For the Dallas Cowboys, Sunday’s game in Kansas City was a disaster. What looked like it could be the game of the year turned into an absolute mess. Dallas could not move the football at all, and their offensive struggles caused them to suffer their second loss in three weeks.
This week, the Cowboys have just three days to prepare for a matchup with the Las Vegas Raiders on Thanksgiving Day. If the Cowboys want to win this game, they’ll need their high-powered offense to regain its form.
What needs to happen for the offense to regain its rhythm? Well, here are three things the Cowboys offense must do if they want to get back on track.
1) Be more effective on first down
One big reason the Cowboys struggled so much on Sunday was their inability to convert on third down. Dallas was just 5-of-15 on third down against the Chiefs, something we are not used to seeing with this offense.
A big reason for the Cowboys’ overall struggles on third down was their lack of early-down success, particularly on first down. Dallas had 12 first down plays in the game that accumulated a total of just 28 total yards, an average of just 2.3 yards per play.
The Cowboys ran the ball six times on first down for an average of under three Y/A. Dallas’ early-down struggles in the run have been a common theme over the past few weeks. Our very own Aidan Davis pointed this out in his five takeaways article yesterday.
Over the last four games, the Cowboys are 29th in the NFL by rushing EPA per play, rushing for 88 yards per game at 3.9 yards per attempt. The first down rushing efficiency has similarly fallen, as the Cowboys are only averaging 50 rushing yards on first down since the bye.
Playing from behind the sticks when your offensive line is struggling is a recipe for disaster. The Cowboys were constantly faced with third down and long on Sunday, forcing them into obvious passing situations and giving Kansas City the ability to send tons of pressure.
This week, the Cowboys are going to face one of the best pass-rush groups in football in the Las Vegas Raiders. If they want to be able to offset this, they’ll need to be much better on first down and keep the offensive in manageable third-down situations.
2) Start to convert some deep shots down the field
If there is one thing the high-powered Cowboys offense could improve on, it’s hitting some big plays down the field. Against the Chiefs, Dallas did not have a single offensive pass of 20 or more yards. The Cowboys’ struggles on the offensive line have certainly played a factor in their inability to convert big plays, but in Dallas’ last two losses Dak Prescott has averaged just 5.45 Y/A.
While the Cowboys have been one of the better teams in football in recording offensive plays of 20+ yards (39), they are near the bottom of the league in plays of 40+ yards (4).
Obviously, you aren’t going to hit more than a handful of 40+ yard plays in a season, but if you look at some of the offenses the Cowboys are comparable with in that category, (Football Team, Eagles, Jaguars, Lions, Jets, Broncos) they clearly are not close to the overall caliber of the Cowboys offensive unit.
Dallas could greatly benefit from taking advantage of Michael Gallup’s deep-ball ability and opening their offense up to take some shots deep down the field.
Mother of God Michael Gallup— Path's End Gambling (@PathsEndGamblin) November 17, 2019
This insane catch set up a Dallas (-7) Touchdown as they lead the Lions 17-14
3) Give Dak Prescott better protection
No matter how talented you are as a quarterback, it’s nearly impossible to have a successful game when you are running for your life most of the afternoon. That was the story for Dak Prescott on Sunday, as the Cowboys’ signal-caller was under duress all game long.
Chris Jones lived in the #BananaStand #pt1 pic.twitter.com/cwmTqgAQnB— Bob Sturm (@SportsSturm) November 23, 2021
Kansas City recorded 24 defensive pressures on Prescott, along with 15 quarterback hurries and six sacks, via PFF. Yes, Dak was a bit off his game from the start, in particular shown by the missed throw to Michael Gallup on the opening play, but it’s hard to knock him when he was under pressure almost the entire rest of the game.
Michael Gallup 1 on 1 pic.twitter.com/hZWLh8j3e9— SyedSchemes (@syedschemes) November 21, 2021
When Dallas protects Prescott well, they almost always win the game. Dating back to 2020, the Cowboys are 6-1 in games that Prescott is sacked one or fewer times. If you take things back a little further to 2019, they’re 12-5.
This week, things only get more difficult for the Cowboys’ offensive line. Dallas will have to find a way to slow down the Raiders’ pass rush, ranked as the best pass-rushing unit in football according to Pro Football Focus. The Vegas pass rush is led by Maxx Crosby, who PFF ranks as the best pass-rusher in football this season.
Getting Tyron Smith back will certainly help, but if the Cowboys want to have a chance in this game, we’re going to need to see a much better showing from their offensive line than what we saw in Kansas City on Sunday.
If they are able to protect Prescott, he can have success down the field against the Raiders’ secondary. However, if he’s constantly pressured as we saw on Sunday, this game has a chance to play out very similar to how that one did.