The Dallas Cowboys have struggled on both sides of the ball recently with three straight blowouts. It’s not too surprising to see the defense have issues. Fans were worried about this group coming into the season, but it’s even worse now. The reliance on so many young players in the secondary coupled with the absence of Sean Lee is taking it’s toll.
But what many people can’t wrap their mind around is why the offense is struggling so much. For three straight games, the Cowboys offense could not reach double-digits in points. Everyone will point to how not having Ezekiel Elliott is the root cause for the offensive struggles, but we all know it goes much deeper than that. The Cowboys have known about the Zeke issue for a while now and have taken what they believed to be the appropriate measures. Alfred Morris, Rod Smith, and even the temporary insurance policy that was Darren McFadden were all stocked up in the fridge in case they were needed. While their performances have been nothing like that of Elliott, the running game hasn’t been that bad. In fact, both Morris and Smith have higher yards per carry than Zeke.
Even with a viable running game at their disposal, the Cowboys continue to have problems sustaining drives. With five more games left on the schedule, what are some things the Cowboy can do to help ignite the offense?
1. Run on all three downs
It’s never good to be one-dimensional, but the difference in success between the Cowboys running game and passing game is significant. Defenses seem to weather the run just so they can win against Dallas on passing downs. Scott Linehan does a nice job of mixing things up, but I’m wondering if a more simplistic approach would work better. The Cowboys have had great success on running on first downs setting up good down and distance situations. But then they’ll work a pass in there and they’ll be hit with a costly penalty or a sack and just like that, they’re in trouble.
The Cowboys need to make their opponents prove to them they can stop the run. That means a lot of 13 personnel and a heavy does of the running game. With Morris and Smith sharing the load, both these backs will be kept fresh and they should just plug away, grinding out as much yards as they can. Eventually, defenses will have to adjust and that is when the Cowboys can hit them with the play-action and take a shot down the field.
The Cowboys bread and butter has been to wear down opposing defenses and it has produced some dominating second half performances. This hasn’t been happening as of late and it has caused their own defense to wear down. Trying and failing is one thing, but when they aren’t committing enough to the cause - then that’s an entirely different problem, but one that can be corrected.
2. More slants to Dez
One of the more disappointing elements to the abysmal offense is the lack of production the team is getting out of Dez Bryant. The chemistry between Dak Prescott and Dez hasn’t been very good this season, but it’s not from a lack of effort. Bryant has been targeted 102 times which has him on pace for one of his highest targeted seasons of his career. Unfortunately, his catch and yardage numbers are likely to end up near the bottom of his career numbers. Dez is averaging a career low 10.2 yards per reception this season.
While Bryant has been covered well this season and isn’t winning too many jump ball situations, the Cowboys have still used him effectively over the middle. Dak has been sharp with his slant passes to Bryant as they’ll typically hook up for one of those in each game. But with the offense struggling, the Cowboys need to get the ball in Bryant’s hands more. This doesn’t mean forcing passes in coverage, but rather quick slants or bubble screens that allow Dez to run after the catch.
Regardless of the criticism that comes his way, Bryant is a talented receiver and can give more to this offense if used appropriately.
3. Run Dak, Run
Oddly enough, one of the Cowboys best offensive plays last week against the Los Angeles Chargers was a read-option keeper where Dak Prescott took off running for a long touchdown. It would have been the longest run of his career had it counted. Unfortunately, a holding penalty that wasn’t even needed nullified this big play and the Cowboys would ultimately have to punt the ball away.
It’s easy to try to lean on Dak’s mobility to grind out some more chunks of yards, but is that really what you want from your franchise quarterback?
This isn’t to suggest that the Cowboys use Prescott heavily as a runner, but having him take off a little more isn’t asking that much. He already broke the record for most rushing touchdowns in a season last year with five and he’s at five again this season. The Cowboys have a weapon in Prescott and it shouldn’t be kept under wraps. If the is facing a third and six play and Dak has space to run, take the easy first down rather than a lower percentage pass down the field. More conversions on the money down will help get his confidence up. Not only that, but just the threat of him running more can also keep defenses on their feet and open things up for other players.
What do you think the Cowboys should be doing more to help ignite their offense?