The Dallas Cowboys suffered a brutal week three loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, falling 28-16. The Cowboys headed into that matchup as 12.5 point favorites, a spread that is more commonly seen in college football than in the NFL.
What went wrong for the Cowboys? It would be shorter to say what didn’t go wrong for them. It was that type of game for Dallas. They committed 13 penalties which accounted for 107 yards, they allowed 400 total yards to a Josh Dobbs-led Arizona offense, and they converted just one touchdown in five red zone trips throughout the game.
The Cowboys defense put them in a hole early, allowing 182 rushing yards in the first half. This was the most allowed in a half by the franchise since 1991. With that said, the defense buckled down to start the second half, giving QB Dak Prescott and the offense several opportunities to tie the game with a touchdown drive. The offense was able to move the ball well throughout the game, totaling 416 total yards. However, the team repeatedly sputtered when they reached the inside of the Cardinals 20-yard line. This is a trend that has plagued the Cowboys offense the past several weeks.
Cowboys were No. 1 red-zone offense in NFL past two seasons. Here are their current numbers with Mike McCarthy calling plays:— Ed Werder (@WerderEdESPN) September 25, 2023
Week 1 - 3 red zone TD on 4 red zone drives
Week 2 - 2 red zone TD on 6 red zone drives
Week 3 - 1 red zone TD on 5 red zone drives
Dak Prescott spoke after the game about the red zone issues, stating that the offense has to be more efficient.
“We’ve got to do better, as a team, as a unit, myself. I got to make some throws, maybe use my feet more. Obviously that’s an area we haven’t been good in these last two weeks. We all got to get back to the drawing board. It starts with me. ... We didn’t convert in the red zone. That’s the story of this game, period.”
So what is the problem with the red zone offense? They certainly have shown the offense is capable of moving the ball down the field. They just have been unable to punch it in the end zone. The Cowboys had been okay settling for field goals earlier in the season, however, there will be games throughout the season where the defense underperforms. Those are the games that the offense will have to step up and win games.
Fans are putting blame on a variety of factors. Many people believe that this lackluster red zone offense is due to the loss of offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. The numbers would support this claim, as the Cowboys led the league in red zone efficiency each of the last two seasons when Moore was the play-caller.
Some fans are pointing to the fact that the Cowboys are now without former RB Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott made a career in Dallas being able to score touchdowns, scoring 80 of them through seven seasons with the team.
There are several logical reasons why the Cowboys struggled in the red zone on Sunday against the Cardinals. For starters, the team played without LT Tyron Smith, C Tyler Biadasz, and RG Zack Martin. Missing three Pro Bowl offensive lineman will make it difficult for any team to perform well near the goal line. Another reason the Cowboys struggled to score in the red zone is a lack of creativity in play-calling. In a situation where the Cowboys are losing many starting lineman, it would have been smart to utilize speed and quickness near the sidelines. WR KaVontae Turpin and RB Deuce Vaughn should have been used more, keeping the defense on their toes by stretching them horizontally.
One player the Cowboys need to emphasize more in the red zone is WR Michael Gallup. Gallup was one of the few bright spots on Sunday, playing his best game with the team since his injury. He finished the game with six receptions for 92 yards, averaging 15.33 yards per catch. The Cardinals defense didn’t have an answer for him all game. The one time he was truly targeted in the end zone was a blatant pass interference that was ultimately not called.
Still trying to figure out how this isn’t a penalty. pic.twitter.com/KS9F4dgK6f— Calvin Watkins (@calvinwatkins) September 25, 2023
Gallup was given the contract he has with the belief that he would be a reliable jump-ball receiver who can come down with athletic grabs when the Cowboys needed him to. Gallup showed on Sunday that he looks like the Gallup of old, the one Cowboys fans were used to prior to his injury.
The Cowboys have a lot of work to do in order to fix their red zone problems ahead of week four’s matchup against the New England Patriots. They should get more creative around the end zone, calling more run plays with Prescott, and looking for Gallup in one-on-one situations
Sunday’s loss was an ugly one. However, it is still a long season, and the Cowboys have an extremely talented team. If the Cowboys can become more efficient near the goal line, they will be hard to beat the rest of the year.