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Here’s what we need to see when the Cowboys face the Patriots

The Cowboys have a lot of room for improvement, and here are some of those things.

Dallas Cowboys v New England Patriots
Can the pass game kick it up a notch?
Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Under no circumstances should you go back and listen to last week’s Ryled Up podcast discussing the game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Arizona Cardinals. It was laughably, embarrassingly wrong about, well, everything.

Like all of you, my podcast partner Roy White and I are befuddled. Things we were convinced of turned out to be so far off the mark, like the stoutness of the defense and the ability of the team to get takeaways while protecting the ball. The issues with the offensive line were also something we did not foresee, as at the time we recorded that last one we still had hopes all five starters would be ready. That was something truly staggering, as things just fell apart as the game drew closer.

Well, we aren’t making any smugly confident predictions this week. It’s time to look at what we need, or at least hope, to see from the Cowboys as they face the New England Patriots on Sunday afternoon.

Let’s start at the top.

Coaches need to do their job

The Cowboys looked completely unprepared for this game. On offense, it certainly looked like they were caught off guard as much as the fans by the rapidly deteriorating situation of the line. Mike McCarthy needs to figure out how to do something with the offense besides march up and down the field only to stall in the red zone and kick field goals, or come up completely empty. This was not a new development for the Cardinals game, because they had the same issue against the New York Jets.

The first two games showed that McCarthy can call a good, appropriate game when he has a lead. Against Arizona he showed no ability to adjust to come from behind. He stuck with the same short pass/run attack he has shown all season. Ball control is not always the solution. Dallas ran 75 offensive plays, with 42 attempted passes including the two sacks, and 33 runs. Even as time was running down, he kept feeding the ball to Tony Pollard and the other backs. It was a sign of how ineffective the passing game was that they only averaged a paltry 5.5 yards per attempt, which just not sufficient when you should be in catchup mode.

It still is a valid question just how much he felt limited by the offensive line, but that is still a failure on his part. And the preparation and readiness of the entire team is on McCarthy’s shoulders. This was a dismal failure and needs to be fixed right now.

They can’t afford another lackluster day for the wide receivers

This does not apply to Michael Gallup, who showed up. He caught six of his seven targets for a game best 92 yards. That is welcome. CeeDee Lamb had a so-so day catching four of the seven passes thrown his way to add 53 yards.

But Brandin Cooks has been a no-show so far in Dallas, with just two catches for 17 yards in this game after a similar lack of production in game one, and then missing the second with an injury. It is worth noting he was also the intended receiver on seven throws, as was tight end Jake Ferguson. Spreading the ball around is usually a good idea, but when one player accounts for almost half of the incomplete passes on the day, that’s a problem. We didn’t see Jalen Tolbert get a single opportunity in this game, as he saw just 17% of the offensive snaps to Cooks’ 80%. McCarthy needs to put a short leash on Cooks, at the least, and give Tolbert a chance to see if he can help this situation. Another option that was completely left out in the game was KaVontae Turpin, which is disappointing after he showed some hints he could help as a receiver in the first two games. And if the team falls behind against the Patriots, he has to find more passes beyond ten yards to get things moving.

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.

Red zone futility

Two games have shown a crippling inability to get the ball into the end zone. The play-calling looks staid. There has to be an acknowledgment that things get more challenging when the area to be defended is compressed. Admittedly, having a healthier offensive line could make a huge difference as the running game also stalled there. The Cowboys averaged 5.6 yards per carry for the entire game. That hints that they should have been able to just run the ball to get into the end zone, the way they did against the New York Giants. But Pollard and Rico Dowdle just couldn’t get it done.

Yet McCarthy kept sticking with the players that were not scoring. Deuce Vaughn did not see a single offensive snap. Turpin was uninvolved as a weapon. Nor was Hunter Luepke in the red zone, after he got nine and twelve yards when he touched the ball. He is big, which may be just what they need when trying to punch the ball into the end zone, and not as a lead blocker. How about an option play with Prescott able to toss the ball to the big guy when he may have a safety or corner to beat into the end zone, and see if he can just steamroll them?

You can’t consider this issue without thinking about the banged up offensive line. The team is hinting that they hope to have Zack Martin and Tyler Biadasz back, but both were working on rehab in Wednesday’s practice. It’s blatantly obvious we can’t trust optimism from the staff in this area.

McCarthy needs to get into his bag to fix this. If he can’t, we can legitimately question if he is the head coach the team needs.

A complete meltdown on defense

They gave up 222 yards rushing against the Cards. That worked out to 7.4 yards per attempt. There were runs of 44 and 43 yards. Some clearly missed holding calls are no excuse, and the loss of Diggs seems unlikely to have contributed much to this problem.

Dan Quinn needs to be scrutinized just as much as the head coach here. After two games that had people talking about a generational defense, he completely did that thing with the pooch. Contributing to the idea this was mostly on Quinn’s shoulders was the moment at the end of the first quarter when Micah Parsons seemed furious about the confusion about what he and the rest of the defenders were supposed to be doing. Outside of the 69-yard completion on a clearly blown assignment, they managed fairly well against the pass, but Mac Jones has been having a better start to his season than Joshua Dobbs.

Still, it looks like this defense will live or die by their ability to stop the run - or the lack of it. Through three games, they are an unacceptable 25th against the run, and that is after shutting down both New York teams pretty well. Quinn has to prove this was an aberration if this team has any remaining playoff hopes.

When a positive becomes a negative

Our R.J. Ochoa spotted the information that Brandon Aubrey has set a record by making his first ten field goal attempts of the season. That’s a great sign that the placekicking is on a good footing, but if you are settling for three instead of seven over and over, it catches up with you. It did for the Cowboys. We need to see Aubrey concentrating on extra points, not field goals.

That’s a lot of things that must be corrected right now. We might be able to dig into others, like a discussion of whether the tight ends are also underperforming somewhat, but that seems minor. The big things are glaring, and what threatens to hold this team back in what was supposed to be a year they would make a serious run in the postseason. Hopefully, the last game will be a real wake up call for the entire roster.

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