By Dwain Price, NDG Sports Special Contributor
There was plenty of blame to go around as the Dallas Cowboys exhibited a case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde while inexplicably dropping a 35-30 decision to the Los Angeles Rams this past Sunday at AT&T Stadium.
For starters, quarterback Dak Prescott misfired on way too many passes when he had receivers open. And the receivers dropped more than their fair share of passes, or simply ran poor routes.
Defensively, linebacker Sean Lee – the heart and soul of the Cowboys’ defense – didn’t play due to a hamstring injury. His absence severely exposed Dallas’ defense, which was neutralized when the Rams often double-teamed and sometimes triple-teamed defensive end juggernaut DeMarcus Lawrence.
And then there was Ryan Switzer.
With the Cowboys nursing a 17-6 lead, Switzer fielded a punt in a crowd – a punt he should have signaled for a fair catch –and promptly muffed it. The Rams recovered the ball at the Dallas 18, and five plays later quarterback Jared Goff fired an easy 7-yard touchdown to Cooper Kupp, slicing the Cowboys’ lead to 17-13 with 6:38 remaining in the first half.
“It was obviously a big play in the game, and you certainly don’t want to do that,” coach Jason Garret said of the muff by Switzer. “One of his strengths as a punt returner and kickoff returner is his ability to catch the ball. He catches with great confidence and handles those situations extremely well.
“Obviously that was a big play. When those things happen it becomes a 50-, 60-yard play. It gave them an opportunity to change field position and get down in there for another scoring opportunity.”
While Switzer’s faux pas was crucial, so were the odd ebbs and flows of the Cowboys’ offense. In the first half, the Cowboys tallied 24 points while scoring on all four possessions they had the ball in the opening two quarters.
Yet in the second half the Cowboys (2-2) could muster just one touchdown in their six possessions. Owner Jerry Jones credits his team’s offensive woes to the terrific halftime adjustments made by Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, who was the Cowboys’ head coach from 2007-’10.
“They came in and made good adjustments at halftime, but I particularly want to remind everyone that Wade Phillips is a hell of a coach and they did a good job against what we think is a good offensive group,” Jones said. “Wade Phillips was the difference out here (Sunday) — he did an outstanding job.
“I want to give Wade Phillips his due. This is a big win for the Los Angeles Rams. This is a hurtful loss for us.”
A hurtful loss because the tea leaves were falling in the Cowboys’ favor in the first half when they led 24-16 and accumulated 287 yards and 14 first downs. But everything fell completely apart in the second half when the Cowboys could net just six points, 153 yards and eight first downs.
“I think it was just us not converting (in the second half),” Prescott said. “I think we need to find a better consistency in our offense, in running the ball and throwing the ball.
“Me and my accuracy, we’ve got to be consistent throughout the whole game. We come out, we’re on fire and we’re feeling good, then we go into halftime and come back and it is not the same. It’s frustrating, but it is about finding what it is.”
Prescott completed 11-of-15 passes for 155 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the first half, but was only 9-of-21 for 97 yards and a touchdown in the second half.
Running back Ezekiel Elliott also turned in yet another strange game. Elliott rushed 14 times for 56 yards in the first half, but gained only 29 yards on seven carries in the second half.
“We always say when we come out in the second half that it’s zero (to) zero,” Elliott said. “We’ve got to come out there like it’s a new game and we’ve got to get a fast start.
“We just didn’t come out and execute. They did a good job on defense stopping us and their offense did a good job having long drives and running the time out.”
While the Rams bottled up the Cowboys on defense, offensively the Rams just kept ramming it down Dallas’ throat. In all, the Rams scored on nine of their 11 possessions, including five of the six times they had the ball in the second half.
With Lee unavailable to keep things under control, the Cowboys’ defense was like a ship without a rudder.
“Everyone knows what Sean brings to the table, so if you don’t have that, it’s a loss, but there‘s no excuses,” linebacker Jaylon Smith said. “I think in the second half we did a poor job of getting off the field in critical situations, so we have to be better.
“This league is so great and if you can’t get off the field, bad things happen.”
Entering the game, the Cowboys were already bemoaning the fact that the Rams had more days between Games 3 and 4 than Dallas. Prior to playing the Cowboys, the Rams last played on Sept. 21, while the Cowboys had a Sept. 25 contest in Arizona.
Unfortunately for the Cowboys, they’ll be under similar circumstances on Sunday when they host a Green Bay Packer squad that hasn’t played since Sept. 28. But in rehashing the loss to the Rams, cornerback Anthony Brown said: “They didn’t beat us. The Cowboys beat The Cowboys.
“It’s tough, but we’ve got to keep pushing and moving forward. We’ll go to the film room, see what we can correct, and move on from there.”
From here, the Cowboys will face a Packer squad that eliminated them in the second-round of the playoffs last season. And the Cowboys in general – and Lawrence in particular will get some help.
Defensive end David Irving will be back on the field after the NFL suspended him from the first four games for violating its substance abuse policy. Irving recorded a sack and forced three fumbles in a regular season game against the Packers last year.
Irving’s presence should give a boost to Lawrence, who has seven-and-a-half sacks this season.
“That boy has been balling, man,” said Irving, referring to Lawrence. “I see that they’re starting to double-team him, triple-team him.
“Hopefully I can come and help relieve him of that and he’ll be able to make more plays, or I’ll be able to make more plays. They can’t block all of us.’’