Not to fret, after the Dallas Cowboys lost to the Kansas City Chiefs 17-16 on Sunday afternoon, the Cowboys are not worried about returning to their lofty perch atop .500.
"Not at all," defensive tackle Jason Hatcher said. "I'm confident in our team this year. This is a totally different team. I said it the other day, this is the best team I've ever been on."
Hatcher has to say that, and he likely believes it, but there are too many signs to ignore that this team is not headed down that path again.
The "Commitment" to the Run
Bill Callahan taking over as play caller from head coach Jason Garrett has had little effect on the running game. Or balance. Or how much Tony Romo is exposed to a nasty hit.
Against the Chiefs, it was 16 carries for 37 yards. By my math, that's terrible.
In two games, Tony Romo has attempted 91 passes, and the Cowboys have run the ball 39 times. That's Jason Garrett balanced football.
Taken in their individual context, the play calling has made sense in both the win against the New York Giants and the loss against the Chiefs. The problem? The Chiefs front-seven was killing the interior of the Cowboys line, and left running back DeMarco Murray with no where to run.
The Cowboys never had such a big deficit they had to quit on the run, but the reality was it was going nowhere because they can't block it. If they can't block it, it doesn't matter what the call is.
The Middle of the Line
Rookie center Travis Frederick was abused, and the new addition of veteran Brian Waters didn't do much. He was a rotation player. It was the same problem last season, the middle of the line was a weak link.
You figure Frederick is going to have days like this, for now, and Waters is going to need a game or two. But Waters may not have that much left, and be only a marginal upgrade over Mackenzy Bernadeau ... if at all.
Monte Kiffin Turnovers
This is why end-of-the-season numbers can be so misleading. The Cowboys' plus-five turnover margin against the Giants is just one game, but can inflate statistics to draw unrealistic conclusions in the final analysis.
Against KC, the Cowboys defense forced zero turnovers, and the offense coughed it up twice. There is the game.
"We have to get back to forcing turnovers," linebacker Sean Lee told me.
They did that for just one game.
The plays that were everywhere against the Giants were not to be found against the Chiefs. The safeties didn't impact the game in the secondary, specifically in the Chiefs' final clock killing drive in the fourth quarter when the defense stacked the line.
They have to make the plays in those situations, and safety Barry Church was running by Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles rather than tackling him. He had a team-high seven tackles, but none felt impactful.
DeMarcus Ware Is Not Done
Not that anybody thought the Cowboys "new" defensive end was done, but he is still a dominant pass rusher off the edge. The Chiefs couldn't deal with him on Sunday. He had two sacks, and impacted his side of the line from the start.
Choke Run Defense
Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles ran for 55 yards on 16 carries. That's good run defense by the Cowboys.
The Chiefs ran the ball 25 times for 114 yards. That's not good run defense, but it felt not horrible because QB Alex Smith ran it for 57 yards, which no one expected.
Now here is the awful part: The Chiefs regained possession with a 1-point lead with 3:50 remaining in the game and the ball at their own 16. The Cowboys knew they were going to run, stacked the line, and stunk.
On that final drive, Charles carried the ball 8 times for 47 yards. That did it.
Tony Romo is Still Locked in on Jason Witten
Despite some more favorable coverage at times from the Chiefs on WR Dez Bryant, Tony Romo is still in love with tight end Jason Witten. On several plays in the fourth quarter, he was locked in on Witten from the start of the play to the end. He never looked at another receiver.
And that's great on days Witten is tearing it up, but against the Chiefs Witten had three catches for 12 yards. Romo targeted him eight times.
Watch the Morris Claiborne Situation
His left shoulder is hurting, and it must be a lot worse after he was run over by Jamaal Charles in the first half.
He told me it's not bad, but the first round pick out of LSU last year needs to be making plays for the secondary and looks like he is not comfortable enough to do much more than just play.
He told me his shoulder, which he was clearly favoring as he dressed in the locker room after the game, is more about comfort and - here is the key - range of motion. If he can't go up with that arm, it's going to make interceptions a near impossibility.
He's trying like hell, but teams are going to pick on him if he can't do it.
Tony Romo is Hurt
Whether it's the non-injured/injured back from the offseason, the ribs, Tony Romo is not right.
He was sacked three times, which is about right considering he threw it 42 times.
His accuracy was not sharp in the final quarter, and it illustrates again just how badly this team not only needs him but needs him to be right, and upright.
The Good News
The NFC East is so average that 8-8 could win this division.
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