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A look at the Cowboys path to the playoffs, and how to get there

We have reached the point in the season where the weekly playoff picture is pretty important.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants
They need to get back on the winning track.
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

It’s time to regroup and refocus for the Dallas Cowboys. They are now two and a half games back in the NFC East to the Philadelphia Eagles after last Sunday’s heartbreaking loss, but at 5-3, they are solidly in the mix for a playoff spot, and the race for the division crown is hardly over. The next five games can change things greatly if they can just string some wins together.

It starts with this Sunday’s contest against the New York Giants, the team they beat 40-0 to open the season. This is the home game for the Cowboys against them. With the Giants losing Daniel Jones to an ACL injury, the biggest concern is not to let Tommy DeVito, slated to start over Matt Barkley, go off as some former backups have against them over the years. (We’re still emotionally scarred by the Matt Flynn game.)

More on that later, but another convincing win over New York, which is expected, and Dallas can get on a roll. After the 2-7 Giants, they face the 1-7 Carolina Panthers on the road. Then the Washington Commanders, with a 4-5 record, come to Arlington for the annual Thanksgiving Day game. That is very much a potential trap game. Division games should always be taken very seriously as they often refuse to go according to script. That is followed by the Cowboys’ TNF contest at the Seattle Seahawks, who are 5-3 and currently challenging the slumping San Francisco 49ers for the NFC West title. That certainly cannot be taken as an easy win and will need a complete game to not get another loss.

We discussed this overall idea on the latest episode of Ryled Up on the Blogging The Boys podcast network. Make sure to subscribe to our network so you do not miss any of our shows! Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.

Following that game, the Cowboys get their mini-bye week with the extra rest after a TNF game. That leads them to the rematch against the Eagles, this time in AT&T Stadium. The close loss in Philadelphia showed that Dallas has the talent to beat the Eagles. While the Cowboys face a relatively easy-looking stretch, Philly has their bye week before going up against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Buffalo Bills, and the 49ers. There is certainly a good chance they will get at least one loss in that stretch. If, and we know that is a pretty big if, the Cowboys can win the intervening four games, a win over the Eagles would give them the same record at that point, and the division would be wide open between them. However, December is going to be brutal for Dallas, while the Eagles will have a very soft schedule to finish things.

This means that a wild card slot looks more likely for the Cowboys. With the relative weakness of the NFC overall, a 10-win season probably gets them there, which means they need to win five of the remaining nine games. If they just win four of the next five games, they are almost there, and can face that December schedule needing one to lock things up, with the season finale at Washington as a chance to get another if they have to have it.

That is a relative eternity away, however. The focus now is on beating a frankly crippled Giants squad.

Even before losing Jones, New York is dead last in overall offensive production and points scored per game. Their defense is hardly any better, yielding the eighth most points per game, which pairs badly with their impotence on offense. It is easy to see how the Cowboys are currently a massive 16-point favorite in the game. They just need to play well and this should go in the win column.

But there are still a ton of things for the team to work on in this game. The offense has become the ‘Dak Prescott to CeeDee Lamb show’ the past three games. While they are putting up truly impressive numbers over that stretch, it is never a good thing to rely on one connection through the air to move the ball.

It’s not like Prescott isn’t trying to spread the ball around. He has completed passes to eight different receivers two games in a row now, and Jake Ferguson is emerging as the clear number two target and safety blanket. But the team needs another wide receiver to step up. Brandin Cooks has yet to emerge as the weapon we were hoping for when they traded for him during the offseason, only getting one catch in the loss to the Eagles. MIchael Gallup still looks to be at less than 100% and only had two catches on three targets last Sunday. If there was a slightly hopeful sign, it was Jalen Tolbert contributing three catches for 49 yards and a touchdown. Still, the Cowboys cannot afford to continue to rely on Lamb to account for over half the passing yards if they want to continue to succeed.

That raises questions about Mike McCarthy and his Texas Coast offense. Is he going with the hot hand, or is he game planning to force the ball to Lamb? Or has the sudden surge in production from Lamb been about a blossoming of the chemistry between him and Prescott? In either case, they need the rest of the receiving corps to be more involved.

One thing the Giants game might provide is a chance for the running game to get back on track. It has just not been producing the past few weeks, and it makes the team too one-dimensional. The Giants allow 127.1 yards per game on the ground, and if Dallas can get out to a big early lead, they really need to work on running the ball to use up the clock.

The offensive line remains a problem, with Terence Steele the glaring issue last weekend. They really need to figure this out, including getting him some help. Prescott was under fierce pressure all game against the Eagles, and a lot of it was blowing right past Steele. They have to protect the quarterback and not rely so much on his admittedly superb ability to escape and create.

Defensively, Dallas needs to get home more against whoever lines up under center for the Giants. Jourdan Lewis was another player who had his issues in Philadelphia. This is another game there is really no excuse for the secondary to not lock things down. A bit surprisingly, the linebacking corps has been solid during Leighton Vander Esch’s absence, with Markquese Bell one of the best players on the field in his new position this year.

This game is a great opportunity to work out some of the issues and put a good performance on the field. Dallas is undefeated at home this season, and that really needs to continue, as they play five of their remaining games there.

Five looks increasingly like the magic number for the Cowboys the rest of the way, although we obviously hope for more wins down the stretch. But it all starts this weekend, and they have a golden opportunity to set the tone.

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