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Cowboys mailbag: Questions about the redzone. short-yardage backs, and more

People have questions about the Cowboys, and we strive to provide the answers.

NFL: Preseason-Las Vegas Raiders at Dallas Cowboys Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Every week, we take questions on Twitter and Facebook about Dallas Cowboys players and other questions surrounding the team. So let’s get right into it.

“With the Cowboys failing on red zone conversions, does the front office trade for a power back for short yardage situations, or do you think they are happy with [Hunter] Luepke being that power back?”

(Rich Gillett via Facebook)

Brandon: This week, a lot of buzz was made about what the Cowboys are missing in Ezekiel Elliott as their goal-line back. Elliott returns to Dallas for the first time since being released from the team—of course, the conversation would take center stage.

Here’s the thing. The Cowboys are struggling in the red zone, but I don’t think it’s because of Elliott’s absence. For me, it’s because of no longer having someone like Dalton Schultz, Dak Prescott’s go-to guy in that area.

I believe the Cardinals game was the first sign of real struggle in scoring for Dallas, even though it’s been a trend since the season opener. Week 1 was a wash because of the weather, and Week 2 was against a top-three NFL defense. If they continue to miss on scoring against the Patriots, it might be time to change things up, like using Hunter Luepke more as the power back. Until then, let’s wait and see.

Mike: I wouldn’t even call Luepke the power back for Dallas. He’s getting more touches and getting onto the field a lot more the last couple of weeks which is good to see. But Luepke plays better as a blocker or receiver, and that statement was true in college as well. The redzone inefficiency is down to the wide receivers utilization. I spoke with Isaiah Stanback about the situation this week and he talked about how the receivers are doing the work and getting open in the redzone, but for what ever reason are not getting targeted.

Last week’s play-calling going to the ground game so often was down to having three rookie offensive linemen blocking up front. They did a fine job as the game went on, but they required a lot of time to get set and adjust their protections, as such the coaches had confidence issues about Dak getting hurt. The end result was a lot of rushing plays.

“People want a bigger back for the red zone, while others want a player to help stop the run. Which of the two is more important to make a run in the playoffs?”

(George Media via Facebook)

Mike: Always stop the run. If I had the choice of what to do here, stopping the run on defense is my priority as that means the offense has to try something different and force them to go one-dimensional. In doing that the opposition walks right into the trap that the Cowboys defense does better than any other team, rush the passer. By keeping the score low that way, the Cowboys offense can keep working on its side of the field, or play possession football and keep pounding that ball right at them.

Brandon: I agree with my partner Mike on this one. Stopping the run will always be more important. The Cowboys could fix their red zone struggles with more turnovers caused by the defense forcing offenses to throw more.

Look at the New York Jets game, for example. The Dallas defense put up a blockade against their backs, who couldn’t rush for more than ten yards. The Jets needed to get back in the game by passing the ball, which forced three takeaways by the Cowboys’ secondary.

Even if the Cowboys score 50 percent in the red zone, it will feel different if they score on two out of four instead of four out of eight. If the defense can stop the run, it opens the door for turnovers and more opportunities in the red zone. That can be a massive benefit for a struggling offense in the playoffs.

“Why aren’t we utilizing the young man for North Dakota State? I love his tenacity. We have to use our talent?”

(@pdidit09 via Twitter)

Brandon: The Cowboys are all for using their rookies and young players, especially if they have the talent. I believe a transition period is still taking place for Hunter Luepke. He’s being used more as a traditional fullback, which he wasn’t asked to do much at North Dakota State.

According to PFF, he might not have the best grade as a blocker, but I’ve seen growth in his run-blocking ability each week. The Cowboys have a great wrinkle on offense where Luepke swings out as a lead blocker for either Rico Dowdle or Tony Pollard that has had success two weeks in a row.

Luepke has always been a great player in space, so if the Cowboys can get him opportunities as a blocker or pass catcher in that scenario, we’ll see him more. It could be on its way, just give it time.

Mike: They are getting him more involved which is good to see. In Week 1, Luepke was in for four snaps, where the last two weeks he’s played 26, with Week 3 having him record one rush for nine yards and one reception for 12 yards. On passing plays they are using some very interesting route concepts with Luepke. It’s unclear what the plan is at this stage with these routes he’s running but it feels like this is building up to something and the coaches are taking a look to see how it all fits together. As a receiver, Luepke is fantastic and can be relied upon it pressure situations to make the catch. It’s more giving him the trust. In his last year at North Dakota State, he scored four receiving touchdowns and was a solid target in the redzone. Let’s see if they want him more involved down there in the redzone, especially as each game his blocking has improved and he’s been key on blocks during important plays.

Poll Of The Week: Finally, we asked you which defensive player will have a big game this week against the New England Patriots. Here are the results and our take on the poll.

Mike: It’s the return of Zeke. With a guy like Ezekiel Elliott coming at you that magically plants and drives for extra yards, how could you not want the big guy in the middle of your defensive to play well. Zeke got close to getting the larger share of rushing snaps last week for the New England Patriots, and if Bill Bellichick sniffs a slight hint of weakness on that run defensive unit, you know he’s going to attack it all day. Last week, the Cowboys allowed 222 rushing yards to the Arizona Cardinals, that has to change. Luckily the Cowboys defense doesn’t have to account for Mac Jones scrambling upfield much as he’s more a pocket passer. That means a guy like Mazi Smith can go out there and anchor the line and close the a-gaps to force Zeke and Rhemondre Stevenson to rush to the outside, where DeMarcus Lawrence lays in waiting.

Brandon: If I had to rank the names from No. 1 to No. 4, it would be in the exact order the poll turned out. The Cowboys need to stop the run this week and force Mac Jones into throwing situations where he could make mistakes against this secondary.

That starts with Mazi Smith and Damone Clark. I’d put Clark as the one who needs a stand-out performance because if the Cowboys can have two great linebackers who stop the run, it makes things easier for all parts of the defense.

Last week, it looked like Clark was jumping the gun on trying to read where the Cardinals’ backs were running. If he lets the big defensive tackles clear the path to the ball carrier, we should see great things from No.33.

Be sure to check Blogging The Boys as well as @kenfigkowboy and @brandoniswrite on X and also Facebook for the weekly post, asking for your questions to include in the weekly mailbag. Also, check for the Poll of The Week on X. Many thanks to everyone that sends in your questions and votes.

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