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After further review: A deep dive into the Cowboys never-ending struggles deep in the red zone

The Cowboys need to tidy up their redzone offense.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys started red-hot against the Miami Dolphins on their opening drive. With a mixture of excellent play-calling that featured CeeDee Lamb running the ball, Hunter Luepke running and catching the ball, and a well-designed tight end bootleg to Jake Ferguson on fourth down, the offense looked like they were in full control.

But then it happened. With first-and-goal at the one-foot line, the Cowboys blew a perfect scoring opportunity when fullback Luepke couldn’t hold on to the handoff exchange from Dak Prescott. The ball hit the grass and the Dolphins defenders pounced.

It was a terrible way to start a game and that play lingered in the back of our minds the entire game. It felt inevitable that that play would come back to haunt the team and it most certainly did. But this feeling of goal line disappointment isn’t new to us. We’ve been witnessing these car wrecks all season long. Would you believe that the Cowboys have failed to score a touchdown nine different times this season when they have had first-and-goal at the seven-yard-line or closer? And in five of those instances, they didn’t even score at all.

This is a tough thing to think about and when you lay all of these failed moments on the table, it’s kind of hard to believe they’ve displayed this level of incompetence. Are they just the unluckiest team in the league or is there something serious going on? We’ve tasked ourselves with doing a deeper dive into the Cowboys' goal line failures to see if we can understand what is going on. We have to warn you, this trip down memory lane isn’t going to be pleasant. Brace yourself.

WEEK 1: NEW YORK GIANTS

Situation: 1st-and-goal at the six-yard line

What went wrong...

In this series, the Cowboys did not attempt to run the ball. On first down, Prescott tried to hit Ferguson in the corner, but the Giants DB who was covering Brandin Cooks helped out at the last second and broke up the pass. On second down, Prescott rolled out but had pressure in his face. He hit KaVontae Turpin for a short gain. On third down, Dak was again pressured and had the ball knocked down right as he released it.

Result: Field goal

WEEK 2: NEW YORK JETS

Situation: 1st-and-goal at the one-yard line

What went wrong...

In this series, they started things off with a tight end jet sweep to Peyton Hendershot. That did not go well. Then, they ran with Rico Dowdle, only he didn’t like what he saw inside and popped outside. That also did not go well as he lost yards. Finally, Prescott had Ferguson wide open in the end zone, but the throw got away from him and sailed over Fergy’s head.

Result: Field goal

WEEK 3: ARIZONA CARDINALS

Situation: 1st-and-goal at the five-yard line

What went wrong...

In this series, they started with a shotgun run inside with Tony Pollard, but the Cowboys pulled their left side and nobody sealed the edge. The Cardinals linebacker had a free shot on Pollard in the backfield for a two-yard loss. The next play was a run from the I-formation, but again the edge wasn’t sealed (this time the right side) when Ferguson allowed his man to sneak inside and tripped up Pollard. Had the block been executed, Pollard likely scored there. Finally, on third down, Prescott tried to hit Cooks over the middle but didn’t see the Cardinals linebacker who picked off the pass.

Result: No points

WEEK 4: NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Situation: 1st-and-goal at the four-yard line

What went wrong...

In this series, the Cowboys started things off with Dak trying to hit CeeDee Lamb on a fade but the ball was thrown too high. They ran an RPO next with Prescott running to the outside, but it was well covered and Dak ended up improvising with a shuttle pass to Ferguson for a small gain. On third down, Prescott and Pollard run into each other on the exchange and Pollard is tackled for a loss.

Result: Field goal

WEEK 9: PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

Situation: 1st-and-goal at the seven-yard line

What went wrong...

In this series, Prescott started things off by trying to hit Ferguson over the middle but he was covered. On second down, they ran inside with Pollard for a small gain. On the next play, Prescott wasn’t able to find anyone open in the end zone, so he took off running and was upended at the two-yard line. Facing fourth down, Dak got rid of the ball in a hurry as pressure came right up the middle. He was able to hit Luke Schoonmaker, but unfortunately, he was ruled down just inches from the goal line.

