FRISCO, Texas – Perhaps the most embarrassing run was Aaron Jones’ crash.
The Packers faced second-and-5, the game tied at 7 with 1:48 to play in the second quarter. Gaps were traded at Dallas’ left defensive end and inside linebacker, but wires crossed on the right side. Suddenly, defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. and defensive tackle Quinton Bohanna attacked the same gap.
And an inside lane was wide open for the Packers’ star running back to take advantage of.
Jones bounced through the gap, cut back to the left and leveled home on the left side. He spun as he jumped into the end zone, grabbing his crotch mid-air for full effect.
The Cowboys’ defense failed to run inside which led to their first deficit.
Repeated failures on the perimeter defense would seal the final, a 31-28 Packers decision in overtime.
“Disgusting,” linebacker Micah Parsons said postgame at Lambeau Field. “Until we get this fire out, we’re going to see it. If people want to keep doing their own thing, we’ll be dealing with this all year and we’ll never be the team we want to be.”
Dallas’ loss to Green Bay wasn’t the first time a team took advantage of a major weakness against them. But after two straight opponents had beaten the Cowboys for more than 200 yards apiece, emotions were running high. Three days later, they were still.
“You should to be angry,” Cowboys safety Jayron Kearse said Wednesday from his locker. “You should be frustrated. If you’re not, I think we have the wrong guys on this defense.
“If you’re not in a hurry to move on with how last week went, how [the game] before going, then you have to check your gut and look at yourself in the mirror.”
The secret is out
It seems that the opponents have revealed a game plan to take advantage of the Cows’ weakness. The strategy is deeper than running the ball, although the size of the rush attack is heavily factored into game plans. The Chicago Bears and Packers, the Cowboys’ past two opponents, ran almost twice as often (1.8 and 1.95 times, respectively) as they threw. The reduced pass attempts reduce the opportunities for the Cowboys to pass, which neutralizes the strength of the defense. And the challenge doesn’t come from teams running third.
As opponents see the Cowboys struggle to stay disciplined in gap-running assignments and tend to allow leaking yards, they power productive first- and second-down runs to get around obvious third downs. The Packers attacked 14 times on third and fourth down against the Cowboys. Eleven times those plays required 4 yards or less to go forward, prompting defensive coordinator Dan Quinn to describe the bloodshed as “death by 1,000 paper cuts.” And while Green Bay’s longest third-down attempt – for 7 yards, early in the fourth quarter – failed, the Packers went for it on fourth-and-7. Aaron Rodgers found the quarterback to rookie receiver Christian Watson for his second of three touchdowns.
“We recognize our strength as far as pass pressure, but pass rush is now a privilege,” head coach Mike McCarthy said. “Until we take care of this current challenge, that’s what it’s going to be.”
Players and coaches argue that the whiffs, while frustrating, do not reflect the lack of effort by so many defenders to miscommunicate coverage or overcompensate to make a game-changer. “Sometimes,” defensive tackle Neville Gallimore added to the coaches’ lessons, “you can make the play by no making the play.”
That’s the emphasis on the Cowboys defense as they prepare for the talented 8-1 Minnesota Vikings. Keep tight edges, attack proper gaps, force rush lanes and “really, drag ass to another level,” Quinn and his team implored.
If not, the Cowboys risk the wrath of the arms, including Justin Jefferson and Dalvin Cook.
Jefferson, with his preposterous fourth-and-18 catch in the fourth quarter of last Sunday’s overtime win vs. the Buffalo Bills, will be the Cowboys’ secondary concern. After all, rookie Watson burned Green Bay Dallas for 107 yards and three touchdowns with far less talent and experience.
But the Cowboys can’t overlook the threat of Cook, whose 80.8 rushing yards per game ranks seventh in the league and 2.5 yards per carry after touchdowns ranks eighth. The Cowboys are 22nd with 3.4 yards after contact allowed per carry. A missed tackle or poor angle can be costly, as the Bills saw last weekend when Cook didn’t find the cracks in his teammates’ lane blocking, dropped and broke tackles on 81-yard touchdown runs, each the longer he carried in. the NFL this season.
“He’s a guy who can go fast when he gets the ball,” Kearse said. “It’s very unfathomable. Very, very efficient with his jump cuts, going in and out of his breaks and things when he’s running his routes or he’s on the edge. So against a guy like him, you have to throw his leg because he keeps moving it on contact.
“His vision is good, his running after contact is good. A man like that comes with many things.”
The Cowboys appreciate how the Vikings focus on mismatches, weak links and specific game plan attacks, so they expect a heavy dose of the run. And with seven of Minnesota’s eight wins coming by a score or less, the margin for error is slim — and the urgency is great.
“There’s a ton of red-asses, a ton of disappointment, a lot of anger,” McCarthy said Monday. “That focuses on the commitment, the desire to win, the connection.”
Now, the Cowboys have to turn that fuel into a fire.
“We played disappointing football for ourselves and the fans and everyone behind the Cowboys,” Kearse said. “We come back next week and we have the ability to right that ship.”