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Cowboys have big questions to answer against the Dolphins

The Buffalo loss means the Cowboys have to answer some open questions this week

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Dallas Cowboys
It’s another huge test for a team that has failed a couple already.
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys head to south Florida to play the Miami Dolphins trying to answer a crucial question: How do you pick up the pieces after that dismantling in Buffalo?

The Cowboys will have to earn our trust from here, because it’s hard to see them not having a difficult time against the Miami Dolphins and the weapons they bring to the table. They are one of the better running teams in the league with the fourth best yards per game, and after what happened Sunday it would be criminally negligent to not run right at the Dallas defense that had zero answers for James Cook. Raheem Mostert currently sits right behind Cook in yards per game, and that does not bode well. Add in the extreme potency of their passing attack, and we are extremely uneasy.

Before we get too deep into this matchup, though, is there much the Cowboys could’ve done differently against the Bills to have put up a better fight? Not that it was the only factor, but the Cowboys conspicuously scaled down the amount of motions they ran pre-snap relative to previous weeks. In fact, it was their lowest week of pre-snap motion since that fateful loss to the Niners.

Add in a very poor day at the office for Dak Prescott and the score forcing them to not be able to run the ball, which had worked fairly well early for them, and the offense was just not up to the task. As Bob Sturm noted elsewhere, you cannot just blame this one on the defense.

That hardly means the defense was a huge part of the problem. It got bullied from start to finish, and their undersized unit finally paid the price of favoring pass defense over stopping the run. The thinness at linebacker also was exposed.

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.

We can see them fixing some of the first, but it’s gonna be awfully hard to fix the second, and therefore, we have a ton of angst facing this Miami team. The Cowboys have to play from in front - it’s the only way the undersized strategy Dan Quinn employs can work effectively - and to do that, their offense has to get going early. Will they be able to do that against the Dolphins, who currently lead the NFL in scoring, averaging a whopping 31.5 ppg? A recipe of what we saw against Seattle will more likely be required for the Cowboys to win this football game. Once again, it comes down to just how far Dak Prescott can take them. The issue here is that the defense has shown us that they don’t belong in the “elite” category this season. We’ve been fighting off the nagging deja vu all season long, but if the Cowboys don’t win this game on Sunday, it’ll feel less like Christmas and more like Groundhog Day in December.

It may come down to the ability of Prescott to shake things off and get the offense moving. Complicating that, there is clearly a big concern about Zack Martin. T.J. Bass would replace him and that could lead to pressure. Prescott was sacked three times last week and had a pick, as well as being off-target on a lot of his throws, including at least a couple of others that should have gone to the defense. He is going to have to match Tua Tagovailoa blow for blow, and Tagovailoa is at or near the top of most passing stats. Tyreek HIll’s status for this game is still uncertain, and he is likely to do everything he can to make this game. If the league’s leading wide receiver does return, it greatly compounds the headaches for Dan Quinn and his defense. The Dolphins are also still in the mix for the AFC bye. This week the current top seed, the Baltimore Ravens, face the NFC leading San Francisco 49ers Christmas night at the 49ers’ home, and Miami is in the same position Dallas was last week. If they win, they can hope for the Ravens to lose and put the teams in a tie. That is just more motivation for the Dolphins.

Not only is it an away game, it is on grass, and that is not a good sign for Dallas.

With so many worrisome aspects to this game, it is hard to generate a lot of optimism.

The game at Buffalo was the Cowboys playing at their worst. The simplest thing they can do is play their best in Miami. One thing that they might try is running at the Dolphins. Unfortunately, Miami is one of the stingier run defenses in the NFL. Part of that is how they have jumped out to a lot of big leads, mirroring the way Dallas has been able to neutralize opponents’ running in so many games. It still appears that this game will depend on Prescott, his receivers, and his protection to get on the board early and often.

Another thing they cannot afford are penalties that end their drives and extend the Dolphins’. And that is a broken record, because that has been an ongoing issue all season long.

Not all the indicators are bad. One thing Dallas has done this year is bounce back from humiliation. After the loss to San Francisco in particular, they flexed some real muscle. But they didn’t have to do it against a team like Miami, which is among the best. This is an offensive powerhouse and the defense has been playing complementary football to get to their 10-4 record. This is the hugest test for Mike McCarthy and his team so far, and they have done so poorly in others they have faced. If the Cowboys lose, they will be backing into the playoffs, with just one more chance to prove they can beat a winning team when they face the Detroit Lions at home the following game. That will not help with the problems in away games, however, and their path to the playoffs still looks like it will be on the road.

It’s not exactly a must-win game, but a loss will leave huge questions about this year’s Dallas team. Those will be mitigated somewhat if they keep it close, perhaps. The big worry is that this will go like the 49ers and Bills game. That is all too real a possibility.

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