Commentary

Cowboys complicate their situation

Practice, discipline issues stand in way of beating playoff odds following 0-2 start

Updated: September 20, 2010, 10:39 AM ET
By Calvin Watkins | ESPNDallas.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- We're not going to say the Dallas Cowboys' season is over. That would be harsh.

So instead, we'll tell you this:

The Cowboys are 0-2 to start the season following a 27-20 loss to the Chicago Bears on Sunday afternoon at Cowboys Stadium.

The odds of making the playoffs after an 0-2 start are slim. Since 1990, only 13 percent of NFL teams that have started 0-2 have reached the playoffs.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
Tim Heitman/US PresswireDespite early success, the Cowboys had trouble getting to Bears QB Jay Cutler and also committed two penalties for hits on him.

In the past two years, 19 teams have started 0-2, and only three made the postseason: the Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings and San Diego Chargers.

Nobody did it last year.

It's hard to believe in the ability of these Cowboys to climb out of this 0-2 hole when you hear things like the following from cornerback Terence Newman.

"Like I said, I don't know if you heard me, but I think that things [in practice] kind of got let go [by the players] in practice," Newman said. "It's things that ... it's not our coaches. They don't really know some of the things that were going on. But as players, we have to crack down and make sure that some of the stuff that has been going on doesn't go on.

"We have to make it a game situation in practice. That's just what it is. We go hard in practice, but maybe our intensity needs to go up a little bit. We've got to do that as players and not worry about the coaches."

The Cowboys elected to go with a younger team this season. Gone are veterans Patrick Crayton, Flozell Adams, Ken Hamlin and Pat Watkins.

In their place are Doug Free, Dez Bryant, Barry Church, Danny McCray and Alan Ball. When you go with younger players -- or cheaper, if you will -- mistakes happen.

It's not just on the field but off it, as well.

Players have to attend meetings on time, know their assignments not just in full-speed practices but in walk-throughs. Act professional at all times. Don't shout at the training staff when they're trying to help you. Be on time when the training staff schedules rehab times.

Respect your teammates and coaches.

There were two incidents last week that raised eyebrows in the Cowboys' locker room. At midweek, linebackers coach Reggie Herring yelled at some of the younger players to attend a meeting on time. Several other players howled as if to mock Herring.

On Friday, after some fun between Marcus Spears and Jon Kitna about a game of spades drew reporters to listen in on the banter, tight end Martellus Bennett started shouting as if he wanted attention.

"It's bad," cornerback Mike Jenkins said. "We got caught up in a lot of hype. Just need to come out and execute and come out and get W's, and there's nothing else to talk about."

No need to worry about hype now. The Cowboys are headed to a nasty place.

This is not a disciplined team. They committed six penalties for 50 yards and now have drawn 18 flags in two games.

Two penalties were on plays involving the opposing quarterback: Igor Olshansky slammed Jay Cutler down after he threw the ball, and Keith Brooking tried to snatch the helmet off Cutler on another play.

Sunday against the Bears, the Cowboys dropped two passes (Miles Austin and Jason Witten were the targets) that led to interceptions. There was a critical fumble by Roy E. Williams as the Cowboys were trying to rally in the fourth quarter. A missed field goal by David Buehler that would have tied the score in the fourth killed momentum, coach Wade Phillips said.

"Just everything around us," Jenkins said. "I think all the players, our mindset is on a lot of stuff. We've got a lot of stuff going on. We're the Dallas Cowboys, being one of the biggest teams in the nation, [and] we need to just come out and play ball. I think a lot of guys underestimated this game. We didn't execute."

The Cowboys figured they had an advantage with two strong pass-rushers in DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer to knock Cutler around.

They succeeded for a while, flushing him out of the pocket and forcing him to rush his throws. But when left tackle Chris Williams went down with an injury, it seemed as if the Cowboys' pass rush got injured, too.

Kevin Shaffer replaced Williams. Ware and Spencer got close to Cutler, but not close enough to offset this number: a 136.7 quarterback rating. Or these numbers: zero interceptions and three touchdowns.

"Jay got the ball out quick, and I think that made a big difference because on turf, everything is faster," Shaffer said. "Those guys are screaming off the edge. It took a minute to find who we got. We had great communication. If you know who you have, it makes it a whole lot easier."

When the game was over, Phillips spoke to his group about getting its act together and not falling apart. Linebacker Bradie James also spoke about not letting this season slip away.

Next week, the Cowboys visit Houston, where in one regular-season meeting, the first game in Texans history, they lost.

The Texans treat the Cowboys game as if it's the Texas Super Bowl. So it doesn't seem as if this thing is going to get easier.

"This is what we are right now," James said. "This is reality. There is no need to be surprised we're 0-2. So in order for us not even to turn this thing around to win, we've got to show up and give it our all practice-wise. I don't know if guys are just showing up today and thinking people are going to lay down for it, I don't know what it is.

"We've got to execute every down, that's what it is. We have to keep each other accountable. This might be a blessing in disguise. It's on us to show up man, you've got to show up."

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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