There’s not enough mouthwash in the world to take the bad taste out of everyone’s mouth after the Dallas Cowboys lost their season finale 26-6. Usually, this space is used for a weekly power rankings column and has still existed after four losses this season. However, the final loss of the season showed absolutely nothing to warrant ten players being ranked on a list and spin it to be positive. Apologies to Osa Odighizuwa, Chauncey Golston, and Dorance Armstrong because those were the three best players on the field for Dallas in Washington.
Instead, the Cowboys need to answer a handful of questions before feeling confident heading into Tampa Bay to play the Buccaneers. There could be 50, but we’ll go with the four most pressing questions heading into the weekend.
No. 4: Who is the coach on the hottest seat after the regular season ends?
The big three, Mike McCarthy, Dan Quinn, and Kellen Moore, haven’t had their best moments down the season’s final stretch. Each coach should be graded on the body of their work, not just the Commanders loss.
Quinn should turn things around after being at the mercy of the injuries hitting his unit. Entering Week 18, the defense was without Leighton Vander Esch, Johnathan Hankins, Anthony Brown, and Jourdan Lewis. All of the names are starters on defense, not just rotational players. The glaring hole is at cornerback, and Quinn has been rotating guys in and out to see who comes out on top.
McCarthy has helped guide the ship when the team starts taking on water, but in his post-game press conference, he mentioned how the Cowboys didn’t have a great week of practice. That’s a red flag 18 weeks into the season. Those are issues that need to be resolved earlier in the year.
Moore is the coach on the hottest seat because of how poorly the offense has looked in back-to-back weeks on the road and against lesser competition. Dak Prescott had a rough game, but does that all fall on him or Moore? This weekend will be a pressure-filled game for the young coordinator, given what happened last season during the playoffs. The Cowboys had no success on offense to start the game against the San Francisco 49ers and failed to get CeeDee Lamb and Tony Pollard involved. If it happens twice, Moore’s seat will be scorching.
No. 3: What is the biggest worry? The depth at wide receiver or cornerback.
The Cowboys have tried to address their positions of need during the season, signing veteran players off the street. T.Y Hilton was signed to provide a spark to the offense, and there is a revolving door at cornerback with seemingly a new player each week.
The outside cornerback opposite Trevon Diggs is the most worrisome because the talent doesn’t seem to be there with the players they have. Injuries have handicapped the Cowboys at that spot. However, the wide receiver depth doesn’t lack talent and financial capital, which is why the lack of production after Lamb is concerning.
Michael Gallup is a full year removed from his ACL injury in 2021, but he doesn’t look like the same player he did before. Last season, Gallup finished with 35 receptions for 445 yards and two touchdowns in just nine games. Gallup has 39 receptions this season for 424 yards and four touchdowns in 14 games. It’s unsettling to see the No. 2 receiver finish with the same statistics in 14 games compared to nine.
Great grab by Michael Gallup— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) December 24, 2022
Cowboys 27, Eagles 27 pic.twitter.com/eUDuxBia5t
If the Cowboys want to have any success against a Buccaneers defense that could double-team CeeDee Lamb, Gallup will need to up his production in the playoff game.
No. 2: Which facet of the team is most worrisome, offense, defense, or special teams?
Outside of the one offensive touchdown before halftime, the Cowboys did not look great against the Commanders on any level. The blunders on special teams cost Dallas early in the game to give Washington a 7-0 lead. It could have been 10-0 if not for Commanders kicker Joey Slye missing a 31-yard field goal after the KaVontae Turpin muffed punt.
However, mistakes from the punter, kicker, and returner on special teams might be a one-time occurrence. It is the least concerning because of how consistent the unit has been all season. Turpin has fumbled the ball a few times, which is a concern, but it’s surely something he and coordinator John Fassel have worked on in practice.
Between the offense and defense, trust the defense more because of the coordinator’s experience. When it comes to playoff football, Dan Quinn has been in those situations more often than Kellen Moore. It was Moore’s first playoff game as an offensive coordinator last season, and the main complaint coming from the matchup with the 49ers was that he didn’t get his playmakers involved enough. If the game plan had to be thrown out the window because of what the Buccaneers decide to do, Quinn is better equipped to adjust on the fly more than Moore.
No. 1: Does the sum of a 12-5 season give enough confidence to win a road playoff game?
The lasting impression of the Cowboys should be better, but the team has shown more good than bad over a 17-game season. Dallas has a top-five scoring offense averaging 27.5 points per game, and the No. 1 defense in takeaways with 33.
With starters not playing in the preseason, the first three games of an NFL season are now used to figure things out. The Cowboys are a different team than the one that played the Buccaneers on Sep. 11, 2022. They have learned through adversity, losing their starting quarterback for five games and not having their starting left tackle for most of the season.
When the Cowboys lose a game, the following week they have won every matchup, and have a total point differential of +64, and become a better team. The Buccaneers do have Tom Brady at quarterback, but looking at the sum of their season, the team is lucky to have won their division and eight games. The offense has only scored 30 or more points twice, and Brady connected with Mike Evans for three touchdowns in Week 17 for the first time since Week 4. Tampa Bay ran for over 100 yards on Dallas in Week 1, but the team has since become the worst rushing offense in the NFL, averaging around 76.9 yards per game.
The Cowboys didn’t fall into winning 12 games this season. They are a great football team. Even though the loss to Washington stings, Dallas has shown enough that everyone should feel confident going into Super Wild Card Weekend.