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Will the offensive struggles keep the Cowboys out of the playoffs?

The Cowboys have some problems on the offensive side of the ball, but can they be fixed to where they can be a playoff contender?

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Carolina Panthers Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

There were a lot of different questions heading into the 2018 season for the Dallas Cowboys and we’ve been waiting a long to time to get answers. It’s just been one game, but already we got a little taste of what to expect this season. The good news is - the defense played really well. For all the stress and anxiety about how vulnerable the safety group was going to be, the Cowboys defensive backs delivered. Kavon Frazier played well and all three cornerbacks - Chidobe Awuzie, Byron Jones, and Anthony Brown did a great job in coverage. The Cowboys secondary didn’t allow a single passing play of 20 yards or more against the Carolina Panthers.

While there were several things to be happy about on the defensive side of the ball, the same cannot be said for the offense. It was bad on Sunday. Really bad.

Is this something us fans should be concerned about week-to-week or should we expect improvements to be arriving shortly? Let’s hope for the latter as failure to correct these issues could lead to a disappointing season. Here are the three biggest culprits on Sunday when it comes to the poor play of the offense.

SHAKY OFFENSIVE LINE PLAY

This became a last minute worry for the team as the health of Zack Martin and Travis Frederick were in question during the last few weeks of preseason. Fortunately, Martin is fine, but the absence of Frederick is still something the team is dealing with. Strangely enough, backup center Joe Looney played well on Sunday, yet the offensive line as a unit wasn’t good.

The Cowboys offense dug themselves a hole with constant penalties that nullified good plays and put them in long down-and-distance situations. The odd thing about it is that these mistakes were happening not by uncertain interior play, but by dependable tackles along the edge. All-Pro Tyron Smith and rising star La’el Collins each had two penalties. Against a Panthers defense that wasn’t giving in much, these negative plays helped stall the Cowboys offense.

This is not the norm for Smith and Collins so I wouldn’t expect for this problem to persist. One issue that will linger however, is the inconsistent play of rookie Connor Williams. There is an understanding that he’ll struggle at times, especially against great interior talent like the Panthers have. Dallas will have a handful of games with other opponents strong in the middle. These problems will resurface at times, but if the team can be strong elsewhere, the offensive line can still be good enough to help the team move the ball.

DAKURACY

Dak Prescott completed 65% of his passes and didn’t throw a single interception, but that doesn’t even begin to tell the story. Prescott did have some nice throws on a few slant plays where he was able to stay in rhythm and get the ball out of his hand quickly. He also did well when he had time in the pocket. But any time he felt pressure in front of him or had to roll out of the pocket, it was a dice roll of where that ball was going to end up. Prescott had a couple unforced misfires, one to Blake Jarwin and one to Michael Gallup, which could have been big gains for the offense had he made a good throw.

Prescott didn’t take a single shot downfield and that is little concerning. If the Cowboys offense isn’t able to stretch the field and allows the defense to contain them within a little box, it’s going to be very difficult to put up points.

Granted, these third down situations are not ideal for any quarterback, but he’s going to have to make some plays every now and then. The front office has a lot of faith in Prescott, but some sub-par performances have many fans doubting if the team will be successful with no. 4 as their quarterback. Unfortunately, this is a wait-and-see type of situation and if Dak doesn’t get back on track soon, things are going to get extremely rocky for the Cowboys in the near future. Let’s hope better days for Dak are around the corner.

USE OF WEAPONRY

When the Cowboys offense couldn’t get past midfield the entire first half on Sunday, many fans questions if the team’s plan of attack was sufficient.

The immediate response from many is that Scott Linehan called a horrible game and that the game has just passed him up. It was the same old, same old for Linehan as he just has his playlist set to “repeat” and the defense has heard it enough times that they all know the words. Former Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, who doesn’t have an ounce of bitterness in his body (sarcasm) let everyone know on twitter that he knew what was coming.

But is that really true? Can the offensive struggles be blamed on their offensive coordinator? Our own Dave Halprin took a close look at each of the Cowboys drives and it should be noted that there were a lot of well-schemed plays that just didn’t have very effective execution.

As for the offense and trying new stuff, they certainly did that. They ran more screens to a variety of positions, they mixed up their running game much more than usual, they tried some misdirection, they utilized different formations including bunch formations and empty-set backfields. It wasn’t the same ol’ Cowboys. Was it the right stuff? That’s up for debate, if the players would have executed better we would have a better idea.

Much to the chagrin of Jeff Cavanaugh, he agree...

Linehan has been under fire before, but it only seems to follow disappointing outcomes. Nobody is worried too much when the offense is rolling and winning 12 or 13 games. Whether it’s a result of Linehan or despite him, the offense has shown the ability to play at a high level.

But the fact remains, the Cowboys weren’t able to move the ball against Carolina and there were certainly some plays that left us scratching our head. Why were tight ends used so much versus utilizing receivers more who are more experienced pass catchers and have greater speed? How come they didn’t have more of a plan for Ezekiel Elliott as a receiver? Where is the Tavon Austin utilization we saw in the preseason? Here I thought they might have been holding some plays back because they didn’t want to let the cat out of the bag, but when it comes to Austin, they are keeping that cat in the bag entirely way too much.

Better execution is definitely needed and I still support Jason Garrett’s decision to just look right through those who are asking if Linehan’s play-calling responsibilities could be taken away after one game, but the Cowboys have some fixing they need to do when it comes to getting their playmakers involved.

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