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Silver Lining In The Cowboys' Loss To The Chiefs

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The Cowboys' defense did enough to get the win against Kansas City, but the offense reserved its mistakes for the worst possible times. Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images.
The Cowboys' defense did enough to get the win against Kansas City, but the offense reserved its mistakes for the worst possible times. Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images.

After Sunday’s 17-16 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs — a nip-and-tuck game littered with missed opportunities — the Dallas Cowboys defense is looking more and more like the anchor, foundation and kick-starter of success for this year’s team.

Watching the game made it seem like nothing’s changed in Dallas. The Cowboys’ remarkable inability to make plays, maintain momentum or avoid mistakes during crucial moments resurfaced in a very winnable game, making Week 2 look like vintage Cowboys in the Jason Garrett era.

In this case, it was mostly about what the offense failed to accomplish.

By most accounts, the defense did its part. Despite zero takeaways and typically soft coverage in the short passing game, the Cowboys’ D-line leveed steady pressure on Chiefs QB Alex Smith, notching four sacks and consistently collapsing his pocket and redirecting his reads. The defense made plays at key times, particularly on third down. Jason Hatcher batted a screen pass and recorded a sack to quell two first-half drives; DeMarcus Ware gutted the line to throw Smith for a four-yard loss in the second quarter; Bruce Carter broke up a pass and delivered a sack, twice pushing KC out of field goal range — all on third down. They limited yards after the catch and tackled well in the open field. After the first series, they defended the NFL’s flavor of the month — the read option — and kept Smith’s mobility in check.

Sure, with five minutes to go, the run defense broke down on consecutive plays. Sure, Sean Lee bit on a pump-fake and got beat on Dwayne Bowe’s third-quarter touchdown. And sure, Morris Claiborne committed a fatal penalty at the end. But the Dallas D did enough on third downs and enough in the early going to state, definitively, that the 17 points allowed stemmed from playmaking, not luck.

The defense’s problem could be hyper-aggressiveness. If Claiborne lets WR Donny Avery make the catch and tackles him, it’s fourth down. If the seven-man box lays out RB Jamaal Charles on the final drive instead of trying to strip him, the two timeouts aren’t burned in vain.

It’s great that Monte Kiffin has the defense operating under an identity the players clearly buy into. But at some point, it’s going to have to tighten up, stop yielding so many completions between the numbers, and start trading takeaways for field position.

But these are fixable issues. If the 2013 Cowboys have indeed failed to shed their age-old choke problem, you can point the finger at the offense.

In Week 2, Garrett’s clock management was fine; he put the burden on the better unit and ostensibly left ample time for a game-winning drive. Special teams play was vastly improved. Andy Reid’s offense ultimately scored just 17 points.

But the offense didn’t convert when it had chances. Dez Bryant had a fantastic game with nine grabs for 141 yards, but if he keeps running at full speed, the drop is a touchdown. After a great third-quarter drive that brought Dallas to the Chiefs’ five-yard line on first down, Travis Frederick allowed his second sack and Ronald Leary was flagged for a false start, forcing the ‘Boys to settle for three. Tony Romo’s first string of incompletions came on the last drive. And though they were close calls, both Cowboy turnovers were committed in the second half of a one-possession game.

No ground was lost in the NFC East standings, and the Cowboys have two viable shots at redemption coming up against St. Louis and San Diego. But they now need to win both. In a division where every game counts, this was a major whiff, and it falls largely on the offense.