Mac Engel

Take aim at the defense, Linehan and coaches as Cowboys don’t show up in playoff loss to Rams

Midway through the second quarter, a Dallas Cowboys official asked anyone who had ears, “Think we maybe can play some defense tonight?”

No need to single out the defense. Save for the punter, no one else from the Cowboy showed up.

Or by the time they did, the night was too far gone.

On the day news broke from the NFL Network that Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett was likely to be offered a contract extension, both he and his team collectively failed to show up on time for a playoff game.

The Cowboys’ season is over after an impressively uninspired start in a 30-22 loss against the L.A. Rams in the NFC Divisional round.

Of Garrett’s many losses in his career as head coach, Saturday night should rank as one of the worst. They may have been a seven-point underdog, and the better team did win, but the Cowboys were gelded in the first half.

No member of this team should be spared from ire for his performance on Saturday night, but the coaching staff was soundly defeated by Sean McVay and Wade Phillips.

A pathetic offense aside, this game is on the “strength” of the Cowboys: The defense. The “Hot Boyz” defense played like little boys against grown men.

After the game, linebacker Leighton Vander Esch loooked like he had all of his Christmas presents taken away in front of his face.

“I couldn’t tell you. I don’t know (what happened),” he said. “They ran their butts off today. ... It is what it is. We had to make them one dimensional and we didn’t.”

Don’t buy the final score. They Cowboys had their chances, but they were thumped and abused.

Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan may lose his job over Saturday night’s laughable game. The Cowboys talked all week about needing to use quarterback Dak Prescott as a runner on occasion; although Dak had a decent passing game, only with 5:41 remaining in the fourth quarter did he finally carry the ball.

“I let that come to me,” Dak said.

It is here we are obligated to say that twice did the Cowboys have a chance to tie it, even after falling behind 23-7 in the third quarter.

Yes, they cut it to 23-15 and faced a 4th-and-1 in the Rams’ territory. Linehan called a play that was to use the strength of the Cowboys against the strength of the Rams. Running against the middle of the Rams defensive line, however, is never a good idea.

Running back Ezekiel Elliott ran it into a whole bunch of big butts, and that was that. To win the Cowboys were going to have to be a Zeke team, but the Rams sold out to stop him and it worked for most of the night.

Zeke ran it 20 times for 47 yards.

“We didn’t do a good enough job of controlling the line of scrimmage,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “They controlled the pace of the game. They just wanted to stop the run.”

That means this is on Dak. It’s hard to say Dak was a dog when in fact he out-played Rams quarterback Jared Goff. The strength of the Cowboys’, the running game, simply failed.

But .... again, we are obligated to mention that Dak ‘n’ friends cut it to 30-22 with 2:11 remaining, and had all three timeouts with the two minute warning.

And, of course, they had the Rams facing a 3rd-and -7 with just under two minutes when they let quarterback Jared Goff seal the game with a first-down run. Goff beat the Cowboys with his legs and not his arm.

All you need to know about the Cowboys defense is the Rams had two running backs run for more than 100 yards. Allowing 100 yards to Rams’ All-Pro running back Todd Gurley is no sin. He ran for 115 yards.

But the Cowboys also allowed C.J. Anderson, who looks about one Happy Meal away from being big enough to play left guard, to run for more than 100 yards, too. He went for 123 yards in this one.

As a team, the Rams ran for 273 yards. The Cowboys ran for 50.

It is the first time the Cowboys have allowed two rushers to run for more than 100 yards in a playoff game. So that’s fun.

The bottom line is by the time Garrett’s team competed, it was too late.

The last game of the Cowboys’ season looked pretty much like the first few games back in September when the offense was trash and the defense was on the field too long. The Rams had the ball for 36:13.

The master scheme for the Cowboys to reach the NFC title game proved plausible as it was executed wonderfully by the L.A. Rams.

The Rams won the line of scrimmage, ran the ball when they wanted, and owned the time of possession. That’s what the Cowboys (want to) do.

Those of us who watch and follow the Cowboys all drank the silver and blue kool aid and deserve what we get: We were dumb to think the Cowboys were good enough to beat the Rams. On any field.

We were dumb enough to buy the manufactured hype that somehow the present day Cowboys, with Dak-Zeke-Amari were somehow close to Troy-Emmitt-Michael.

The Cowboys’ finale showed they are a pretty good little football team, who finished right where they should: With another playoff loss short of the NFC title game.

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Mac Engel is an award-winning columnist who has extensive experience covering Fort Worth-Dallas area sports for 20 years. He has covered high schools, colleges, all four major sports teams as well as Olympic games and the world of entertainment, too. He combines dry wit with first-person reporting to complement a head of hair that is almost unfair.
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