Report card: Special teams come through
The Cowboys' patchwork offensive line got whipped way too often by the Browns' front seven. Dallas running backs were dropped for a loss on six of their 19 carries. Felix Jones and Lance Dunbar combined for 53 yards on 19 carries, an average of 2.8 per pop. The right side of the Cowboys' offensive line was especially poor, with tackle Doug Free and fill-in guard Derrick Dockery consistently getting knocked backwards. The Browns' pass rushers were able to pin back their ears because the Cowboys couldn't run the ball with any consistency.
Dez Bryant dominated, catching 12 passes for a career-high 145 yards and a touchdown, but the Cowboys should have had much more success throwing the ball against an injury-ravaged Browns secondary. Tony Romo's protection was terrible, as evidenced by his career-high seven sacks. He did a poor job protecting the ball on one of those, resulting in a lost fumble while the Cowboys were protecting a late lead. Romo threw for 313 yards, but he averaged only 6.3 yards per attempt, primarily because the Cowboys couldn't block well enough to let him attack downfield.
The Browns pounded away with stud rookie running back Trent Richardson and the Cowboys did a decent job holding their ground. He finished with 28 carries for 95 yards, with the Dallas run defense growing stronger late in the game. Richardson gained only 18 yards on eight carries in the fourth quarter and overtime. Safeties Danny McCray and Gerald Sensabaugh were especially strong in run support. Outside linebacker Anthony Spencer, as usual, was also a force against the run, recording six tackles, including one for a loss.
The Cowboys weren't able to rattle a rookie quarterback. Brandon Weeden completed 20 of 35 passes for 210 yards, hitting tight end Ben Watson for two touchdowns. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan didn't blitz often and the Cowboys struggled to get pressure on Weeden, who tends to commit turnovers when he has heat on him. Dallas had only two sacks, one shared by DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher and one by Anthony Spencer that was a trifecta (sack, forced fumble, fumble recovery). The Cowboys had two golden opportunities for interceptions when they got pressure on Weeden, but Spencer and nose tackle Josh Brent dropped the ball.
The Cowboys twice made the mistake of punting to Cleveland's Josh Cribbs and paid a steep price both times. His 20- and 22-yard returns set up the Browns' two touchdown drives. Brian Moorman booted the ball out of bounds on his other five punts, including three that landed inside the 20. Dallas' Dwayne Harris made a critical big play on a punt return for the second consecutive week. After taking one to the house in Philadelphia, Harris had a 20-yard return to set up the game-winning field goal. Dan Bailey was 3-for-3 on field goals, including the winner. An onside attempt was unsuccessful, but the Browns didn't convert that field position into points.
Jerry Jones gushed about the halftime adjustments made by Jason Garrett and Rob Ryan. Well, how about the preparation during the week? It's inexcusable to have dug a 13-point hole at halftime against a two-win team. The offense was especially awful in the first half, accounting for only 68 total yards. It shouldn't have taken Garrett two quarters to figure out that his offensive line wasn't good enough to allow Romo and the receivers to attack the Browns vertically. The Cowboys managed to pull out the win -- or the Browns found a way to lose -- so this won't go down as a disaster. But it certainly doesn't inspire confidence that Garrett is the right guy.