Cowboys move ball, struggle to cash in

Aside from Vinny Testaverde's big day, not much went right for the Cowboys in their loss to Minnesota.

Updated: September 12, 2004, 11:56 PM ET
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- Bill Parcells sounded concerned. He should be. The Vikings exposed several problems in the Cowboys during Sunday's 35-17 drubbing in the Metrodome.

For one, the Cowboys lack a pass rush. Despite spending $4 million a year for Marcellus Wiley and re-signing their best defensive player, defensive end Greg Ellis, they could not contain Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper. Culpepper threw 23 times and was sacked twice in the 54 plays the Vikings offense was on the field.

The only sacks were scrambles by Culpepper in which he was stopped near the line of scrimmage. Behind the line, Culpepper went untouched.

"We didn't get near him," Parcells said. "They did a good job at pass protection. They are pretty conservative on their pass protection and they keep the middle pretty solid. They don't run a West Coast offense. They want to give him time and they do a good job of it."

Another problem for the Cowboys was their coverage. Parcells worried all summer that he was leaving himself thin at corner by not re-signing Mario Edwards. Instead, he hoped Pete Hunter would do the job. Hunter got beat for two touchdowns and drew a pass interference call while covering Randy Moss. Star cornerback Terence Newman was beaten twice by Moss for touchdowns.

When asked if his cornerback position is at a critical stage, Parcells agreed though he also took the opportunity to discuss some other issues.

We did some good things as well. It wasn't all bad. Obviously, we were able to move the ball up and down the field a little bit. We just need to continue to work at it and get it into the end zone.
Cowboys QB Vinny Testaverde

"So it wasn't good," Parcells said. "It is a combination of things now. It's not just the corner. You have to do something beside that. They beat us on the blitz there in the first half with that trick play (a 63-yard pass to halfback Onterrio Smith). We should have had it covered but we didn't."

No one knows for sure if Hunter is a starting cornerback, but his play Sunday has turned Parcells into a hunter. He's looking for more cornerback help.

Those weren't the only problems during Sunday's loss in Minneapolis. Two interior offensive linemen went down with knee injuries, right guard Andre Gurode and center Tyson Walter. Fortunately, Parcells kept an extra offensive lineman on the 45-man active roster, so he had eight linemen available. He had to move Matt Lehr to guard and Al Johnson to center. But if those injuries are significant, they only have Kurt Vollers and inactive rookie Jacob Rogers behind them.

"I don't think the Tyson Walter injury is as bad as Gurode," Parcells said. "I was only going to dress seven linemen. Thank God, I dressed eight."

On the plus side, Vinny Testaverde looked good. He threw efficiently. His long passes had zip. He had some mobility. The unfortunate side is he threw too many times. Testaverde completed 29 of 50 passes for 355 yards and one touchdown. To ask a 40-year-old quarterback to throw 50 passes is something that isn't going to last. He's at risk for injury. As the fourth quarter proceeded, the Vikings let loose their defensive linemen and attacked. Testaverde was hit a bunch of times.

As expected, he established a good working relationship with his possession receiver, Keyshawn Johnson, who caught nine passes for 111 yards. He worked well with his deep threat, Antonio Bryant, who had eight catches for 112 yards. Bryant was particularly effective on slant passes. And Terry Glenn made big catches and had five receptions for 84 yards.

"We did some good things as well," Testaverde said. "It wasn't all bad. Obviously, we were able to move the ball up and down the field a little bit. We just need to continue to work at it and get it into the end zone. I have some weapons to throw to and that is exciting in itself for me because we are going to be able to do this and get better and score more points."

The problem developed that the Cowboys couldn't convert long drives into touchdowns. They had a 21-play drive that extended from the middle of the first quarter into the first minute of the second. They got no points out of the adventure. Holder Mat McBriar mishandled a field goal snap and the Cowboys lost the ball. Overall, they were one-for-four in the red zone.

"It's a frustrating loss," Johnson said. "When you turn the ball over, make mistakes, make penalties, that's what happens to you in those games. You lose. If they would have done the same thing we did, they would have lost."

Most lost in the loss was halfback Eddie George, who was a complete nonfactor. George had the start and gained 25 yards on eight carries. His longest run was five yards. Parcells started going to Richie Anderson and ReShard Lee, who generated a running game by hitting the holes George didn't. Rookie Julius Jones didn't play because of rib injury.

"No injury, I'm healthy," George said. "I didn't expect to get the bulk of the load today anyway, and I was perfectly fine with that. … And it worked out well for us early in the game and worked out well after they scored. We just have to wait and see how the game unfolds."

On Sunday, the game unfolded miserably for the Cowboys.

John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer

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