Commentary

Tired play dragging Cowboys down

It's only preseason, but recent ragged performances hint at bigger issues ahead

Updated: August 29, 2010, 1:43 PM ET
By Calvin Watkins | ESPNDallas.com

HOUSTON -- The Dallas Cowboys are sleeping in their own beds right now.

Before getting there, the Cowboys traveled to San Antonio; Cleveland; Canton, Ohio; Arlington, Texas; Oxnard, Calif.; San Diego; Houston; and now Dallas.

[+] EnlargeWade Phillips
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesCowboys coach Wade Phillips has had a hard time finding a pulse on his team lately.

The Cowboys had one of the longest training camps in the league. They said they were tired but didn't use it as an excuse for how unprepared, uninspired and bad they looked Saturday night in a 23-7 loss to the Houston Texans.

Yes, it's only the preseason. No, this game did not count and will not dictate where the Cowboys will finish in 2010. But if the season started today or tomorrow, there would be issues.

"We're not ready for prime time yet," Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said. "We're not ready for the first game, we can see that, and we've got to keep working."

After this pathetic effort, Phillips spent a good 15 minutes talking to his team with the door closed. He told the troops their effort was unacceptable. He made some teaching points and told them not to dwell on what happened.

"We had no fight for anything, dude," wide receiver Patrick Crayton said. "It was like an MMA fight, and they put us in a submission hold and they pretty much cut off our oxygen slowly and slowly until we had to tap out. We had little fight in the fourth quarter. Other than that, nah."

Things are so bad that Phillips is considering playing his starters in the preseason finale against the Miami Dolphins on Thursday night. The plan was to rest them, as he's done in the past.

Phillips doesn't want his starters to go into the regular season feeling so bad. Or even looking this bad. Dez Bryant, the injured rookie wide receiver who has nevertheless dazzled his teammates and coaches with his play in less than two weeks of training camp practices, might play Thursday.

For the second consecutive week, owner and general manager Jerry Jones said his team was outplayed. Although Dallas beat San Diego on Aug. 21, Jones said the Chargers were more physical than his team. This week, it was more of the same thing.

Phillips hinted that there was no life in his team. He wouldn't say the players were tired Saturday, although he had mentioned it last week in Oxnard during training camp practices. But it was clear Saturday that something is wrong.

"They outplayed us," Jones said. "There is no question about that. Usually if you get outplayed like that, you get [outmuscled]. If you play like that in this game, you will end up losing the ballgame. We want to feel [down] in here instead of after [facing] Washington."

That's a valid point, but you question whether the Cowboys can even turn it on. It's not as if the young players are making mistakes. Veteran players are.

Jason Witten was called for a false start on a third-and-short and didn't get to the ball on the next pass play, leading to an interception.

Miles Austin had another dropped pass. Andre Gurode missed a block leading to a sack. Marion Barber ran with mud in his shoes, gaining minus-2 yards on four carries.

Tony Romo misfired passes to Roy Williams and Austin. There was a botched pitch to Felix Jones that led to a turnover.

Mike Jenkins, Terence Newman and Orlando Scandrick couldn't handle Andre Johnson, who had seven catches for 79 yards, or Jacoby Jones, who made five receptions for 63 yards.

DeMarcus Ware was getting shut down on the pass rush and didn't put enough pressure on the quarterback. When he did get through to force a strip sack and recovered the fumble, Jason Williams was called for illegal contact, giving the Texans the ball back.

To change the situation, Phillips benched the starters for the second half, but he later put them back on the field. The Cowboys called three timeouts in the third quarter, and Phillips said his team wasn't prepared for the Texans' four-receiver sets.

The Cowboys are playing vanilla. Maybe they should play chocolate.

"We did not play well," linebacker Bradie James said. "We did not execute well. Thank God it's the preseason."

Yes, that's true. But if the Cowboys don't fix their issues, this bad preseason will turn into a bad regular season.

Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

Calvin Watkins joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He's covered the Cowboys since 2006 and also has covered colleges, boxing and high school sports.

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