One of the questions about the Dallas Cowboys this season involves figuring out what the team really is. Their identity has been hard to determine at times, and it doesn’t help that the team has seemed very different in its losses compared to the wins. Five of their six wins have been by 20 or more points. The first two losses were also by lopsided scores. Only two games were close, with Dallas playing well in a three-point victory over the Los Angeles Chargers and dropping the Philadelphia Eagles contest by five, with a lot of errors and some bad luck costing them a game they could have won.
Complicating that is a clear demarcation in how the team has performed, particularly on offense. After the debacle against the San Francisco 49ers, the offense has looked much more consistent and effective, particularly the connection between Dak Prescott and CeeDee Lamb. For the past four games, they have been easily the most potent QB-WR combination in the league, and last Sunday against the New York Giants Brandin Cooks decided to get in on the fun to make things even more dangerous for opponents.
We are still left puzzling over just how much we can read into the beatdown of the Giants. That is one of the worst teams in the NFL, but it is worth noting that the Cowboys administered the two worst defeats of the season to New York. This is compounded by the fact that Dallas has not beaten a team with a winning record this year. Heck, they have only faced two, the 49ers and the Eagles. While the next two games will see opponents on the wrong side of .500, they have a five-game gauntlet against teams that are all clearly in the playoff picture after that, although the Buffalo Bills are doing their best (or worst) to fall out of contention.
Logically, the ability to run roughshod over lesser squads should translate into being able to win some games against the upper echelon of the league. That is still very much to be determined. But if they have any problem at all in beating the Panthers, it will put things very much in doubt. The Cowboys need to keep what happened against the Arizona Cardinals that firmly in mind.
Some don’t like the idea of a team beating itself, but it is clear almost every week that teams can make so many mistakes and miscues that it becomes almost impossible to succeed. The offensive explosion of the past four weeks show that Dallas can do things right, and they have even overcome a ton of penalties in a couple of the wins. But those downpours of yellow flags also are a stark reminder that they are more than able to shoot themselves right through the foot.
It isn’t just the offense that will determine the outcome of games, of course. The defense has been generally very good for the Cowboys, and completely shut down the Giants in the first half before letting up a bit after the intermission. They have done that in multiple games so far, and on Sunday we saw that on both sides of the ball as the offense kept piling on the points, even after Cooper Rush came on to close out things. There was no just running out the clock, although that may have been the intent in the fourth quarter and the weary New York defense was just unable to slow them down.
However, there is a question of just how much of an identity any team has. We see good teams fall flat and bad teams stun opponents almost every week. It is hard to maintain focus and consistency through the grind of the 17-game schedule, and for the best to carry that over into the postseason. Those who can manage to do so are the ones who get deep into playoffs.
That is what I am hoping we see - another boring, one-sided easy win for Dallas at Carolina. It will show that these trends are continuing. And there are still several things for the team to work on as well. Penalties are one. The running game needs more work, including just how the workload needs to be spread between Tony Pollard and Rico Dowdle. Terence Steele is an individual player who needs to be more consistent. Jake Ferguson is having a very good year, but Luke Schoonmaker needs to start showing us something. Mazi Smith had his best game so far against the Giants, and more progression would certainly be welcome. The secondary is probably going to have to wait to be really tested, but again, a strong outing this weekend would be encouraging.
The Panther are not a game that will prove the Cowboys are a true power in the league, but a bad showing could argue against that. We will find out soon, and here’s hoping it is all good news.