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NFL Panic Index 2019: The Cowboys keep losing games they should win

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The Dallas coaches are failing their players (like always), the Saints looked lifeless against the Falcons, and the Bills fall apart against good teams. Also, what’s wrong with Saquon Barkley?

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett holds his arms out in disbelief, superimposed on a blue and yellow background and the words “PANIC INDEX” in white
The Cowboys have lost three one-score games so far in 2019.

After a week dominated by upsets, there are a lot of teams panicking around the NFL. Let’s start with the Cowboys, who shot themselves in the foot repeatedly Sunday night.

It wasn’t hard to see what was working for Dallas. Dak Prescott was cooking the Vikings while Ezekiel Elliott couldn’t do much of anything.

Prescott finished with 397 passing yards, three touchdowns, and only threw an interception on a Hail Mary as time expired. Elliott only finished with 47 rushing yards on 20 attempts. So who did the Cowboys trust when the game was on the line? Elliott, of course.

With just under five minutes left and the Vikings leading 28-24, the Cowboys needed to go 94 yards for a game-winning touchdown. Seven of the first eight plays of the drive were pass plays and Prescott completed six of them for 79 yards. Just like that, the Cowboys were 11 yards away from the end zone.

Then Elliott was stuffed for no gain and dropped for a 3-yard loss on back-to-back plays. A fourth-down pass to Elliott fell incomplete and the Vikings took over on downs.

Whyyy are the Cowboys coaches so stubborn about forcing square pegs into round holes? It’s important to have a game plan and it’s good to have offensive balance. But coaching is also about making adjustments and adapting to the flow of the game. Dallas, now 5-4, hasn’t had that and it’s losing winnable games as a consequence.

Jason Garrett’s job security has been called into question many times before, but he may finally get the boot if a roster with a top-10 offense and top-10 defense can’t win a subpar NFC East in 2019.

Panic index: The division is still right in front of the Cowboys. They’re tied for the lead with the Eagles and have a rematch with Philadelphia coming just before Christmas. It’s hard to trust Garrett and his staff not to screw things up, but the Cowboys are plenty talented enough to win in spite of them anyway.

The Saints’ offense couldn’t do anything against the FALCONS

Uh, what the heck, Saints? They were 7-1, a double-digit favorite, coming off a bye, playing at home, and facing a 1-7 team on a six-game losing streak who looked worse every week.

And then they let the Falcons dunk on them all afternoon in an embarrassing 26-9 loss. Even with their elite offensive line, the Saints allowed a defense that had seven sacks all season take down their 40-year-old quarterback six times. They were called for 12 penalties, six of them gifting the Falcons a first down. They were flagged for hands to the face four times.

Was everyone in New Orleans still “LSU beat Bama” drunk?

There’s really no explaining Sunday’s result in the Superdome. The Saints were outplayed in every way on both sides of the ball. Most worrisome was the offense, which couldn’t find the end zone at home for the first time in the Drew Brees era. The Falcons were giving up 31.3 points per game — third-worst in the league — and the Saints managed just three measly field goals.

Their running game was nearly nonexistent (52 yards on 11 carries). The usual solid third-down offense converted just 3 of 12 attempts. They were 0 for 3 in the red zone.

Some of these issues aren’t new, either. For the season, New Orleans has scored touchdowns on just 48.5 percent of its red zone trips, or sliiiiightly better than Freddie Kitchens’ Browns, who start playing their own version of “the floor is lava” game with the end zone whenever they get too close to the goal line.

This was also the fourth time this season the Saints have scored under 14 points — but the first time they’ve done it with a healthy Brees the entire game.

Last season, their offense slowed down as the season wore on, and it ended up catching up to them in the playoffs. This year, it might have caught up to them earlier. This is the type of game a contender can’t afford to lose, especially considering it could be the difference between a top seed in the playoffs and having to play on Wild Card Weekend.

Panic index: Anything can happen in a rivalry as big as Saints-Falcons. Most of us didn’t expect, y’know, the two teams to swap bodies, but that’s apparently what happened in Week 10. Still, don’t discount Atlanta’s effort; the Falcons are loaded with talent and looked like they used their bye week to actually prepare, unlike the Saints.

