An­other re­al­ity check for Cow­boys

The Commercial Appeal - - Sports - Jar­rett Bell

LOS AN­GE­LES – So this is how it ends for the Dal­las Cow­boys.

The ris­ing de­fense gets run out of town. Ezekiel El­liott gets stuffed – even on a cru­cial fourth-and-one. The weird­est calls go the wrong way. Hope is put on the shelf un­til next sea­son. Rams 30, Cow­boys 22. The Cow­boys, with some of the NFL’S best young tal­ent and two divi­sion ti­tles in three years, may be­lieve they can en­vi­sion a cham­pi­onship run from here. But un­til proven oth­er­wise, what a mi­rage.

“We can grow, and we have to learn from our ex­pe­ri­ences,” Cow­boys coach Ja­son Garrett con­tended.

Here’s a real-time re­al­ity check: The di­vi­sional round of the play­offs is Dal­las’ glass ceil­ing.

For the third time in five years, the Cow­boys have been good enough to find them­selves in the sec­ond round of the NFC play­offs. And once again, this is the end of the line. Two years ago as a No. 1 seed, they were elim­i­nated by a last-minute dag­ger from Aaron Rodgers. Be­fore that, it was the Dez Bryant catch that wasn’t. Now it’s L.A.’S two-headed rush­ing mon­ster – Todd Gur­ley and C.J. An­der­son – as the sym­bol of doom.

With Gur­ley and An­der­son both crack­ing triple-dig­its, L.A. rushed for 273 yards – most in play­off his­tory for the Rams, most in play­off his­tory against the Cow­boys – to flip the script for what might have been.

Wasn’t it the Rams’ D that was sup­posed to have the prob­lems stop­ping the run?

L.A. al­lowed an Nfl-worst 5.1 yards per carry dur­ing the sea­son. But with for­mer Cow­boys coach Wade Phillips, of all peo­ple, craft­ing the scheme as de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor, the Rams held the NFL’S rush­ing champ to 47 yards, 2.4 per carry. Mean­while, the Rams’ high-fly­ing of­fense, with the fancy pass­ing game cre­ations of young wizard Sean Mcvay, sud­denly found a new iden­tity es­pe­cially for this mo­ment.

You might think that the 32-yearold Mcvay, the league’s youngest coach, is the NFL’S ver­sion of Harry Pot­ter, given his magic touch for schem­ing open re­ceivers. Well, on Satur­day night, Mcvay turned into Ground Chuck, and the Cow­boys had no an­swers to slow down a Rams run­ning game that was rem­i­nis­cent of the run-first sys­tem that Chuck Knox em­ployed for the Rams in the ‘70s.

The Rams ran on a sea­son-high 48 at­tempts while Jared Goff threw just 28 passes. Of course, there was the Mcvay touch to all of the ground work, as the Rams re­peat­edly used the so-called “jet-ac­tion” – typ­i­cally fake end-arounds or “ghost sweeps” that threw Dal­las’ de­fense for a loop.

“The re­al­ity of it is they’re a team that (uses) a lot of shifts and mo­tions, and they can get your eyes,” Cow­boys line­backer Jay­lon Smith told USA TO­DAY as he left the Coli­seum. “You have to be locked in and queued into your key. That’s some­thing that got the best of us tonight.”

And add it to the list of les­sons the Cow­boys need to learn from. Dal­las had the NFL’S fifth-best run de­fense dur­ing the sea­son, but the unit looked like a shell of that on Satur­day.

You heard that by lis­ten­ing to Kris Richard, the highly re­garded as­sis­tant who calls the de­fen­sive plays for the Cow­boys. He sounded dis­gusted when some­one asked him if the run fits were out of sync.

“If a team is run­ning the ball, we’re not fit­ting cor­rectly,” Richard said. “It’s as sim­ple as us get­ting out cleats in the grass as do­ing things cor­rectly.”

Maybe the Cow­boys will learn from this. Like ev­ery team, there will be per­son­nel tweaks here or there.

Just to get to this point rep­re­sents a sign that they have some­thing de­cent to build on. The Cow­boys were 3-5 back in Novem­ber, but emerged as one of the hottest teams in the NFL down the stretch.

Garrett, like Smith, Richard and oth­ers, com­pared the set­back to a scar that can heal over time.

Maybe they will in­deed learn from their fresh scar. But there’s no prom­ise they’ll get back to the di­vi­sional round any time soon, which is why the op­por­tu­nity must be seized when pre­sented. That les­son needs to be the big­gest take­away for the Cow­boys in the wake of an­other sad end­ing.

Colum­nist USA TO­DAY

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.