The Dallas Cowboys are putting together a bit of a run with three straight victories after stumbling through November. It’s a good thing they have because the top seed in the NFC is still an undecided affair and Dallas has gotten some help recently. The Arizona Cardinals are on a two-game losing streak and have tumbled from the #1 seed to the #4 seed. On Sunday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were shut out by the New Orleans Saints, allowing Dallas to temporarily occupy the #2 seed in the NFC.
The Cowboys moving to the #2 seed solves one issue that they have been trying to avoid, and that is playing the wild card team from the NFC West, either the Cardinals or the Rams (or maybe the 49ers), in their first playoff game. That prize awaits the #4 seed. Getting to #2 also almost solves another issue, and that is home field advantage throughout the playoffs. They almost got there but the Baltimore Ravens failed to convert a two-point conversion over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.
And make no mistake, the Cowboys, at this point, really need the home field advantage in the playoffs. This might seem a little contradictory based on a few things. One is the Cowboys are currently 6-2 on the road. That seems pretty good. Also, my colleague R.J. Ochoa just pointed out the Cowboys have won three straight games on the road, a first in the NFL this year. So it would appear the Cowboys are a pretty darn good road team.
At home, Dallas has scored a touchdown on 78.3% (18 of 23) of red zone appearances, the second-best mark in the league. On the road, it has scored touchdowns on 33.3% (8 of 24) of trips, tied for second-worst. The club looks to straighten the strange split in Sunday’s road game against the New York Giants.
The Cowboys actually improved on that 33% stat of scoring touchdowns in the red zone on the road on Sunday, but not by much. Dallas was two of five for touchdowns in the red zone. They scored on an Ezekiel Elliot run after the Dallas defense set them up at the 13-yard line after an interception. They also scored on a short pass to Dalton Schultz. Three other times they settled for field goals, although one was when the time ran out of the first half.
The Cowboys offense has struggled recently, and this is certainly part of the problem. The Cowboys don’t want to go into the playoffs with that kind of issue in the red zone on the road, playing strong teams that can take advantage. Overall the Cowboys score touchdowns in the red zone at roughly 54%.
If the Cowboys can’t figure out their issues on the road in this area, then playing on the road in the playoffs will be a game where they really have to rely on their defense. Fortunately, their defense has been playing at an elite level.