Taking what Dallas learned from last week and beginning to look forward.
In a game which was eerily similar to the Week 5 disaster in San Francisco, things got ugly fast in Buffalo and all of the Cowboys’ presumed strategy flew right out the window the moment the first punch landed. Dallas played timidly on both sides of the ball. The game plan was a mess; game management was nonexistent. The offensive line couldn’t protect the QB, the QB couldn’t find the WRs, the defense couldn’t tackle, run fits weren’t filled, foolish penalties ruled the day, and effort was shamefully absent.
The Bills scored touchdowns on three of their first four drives and at no point did it appear Dallas was up to the task. The game would end with a score of 31-10 but to those who watched, it likely felt far, far worse.
These are the Cowboys
Despite all the hopes and prayers of Cowboys Nation, the Cowboys didn’t suddenly alter their DNA over the bye week this season.
But prior to Week 15, it seemed like they might have. Dallas had gone 7-1 since the 49ers game. Dak Prescott was performing better than arguably any other QB in the league and the Cowboys were adapting and progressing on both sides of the ball. They had Pro Bowl candidates at nearly every position group, and they remained relatively healthy throughout their roster. They had a record setting rookie kicker and looked to be elite in all three phases of the game.
Then the Buffalo game came.
Their stretch of excellent football came to an end. The good times were now bookended with two absolute beatdowns. Were the Cowboys frauds? Did they lose their mojo? Was their 7-1 stretch just an illusion or were those two nasty losses the illusion?
How about all of the above.
Next week in Miami they could just as easily post a championship-level performance as they could post another dumpster fire. They’re unpredictable because no one knows how they’re going to respond.
A healthy Zack Martin would help the Cowboys to get back on track.
Right guard Zack Martin went down in the game and was unable to return with what was later described as a quad injury. How bad is it and will he miss time?
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones doesn’t think it’s a huge issue but thinks they’ll have to monitor it.
“I know what a quad bruise is. We’ll see how he gets his strength there,” Jones told 105.3 The Fan in Dallas. “A bruise does two things there: not only are they painful to work with, but they can also take the strength out of that area, too. So, got to get that back.”
That supports the words of Martin himself, who said after the game, ”I’m hoping this week, treat it and get it ready to go on Sunday. I feel good about that.”
The team is expected to hold a walkthrough on Wednesday and have a full practice on Thursday ahead of another road matchup against an AFC East team, this time in Miami.
If Martin is unable to go against the Dolphins on Sunday, the team will turn to undrafted rookie T.J. Bass. Bass filled in for Martin in Buffalo and offensive coordinator Brian Shottenheimer lauded his effort.
“He did a nice job [against Buffalo],” Jerry said. [Bass] battled. That’s kind of what he has done all year long.”
The best-case scenario is for Martin to play. In his absence, the Cowboys gained a season-low 195 total yards against the Bills.
The task won’t be any easier on Sunday as the Dallas offense will face a Dolphins run defense that ranks. No. 4 in the NFL allowing just 90.4 yards per game, and a passing defense that ranks No. 10 allowing just 203.1 yards per contest.
It’s imperative that the Cowboys put together a quality win on the road.
Number one, playing on the road. Goodness, when can this team put together a road performance – just one – that is similar to what its done at home all year? Aside from the season-opening win in New York, there isn’t a road performance that I would put above any seven of the home wins in terms of playing a complete game and not leaving any meat on the bone.
“It’s a gap, and that’s part of my message,” head coach Mike McCarthy said postgame. “We play so well at home. There’s just too big of a gap on our road games. We’re conscious of it, and we’ve got a long flight home to think about it, and to talk about it. We’ve got to move on to Miami in the morning, and get this one corrected but, yes, we’ve gotta be better.”
Number two, limiting a powerful rushing attack. We saw Dallas have its worst run defense performance since 2012 when the Cowboys defense allowed 266 yards including 179 from James Cook alone. The absence of Johnathan Hankins was felt in a big way, but Cook’s production also saw him break contain on multiple occasions and get around the edges for massive gains.
This week, that challenge only stiffens with Miami bringing the two-headed running back monster of Raheem Mostert and Devon Achane to the field to power the league’s fourth-best rushing offense. It will take a “Herculean effort” – in the words of Jerry Jones – if Hankins cannot return to limit the versatile and dangerous rushing attack that the Dolphins can bring to the table.
Number three, dealing with speed. When the schedule dropped, it was very clear that the Miami game would give the Dallas defense a ton of fits with the multitude of speed weapons the Dolphins have.
NFL’s Next Gen Stats has a tool that tracks on-field speed, and the highest on-field, in-play speeds get tracked throughout the season. Of the top ten fastest on-field speeds this year, the Dolphins have six of them from three different players: Tyreek Hill, Devon Achane and Raheem Mostert. That fails to include Jaylen Waddle and the team’s lead returner Braxton Berrios who each have speed that could make them the fastest players on roughly half of all NFL teams.
The Dallas defense has had major struggles with speed all season. The fastest on-field ball-carrier all season came on DK Metcalf’s 73-yard touchdown reception against the Cowboys in week 13 when he reached a top speed of 22.23 mph. You can also think back to when Rondale Moore had his way in week three, Keenan Allen finding consistent separation in week six, Devonta Smith getting loose for a touchdown in week nine and Curtis Samuel posting a 100-yard day in week 12.
The list is extensive, yet the Cowboys have not seen one individual speed weapon that can stack up with the third or fourth-fastest weapon that the Dolphins have. A win in that game that sees the defense keep Tyreek Hill underneath and Raheem Mostert and Devon Achane away from big running lanes would be a ginormous step in the right direction in that area.
Three things Cowboys must do to reach NFC Championship Game for first time since 1995 - Garrett Podell
Here’s how Dallas can make this year be the one that’s different.
Secure NFC East crown, ensuring at least two playoff home games
If the regular season ended today, the Cowboys and Eagles would be down to tiebreaker No. 5 for the division title. That tiebreaker is strength of victory — the combined won-lost-tied percentage of all of the teams a franchise has defeated. Philadelphia currently has the edge with a .493 strength of victory to the Cowboys’ .379.
Fortunately for Dallas, they play the AFC East-leading Dolphins and NFC North-leading Lions in each of their next two games. Should they win out, including a second win against the Commanders, a team they beat 45-10 on Thanksgiving, that standing has the potential to flip. The Eagles play the 5-9 New York Giants twice with a matchup against the 3-11 Arizona Cardinals in the middle of those two against the G-Men. Winning the division is a necessity given the Cowboys are 3-4 on the road and 7-0 at home this season.
Shore up tackling issues
The Cowboys entered Week 15 with an 8.3% missed tackle rate, the lowest in the NFL. Following their debacle of a defeat in Buffalo that included a whopping 17 missed tackles, according to Pro Football Focus, that percentage jumped to 9.3%, pushing their rank to second place behind the New England Patriots’ 8.9% rate for the entire season.
Those missed tackles, most of which occurred on the edge of the line of scrimmage according to defensive coordinator Dan Quinn on Monday, played a massive role in the Bills’ 49 carries going for 266 rushing yards, an average of 5.4 yards a rush and three touchdowns.
Here is the Cowboys’ first Week 16 injury report.
Cowboys LT Tyron Smith usually appears on the Wednesday injury report as missing practice for non-injury/rest. He’s listed this week with back issue. Smith played all 57 offensive snaps Sunday vs. Bills; no apparent reason for concern. Lengthy report otherwise as expected. pic.twitter.com/eWDEN7sJC3— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) December 20, 2023
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