Let’s face it, they are all big games now. The Dallas Cowboys need to pile up the wins over the last six games of the regular season. They don’t want to risk slipping back in the standings with the surprising New York Giants and Washington Commanders both hot on their heels. And any loss would likely crush any slim hopes of overtaking the Philadelphia Eagles or the Minnesota Vikings for the number one seed. Next up is a Sunday Night Football game against the Indianapolis Colts.
We discussed these topics in greater detail on the latest episode of Ryled Up on the Blogging The Boys podcast network. Make sure to subscribe to our network so you don’t miss any of our shows! Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.
On paper, the Cowboys at 8-3 should not have much of a problem against the 4-7-1 Colts. Dallas is coming off a win on Thanksgiving Day, while Indianapolis just lost to an equally unimpressive Pittsburgh Steelers team on Monday Night Football.
But we’ve been fooled before, just three games ago against the Green Bay Packers. If the Cowboys want to extend their two-game winning streak, they need to get the following things done.
Avoid a slow start
As mentioned in the weekly look at stats and numbers from the last game, Dallas has a tendency to come out flat after either a long or short week of preparation. They face that again as they come off the mini-bye after playing last Thursday. This is a bit hard to understand, but it has been consistent this season, and it is something that extends back into previous ones.
In the two games they have had with normal practice weeks, and since Dak Prescott returned, they came out on fire. Against the Chicago Bears, they scored touchdowns on their first four possessions. They were even more consistent versus the Vikings, getting points on their first seven drives, extending into the second half. That put them in complete control of those games, dictating the pace and flow and allowing the defense to control the opponents. Now they need to figure out how to do that after a longer than normal time off. If they can build a first half lead, this game should be over early. If not, we will have to hope they come back like they did against the Giants. We all know which we prefer.
Penalties have to go down
Penalties are severely hampering this team. They had a season high 13 flags thrown and accepted against them that they had to overcome against New York. Mike McCarthy has yet to come up with a solution, and he made a statement earlier this week that doesn’t offer much hope they will figure it out soon.
“Trust me, I’m clearly on top of the things that aren’t going well. Penalties and penalty prevention is something we’re spending more time on. But I don’t want to lose the aggressiveness of our play style and efficiency,” McCarthy said.
That certainly sounds like he is willing to accept a high number of infractions because he thinks they are worth it. This may be fine against lesser opponents, but it could lead to disaster once the playoffs start and the quality of the other teams is greater. The team faces a couple of games that should be winnable coming up, at home, and they need to make some progress in them. If not, it could turn out badly come January.
Keep running the ball down their throats
Before the season, the stance of the staff was that the running game was going to be the driver of the offense. It created some unease among fans as the NFL has become much more pass heavy over many years. But things do seem to be different this year with a resurgence of the ground game across the league. It has certainly worked for Dallas with Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott each having had some outstanding outings over the past few weeks, and combining to have the Cowboys averaging the seventh best yards per game rushing. As a side note, the Eagles and Giants are also using this formula to good effect, and both are ahead of Dallas in rushing yards per game. The fact that both seem destined to make the playoffs is probably not a coincidence.
While the runners deserve a lot of credit, this is also due to the offensive line, which has been very good at run blocking. The tight ends have also been integral to that, with the team effectively deploying all four of them at once in select situations. This had taken some of the load off of Prescott, who has yet to have a 300-yard passing performance even during the dominant wins. The offense is being driven by the run, and it is working very well.
Bottling up the other team’s backs
Before the past couple of games, the weakness of the defense was the run. But those most recent wins have shown a hopeful trend, with the opponents being held to less than 100 yards on the ground despite the Cowboys facing Dalvin Cook and Saquon Barkley, both in the top six across the league. That plays right into the hands of the Dallas defense. With the run under control, they can unleash their formidable pass rushers, who lead the league in total sacks. While mobile quarterbacks can be a problem, Matt Ryan does not fit into that category. The task this week is to corral Jonathan Taylor. He is a top ten back himself, but they have shown themselves to be up to that task, at least recently. Now they must do it again.
Don’t fall into the trap
To a certain extent, every game can be a trap game for the Cowboys. Arguably, they fell into one against the Packers. That has to be avoided. Facing Dallas is always a big game for opponents. Now the Colts are coming off a disappointing loss. They currently are on the outside looking in for the playoffs and would have to win most, if not all, of their remaining games to have even a shot.
But desperate times can lead to great efforts. Teams just get up for the Cowboys. Matt Ryan has not been what Indianapolis hoped he would, but he is still a potentially dangerous quarterback. Dallas has to keep him from reverting to his Matty Ice days. And they have to keep the rest of the Colts from showing up and showing out on a national stage.
This is a big game. It’s just the first, but the Cowboys need to take care of business to keep stacking wins. One more, and they have a winning season locked up and will be all but assured of a playoff berth.