Wednesday, October 28, 2015

If Cowboys aren't worried about Greg Hardy, they should be focusing on aspect that makes them last in NFL

The Cowboys find themselves in a difficult spot coming off their fourth consecutive loss.

It goes deeper than trying to explain how Greg Hardy's level of passion and engagement isn't an issue when he inserts himself into the business of the special teams coordinator during a game.

Head coach Jason Garrett spent the majority of his Monday news conference insisting that people outside the building were more concerned by Hardy's behavior in the team's loss to the New York Giants than those inside Valley Ranch.

So, if Hardy doesn't consume every waking thought of Cowboys coaches and officials these days, what does?

Here's one: turnover differential.

The Cowboys have turned the ball over 12 times this season, four of them coming in the 27-20 loss to the Giants. They have forced a league-low three turnovers.

That differential of minus-9 ranks Dallas last in the NFL.

When asked about specifics for why something is or isn't working with his team, Garrett consistently responds that it's a combination of factors. He rarely points to one overriding element.

But when asked if turnover differential is the primary reason these Cowboys sit at the bottom of the NFC East with a 2-4 record, he answers with one word.

"Absolutely,'' Garrett said.

The Cowboys suffer from a malady that infects most mediocre or losing teams. Once the coaching staff and players focus on one area, once strides are made, they fall back in another area.

An emphasis was placed on getting the ground game untracked against New York. The result: The Cowboys rushed for 233 yards, nearly doubling their previous single-game high for the season. They averaged 5.7 yards a carry, and Darren McFadden rushed for 152 yards and a touchdown.

"I thought he was outstanding,'' Garrett said of McFadden. "I think you saw him run inside, you saw him run off tackle and you saw him run outside. He made a lot of big plays in the game. He had a lot of dirty runs in the game. Just really, really played a complete football game.

"I think the guys up front responded well to him. That's as well as we've run the football all year long, and we have to continue to build on that.''

The performance likely means McFadden will supplant Joseph Randle atop the team's running back-by-committee structure.

"We will give him his opportunities and keep the whole thing competitive for everybody,'' Garrett said. "But he has certainly earned some more touches.''

While the Cowboys flexed their muscles on the ground, quarterback Matt Cassel threw three interceptions in his first start for the team. The Cowboys hadn't had that many interceptions in a game since Tony Romo opened last season against San Francisco with three.

The Cowboys gave up only 13 points on defense. They held Eli Manning to only 170 yards through the air and a quarterback rating of 76.7. What more could they have done?

Well, moments after the Giants got the ball on their own 1-yard line, the Cowboys could have risen to the occasion rather than giving up gains of 44 and 39 yards on consecutive plays. The defense also failed to force a turnover for the fourth consecutive game, a drought that now extends to 255 snaps.

"I don't know, man, it's definitely frustrating,'' defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford said. "We've just got to figure it out.

"To be honest with you, we've got to run to the ball better. I don't want to keep going back to last year, but last year we ran to the ball better and there were more guys wanting the ball.''

Through all that, Cassel led a drive to tie the score at 20 with 7:25 remaining.

Eleven seconds later, the Cowboys allowed their first kickoff return of more than 34 yards all season when Dwayne Harris raced 100 yards to give the Giants the lead and spark Hardy's outburst.

"We didn't do what winning teams do in the game, and really it was in regard to the football,'' Garrett said. "We turned it over three times on offense, we muffed a punt late in the ballgame and we gave up a 100-yard kickoff return, so I think those are the five plays that you point to and say these are the things that prevented us from winning this game.

"The biggest thing we have to do as coaches is to make sure we rectify those situations, eliminate those plays and be more opportunistic on defense, create some takeaways and make some of those plays on our own.

"You've got to eliminate those plays where we're giving them the ball. We understand that.''

Now comes the more difficult part. They must do something about it.

Catch David Moore on The Ticket (KTCK-AM 1310 and 96.7 FM) with The Musers at 9:35 a.m. every Monday and Friday and The Hardline at 4:10 p.m. every Tuesday and Friday during the season.

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