When a team goes on a losing streak, especially after having strung mostly victories together previously, you look for the common threads in the defeats. But when looking at the two-game slump for the Dallas Cowboys, there are not many of those. The loss to the Las Vegas Raiders and the previous one to the Kansas City Chiefs were in many ways quite different.
Here is a table of some of the notable stats for the two games.
|Own 30+ yard plays||1||4|
|Opp 30+ yard plays||2||5|
|Opp 1st down by penalty||2||4|
|Total yards penalized||64||166|
Broadly put, the first loss was a defensive struggle where the Cowboys could not generate enough offense to capitalize on a good showing by their defense. The second became a shootout where they just did not make a few plays that could have swung things their way.
That is a problem for Dallas. Inconsistency is hard to overcome, and these two games were a clear case of that. Another thing that fits this is the play of Dak Prescott. His stat lines:
KC: 28 of 43, 216 yards, 0 TD. 2 INT
LV: 32 of 47, 375 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Some, including me, have worried about lingering issues for him since his calf injury. But along with the big game against the Atlanta Falcons, he has now put up two big stat lines. Yes, he missed some important throws against the Raiders, but that stat line would usually result in a win.
That does bring up some things that were bad in both losses. The Cowboys just did not run the ball well in either. They had only 82 yards in Kansas City, and an even more paltry 64 facing Las Vegas. In both cases, they were playing from behind the entire game, which will lead to fewer handoffs.
Dallas has not held a lead since playing the Falcons. Poor starts in both games were certainly factors in the losses. And both had a play early that could have completely changed the course of things. Against the Chiefs, it was the very first offensive snap for Dallas, when Prescott missed a wide open Michael Gallup that would have gotten them to about midfield, if not further. In the Raiders game, it was the forced fumble that was ruled an incomplete pass.
Speaking of which, it is clear that the officials played a major role in the loss on Thanksgiving. Both teams were flagged at a stunning rate. But the impact on the Cowboys was far worse, particularly those four first downs that Las Vegas had through flags. As you may already be aware, all four were on Anthony Brown, who had only drawn one penalty in the entire season before that game. Even if all were indeed legitimate calls, it just does not look right. The team can do nothing to fix that issue other than hope that the crews the rest of the way are more even-handed, as there were certainly some missed calls that also hurt Dallas, such as some obvious holds on Micah Parsons.
Still, the losing streak presents a true conundrum. They seemingly fixed the issues from the first loss, only to have another set lead to the second. We now are left questioning just how good this team truly is. They certainly have multiple flaws, but those flaws are not always evident in each game.
So where do the Cowboys go from here? The ground game is one thing that they clearly need to address, in a couple of ways. The lack of production is glaring. Ezekiel Elliott is one player who certainly has not been what we have come to expect, and lingering injury problems may be the culprit. The team is considering resting him for the upcoming game at the New Orleans Saints, which would take him into the “mini-bye” after the Thursday night contest. Tony Pollard is a good alternative, although he brings a very different style that will mean the team cannot pound away the way prime Elliott allowed them to.
That may force them to make another needed adjustment, which is to get away from the early down runs that have not worked at all of late. Pollard is certainly enough of a threat that teams will not be able to just ignore the run in those situations. Prescott is very good at diagnosing the defense and should be able to audible into a more favorable play when needed. But the Cowboys cannot afford to go three and out to start games the way they have the past two.
The defense also must avoid the slow starts. They have given up a touchdown on the first opposing possession two games in a row, and one thing that is clear is that Dallas does not play nearly as efficiently when it is behind, at least at the moment. Dan Quinn has to do a better job of getting his defense ready to come out of the gate playing tough. That also falls on the players. They cannot make mistakes such as what we saw on the 56-yard touchdown that they surrendered on the Raiders’ first series.
Offensively, Kellen Moore has to find a way to keep them playing well. The anticipated return of Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb should help. But the constant mixing and matching on the offensive line has to stop as long as health does not intervene.
That is something else of concern, as COVID persists in taking a toll with both the roster and the coaching staff. We can only hope they figure out a way to avoid that going forward.
Inconsistency is never a good thing for an NFL team. It leads us wondering what the identity of the team is. By this point in the season, we should have an idea, but as these past two games illustrate, the Cowboys do not have anything they can be confident will show up from week to week. Injuries and illness have certainly played a part in that, but there are times those have to be overcome. For the first half of the season, Dallas did a great job of that, but the recent stumbles are just one more inconsistency to worry about.
If this is just a short-term slump, then they should be fine. They still hold a two game lead in the NFC East. If the return of Cooper, Lamb, and DeMarcus Lawrence get them back on track, then they should at least make it to the playoffs, and there is still time to at least do better than the fourth seed as other teams have had their own unexpected losses.
Concern is unavoidable, but we are not to the point of real worry, much less panic. Once again the Cowboys face a very winnable game against the Saints, mired in their own four-game losing streak. But the Raiders were also slumping, and Dallas served as a turnaround for them. Now they need avoid that for one more team.