Thanksgiving Blues in Dallas

The last two weeks have been nothing but a major disappointment for the Cowboys. It is hard to put a finger on what their issues really are, but I have a few ideas.

First, you can’t run the ball 29% of the time and expect to win in the NFL. Second, when you do run the ball, your average must be higher than 3.2 yards a carry. Third, the offense must establish an identity. For the Cowboy’s, that identity must be established and rooted in the run game. Thursday Night’s game was a pitiful performance by the Cowboys offensive line. They did not establish the line of scrimmage. Zeke Elliott didn’t hit the holes hard. Only Tony Pollard showed some juice, but the offensive coordinator failed to feed him consistently.

The AFC West has the Cowboys number. In fact, of the AFC West teams, only the Chargers have lost to the Cowboys. I went back and looked at that game. Dallas rushed the ball 31 times for 198 yards and two touchdowns. They established the line of scrimmage. They ran the ball. The rest of the AFC West looked at that game and noted that if Cowboys are allowed to set the tempo by running the football, they stand a great chance of winning. The Chargers film showed them that. During the Broncos game the Cowboys ran it 16 times for 78 yards but attempted 39 pass plays. The Cowboys lost. During the Chiefs Game the Cowboys ran it 16 times for 82 yards but attempted 43 pass plays. The Cowboys Lost. On Thursday Night they ran the ball 20 times out of 67 offensive plays. That is 29% of the time. Once again, the Cowboys lost. The Cowboys offensive play caller is making a conscious decision to NOT run the ball. In every Cowboy’s win except one they ran the ball 30 times or more. Against the Vikings the Cowboys ran it 24 times for 78 yards and barely won the game by four points. It isn’t as if they can’t be successful in the run game. They are choosing not to be.

Defensively the Cowboys are about as inconsistent as they come. Losing DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory hasn’t helped. Micah Parsons is only one man. He can’t be everywhere on the field, but he gives it his best shot. He secured his ninth sack of the season against Raiders whilst hitting Derek Carr another five times. Four pass interference penalties were called on Anthony Brown. Four. You can’t win third down on defense when your pass defense hamstrings your efforts. Offenses are also catching up to Trevon Diggs. When they are not throwing away from him, they throw a double move on him, and he gets burned. He has some work to do on his technique. Finally, the Cowboys must find a way to generate a consistent pass rush. The Cowboys hit Derek Carr seven out of his 39 drop backs. 17% of the time the quarterback was pressured. He had all night to throw which is why he was able to connect on four pass plays of 20 yards or more. In fact, he connected a 56 yard, a 54 yard, a 35 yard and 21 yard pass play. That is backbreaking to any defense.

The one noteworthy highlight of the game was Tony Pollards 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. It put a bit of juice back into the Cowboys. Eventually the Cowboys found a way to tie the game to get to overtime. Had Greg Zuerlein made the extra point in the first quarter, there would have been no need for an overtime. The Cowboys would have won.

The Cowboys are fortunate in a few regards. First, they are 7-4. The Cowboys have a two-game lead on the rest of their division. Second, if not for Dak Prescott, they would not have been in Thursday afternoon’s game. He remains healthy and is slinging it to #2 and #3 receivers for 375 yards. Imagine what he can do when CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper are back. Finally, the Cowboys have ten days to lick their wounds, get healthy and re-think their approach as they prepare to head to New Orleans.

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