By Tim Cowlishaw
Just when we thought the only significant Cowboys trend was their ability to be perfect at home this season while losing everything on the road, we stumbled onto a greater truth in Monday's 28-14 loss to the Tennessee Titans. It isn't good for Jason Garrett.
Not so wonderful for Dak Prescott, either, even with a radio endorsement from Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones Tuesday morning.
The trend that matters most is this one. Since the magical season of 2016 -- one that recedes from memory with each passing defeat -- the Cowboys have played three half-seasons. They went 5-3 to start 2017. They wrapped it up with a 4-4 record (thanks, at the finish line, by the Eagles laying down on their way to a Super Bowl). They just landed with a thud at the 2018 mid-season point, Titans dancing on their 50-yard-line star, with a 3-5 record.
From 5-3 to 4-4 to 3-5 is a trend. It explodes the myth, still maintained by a steadfast few, that only Ezekiel Elliott's suspension derailed this train a year ago when, in reality, the team was 5-4 with Elliott (pointless win over Philadelphia not included) and 3-3 without him.
The next most alarming trend deals with Dak Prescott's protection. The overrated offensive line in front of him has gone from invincible to invisible in two years. As a Rookie of the Year, Prescott was sacked 23 times in 16 games. He hit the midseason mark Monday with 28 sacks. Only two quarterbacks have more, and they play behind lines that have been criticized and ridiculed from the season's start.
New York's Eli Manning and Houston's Deshaun Watson are slightly ahead of Prescott in sacks. But the Cowboys quarterback actually gets sacked with greater frequency, given his fewer pass attempts.
And yet the arrogance of the Cowboys front office and head coach Jason Garrett allowed them to portray offensive line coach Paul Alexander as the only bad guy around here. Marc Colombo talked boldly about how this unit would "bring the nasty" against the Titans. It looked more like a unit calling for someone to bring the oxygen.
Prescott got smothered in the second half by a Tennessee pass rush that ranked in the bottom 10 before enjoying a five-sack feast Monday night.
What the Cowboys have needed to do for some time is bench rookie Connor Williams, who played tackle sparingly at Texas a year ago and clearly isn't ready to hold down the guard spot between Tyron Smith and Joe Looney. They can move La'el Collins to his old guard position and start Cameron Fleming, a former part-time Patriots starter, at right tackle, and if Fleming can't play, they can go find someone else.
The sack total is a joke, and, by the way, against two solid defensive fronts the last two games, Ezekiel Elliott has gained 94 yards on 32 carries. He can thank both an offensive line that gets blown up as games wear on and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan who loves those first-down run calls so dearly for his declining importance.
But none of this is meant to imply that Prescott isn't partially responsible for the team's downfall and his exploding sack total. His indecision and slow reactions in the pocket, particularly on that ugly final non-scoring drive, are the kinds of things we might have expected in a rookie but not a third-year player.
Still, Jones is determined to be proved correct at the end of the fourth round of the 2016 draft, so much so that on his radio show Tuesday morning he simply stated, "Dak will get extended.''
I suppose the good news for Cowboys fans is he didn't say for how much or in what role.
Keeping in mind that Jones is known to blurt out opinions and backtrack later, he's eight games away from making a decision on Garrett, and it's not going well for I suspect the most unpopular head coach in Cowboys history. Jerry can't even trot out his tired "he's learning" or "he's getting better'' lines in Season Eight.
The decision on Prescott is more difficult, and the Cowboys have another full season to examine it. The only way to make that fair to the quarterback is with a new head coach and coordinator to search for ways to rediscover the 2016 potion that led this team to 13-3.
As long as the players and coaches around him aren't good enough, then Prescott really can't show us more than how limited he is in trying to lead an average team. His 10 touchdown passes and nine turnovers at midseason tell us where this thing is headed.