It’s hard to have any faith in the Dallas Cowboys after what they have shown over the last few weeks. However, if there is any shred of hope left for the Cowboys, it’s going to be up to their offense to carry the load. Defensively speaking, the Cowboys are a hot steaming mess that seem to have lost their way. If there is one area that has the talent to compete but just needs to get out of its own way, it’s on offense.
Up until a few games ago, Dak Prescott was being mentioned as a worthy MVP candidate, putting up the best passing numbers of his career. Lately, he’s been off-target on throws and has made some poor decisions. Ezekiel Elliott has been breaking some nice runs but the Cowboys have yet to make his production matter. In year’s past, if Elliott was breaking big plays, the Cowboys were hard to stop. Amari Cooper has been slowed by nagging injuries but he’s also went missing in a few games. When Cooper has received extra attention by the opposing defense, Randall Cobb and Michael Gallup haven’t been good enough to back defenders off.
Most of the issues the Cowboys have dealt with on offense have been caused by guys not living up to their potential. We have seen this offense execute at a high-level several times this year. Unfortunately, we have also seen too many mixed-bag performances that make us forget the moments where the Cowboys offense was actually successful. The Cowboys have a choice here with three games left and an NFC East crown within their grasp. Are they going to fold up and confirm the harsh criticisms leveled at them? Or, will the Cowboys talent on offense show some fight in these final three games by stepping up to take their division title instead?
What do the Cowboys have to do on offense to get there?
SHOW SOME NASTINESS UP FRONT
The offense has to establish some form of identity on offense to have a shot at winning any of their next three games. It needs to start up front with arguably their best unit, the offensive line. Though the stats suggest that this line is back to being one of the best in football, the story of these losses suggest otherwise. They may not give up sacks left and right like the makeshift replacement line of last year, but they haven’t been dominant by any means. Tyron Smith walks right into opponent’s traps and has drawn several uncharacteristically bad penalties for obliging a few too many floppers. There have also been numerous penalties committed by others as well. As good as they may seem in pass blocking, a line with four of the highest paid linemen should be more dominant on the ground. Being 10th in rushing should be an insult for guys like Zack Martin, Travis Frederick, La’el Collins and Tyron Smith.
Right now, this offense puts up a lot of yards but the yards feel empty because they have lost the ability to impose their will on the opponent. Most of their yards are coming when the game has gotten away from them. In order to get in the win column, the Cowboys need to find some aggression and attack these defenses. The offensive line has to dig deep and find some nastiness in these final games.
When the Cowboys offense has been able to control the football, they have won a lot of games under Jason Garrett. Lately, the Cowboys haven’t been able to control the pace of the game and have let the game get away from them because they can’t sustain a drive. Last week, the Cowboys went on a 17-play scoring drive on their first possession that is one of the better examples of offensive success we’ve seen from any team this season. It’s a shame that it was practically the only success they had until the game was out of hand.
The Cowboys have a commitment problem and they almost always seem late to the party. A few of these games could have had different outcomes if only the Cowboys could have shown patience. Whether it’s giving up too soon on the running game or stubbornly running into crowded fronts when the defense has no answer for your passing attack, the Cowboys can’t seem to time anything right. Running the football is part of this team’s DNA but it hasn’t taken shape in their identity because it’s become way too predictable. The definition of a ball control offense cannot just be to run the ball on every first down. Find a way to move the ball efficiently in a variety of ways and extend a few more drives. If Dallas can find more than one way to sustain early possession, watch how balanced this offense will become. That’s the path to controlling the football and winning a game.
PLAY LOOSE & TRUST YOUR PLAYMAKERS
The Cowboys need to loosen it up a bit because they press way too much on offense and it leads to failure. Part of that is because the Cowboys are stubbornly attached to a one-trick philosophy.
There isn’t only one way to win and teams that find more ways to win often win a lot of games. You can run to setup the pass and pass to setup the run. You can utilize two dynamic weapons like Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard on more than inside or outside runs. You can move Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and Randall Cobb all over the formation. Trust the guys that make the big plays. Encourage your quarterback to make a play with his legs. Give in to your younger more athletic players like Blake Jarwin a little more. Get the best players involved all over the formation and make a defender take one more second to decide how they are going to defend them. The Cowboys offense must be open-minded in these final three games or they are doomed. Find your opponent’s weakness, attack that until they are on the ropes, then break open the playbook.
The Cowboys coaches have a phrase which is “we do what we do”, well sometimes everyone else knows “what you do”, “how you do it”, and more importantly, “how to stop it.” Take a few more chances because why the hell not? The Cowboys are 6-7, what else do they have to lose? If they can’t try something different offensively to get this team energized, they’ll lose a lot more than three games, many will lose their jobs. As QB coach, Jon Kitna would say... just let it rip! The talent on this team favors the offense and they’ll need to ride that talent because it’s their only hope to win.