DeMarco Murray will get the well-deserved accolades for his record-setting rushing day against the St Louis Rams. But his entry into the Dallas Cowboys’ record book, supplanting Emmitt Smith and Tony Dorsett, should come with an asterix attached: Coach Steve Spagnuolo had no idea how to stop him.
“They definitely had a plan. If they saw us in a two-shell defense, they were going to run the football. We’ve got to find a way to stop the run against a seven-man front.”
It’s a little disconcerting to hear our head coach, our defensive guru, openly wondering how to stop a running play with his base defense. It’s at this point that it becomes apparent that there are so many things wrong with this team that they might outnumber the things that are right.
The Rams didn’t just get beaten on Sunday. They were broken, not only by the physical superiority of the Cowboys, not only by the endless parade of injury carts, but by their own inability to execute or even trust their own gameplan in response.
On defense: Cracks in the foundation.
Fissures are erupting in the once rock-solid core of the team culture that Billy Devaney and Spagnuolo established from day one.
Early in the week, Billy Devaney appeared alone to announce the trade for Brandon Lloyd, carrying an intimation that perhaps he had overruled his coach on the decision. Devaney would be smart to distance himself from the coach who appears to have lost his touch with the team, particularly with the defense.
For his part, Spagnuolo laid the blame directly at the feet of the players, attempting to create some distance of his own: “We talk about tackling low all the time and our guys are tackling high. They know that, they heard that from me, they understand it but until they decided they are going to tackle the way it’s coached, the way we asked them to do it, it’s probably not going to change.”
It’s not quite finger-pointing and back-stabbing, but it’s not quite accountability either. If playing games with your inactive list (veteran addition Ben Leber sat for a second consecutive week) isn’t getting the message across, and repeated chiding isn’t doing it either, what will?
For their part, the Rams players often looked lost on the field, physically and mentally.
Defensive “quarterback” James Laurinaitis has been nearly immune from criticism, but his responsibility to recognize plays and get his fellow men in position has to come under close scrutiny. The defense’s best plays came from James Hall and Robert Quinn, on those rare occasions when their all-out pass rushes actually found a waiting target.
Schematically, Spags is caught in a no-win situation. He doesn’t have the talent to defend the passing game the way he wants to, and has to “cheat” players into coverage in passing downs. Tony Romo had his easiest day of the season, dropping back to pass and watching the defensive front clear out, then handing the ball off to Murray on delayed runs that gashed the Rams.
Spags is caught in a literal no-win situation as well, as his Rams drop to 0-6 and his coaching record falls to an unsightly 8-30. And the team they face next week just got finished fertilizing the Louisiana Superdome with the blood of another winless team, pulverizing the Colts 62-7.
Offhand, I think after the Saints game we face the ’85 Bears. And after that, Bugs Bunny’s team from Space Jam. And then comes the tough part of the schedule. Or something like that.
At this point, does it matter who the opponent is? The Rams need to prove they can start themselves before worrying about stopping anyone else.
On offense: A throwback to the bad old days
Offensively, Josh McDaniels appeared to stick pretty closely to the 40% of the playbook that he inherited from Pat Shurmur, to help keep AJ Feeley upright and comfortable. But instead of recreating last year’s semi-successful model, we got the faulty ’09 version instead, complete with back-breaking turnovers, red zone failures, and missed connections galore.
Feeley spent much of his time rolling right, playing the Marc Bulger part right down to the stat line: 20/33, 193 yards and a pick. And just as in 2009, the only offense of note came via the churning legs of Steven Jackson. (In another throwback to 2009, former Ram TE Daniel Fells had a big day for Denver.)
Steven Jackson even pulled from his 2009 script when talking to the press afterward: “It’s another game we weren’t able to sustain drives,” Jackson said. “We couldn’t get any rhythm, leaving the defense on the field and when we would sustain drives, we weren’t coming out with points. It’s hard to overcome long drives and no points and/or turnovers and for whatever reason, it just keeps being the same old story.”
Same old, same old. We’ve lived through it before. We didn’t think we’d be going through it again, so soon, and after a season with so much promise. But here we are.
Tickets available for next week. Something tells me you’ll be able to get quite a deal.