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Shutout exposes Cowboys problems on offense that were there during their five-game winning streak

Things went from bad to worse for the Cowboys offense on Sunday.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Indianapolis Colts Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

After a disappointing loss, it’s always good to take a step back, breathe a little bit, and take a long hard look at what we just witnessed before forming any conclusions. The mantra “look past the results” is one that holds a lot of meaning to me and it’s particularly useful whenever things get cloudy when it comes to the outlook of this football team. Are the Dallas Cowboys really this bad? Is the 23-0 shutout loss to the Indianapolis Colts really a good indicator as to how good this Cowboys team is? And all across the nation you should hear a resounding, ”No.”

While belief in such may take the sting off of Sunday’s loss a bit, there are some things going on with this team that should bring about a little soreness. The defeat to the Colts was just bad. The offense scored no points, the defense had problems tackling, and the mental mistakes were plentiful on both sides of the ball. There is nothing they put on tape to make us believe it was a valiant effort where a bad break here or there cost them the game. It was just bad football and they have to own it.

What is most alarming about Sunday’s performance is that it’s a collection of things that this team has been dealing with throughout the season, even during their winning streak. If we really believe in “looking past the results” we have to be honest with ourselves about what we have witnessed over the last several weeks, even if the emotions from defeat didn’t accompany it. And what we’ll see is a team that is struggling on offense.

Let’s check out a quick summary of the Cowboys five-game winning streak, except we’ll dial in on some blocks that are cause for concern:

  • Win #1 (Eagles) - Cowboys had 13 points after three quarters
  • Win #2 (Falcons) - Cowboys had six points after three quarters
  • Win #3 (Redskins) - Cowboys trailed 13-10 in third quarter before offense got on track, helped by multiple interceptions from Colt McCoy
  • Win #4 (Saints) - Cowboys only scored 13 points all game
  • Win #5 (Eagles) - Cowboys had nine points after three quarters

If you throw in the losses on either side of this win streak, you’ll also get six straight quarters where the Cowboys have been shutout as they didn’t score in the second half of the Tennessee game as well as Sunday’s shutout. That’s a lot of offense that’s not happening for this team.

Spurts of offensive explosiveness is great. We love it. And the big plays of Amari Cooper has been a big part of that during this span. He’s been a savior and I don’t have to paint the picture of what things would look like for this team if we removed his big plays from the equation. But these big plays aren’t always there for the Cowboys and when they are forced to rely on large-play drives, this team is struggling getting points. The Cowboys are currently ranked 26th in the league with just 19.7 points a game. The teams below them are teams like Arizona, Oakland, Buffalo, and Jacksonville - all teams who will be picking early in the NFL Draft.

There are a lot of reasons for the Cowboys offensive struggles. The offensive line play is a big one. Dak Prescott has been sacked 51 times which would’ve been the most in the NFL had Deshaun Watson not been sacked six times on Saturday. Prescott doesn’t always help his cause by holding on to the ball longer than you’d like to see, but he’s still under quite of bit of duress. The Cowboys offensive line is banged up, specifically in the middle as both guard positions and the center are being manned by backups. Travis Frederick has been out all year and Zack Martin is now out with a knee injury. Both are All-Pro’s and both had never missed a game coming into this season, but just like that - both are unavailable. And the other All-Pro of the group, Tyron Smith, has missed a couple games as well. He’s back now, but he is a shell of his former self as he’s suddenly developed a bad habit of holding people.

And the holding penalties are an epidemic that has spread throughout the entire offensive line.

Any time the team is racking up a lot of penalties, that’s a problem, but it’s even more damaging when the offense hasn’t demonstrated the ability to get themselves out of trouble once they’re behind the chains. Repeatedly throwing dump off passes short of the sticks is just waiting to lose.

Even more disturbing than the team’s third-and-long ineptness is how much they struggle once they get deep in their opponents territory. Defenses tighten up and suddenly the Dallas offense becomes unable to score touchdowns. The list is plentiful as to why this happens. Sometimes a missed block/penalty causes a negative play, sometimes Dak throws a pick in the endzone, or sometimes a receiver will just blatantly drop an easy pass.

Some of this you can rationalize yourself to believe that it won’t continue. Dropped passes can’t go on forever, right? But some of this is just part of a recognizable pattern that has become the Cowboys red zone offense and it’s unsettling.

What does it mean when a team that had struggled with consistency offensively during a five-game winning streak rolls out a big goose egg? It means there’s a problem in Dallas and that this team has a lot of work to do if they want to make a splash in the postseason. The sky isn’t falling, but there are some dark clouds hovering around and they didn’t just recently show up.

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