The Dallas Cowboys find themselves in a very familiar position heading into their Week 6 battle with the Washington Redskins. Losers of two straight, the Cowboys must regain their composure in order to remain atop the NFC East.
Last week, Dallas played an incredible game against the Denver Broncos but fell just short. Although Tony Romo’s late interception was the talk of most postgame shows, it was the team’s lack of defense that really cost them the game.
This week, the Cowboys will face their old rival in the Washington Redskins. The last time the two met, it resulted in a Washington playoff berth, while Dallas began its offseason. Sunday will prove to be another important matchup as both try to gain a leg up on the division.
In order for the Cowboys to get back to their winning ways, they’ll have to improve on several facets of their game. Let’s take a look at the five biggest areas.
All statistics via Pro-Football-Reference.com unless indicated otherwise.
Coverage has been an issue for the Cowboys.
The Cowboys pass coverage is the weakest part of the 2013 team. Every week it seems as if the opponents’ quarterbacks can simply have their way in the passing game.
Last week, it was Peyton Manning’s turn to shred the Dallas defense. Although he’s having one of his best seasons and is regarded as one of the all-time greats, Dallas gave up too much through the air to win. Manning finished the game 33-of-42 for 414 yards and four touchdowns.
If the Cowboys plan on doing anything this season, they will have to stop giving up 400 yards through the air on a consistent basis. Manning’s performance now makes it three times in five games.
One of the biggest areas Dallas has been susceptible is through underneath checkdowns. Manning picked the Cowboys apart by taking what was available in short passes to his running backs and tight ends. Even though this resulted in fewer big plays down the field, Denver was able to maintain possession of the ball and get first downs at will.
Denver’s running backs and tight ends combined for 18 catches, 221 yards and two scores.
The Cowboys defense has the pieces to be a solid unit, but they will need to figure things out in the passing game to be a success.
Romo needs to avoid turnovers late in the game.
Turnovers play a large role in every game, and last week was no different for the Cowboys. Though Dallas didn’t lose the turnover battle, it didn’t win it either, resulting in another loss.
As discussed, Romo’s interception late in the fourth quarter all but ended the Cowboys’ hopes of a victory. It gave Denver the ball deep in Dallas territory with minimal time remaining.
Despite another great performance from wide receiver Dez Bryant, he too lost another fumble. As one of the team’s best players, he can’t afford to lose the ball and put his defense in a difficult situation.
The Cowboys should understand better than most teams how turnovers can affect a game. In the 2012 season finale, they lost the turnover battle 3-0 to Washington, thus losing the game.
For the Cowboys to have a real chance at competing in the playoffs this year, they’ll have to start winning the turnover differential.
Wilcox must learn the position quickly.
The Cowboys’ safety play is part of the reason they are off to a 2-3 start. So far this season, all of their safeties have not played up to expectations and have been extremely inconsistent.
After another defeat, the team decided to part ways with its newly acquired veteran, Will Allen. He had lost his starting position after Week 2 to rookie J.J. Wilcox.
For the remainder of the season, Dallas will rely on its rookie and fourth-year safety Barry Church. The biggest issue between these two is their lack of experience. Coming into this season, they had a combined four NFL starts.
Wilcox has shown that he is very athletic, and Church has proved to be a solid open-field tackler. However, both have had issues in pass coverage and continue to be inconsistent throughout four quarters. If Dallas has hopes of beating the Redskins on Sunday, its safeties must play better.
Murray will be looking to have a bigger role against Washington.
Another area Dallas must improve in Week 6 is its running game. In spite of attempting to control the clock against Manning, the Cowboys only ran the ball a total of 14 times for 52 yards.
Besides his touchdown and one decent run of 13 yards, running back DeMarco Murray was basically a non-factor. Beyond his longest rush, he only gained 30 yards on 11 carries. This won’t win you many games in the NFL.
Dallas knew it was going to be in somewhat of a shootout with the Broncos, but it allowed things to get out of hand by moving away from the run. Even Denver, a team that isn’t known for its running backs, was able to generate more than 100 yards on the ground.
Running will be equally important this week against Washington. It will allow the offense to rely less on Romo and keep the ball out of Robert Griffin’s hands.
Kiffin's defense must improve in Week 6.
The one coach who must seriously improve is defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.
After a promising Week 1 showing that created six turnovers, the Cowboys new defense has progressively gotten worse. Last week was by far its worst performance. It surrendered more than 500 yards of offense and 51 points.
This week, the defense faces another top-10 offense with Washington.
The Cowboys had high hopes and expectations for their new 4-3 defense this season, but the results haven’t followed suit.
Jerry Jones brought in Coach Kiffin because he was unsatisfied with how Rob Ryan’s defense played. Thus far in 2013, Ryan’s defense in New Orleans has been much better than the current one in Dallas.
Players like DeMarcus Ware, Sean Lee and Brandon Carr give the Cowboys defense the potential to be great. Kiffin needs to figure things out fast before this becomes another wasteful year.