The Dallas Cowboys have a significant amount of issues this season. Over the course of the last few games, many of these problems have been exposed.
For one of the few times this year, Dallas doesn’t share a hold of first place in the NFC East. It now trails the Philadelphia Eagles by one game despite beating them in the first matchup.
The Cowboys currently sit at 7-6, in second place. Another .500 record and missed playoff opportunity seems inevitable for this struggling team.
In order for Dallas to salvage its season and qualify for the playoffs, it will have to make some adjustments. Let’s take a look at some simple solutions to the Cowboys’ biggest concerns.
All statistics via Pro-Football-Reference.com unless indicated otherwise.
Ware, Hatcher and Selvie must lead the attack.
One of the biggest issues the Cowboys have this season is disrupting the quarterback and creating pressure in the backfield. Part of the reason their defense is ranked dead last in the league is because opposing quarterbacks are too comfortable.
A simple fix to this issue is clear. Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin needs to dial up more blitzes.
Although blitzing more often can leave the secondary vulnerable, it doesn’t seem to matter when they’re getting picked apart with conventional four-man pass rushes. Blitzing more often and at appropriate times will force the issue with opposing quarterbacks and potentially create more turnovers for the defense.
Scandrick doesn't matchup well against players like Calvin Johnson.
To go along with the need to create more pressure, the cornerbacks need to cover better. After a promising 2012 campaign, it seems as though all of the cornerbacks have taken a step backwards.
A big problem with this unit is the health of second-year player Morris Claiborne. He’s missed a significant amount of time, putting added pressure on Brandon Carr and Orlando Scandrick.
Also, since Claiborne hasn’t played as often, Scandrick has been forced to move up the depth chart, thus facing tougher receivers. Instead of being assigned to a slot receiver, Scandrick must take on bigger receivers on the edge, such as Alshon Jeffery.
We all saw how that worked out.
Besides being healthy, this group of corners need to change their scheme on the field. By going with more man-to-man coverage, these defensive backs would put pressure on opposing quarterbacks to really hit their man as opposed to being able to find soft spots in the zone.
The Cowboys rank last in passing defense as well, so some type of change is necessary.
Bryant needs to be more involved.
The Cowboys offense this season has been fairly consistent. The running game has gotten going the last two games, and it’s created a good balance for quarterback Tony Romo.
The one problem Dallas seems to have every week is getting the ball to one of the best receivers in football, Dez Bryant.
Bryant has decent numbers compared to the rest of the league, but not the explosive ones we’ve come to expect. He’s got 70 receptions for 908 yards and 10 scores. A lot of players would call that a solid year, but Bryant should be held to a higher standard.
The receiver currently has 25 fewer receptions than league leader Andre Johnson. That’s unacceptable for one of the most dynamic players in the league.
Offensive coordinator Bill Callahan and head coach Jason Garrett need to figure out ways to get No. 88 more involved in the offense. It’s true defenses have schemed ways to contain Bryant, but that shouldn’t eliminate him from the game plan altogether. A weapon like Bryant needs to be utilized even if the defense uses a double-team.
A way around this is to create plays specifically for him. The Cowboys know there will be multiple defenders on Bryant, so they should know how to work him open as well.
Another idea is for Romo to audible to different hot routes for Bryant at the line of scrimmage. Similar to what he did against New Orleans, Romo should move Bryant around at the line in order to get a more favorable matchup.
Church has been one of Dallas' best defenders.
Along with the cornerbacks needing to step it up, the safety play needs to improve too.
The biggest way the safeties can contribute more is to make plays in the passing game. Current Cowboy safeties have recorded only one interception (Barry Church). Will Allen, who was released by Dallas in early October, had the other.
Becoming consistent supporters in pass defense will do two things: It will help relieve pressure on the cornerbacks and allow them room to be more aggressive and risk making mistakes. Better play in the middle of the defense could also generate more turnovers.
Church, who leads the team in tackles with 109, has played better than expected so far, but he needs help from his fellow safeties.
The other safety position hasn’t done much. Both J.J. Wilcox and Jeff Heath haven’t been terrible, but they could contribute a lot more. Becoming consistent contributors to the pass defense would be a start.
Lee needs support from his line and fellow linebackers.
The last issue Dallas has is once again on the defensive front. Even though its rush defense is probably the best part of the unit, Dallas can be a lot better in this area.
Getting healthier would, in and of itself, go a long way toward addressing this issue. When the Cowboys have their three starting linebackers on the field, the defense plays at a different level.
Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened much in 2013.
Sean Lee, Bruce Carter and Justin Durant have all missed time this year. It’s only fitting with Dallas’ bad luck that in the same game that their leader Lee returns, their other young playmaker, Carter, goes down. Carter didn’t practice this week and is unlikely to play Sunday.
With players out, people like Ernie Sims and Kyle Wilber need to play like they are capable of.
Shutting down the run is extremely key for the Cowboys because of how weak they are in defending the pass. By shutting down the run on a consistent basis, their opponents’ play-calling will become more predictable and therefore easier to stop.