The Dallas Cowboys will come out of their bye week with one of the top records in the NFL thanks to a five-game winning streak. It’s hard not to be pleased with how well this team is playing, but that doesn’t mean everything is a bed of roses for America’s Team. In fact, there are a lot of areas the team could use improvement. I mean, what team doesn’t have that? But if this team plans on doing some real damage in January, it would behoove them to get some things cleaned up.
As the team strives for excellence, head coach Mike McCarthy and his fellow coaches participate in “across the hall” meetings where they get together and evaluate different areas of the team’s performance. It’s a great opportunity to get a big picture understanding of what ails them and identify root causes as they look to get better.
After six weeks of football, there are two real pressing concerns for the Cowboys, one on offense and one on defense, and hopefully, the coaching staff is taking measures to correct them. Let’s examine these problems.
OFFENSE - winning short yardage situations
The Cowboys' offense is spectacular. They are first in the league in points scored and they are first in the league in yards gained. Is there anything they can’t do?
Well, the answer is yes. More specifically, this team has struggled to get those last few inches needed to move the chains or get the refs to raise both arms to indicate a touchdown. While the offensive line has played great as a whole, the interior has been a problem at times this season. Center Tyler Biadasz struggled early, but has shown improvement as of late; however, now it appears that left guard Connor Williams is having fits with his blocking as he had a buster of a day against the New England Patriots defensive line.
The Cowboys have come up short (like inches short) at the goal line twice this year leaving them with no points for the drive. First, they couldn’t punch it in against Philadelphia in Week 3, and most recently against the Patriots despite getting four different shots at it. Oddly, it felt like quarterback Dak Prescott had crossed the goal line in each of those situations, but the officiating crew and their wonderful “piecing together” of film footage apparently indicated otherwise.
The Cowboys have already resorted to utilizing reserve guard Connor McGovern as an extra blocker while playing him as a fullback, but what else might we see going forward? Will they cross their fingers that Biadasz and Williams improve? Or will offensive coordinator Kellen Moore use his creative play-calling to find other ways to convert those short-yardage situations?
DEFENSE - must limit big passing plays
Despite an overall improvement from this Cowboys defense, the unit has had far too many moments where they’ve surrendered big gains in the passing game. Currently, the Cowboys defense is giving up 295 yards passing per game which is third-worst in the league. On the surface, it looks like the defense is lost, but secondary coach Joe Whitt Jr. doesn’t see it that way.
“Mental errors and missed assignments have been very, very low,” he said. “We just have to do a better job of making sure when the ball is caught in front of us, we tackle it and we get it down.”
David Helman of DallasCowboys.com did the leg work to prove that there is merit to what Whitt is saying.
If you chart the snaps, Whitt’s words ring true. Of those 27 explosive plays, 13 of them come with some type of yards after catch element. That means roughly half the time, the Cowboys have helped to create that play with poor tackling or poor pursuit angles.
The defense has looked really bad at times as some of their tackling attempts have been a little Keystone Copish, but it’s not from a lack of communication or physical limitations within the team. This is a fast unit that is getting there, but just not finishing plays. This issue is totally fixable.
The Cowboys have already parted ways with Jaylon Smith who was notorious for taking poor angles, and they just got safety Donovan Wilson back who was one of the team’s strongest tacklers a year ago. What else might we expect to help the team improve its tackling ability?
These are questions we hope the team is addressing in their meetings and if they are able to get some of these deficiencies corrected, this could end up being a very dangerous team come playoff time.