The Cowboys went to Philadelphia and jump-started their flagging season with a beatdown of their NFC East rival. They would do well to heed the lessons of that game.
If the Dallas Cowboys are going to answer the call and make a playoff run in 2012, then the game against the Eagles is a fine blueprint to follow. For various reasons, this offense has struggled to put points on the board. The defense has been able to hold them in games but a variety of late-game shenanigans have saddled the Cowboys with a 4-5 record. As OCC points out, the schedule is favorable for Dallas the rest of the way, providing a flicker of hope for a post-season opportunity. Following the strategy of Sunday's game provides the best way to get there.
1. Knock off the turnovers. Dallas was able to complete the game against the Eagles without a single turnover. A lot of this rests on Tony Romo's shoulders. With the Cowboys offense often stuck in neutral, Romo has to resist the urge to do too much and rely on the defense to at least hold them in games. Be patient, take the underneath routes when available and wait for the moments to go deep. Throwaways, sacks, short runs - any of these are preferable than forcing a pass. Romo showed he can do that on Sunday, plus add a little magic when needed. Romo should still be Romo and scramble to safety when needed, but resist the urge to throw dangerous passes.
The turnover battle isn't just on Romo, his receivers have to stop popping passes up into the air with missed catches and they need to be sure, and crisp, on their route-running. If both Romo and the receivers can tighten up in this area for the rest of the year, Dallas can win games.
2. Present a viable, if not dynamic, running game. Dallas didn't tear it up running the ball against Philly, but they did enough to make the defense respect the run. Even though this has turned into a passing league, making a defense respect the run is critical to two other areas - slowing down the pass rush and setting up play-action passes. The Cowboys offensive line is not going to be able to protect Romo on a constant basis, but if the defensive line has to respect the run, then they might slow down just a bit. But the big key is forcing the linebackers to commit and even drawing a safety closer to the line. If the defense commits on play-action passes, Romo will have opportunities to do damage. Of course, getting DeMarco Murray back could make this much easier to accomplish.
3. Get help from defense and special teams. While the defense has been holding this team in most games this year, they haven't been creating the big play, the game-changer. On Sunday they did it a couple of times. You can't expect your defense to score every week (unless your the Bears), but they can set up scores with more turnovers. Frankly, that's the only thing missing from this defense this year, and on Sunday they finally broke out. As did the special teams behind Dwayne Harris. Again, special teams won't score each week, but setting the offense up with shorter fields is key.
There have been calls for the Cowboys offense to open things up, go to no-huddle, try to hit the vertical passing game more often. They should keep that to a minimum and go for the more conservative approach. This defense is working, and many of the games Dallas has lost has been on the offense turning the ball over or trying for 20 yards when they only need 5. Take what a defense gives you, stay patient and hit your big plays when available. If the game progresses and the opposing defense is stumbling, then get more aggressive. Not exactly the most exciting way to win games, but it beats the alternative of losing them in excruciating fashion.
This offense has limitations, so the Cowboys need to work around that. The Philadelphia game was a good example of how that can be accomplished.
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