After this past week’s debacle against the Washington Commanders, the 12-5 Cowboys have plenty of issues that will need to be corrected. These corrections will need to happen in short order if Dallas would like to keep their Super Bowl hopes alive. The first team standing in the way is a familiar foe, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Buccaneers and Cowboys faced off back in Week 1, and Tampa Bay came out of the game with a 1-0 record. On the flip side, Dallas not only loss the game but also their starting quarterback as well. With Dak Prescott sidelined due to injury and expected out for weeks, the potential for a great season was seemingly being held onto by a tiny thread. Five games, and four wins during that stretch later, Prescott was back.
Fast forward to Week 18 when the Cowboys had locked down a playoff spot but were still fighting for playoff position against the Washington Commanders.
Losing to an undermanned Commanders squad at the end of the regular season wasn’t a good look
What makes the loss in Week 18 even worse is that the Commanders weren’t even playing all of their top players. They played without their top two running backs, Brian Robinson Jr. and Antonio Gibson. They also decided to sit their top two quarterbacks Taylor Heinicke and Carson Wentz with fifth-round rookie Sam Howell getting his first career start. It seemed like heading into the game the Commanders wanted to get a possible glimpse at their future instead of putting together the best available players on the field. Who could blame them? They were out of the playoff picture due to a recent steak of not winning any games since their victory against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 12. Even when it appeared that the deck was stacked against them, they defeated the Cowboys 26-6. It was a shock to so many people, and because of how things played out in the final regular-season game, America’s Team have plenty of doubters ahead of Monday night’s wild card game against the Buccaneers.
Reinforcements are on the way...
The Cowboys are trending in the right direction in terms of their health. It was reported by Michael Gehlken of the Dallas Morning News that:
Cowboys activated NT Johnathan Hankins’ 21-day practice window. He’ll be on field today, Mike McCarthy said. Hankins missed four games with a pectoral strain. Expectation is he’ll play Monday night at Buccaneers.— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) January 11, 2023
C Tyler Biadasz and LB Leighton Vander Esch also practicing today.
Adding three key contributors back into the lineup is a promising sign ahead of Wild Card Monday but, much work is still left to be done. The only unfortunate part about getting some of the Cowboys key players back is that none of those players play in the injury-riddled secondary. Johnathan Hankins presence against the run is a welcome sight due to the lack of consistent quality play from the interior of the defensive line. Leighton Vander Esch’s return from injury will help in a multitude of ways, as he has played well against the run as well as the pass. With Vander Esch’s contract ending after the season, it will be good to have him for hopefully the next four potential playoff games. Getting Tyler Biadasz back at center is a very important component to the overall play of the Cowboys offensive line. Biadasz has played fairly well all season and his importance to the offensive line unit showed while he has been out of action. With all three players trending in the right direction for Monday night, they will all be counted on to do their part in hopes of making a longer stay in the postseason.
Correct and protect... it’s something the franchise will need to do going forward if they want their season to continue
When it comes to corrections, the Cowboys need to stop playing so predictably. It wouldn’t hurt to see Tony Pollard and CeeDee Lamb used more effectively as well. Ezekiel Elliott, at this stage in his career, is a very expensive short-yardage back. That may not sound good at all, but if he is used correctly then it can be very effective in wearing out the defense. Dak Prescott will need to be much more careful with the ball whenever he decides to throw. Not all of the picks this year were on him, but pulling back on that aggressiveness just a touch would go a long way in preventing unnecessary turnovers.
The secondary unit has gone through a lot in 2022 because of the injuries. Losing two of the teams top three defensive backs has really put them behind the eight ball. Jourdan Lewis and Anthony Brown brought a veteran presence that is sorely missed. Even with those injuries, the Cowboys have found a true playmaker in fifth-round pick DaRon Bland. With Bland and Trevon Diggs as seemingly the only two quality corners on the active roster right now, it’s not a good look when facing the likes of Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady.
Brady is undoubtedly the greatest to ever do it, and even at age 45 still has plenty of game left in him. It all hasn’t been perfect from him and his teammates, but Brady still has put up some quality numbers in 2022. He currently ranks third in passing yards and ranks eighth in touchdown passes. Regardless of what the record shows, Brady in the playoffs is a totally different ball game. It will be very important for the pass rushers to get pressure on Brady every time he drops back to pass. It would be wise to pressure him up the middle and force him off his spot. By forcing him off of his spot, this will affect the throws he makes and also the timing as well. Making Brady throw more ducks and making him do it quickly will take the pressure off the secondary when trying to cover guys like Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.
If the Cowboys pass rush can do this, then the chances of Dallas winning on Wild Card Monday will be much higher. Let’s hope this happens because giving Brady his first loss against the Cowboys will provide plenty of juice heading into a potential matchup in the divisional round against the Philadelphia Eagles.