Let’s not sugarcoat it, the Dallas Cowboys’ 23-0 loss at Indianapolis on Sunday was ugly.
It was so bad that there’s really nothing for the Cowboys to take from it as a positive. Dallas even squandered a chance to score a late touchdown when Daniel Ross recovered a fumble at the Colts’ 35. A score there would have wiped out all the shutout talk and given the Cowboys a speck of momentum to take forward.
Sunday was not the Cowboys’ day almost from the beginning. When Denico Autry blocked Brett Maher’s 43-yard field goal attempt, it looked for a minute like Indianapolis was going to get credit for a return touchdown. The review squashed that idea, but it didn’t matter. The Colts put together an 8-play, 44-yard touchdown drive to score all the points they would need.
The worst part about that sequence, other than the fact that the Cowboys haven’t proved this season they can come back from a 7-point deficit, was that it cast a feeling over the game that the breaks were not going to go Dallas’s way.
Give the Colts their due. Indianapolis won the line of scrimmage on offense and defense. The Cowboys’ makeshift offensive line finally had the kind of day that debilitates the offense. The most surprising thing was that the Colts ran the ball effectively against the Dallas front seven. It’s more difficult to diagnose why the Cowboys were suddenly so blockable up front.
It all makes for a dismal report card.
Running game: C. This was the bright spot as the Cowboys averaged 5.1 yards per carry. For the stats obsessed, it’s worth noting that Ezekiel Elliott’s 87 rushing yards extended his lead over Todd Gurley atop the NFL. But nothing gets an A grade this week and Dallas’s inability to break a play longer than 24 yards knocks it down a letter grade and the fourth-and-1 failure from the Colts’ 3 will bumps Dallas down again.
Passing game: F. There’s nothing to lift the Cowboys’ to a passing grade in this department. The Dallas offensive line couldn’t keep quarterback Dak Prescott upright at crucial moments. Wide receiver Amari Cooper couldn’t break the big play like he did so many times during the recent 5-game winning streak. Fullback Jamize Olawale dropped a touchdown pass early in the second quarter that could have changed the momentum of the game. Dallas didn’t have a pass play of longer than 18 yards and Cooper’s longest was 11. All bad signs.
Run defense: F. Colts running back Marlon Mack ran for 139 yards and both of the Colts’ TDs. That was his best game since he torched the Raiders seven weeks ago. The Dallas defense should take that as a major embarrassment.
Pass defense: C-. Andrew Luck didn’t even have to have a great day. He completed barely more than half his passes (16 of 27) for 192 yards. The best thing Luck did was avoid any sacks or interceptions. Dallas did a passable job covering T.Y. Hilton, who had just 5 catches for 85 yards. But Hilton’s long play of 37 yards was still 13 longer than any play a Dallas receiver made.
Special teams: C. The Cowboys pass because Chris Jones downed both of his punts inside the 20. But think about that for a minute. The Cowboys were shut out, had just one real turnover (Elliott’s fumble on fourth down after he had been stuffed shouldn’t really count), and still only punted twice. The fact that the Colts gained early momentum by blocking Maher’s first-quarter field goal try knocks the teams down at least a letter grade.