The football is bad in Dallas right now.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is tasked with explaining why that is the case. Right now, he’s not being dramatic, but realistic.
“Everybody is reluctant to point to your personnel because you know the way we’re going to play the majority of the season is with the personnel that we have,” Jones said during a weekly appearance on 105.3 The Fan, via the Dallas Morning News’ Michael Gehlken. “That’s not negative. That’s not a negative statement. It’s a challenge because we are dramatically different personnel-wise than what we had anticipated having.
“I don’t need to go down through the list, but it’s a big one. Other teams in the NFL have really had dramatic personnel changes, and it has impacted their record dramatically. But that’s our game. That’s what we do. Availability is right there with ability when it comes to personnel. And so, the next question is ‘OK, but what do you do?’ You adjust, and you play with the personnel you’ve got.”
Jones added he feels good about his group’s ability and talent “to make adjustments and play football with the personnel we have.” And as Jones said, they just haven’t done it.
It’s easy to point to the absence of Dak Prescott as a massive reason for Dallas’ prime-time stinker to drop to 2-4, but it’s not that simple. The personnel couldn’t get out of its own way Monday night, when two early Ezekiel Elliott fumbles undercut any and all chances of building momentum. By the time the Cowboys were forced to put their chances on the arm of Andy Dalton, well, things didn’t go well there, either.
“Yes, we missed Dak,” Jones said. “On the other hand, we can get the most out of our team, and it could be enough with Andy Dalton. We didn’t last night. And he contributed to the turnovers early.”
Dalton didn’t play a role in Elliott’s fumbles, and threw his two interceptions in the second half with the Cowboys trailing 21-3. When Dallas lined up for the play that resulted in Dalton’s first interception, the Cowboys had a 9 percent chance of victory, per Next Gen Stats’ Win Probability metric.
Sure, the Cowboys were disjointed offensively, which is a product of running with a backup quarterback — heralded as perhaps the best backup signal-caller in the NFL by the ESPN broadcast team — but might really be a better example of how things can unravel quickly when a bunch of stellar offensive linemen get hurt.
Elliott rarely had room to run even before he fumbled. Dalton was pressured on 40.4 percent of dropbacks, a rate Arizona achieved even without Chandler Jones available. And we’ve already spent enough digital space covering Dallas’ sieve of a defense.
There is good news, though: The Cowboys play in the worst division in football. At 2-4 and looking nothing like a playoff squad, the Cowboys lead the NFC East. For comparison, 4-2 Arizona is tied for second in the NFC West — which is 8-1 against the NFC East, by the way — and trails the undefeated Seattle Seahawks. And over in the AFC North, 4-2 Cleveland is third behind 5-0 Pittsburgh and 5-1 Baltimore.
“I’m not in the feel-good mood frankly that we got manna from heaven being in the East,” Jones said. “These things have a way of evening out as we go along, and certainly the NFC East is having its challenges right now. All of that is a way of not wanting to talk about other teams. When you’re not playing any better than we are, it’s hard for me to basically look to the endgame, which is to win the East, and get excited about the fact that we’re better than anybody. We may be slow, but we’re ahead of you syndrome. We got to get better to have the kind of season that makes sense for us.”
That type of mindset saw the Cowboys fall short of the playoffs in the season’s final two weeks, and these Cowboys frankly look worse. Jones is likely acutely aware of this reality, and in order to keep pressure off his still-new coaching staff, he’s turning to the rigidity of roster construction for an explanation for why the Cowboys are 2-4, and a bad 2-4.
His players aren’t following suit. Unnamed players told NFL Network’s Jane Slater the staff is “totally unprepared. They don’t teach. They don’t have any sense of adjusting on the fly.”
“They just aren’t good at their jobs,” another player told Slater.
Jones has a point about roster limitations, but as he said, there isn’t a ton of room for flexibility. He can’t rebuild the offensive line overnight. The discontent that is starting to leak out of The Star paints a tale of a franchise with more than just injury issues, too, adding to the disconcerting state of the club after just six games.
These Cowboys will stay the course, subsist on their manna and forge on through the desert toward the promised land of the playoffs. We’ll see if they actually make it there.