denver. What happened was a rude awakening that no one saw coming.
The Cowboys held New York to just three points, with DeMarcus Lawrence causing havoc in the backfield and Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith running free all over the field everything looked just great with a new-look secondary. Oh how long ago that feels now.
The Denver Broncos sliced through the Cowboys defense with ease both on the ground and through the air. While Lawrence did make a few plays, including putting a brilliant head-fake on right tackle Menelik Watson that resulted in a strip-sack, for the most part a make-shift Denver offensive line dominated the day, keeping Trevor Siemian clean and opening up lanes for the hard-running CJ Anderson.
Siemian threw for four touchdowns while completing 68.9% of his passes as both Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders consistently found space to work. The likes of Jeff Heath and Byron Jones were left chasing shadows in the middle of the field while Sean Lee was a non-entity thanks to the poor play up front.
It was the poor run defense that really set the table for the Denver to dominate. Maliek Collins and the rest of the interior defensive line simply could not win at the line of scrimmage or keep the linebackers clean, and it resulted in Anderson and Jamaal Charles combining for 164 yards on the ground, at 4.8 yards a carry.
Offense loses its identity
Denver’s bread-and-butter is brilliant pass defense. Dallas’ calling card is excellence on the ground. What does that mean? Well, you’d expect that Dallas would be able to control the game through Ezekiel Elliott and their great offensive line. Except no…
Von Miller was brilliant positionally as ever, but inside Domata Peko, Derek Wolfe and the rest made life miserable early, and quickly the Cowboys abandoned the run. It was a display of really poor coaching from Jason Garrett and his staff.
Elliott had just three carries in the first quarter. It’s not like he was on the bench watching someone else run the ball though, that was it. Even when the game was close, Dallas went pass-crazy against a trio of cornerbacks that had no problem in clamping down on Dez Bryant and the rest.
Dak Prescott completed 30 of his 50 pass attempts but completed just 46.7% of his passes to Bryant (7 of 15). It’s not like he was hurried, at least before the fourth quarter anyway. There was just some brilliant corner play to really limit the Cowboys.
Reality sets in
So Dallas’ defense isn’t all that, and their offense isn’t either… It’s a far cry from 2016 when they were running teams over. Denver’s defense will make a lot of offenses look silly this season, but where Dallas remained firmly with their rushing game in the face of adversity last season, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan completely went away from it at the first sign of difficulty. The buck stops with Jason Garrett though, and he needs to learn not to so quickly get away from the one thing the Cowboys do better than nearly anyone else.
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