In that sense, this game could simply serve a reminder to the Saints to take each opponent seriously. Just like the Packers the week before, the loss could’ve been the letdown game that happens to pretty much every team once a year.

Even if the offense remains inconsistent, they still have Michael Thomas (152 receiving yards against the Falcons) and an offensive line that should be healthier in their next game than it was Sunday. They also have a strong defense that has been able to carry the team this season, despite the loss to a still-potent Falcons offense.

Going forward, their biggest defensive concern should be on the status of Marshon Lattimore, who left the game in the second quarter with a hamstring injury. He had shut down Julio Jones prior to that and as soon as he exited, Jones ripped off a 54-yard gain. They’ll need their star corner to get healthy while they continue to vie for homefield advantage in the playoffs.

The Bills’ defense can’t do it all

Buffalo ranks third in the NFL in scoring defense (16.7 points per game). It ranks third in the NFL in yards allowed. Opponents have only scored seven passing touchdowns through nine games.

Despite all this, the Bills have yet to win a game against a team with a winning record. The six teams they’ve beaten are a combined 12-44. They spent Week 10 shutting down the Browns in the red zone time after time — Cleveland turned its first two trips to the Buffalo goal line into three total points — and still lost when Stephen Hauschka’s 53-yard game-tying field goal try sliced just barely to the left of the uprights.

How’d that happen? An offense that hasn’t ranked in the top 10 in yards gained in a full season since 2000 remained mired in its mediocrity. Josh Allen, the 2018 top-10 pick whose progress as a quarterback has been a slow trudge to respectability, completed just 22 of 41 passes and failed to throw a single completion in the red zone (0-4). Devin Singletary, who’d spent Week 9 outshining two different future Hall of Famers en route to 140 yards from scrimmage, had just eight carries and three catches for a unit that never found its rhythm against a defense that ranked 23rd in points allowed before Sunday.

The Bills have a more efficient offense than the Patriots — their 5.3 yards per play is slightly better than New England’s 5.2 — but there’s little trust they can kick that group into gear when it desperately needs points.

Panic index: The Bills have scored just 12.3 points per game against opponents with non-losing records this fall. If that doesn’t change, they’ll either be one half of a mostly unwatchable Wild Card Round game or miss the postseason for the second straight season.

The Giants might need to shut down Saquon Barkley

We’re halfway through the NFL season, and 2018 Offensive Rookie of the Year Saquon Barkley has had just two games with over 100 rushing yards — in the first two weeks of the season. The Giants’ star running back missed three weeks beginning in late September due to a high ankle sprain, and hasn’t looked the same since returning on Oct. 20 against the Cardinals.

His worst performance of his career came Sunday against the Jets, when he rushed for 1 yard — yes, one yard — on 13 carries:

After the game he received X-rays, but insisted this week he’s OK. Although reporters asked Barkley and head coach Pat Shurmur if the running back if he intends on sitting out the rest of the season, that doesn’t seem to be the plan for now.

“I do not agree with that idea at all ... The mindset of sitting me out and resting me for the rest of the season is beyond me. I do not agree with it and it won’t happen. I’m going to keep going until I can’t go anymore. That’s the type of player I am and I’m going to do it for my teammates,” Barkley said via Big Blue View.

Shurmur added he has “absolutely not” considered shutting Barkley down for the season, so it appears the two are on the same page for now.

But does it really make sense for a 2-8 team to keep playing Barkley if he’s not 100 percent?

Panic Index: The good news for Barkley is that the Giants have a bye this upcoming week, so that gives him a great opportunity to get healthy before the Nov. 24 game against the Bears. If he’s healthy and Barkley feels good enough to keep playing, then the Giants should. After all, they need some kind of spark.

Quarterback Daniel Jones has 13 fumbles this season, while backup running back Wayne Gallman has just 109 rushing yards. The offensive line has looked bad and has been banged up. Sterling Shepard has only played four games due to concussions and tight end Evan Engram is dealing with a foot injury.

If Barkley doesn’t look much better after the bye, that might give the team more of an incentive to consider sitting him, though. At the very least that’d let him get healthy, and could give the Giants a high draft pick so they can get some OL or another playmaker for the future.