Monday, September 17, 2012

Cowlishaw: Cowboys sunk cash into stopping the pass... but what about the run? - Dallas Morning News

IRVING â€" When you pass the first test and flunk the second, it’s impossible to know what number comes next in the series. This is true especially when the tests are not of equal difficulty.

It’s a common riddle that Cowboys fans are trying to solve today … right alongside Jets fans, Patriots fans, Redskins fans, Bears fans, Bucs fans, Lions fans, Vikings fans and Ravens fans.

The problem unique to Cowboys fans â€" not to mention Jason Garrett and his staff â€" is the need to determine whether Sunday’s 27-7 loss in Seattle was truly defined by the first half or the second.

If it was the first â€" a hole the Cowboys dug for themselves with three huge first-quarter mistakes â€" then you mostly toss it away and simply hope not to repeat it.

“The early adversity allowed them to play the game they wanted to play,” Garrett said.

But if the second half was that was most telling â€" when the Seahawks not only played the game they wanted to play but got little obstruction from Dallas in the process â€" then the Cowboys have some worries on their hands.

Namely, after spending literally millions of dollars in the off-season to improve at cornerback and get better at defending the pass and to try to make sure Eli Manning could no longer pick this team apart like it was a seven-on-seven drill … what if this defense can’t stop the run?

When it needed to in the opener, it could, but that was the Giants. They were a lousy-running team even while traveling a path to a Super Bowl last season. On Sunday, the Cowboys came out at halftime having survived the fumbled kickoff, the blocked punt and the interception to trail by a 13-7 score. The game was right there for anyone to win.

With a six-point lead, the Seahawks were clearly going to run the ball. That’s what they want to do to begin with.

And the Cowboys, knowing this, were absolutely helpless as Marshawn Lynch finished the day with 122 rushing yards.

“I go back to how well we played against them in the first half, holding him to 22 yards,” Garrett said. “We’ve defended the run well the last couple of years. We didn’t defend it well in the second half.”

After the first quarter, you would have guessed if there was a running back bound for a big day, it was DeMarco Murray. The Cowboys’ tailback had five carries for 26 yards. Lynch had five for 12.

The rest of the way, Murray ran for 18 yards and Lynch picked up 110, including 100 after halftime.

“I didn’t find it [to be the] intensity level,” linebacker Sean Lee said. “I found they executed certain runs.”

Of course, that just addresses the issue a different way. Did the Cowboys give up big runs because they lacked intensity or were they just not good enough to stop them?

Any time the time of possession disparity is as great as it was in the fourth quarter Sunday â€" 13:31 for Seattle, 1:29 for Dallas â€" both sides of the ball have something to do with it.

The Cowboys scored a touchdown on a 95-yard drive that covered the end of the first quarter and the start of the second. Their five possessions after that (not including those that merely ended a half) concluded with punts.

Garrett, being the former offensive coordinator, always leans towards the team’s offensive shortcomings in his post-defeat fault-findings. And from Tony Romo’s poor decisions to Jason Witten’s unlikely drops to Dez Bryant’s frequent disappearances, there was plenty to blame.

But I think Lynch’s 100 yards on 16 carries that enabled Seattle to put away the game with relative ease was alarming. The Seahawks are no one’s idea of a great offensive team.

The Cowboys will face more balanced offenses with equally dangerous runners throughout their schedule â€" the Eagles’ LeSean McCoy and the Redskins’ Alfred Morris four times in the season’s second half. Even Tampa Bay rookie Doug Martin this week poses an unforeseen threat.

We think of this defense as being mostly solid against the run, in part because it was so vulnerable to the pass last season. But the reality is that Rob Ryan’s defense has allowed a 100-yard rusher five times in the last 12 games, and Dallas lost three of the five.

By any definition, that adds a concern to the list outside the realm of where we thought most of this team’s weaknesses could be found.

Follow Tim Cowlishaw on Twitter at @TimCowlishaw.

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