The Cowboys have lost their last two games and three out of the last four. It is tough to look at this team right now and recognize them. Whether it be injuries, other circumstances, or just a flat out lack of consistent quality of play, this team looks nothing like the unit we saw reel off six straight wins earlier this season. The Cowboys head into the month of December looking to get back on track as the division race gets tighter and as a team there are many questions still left unanswered. Here are ten thoughts on Thursday’s game.
1. This team is hard to read.
One week it’s the defense keeping the team in the game, the next they can’t get off the field. Versus a Raiders team who didn't even have their best player in Darren Waller for most of the game, they allowed Las Vegas to go up and down the field at will. Some weeks the offense looks like the best unit in football, then the next they looked down right inept for quarters, halves, or games at a time. It is time for this team to get back to basics, they're getting healthier, and they need to just reset and refocus as they head into the last month of the year.
2. NFL officiating is out of control.
There are certain referees, and certain crews, that make it feel as if they want to be the star of the show. Big national television spot, national holiday, perfect time to throw 28 flags and have a deep impact on this football game. The level of officiating across the entire league has been quite frankly, embarrassing. Ticky-tack calls, game-deciding flags, and a painfully slow product. All in all, it directly impacted the Cowboys on Thursday and there has got to be a change moving forward.
3. Might be time for more Tony Pollard.
Tony Pollard is explosive, he is dynamic. and he is a home run threat every time he touches the football. For the time being, Pollard should be getting the bulk of the carries as Zeke deals with his knee issue. This is not a knock on Ezekiel Elliott, this is just more about player management and understanding your personnel. If Zeke limits his carries now, he may heal up and return to the player he was earlier in the season. It does not have to be a permanent change, but for the time being the Cowboys may be wise to treat Pollard as the lead back.
4. Amari Cooper’s stock rising in his absence.
Cooper has been out the last two weeks dealing with COVID-19 and in his time away from the team the offense has just not looked the same at all. He is a true number one that Dak looks to in big spots as a safety blanket. People take Cooper’s quiet demeanor and soft-spoken approach as weakness and that couldn't be further from the truth. Amari Cooper is a silent assassin on the field and the Cowboys have been, and will always be, a better football team when is out there.
5. Outside of Micah Parsons, the linebacker room has been a struggle.
Keanu Neal hasn’t quite panned out to be what the Cowboys hoped he would be in training camp, Leighton Vander Esch has looked lost at times, and without Micah Parsons as a full time linebacker the unit has had its fair share of issues. The loss of Jabril Cox, with the natural progression and development he would've been going through, is being felt. Cox is a fast, athletic, linebacker who has a nose for the football. As a whole, the position group will get stronger with the return of some of the defensive linemen coming back as Parsons will be used as a spot rusher and may settle in at his true linebacker spot, but in the meantime it is fair to expect more from this group going forward.
6. Anthony Brown showed shades of week one on Thursday.
From the jump it looked like the goal was to pick on Brown. Four defensive pass interference calls is flat out unacceptable. We touched on the fact that the refs were out of control, but at the same time it comes down to a technique and game adjustment thing for Brown. He has to be able to understand how the game is being called, take the coaching, and make in-game adjustments to put himself in better position to compete. Too many third-down spots and big-play moments were decided by his action, or inaction, and it ultimately cost the Cowboys the game.
7. When is enough enough for Greg Zuerlein?
Another game, another missed PAT for the Cowboys kicker. The thing that is so mind-numbing is the fact he will miss a ho-hum PAT in the first quarter then come around and drill a game-tying field goal at the end of the game in a big pressure spot. Zuerlein was brought in partly because of his big leg, but he once again missed a long field goal. At what point do you demand consistency and a level of standard from a player from start to finish. Too many times a game’s math and situational football is completely changed by the leg of Zuerlein. The Cowboys need to see more consistent play from their kicker and the miscues again reared their ugly head on Thursday night.
8. Trysten Hill has quietly brought some juice.
Hill has brought fresh legs, some aggressiveness in the run defense, and he has played with effort in the pass rush. The Cowboys have been waiting for Hill post injury to come in and be a contributor, and he has been that in his return. Hill’s numbers will probably never wow you, but its the effort and relentlessness that he has been playing with that will allow the Cowboys to have some success moving forward. Pair him with the returning guys the Cowboys anticipate being back soon and this front seven can look very different in no time.
9. Another week - another impressive effort by Micah Parsons.
It’s almost like Parsons plays with this youthful ignorance, meaning he doesn't care what the team looks like, how the offense is playing, what the situation calls for. Parsons is going to go 100 mph, be disruptive and just play his style of football and wreak havoc on the opposing offense. He has the blinders approach to his game where he doesn't hear or see the noise, he just knows what is expected of him and he goes out there to execute. You have to love what this young rookie brings to the team, and the Cowboys have hit a home run with this Parsons’ pick.
10. December is here. Time to turn it on right now.
At times this season, this team looked like one of the best teams in the league, but right now nobody is making that declaration. Ultimately it doesn't matter. Moving forward the rest of the way there are some very winnable football games, and the fact is that every single thing the Cowboys hope to accomplish is still very much in front of them. The time is now though, there is no more playing the long game, the long game is here and its time to get hot and make a run. How teams play in December historically dictates how a team is going to look come playoff time. This team is very capable, but it has to get that mojo back right now.