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Jason Garrett: Dallas coach’s fingerprints are all over the Cowboys free falling

The Dallas Cowboys entered the year fresh off an 11-5 season and a Wildcard victory against Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks. With another draft’s worth of infused talent, a noted specialty of this team in recent years, the message to the league seemed clear: Dallas would be a legitimate contender in 2019.

At least they were until they faced a bit of adversity. While the team did get off to a 3-0 start with wins against the New York Giants, Washington Redskins, and Miami Dolphins, the defense had managed little quarterback pressure and few turnovers. There was a bit of concern there but who could argue with the team’s best start since 2008?

Even after the team suffered its first loss of the season against Teddy Bridgewater and the Saints, there seemed to be a clear silver lining, as the defense held New Orleans out of the endzone and limited them to just 4 field goals on the day. Pair with that a porous Green Bay run defense coming to town, and the Packers being without Devante Adams, there was plenty of reason to believe the Cowboys would bounce back. Until that is, Aaron Jones decided to break out with a monstrous 4 touchdown performance.

The Packers not only exposed Dallas’s defensive front, but trounced the home team out of the gate, snatching a 31-3 lead before eventually hanging on to win 34-24. Despite back-to-back losses against quality opponents, the failed comeback still left reason for hope. The team needed to get back on track, but with a date with the 0-4 Jets next up on deck, the belief was that the team would still right the ship before division rival Philadelphia came to town. Only that didn’t happen.

For the second week in a row, the Cowboys fell behind by at least 18 points and more or less imploded in the Meadowlands. The team has been dealing with injuries over the past few weeks. They were without both tackles, Tyron Smith and La’el Collins, while Randall Cobb was a late scratch before kickoff. To top things off, Amari Cooper went down with a bruised thigh on the Cowboys’ first series.

It goes without saying that it was a less than ideal situation, but it was still the New York Jets. Even with Sam Darnold returning from a bout with mono, the team shouldn’t have been able to move the ball the way they did at times on Sunday. Aside from Robby Anderson and his 125 yards, including a back-breaking 92-yard score immediately on the heels of a failed 4th and 2 attempt by Dallas, the Jets didn’t really have any standout performers on offense.

Sure, Darnold totaled 338 yards through the air but when nearly 100 of those come on one play, the remainder does appear somewhat pedestrian. Even still, the Jets imposed their will and seized a 21-6 half time lead. What’s more, while Aaron Jones and Alvin Kamara had controlled the game the two previous weeks, New York’s Le’Veon Bell amassed just 53 total yards and one first-quarter touchdown.

The real problem for Dallas throughout this skid has been the continued slow starts and the average at best play by the defense. Whether it’s been the result of yielding early leads or simply failing to get crucial stops whenever the offense has finally woken up, the “Hot Boyz” have been MIA. Making matters worse, the defense has been mostly healthy throughout this rough stretch. Teams have figured out how to attack Dallas, something Sam Darnold himself confirmed after the game via Jon Machota of The Athletic.

The basic, rather straight-forward approach isn’t limited to just the offense in Dallas. The defensive front may run stunts from time to time but there are no exotic blitzes or deception to speak of most weeks. Opponents know exactly how Dallas plans to attack them defensively and they’ve routinely exposed them as a result. Last season, what made Dallas’s defense great was the stellar, Pro Bowl level of play by its linebackers, Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith, something that has been sorely missing these first six weeks.

The conservative nature of this team is beyond frustrating right now. Gone are the pre-snap motion and play-action passes that allowed the offense to dazzle in weeks one and two of the season and in their place is the same tired schtick of the past few years where Dallas runs the ball on pretty much every first down and tries to slow things down to a crawl even at the detriment of its own offense at times.

Throughout this losing streak, the team has told us that the problem is merely that they haven’t been executing, and that they’re effectively just beating themselves. That story might work for a week, perhaps even two, but at this point, it just feels like a canned response. The Cowboys have a number of issues to figure out, only some of which are related to health. Last year’s team started 3-5 before the Amari Cooper trade saved the season. If they lose to Philadelphia next Sunday, they will not only find themselves at 3-4 but well behind the proverbial 8-ball with regard to a return to the playoffs.

Dallas told us entering the year they were contenders in every sense of the word. After dropping three straight and being thoroughly exposed, they’ve instead revealed themselves to be certified pretenders. Such is life under Jason Garrett.