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Troy Aikman points out obvious Cowboys flaw, but there is no obvious solution

The Cowboys keep failing in the playoffs, and Troy Aikman points out why but his diagnosis has no ready prescription to cure it.

Green Bay Packers v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Cowboys legend Troy Aikman recently shared his thoughts on what’s been holding the team back from championship success since his era. What did Aikman attribute the failures to and what can Dallas do about it?

In recent comments given to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Mac Engel, Aikman was brutally honest about his former team’s performance in big games:

“The problem for them, and they don’t need me to tell them this, they just have not played their best football when the games have mattered the most.”

You don’t need to be a former player or so-called expert to have reached that conclusion. Aikman’s observation is what Cowboys fans have been having nightmares about for over 20 years now.

Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, and other household names from the 90s certainly didn’t do future generations any favors. The bar was set high with three Super Bowl titles from 1992-1995. The Triplets had a knack for standing out when the lights were brightest, with Aikman and Smith each claiming a Super Bowl MVP award.

Indeed, Dak Prescott, Tony Romo, and many others have been stuck in the shadow of those glory days for a long time. In a league where numerous playoff appearances and division titles are far from easy, the accomplishments of the last two decades of Cowboys football are hardly satisfying for a franchise with a rich history of greater success.

So yes, saying “play better when it matters” is obviously a good idea. But what does that even mean for the 2023 Cowboys?

A lot of fingers will immediately go to Prescott as the quarterback, and Dak will be the first to admit that he hasn’t stepped up in the last two playoff losses to the San Francisco 49ers. But Prescott was hardly the culprit in 2016 or 2018, putting up better numbers than most of Romo’s postseason games and being undermined by a rebuilding defense.

Getting bounced in two-straight tournaments by the same team is a bad look for the coaches as well. Where was any ingenuity from Kellen Moore or Mike McCarthy, particularly in the more recent loss, to show they’d learned something from the last time San Francisco sent them home?

While bashing the QB and coaches is the go-to move for most, where was a big play from Micah Parsons against the Niners? How about a pick by Trevon Diggs? With Dallas only losing 19-12 last January, just one moment could’ve swung everything in the Cowboys’ favor.

It doesn’t always have to be a star, either. CB Larry Brown, an average starter for the vast majority of his career, was the MVP of Super Bowl XXX thanks to one glorious night. Does anyone remember a David Tyree play other than the Helmet Catch? Did you even remember his name before reading that last sentence?

One reason Brown was able to shine for Dallas in that 1995 Super Bowl was that Deion Sanders was shutting things down on the other side of the field. So while we tend to blame stars for not making game-changing plays, what about the teammates facing less pressure or getting more opportunities as opponents strategize against the top players?

Again, all it might have taken was one play to completely change the Cowboys’ fortunes last January. But that’s a familiar tune for Dallas over these many years of failing to get back to the NFC Championship Game. We’re haunted by “wouldas, couldas, and shouldas” around these parts.

What’s most frustrating about Aikman’s statement is that there is no clear fix. Even a consensus all-time talent like Aaron Rodgers only ever played in one Super Bowl; football is too big for one guy to carry a team. Greatness, especially sustained, is a product of multiple efforts both on the field and the sideline.

Dallas has gotten close to finding the right mix of talent in its players and coaches a few times since Aikman’s era, but just never enough. And while you can blame bad luck or bad officiating in a few cases, generally they’ve been outplayed once meeting an opponent who simply had a more potent chemistry. And again, it’s often come down to just a few key moments.

The good news is that the 2023 Dallas Cowboys, as a consensus favorite to at least make the playoffs, should get another crack at it. But the bad news for the “this is our year” crowd is that there really is no clear, tangible difference between this team and others who’ve teased us. It will ultimately come down to those same key moments.

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