Cowboys had serious problems before Dak's injury

The good news after Dak Prescott’s thumb surgery is that he’ll almost certainly be back before Halloween.

Still no word on last year’s No. 1 offense.

Ditto on the return of any hope.

Tuesday morning on 105.3 The Fan, Jerry Jones, the ol’ carnival barker, tried hard to sell the idea that the season isn’t over despite evidence mounted in a brutal indictment. After the usual filibuster, this is the best he could manage:

“I’ll assure you, we’ll have to do better than that.”

Not exactly “Remember the Alamo!” is it?

What Jerry needed to tell his fans was that the 19-3 loss to Tampa Bay was not only unacceptable, it was embarrassing, and it won’t happen again. But making such a proclamation either professes he did a poor job constructing this roster, or Mike McCarthy is doing a lousy job. He’d never concede the former, and he won’t admit the latter only one game into the season. Not with so many tickets left to sell.

Jerry’s “curse,” as he once labeled it, is he doesn’t learn from his mistakes. A shame, too, because it’s a Smithsonian collection.

His incurable optimism in the face of all logic seems to have infected his staff. I don’t know how else to explain it.

Consider John Fassel, the Cowboys’ eccentric special teams coach, who seemed to think that KaVontae Turpin would bust a kick return for a touchdown. He and McCarthy were so sure of it, they had no problem with Turpin flagging down kicks in the end zone like Leody Taveras going to the warning track.

Now, one of these days, maybe as soon as Sunday against Cincinnati, Turpin will, indeed, take one to the house. He’s talented. But you can’t force opportunities, either. The idea is to give your offense the best possible field position on every kick, not bet that each one will be the big one. Against the Bucs, Turpin averaged a meager 19.3 yards on four returns, meaning the Cowboys started those drives at their 14, 10, 24 and 15. Granted, the second drive in question was dinged by a holding penalty. But, even if it hadn’t, the Cowboys would have gained just the 20-yard line.

They’ll give you the 25 if all you do is wave at the ball as it flies over your head.

Might seem like a minor complaint considering the transgressions committed in the opener, but it’s indicative of the mindset. The Cowboys like to swing big instead of making sound, fundamental football decisions.

The team that led the NFL in penalties last year was flagged for 10 in its opener, the fifth time in its last seven games that it hit double figures. Officials called Terence Steele, the right tackle, three times for false starts on the same drive. Tyler Smith, the rookie left tackle, drew another.

The only dumber penalty than a false start is lining up offside. I mean, you listen for the magic number and go.

Dalton Schultz gets it.

“That s- - -,” the tight end said, “is just easy fundamental football.”

The problem with penalties is they put you behind the chains and force you to be more aggressive. That’s what happened to the Cowboys’ rushing attack occasionally in a game that wasn’t out of reach until late.

The rest of the time, Kellen Moore simply gave up on the run.

On their first drive, which led to their only points, Zeke Elliott had carries of 7, 6, 5 and 2 yards. Two carries resulted in first downs. He ran it three times on their opening drive of the second half for 6, 7 and 5 yards, with one of those netting a first down. What’s not to like, right? No, he didn’t break one. He doesn’t do that anymore. That’s what Tony Pollard is for, supposedly. But, against the Bucs, no one really stopped Zeke, either. On the game, he averaged 5.2 yards.

Once upon a time, that kind of average would have meant Zeke had gone for at least 100 yards. Hard to reach that marker on just 10 carries.

Look, I appreciate what the college game has wrought on the NFL as much as the next football geek, but even Steve Sarkisian understood the need to run the ball against Alabama. And his Longhorns weren’t nearly as successful as Zeke was against the Bucs.

No matter how much the game has changed, the first rule of offense is to run the ball until someone stops you. Worked pretty well for the Bucs and Giants in their wins Sunday.

And that prescription goes double if your quarterback, wide receivers and offensive line seem to be working off different scripts.

Speaking of which, what’s up with CeeDee Lamb? His quarterbacks didn’t always make it easy for him, but his routes, effort and body language suggest a guy who doesn’t understand his new role as the No. 1 receiver. He needs to understand that everything he does before the ball is in his hands is just as important as what he does with it after.

Fundamental football, is what it is. With or without Dak, it’s what the Cowboys need most.

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