Dallas Cowboys

JUST CHILL: 10 thoughts from the Cowboys-Saints game

Dallas Cowboys have major issues that their 2-2 record might not show.
Dallas Cowboys have major issues that their 2-2 record might not show. Star-Telegram

1. The Cowboys have lost two consecutive games without Tony Romo. The question now is when will they win again? We have been schedule-watching since Romo went down against the Philadelphia Eagles. The winless New Orleans Saints were supposed to be a sure win. The Cowboys are 0-2 heading to 0-3 with the New England Patriots coming up this Sunday. They will be hardpressed to win at the New York Giants Oct. 25. The same for the Seattle Seahawks on Nov. 1. The best hope is the Eagles at home on Nov. 8, if not the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Nov. 15. But remember, the Buccaneers beat the Saints in New Orleans for their only win.

2. Quarterback Brandon Weeden’s hapless losing streak was extended to 10 as a starter since 2012. It’s unfair to blame Weeden for the loss the Saints, same as a week ago against the Falcons. The defense was carved up by two elite quarterbacks in Matt Ryan and Drew Brees. While Weeden hasn’t done anything to lose the games, he hasn’t made enough plays to win the games either. Even Jerry Jones admitted the offense is limited with Weeden at the helm. Teams are crowding the line of scrimmage to stop the run and daring Weeden to beat them over the top. There is no fear that he can do it on a consistent basis.

3. The Cowboys running game is suddenly a disaster and it really hasn’t been good all season no matter what the numbers say. The situation has been exacerbated the past two games when they have done nothing in the second half against the Falcons and the Saints. They rushed for 131 yards in the first half against the Falcons and -4 in the second half. Against the Saints, they rushed for 90 yards in the first half and just 25 in the second half, as both teams have made adjustments to crowd the line of scrimmage to stop the run. This is huge turnaround from last season when the Cowboys wore teams down in the second half with DeMarco Murray.

4. Joseph Randle is in the Cowboys’ dog house because of the loose way he handles the ball on the goal line. The Cowboys have talked to him over and over about diving over the top and he continues to do it. It was the main reason his touches were limited in the second half against the Saints. He likely would have been benched completely if not for Lance Dunbar’s injury. It also doesn’t help that his numbers have been woeful in the second half of the past two games _ eight carries for -4 yards.

5. It should not be overlooked that the offensive line is not exactly living up to billing as the best unit in the NFL with the loss of Tony Romo and Dez Bryant. One reason the Cowboys felt they could let DeMarco Murray walk in free agency is because of the dominant offensive line, featuring three Pro Bowlers in Tyrone Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin. The Cowboys are giving up sacks and not creating holes in the running game. Some of that is on the quarterback, the running backs and the receivers, who are not exactly the level of Murray, Romo and Bryant. It’s also the line not being at its best and maybe a sign of the team missing offensive line coach Bill Callahan, who bolted to the Washington Redskins in the off-season. Was Callahan a bigger loss than Murray?

6. The defense is not getting off the field. Not having their best playmakers in Greg Hardy, Rolando McClain and Randy Gregory are an issue that was complicated further by the loss of Sean Lee to a concussion in the first half against the Saints. But the lack of a pass rush has been an issue all season as has the inability to force turnovers. The Cowboys couldn’t rush the passer last year, but at least they forced turnovers. This year they are doing neither. Making it even worse is they continue to drop gift interceptions. Morris Claiborne dropped one against the Falcons that could have changed the game and Tyler Patmon dropped an easy one early against the Saints.

7. Speaking of playmakers, the loss of Lance Dunbar to a season-ending knee injury is a huge setback to an offense currently devoid of big-play threats. Dunbar was a decided mismatch coming out of the backfield and was seemingly on his way to blossoming into another Darren Sproles. With no Dez Bryant and now Dunbar, which offensive player strikes fear into the opposing defense?

8. Cornerback Mo Claiborne is playing the best football of his career and right now is the team’s best defensive back. The Cowboys had him cover Saints’ big play receiver Brandin Cooks all over the field and he shut him down. Cooks had four catches for 25 yards on eight targets. He had 12 catches the previous two games combined on 15 targets. Claiborne is in the final year of his contract and is playing well at the right time. He might earn a new deal with the Cowboys, though don’t expect it to be lifestyle-changing at this point. He will need more than one good season to undo the tape and memories of the past three seasons to get a big deal in Dallas.

9. The Saints game might not have gone into overtime if not for a huge coaching/organizational issue. The Cowboys were flagged for 12 men on the field on a Saints punt after a three and out. The Saints sent the field goal team on the field and turned that mistake into 3 points. This came one week after the Cowboys had 10 men on the field on a successful 2-point conversion by the Falcons.

10. Somebody needed to call timeout before the final dagger from Drew Brees to C.J. Spiller on the second play of overtime. Linebacker Andrew Gachkar, who was in for the injured Sean Lee, was injured himself on the first play. But instead of calling timeout, he tried to limp off the field, sending special teamer Keith Smith in the game for his only play in the regular defense. Smith sprinted on the field as the Saints were lining up. It resulted in a communication breakdown with second-year linebacker Anthony Hitchens calling plays in the middle and rookie Damien Wilson left covering Spiller. Maybe it was a play already called in the huddle or maybe the veteran Brees noticed the rookie and went right after the mismatch. Either way, somebody on the Cowboys sideline has to call timeout to get Gachkar off the field and some order to the defense

Clarence Hill: 817-390-7760, @clarencehilljr