Dallas Cowboys: Why it's hard to imagine Cowboys are still contenders after Eagles' Super Bowl victory

David Moore
sportsday.dallasnews.com



MINNEAPOLIS -- The Cowboys are confident next season will be different, that the past few months were a suspension-induced blip and the nucleus remains in place to be part of the championship mix.

After watching Super Bowl LII, it’s hard to imagine how.

Management can’t ignore what unfolded Sunday night. The game was painful for the Cowboys beyond the fact arch-rival Philadelphia walked away with a 41-33 victory and its first Lombardi Trophy.

The Cowboys are ill-equipped to compete in a game of this nature. They don’t have the explosive receiving corps that was on display for Philadelphia and New England. They don’t have the aggressive, creative play-calling that made this Super Bowl such a joy to watch.

Do you think Jason Garrett would have settled for a field goal or gone for it on fourth-and-one with 38 seconds left in the first half the way Philadelphia’s Doug Pederson did? Would he ever ask his running back flip the ball to his backup tight end who then finds his quarterback in the end zone for the score?

“I take it week by week, but I trust my players and I trust my instincts,’’ said Pederson, who stayed aggressive throughout with his play-calling. “I trust everything that I’m doing, and I want to maintain that aggressiveness with the guys.

“In games like this against a great opponent, you have to make those tough decisions that way and keep yourself aggressive.’’

Dallas is built to ground and pound with Ezekiel Elliott. They are built to dominate opponents with their offensive line and time of possession.

Garrett takes stubborn pride in his predictability. Execution carries a greater weight in his system than creativity. It’s about imposing your will on the opponent, not tricking them.

It’s a sound philosophy if Elliott isn’t on suspension, the offensive line is healthy, you don’t fall behind early or the defense doesn’t take away the run. Otherwise, you have to pass.

New England’s Tom Brady threw for 505 yards in defeat. Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan and Rob Gronkowski all had more than 100 yards receiving.

How many receivers went over 100 yards for the Cowboys this past season?

The numbers weren’t as gaudy for Philadelphia, but the Eagles did have five receivers finish with somewhere between 49 and 100 yards.

Can you envision that happening with this current group of Cowboys receivers?

It’s become popular to say the Cowboys must add a speed receiver in the draft or free agency to stretch the defense. That wouldn’t hurt.

But take a closer look at Super Bowl LII. Brandin Cooks is the Patriots speed receiver, and he got knocked out of the game early on a hit by safety Malcolm Jenkins. Amendola and Hogan are clever and effective route runners. The same goes for Philadelphia’s Nelson Agholor.

This is what fits with Dak Prescott’s skill set. The Cowboys quarterback follows his progressions. If his receivers create separation, he’ll get them the ball. It doesn’t have to be 30 to 40 yards down the field for there to be big plays.

Some will dismiss this as piling on. The Eagles just upset a Patriots team that had won five titles in the previous 16 seasons. The Cowboys are going to pale in comparison at this moment.

But look at what the Eagles overcame to win this title. Starting quarterback Carson Wentz goes down in Week 14 and the team turned to Nick Foles, a quarterback the Cowboys had absolutely no interest in pursuing 19 months earlier.

You may remember that owner Jerry Jones infamously uttered -- twice -- that Foles wasn’t an option for a Cowboys roster that had no proven depth at the position. The organization preferred Kellen Moore, who is now Prescott’s new quarterbacks coach. Undrafted rookie Cooper Rush is the team’s backup.

Could Rush have thrown for 373 yards with three touchdowns the way did Foles did on the ultimate stage?

“People panicked when Carson went down,’’ said tight end Zach Ertz, who scored what proved to be the winning touchdown on a catch similar to the play that wasn’t ruled a catch by Dez Bryant in the playoffs three years ago. “Nick, we had all of the confidence in the world in him.

“The past three weeks, he’s been playing out of his mind.’’

The Cowboys like to think they’re not that far away.

They are. This game illustrates how much work remains.