After the welcome respite of the bye week, spiced with an exciting but ultimately futile pursuit of Jamal Adams, the Dallas Cowboys are gearing up to make the stretch run to the playoffs. Getting there is no certain thing after the disappointing losing streak put them at 4-3, with only a half-game lead over their only realistic challenger for the NFC East, the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles host the Chicago Bears on Sunday, who may not be any more helpful than the Buffalo Bills were last Sunday.
So with a real fight looming, the Cowboys need to buckle down and figure out how to win as many games as possible. The early losses leave them little margin for any more wounds to the feet. Here are the things they need to do to maximize their chances for winning.
Unleash their new NASCAR package
The big news during the bye was the surprise trade to acquire Michael Bennett from the New England Patriots. Although he is well advanced in NFL years, he still looks to be quite potent rushing the passer.
However, at age 33, he certainly should not be an every down lineman. His role is likely to come in on what are considered passing downs. He can, of course, serve as depth at defensive end, but some of his best work has come rushing from a DT position.
That gives the Cowboys the opportunity to line him up with DeMarcus Lawrence, Robert Quinn, and Maliek Collins when they want to get after the quarterback. And they should figure out just how to do that as much as possible without wearing out any of that quartet. Dallas has not been as successful sacking the opponents as we would like. The opportunity to get Bennett came at the expense of Tyrone Crawford, who went on IR. But in terms of productivity, Bennett looks to be an upgrade. It’s time for the team to make some lemonade out of the situation, which should go down well with Jason Garrett.
Moar takeaways, please
This one may be more a hope than an achievable goal, because generating turnovers by the opponent is something that depends a lot on chance and mistakes by the other team. The gratifying margin that helped them win their game against the Eagles was padded by Carson Wentz just dropping the ball on a shotgun snap. Gifts like that aren’t often going to come your way.
But the secondary has snagged a couple of interceptions recently, which may be a sign that the defensive backs are starting to figure that out a bit. The addition of Bennett to a group that was getting a good bit of pressure already should just add to the chances of interceptable balls. Plus, there is always the chance of any sack turning into a fumble.
Maybe things are going to go the Cowboys’ way for a while. And this next one might help.
Give Jourdan Lewis a starting job
He is, at worst, the third best corner on the team. He might better than Chidobe Awuzie. The Cowboys have seen Lewis get more work with Anthony Brown fighting injury. Now they need to make it official by moving Lewis up and letting Brown handle the fourth CB job, which is still valuable.
Lewis is just too dynamic to let a couple of inches of height influence how much work he gets. If Kris Richard hasn’t already decided to go in this direction, he needs to stop dawdling. Put your best players on the field, not the ones who best fit a profile.
Now to the offense. The defensive ideas started big and got smaller, but now, let’s go the opposite direction.
Get Tony Pollard more involved, too
So far, the rookie running back has been used very sparingly. After all, the Cowboys made Ezekiel Elliott the highest paid running back of the moment, so they want to see that return on the investment. But the focus now is to win as much as you can. While it is a rather small sample size, there is already a hint that more Pollard means more wins.
Besides, folding Pollard into the offense does not mean taking Zeke off the field. College showed that Pollard can be effective in a lot more ways than in single-back formations. He can stress defenses lining up as a second back. He can split out as a receiver. Or he can allow Elliott to move out of the backfield.
Besides, Pollard is still going to spell Elliott every third or fourth series. Just make sure to get the ball in his hands some when he is doing that. He is different but dynamic. Now, with almost half a season under his belt, he needs to start playing a bigger role.
Above all, ditch the conservatism
Eliminate establishing the run. Make first down a passing down, or at least as unpredictable as possible. Let Dak Prescott do his thing. Keep attacking the middle of the field and go deep several times a game.
Winning or losing, even if adversity hits as it did in the three losses, don’t pull your head in and start playing cautious. That is far too much like playing scared, and scared doesn’t win football games.
We can endlessly debate who is responsible for when the Cowboys seemed to flinch in the three losses, but whether it lies at the feet of Garrett or Kellen Moore, it can’t be allowed to happen. We have seen just how potent this offense can be. Prescott is playing extremely well. Elliott is still a big weapon, he just needs to be used in a complementary fashion, not as the linchpin of the offense.
What is undeniable is that Moore has added new and effective dynamic to the offense. Dallas is finally using all the weapons it has, and in ways that are often very refreshing.
That’s one list of things. If you have others, please let us know in the comments.