Everyone is going to spin it a million different ways as to why the Dallas Cowboys came out so flat, particularly on offense to open the regular season. Maybe it’s because the first team didn’t play enough together in the preseason, or maybe it’s because of the lack of creativity in the play calling, which was hyped up rather significantly as week one approached.

Jason Garrett can preach the fight mentality forever but this was his worst season opener of his coaching career period. No other way to put it, the team just was not ready to play. The offense had zero pulse until they finally woke up in the fourth quarter. Most will focus on the play calling and Dak Prescott’s poor day at the offensive helm.

At the end of the day, the passing game is not the heart and soul of the offense. Rather, it is Ezekiel Elliott and the ground game. Zeke did run for 69 yards and a score while adding 17 yards on 3 receptions but he was far from happy with his performance and the offense as a whole. He preached post game that they must start way faster and earlier.

Believe it or not, there has been a trend in the past few seasons of Dallas’ ground game starting slow in the first couple of weeks. But they definitely cannot afford to have that happen again with the passing attack looking to already be in shambles.

On the other hand, though, the defense looks like the best that Dallas has had on that side of the ball in years. At least, one game into the season.

Here are a few takeaways from the game:

Yes, rust, but that Carolina defense is legit

Especially at home. Where it may look like the Cowboys offense was just super bad, I still think a rather large portion of the struggles came because of the Panthers defense. The front seven is absolutely phenomenal and has the personnel to wreck the Dallas scheme of clock management with Zeke. Still their secondary is known to be beatable, further raising the questions of just how good Dak and this revamped receiving group can be. Notably, when Zeke is being keyed on.

Offensive line must be better

We knew they weren’t going to be at their absolute best without Travis Frederick, but his replacement Joe Looney wasn’t the issue in Week One. Looney played a pretty sound game and for sure was not a liability for the Cowboys. Rather, Tyron Smith and La’el Collins were each called for holding twice. Rookie left guard Connor Williams was beat for a pair of sacks in key situations. Not to make an excuse for his poor day but there was just too much unnecessary pressure on Dak in the pocket.

Offense and defense role reversal?

The defense carried the freight for the Cowboys on Sunday, and they ferociously attacked the ball most of the game. Something we haven’t seen out of Dallas in years. The defensive line brought constant pressure we expected, without much blitzing I may add. And the secondary was rather stout and rarely beaten or out of position.

Surprisingly enough, Sean Lee maybe had the worst game of all Cowboy defenders. He missed four tackles according to Pro Football Focus and looked a step behind for of the game. I think not playing all preseason has much to do with this. Once he gets up to game speed and in complete football shape, Lee should get back to balling. Another bright spot was Kavon Frazier in his first career start as a safety. He was very sound in both coverage and coming to the line of scrimmage to defend the run.

Brett Maher

We tried to tell y’all. When Brett Maher missed his first career NFL field goal attempt, predictably, Cowboys Nation lost their minds and were calling for Dan Bailey. Maher was called on to make a 47-yarder to get the Cowboys on the board in the 3rd quarter and missed it just wide right. I’ll cut him a little slack with the rainy conditions but it’s safe to say Cowboys fans don’t feel all too comfortable about their kicker right now. Until Maher makes a big kick in a big moment, expect more of this paranoia.

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