Result: No points

WEEK 9: PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

Situation: 1st-and-goal at the six-yard line

What went wrong...

This is the one that still haunts us as the Cowboys had an opportunity to complete an epic comeback on the road against the Eagles, but then everything unraveled at the end. With 27 seconds left and the Cowboys deep into Philly territory, they started things off with a false start penalty. Then, Terence Steele allowed his man to get around the edge and sack Prescott. With no timeouts, the Cowboys hurried to the line and ran a play, but it was rushed and essentially thrown out of bounds giving his receiver no chance to make the play. With just five seconds left and 21 yards to go, the Cowboys decided to make it even harder with a delay of game penalty. Now, it was 26 yards to go. Finally, on the game’s last play, Prescott hit Lamb over the middle, but he came up a few yards short.

Result: No points

WEEK 10: NEW YORK GIANTS

Situation: 1st-and-goal at the four-yard line

What went wrong...

This series started promising with a run inside with Pollard that got three yards down to the one-yard line. But rather than sticking with the run, they ran a run fake with a designed short pass to Lamb that fooled no one. No gain. The Cowboys passed on third down, but Ferguson was covered and the pass was incomplete. They went for it on fourth down and surprisingly went with an inside run with Pollard again, but he came up just inches short of the goal line. The play-calling was puzzling there. Why not just stick to the run since it was working?

Result: No points

WEEK 13: SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

Situation: 1st-and-goal at the two-yard line

What went wrong...

Even when the offense was rolling, this goal line issue was still present. They put up 41 points against the Seahawks, but it should’ve been more. In this series, they started with a run to the left, but the offensive line was pushed back into Pollard’s lap for a one-yard loss. They ran a rollout pass on the next play to Ferguson, but the linebacker came blazing in and Prescott couldn’t get the ball over his outreached arms. The ball was knocked down. Finally, on third-down, the Seahawks blitzed up the middle and Pollard whiffed on the block resulting in Prescott getting sacked.

Result: Field goal

WEEK 16: MIAMI DOLPHINS

Situation: 1st-and-goal at the one-yard line

What went wrong...

There is not a lot of mystery as to what happened here. Luepke isn’t able to handle the exchange and the ball hits the grass.

Result: No points

The Cowboys failed on their first possession of the game, but oddly enough they almost failed on their last possession too. After getting down to the one-yard, the Cowboys ran a play-action and forgot to block the edge, resulting in a Prescott sack. This one ended okay thanks to Prescott making a perfect throw to Cooks in the corner of the end zone, but why do they have to make things so difficult for themselves?

WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN?

There are a collection of reasons why the Cowboys have struggled deep in the red zone this season. One of the biggest things that showed up a lot in the film above is poor execution. Between blatantly missed blocks or some Keystone Cops QB/RB exchange, this team can play absolutely lousy at times. Another element that surfaces quite a bit is overall play-calling. Abandoning the run when they have many chances to get a few feet and banking on some clever misdirection play to allow them to walk into the end zone, the coaching staff tends to overcomplicate things sometimes and they’re not fooling anyone.

But at the same time, this offense has shown again and again that they can’t push the piles in obvious running situations. The line is being overpowered and the backs can’t find the creases large enough to power the ball through. This forces them to resort to more passing plays in hopes of finding openings in tighter spaces.

Some of these problems are play design issues, others are execution. In either case, the coaching staff is not getting through to their players about who’s responsible for blocking who, or which direction players should be going. Nobody should be running into each other. What happened to jumbo alignments that worked so well for them in short-yardage situations in recent years? Where are those plays? Why do the Cowboys need some sweep by Lamb or Turpin to squeeze out a couple of yards? Why do they continuously forget to secure the edge and allow free runners to come into the backfield? Why do they have so many pre-snap penalties (which happens all over the field)?

The good news is that this problem is fixable. They just need better coaching. Players need to understand their assignments and plays need to be created that have a chance to succeed. The bad news is this problem is chronic. It’s been there from the beginning and is showing no signs of going away. And if the Cowboys don’t fix this, these missed opportunities will ultimately end up being their demise.

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