What was the most frustrating thing to watch out of the Dallas Cowboys in 2015? Was it their inability to get after the quarterback despite making 'reliable upgrades' in the offseason? Was it their inability to get stops on defense in times when they needed them most? Perhaps the most frustrating thing was the Cowboys' inability to score touchdowns and instead coming away with just three points.
Because of the Cowboys' lack of offensive mojo in 2015 with their options at quarterback, Dallas was unable to use the bulk of the playbook they had planned to use with Tony Romo. The injury to Romo strangled this team. Not only did the injury rid the Cowboys of their best player, but each player on the Cowboys was affected. Cole Beasley wasn't given as many opportunities, the running game wasn't as potent, the pass-rushers didn't have enough time on the sideline to rejuvenate, and the defensive backs were consistently worn down at the end of each game.
The offense went from one that could put up points with consistency to one that was lucky to score more than 20 points in a game and one that was lucky if there weren't three turnovers in a game. When an offense's leading performer in 2015 is Darren McFadden, it's a telling sign of the type of season the offense and the team as a whole had. Although, McFadden did have an unbelievable season given the lack of talent at the quarterback position and the fact that he played against defenses who would load the box looking to shut down the running game.
At the time, the signing of McFadden looked like a failed attempt at replacing what the Cowboys had in DeMarco Murray. Football is a war of attrition and by signing McFadden to fill the running back void in some way, Dallas' idea wasn't exactly to mirror Murray and what he brought to the offense. It was instead to get a guy at a cheap value who could bring even the slightest production behind Joseph Randle. But the thought of McFadden rushing the football 239 times for 1,089 yards sounded like blasphemy at the time.
In Week 7 when McFadden took over the starting gig, Dallas' offense improved. It improved very slightly as McFadden was a proven upgrade over Randle. With the emphasis on running the football with McFadden, Dallas' offense was able to do a few things they weren't able to with Randle at running back. McFadden's ability to pick up the playbook and run with anything the Cowboys gave him, literally and figuratively, led to an offense that could move the football, yet one that still couldn't do so with much consistency.
McFadden's yards per carry average was 4.6. The league average for a starting running back is 4.2 yards per carry. Statistics can only tell you so much about a player and their year, but the one statistic that tells me McFadden's numbers weren't as good as advertised was his touchdown number. With just three touchdowns, Dallas' offense wasn't good enough in the red-zone to score consistent points.
And with the lack of talent they had at the quarterback position in 2015, getting in position to score was vital. The simple point is that the Cowboys weren't good enough in the redzone, as evident by their 44.44% red-zone percentage. This number was just the third-worst total in the league. The two teams who finished worst were the San Francisco 49ers and the Cleveland Browns. So basically a team that had Blaine Gabbert as its quarterback and a team who not only employed but also started Johnny Manziel at one point. That's not good company for the Cowboys to be in.
Just by looking at statistics, one could argue that McFadden had a successful season. However, his statistics didn't necessarily correlate to offensive success. The Cowboys have a history of taking the points and not risking going for it on fourth down, but teams don't close out games for victories with field goals. Once in awhile teams have to put the opposition away by scoring touchdowns. That is where the addition of Ezekiel Elliott will come into play. By giving Elliott a bulk of the carries in comparison to McFadden and Alfred Morris, the Cowboys are getting an upgrade. Elliott's ability paired with this offensive line will create one of the best running games in football.
Stagnancy in the redzone plagued the Cowboys in 2015. But with the offense likely to improve drastically with Romo and Dez Bryant returning to full health and Elliott being added to the mix, this is a vital part of the game where the Cowboys can go from finishing in the bottom three in 2015 to the top three in 2016. There are other areas where the Cowboys need to improve. They need to create more turnovers and get more pressure on the quarterback. We all know of this. But if the Cowboys can score more and capture touchdowns in the redzone rather than field goals, that could be the storyline that helps improve the rest of their flaws as well.
Dallas has the potential to be a solid team in 2016. They still have that potential even with the suspensions and the lingering rumors about certain players on the team. But when it's all said and done, the Cowboys' offense needs to pave the way for this team for it to have success. And it all starts by making this offense have more bite in the redzone.