3 Fixes the Cowboys Can Make to Still Win the NFC East
The 2020 NFL season hasn't been pretty for the Dallas Cowboys. It became apparent early on that this was a flawed team—especially on defense—and the Cowboys then lost starting quarterback Dak Prescott for the season to a broken ankle.
At just 3-7, Dallas would be out of the playoff mix in most seasons. However, the NFC East is the worst division in football, and the Cowboys still have a shot at claiming the division. In fact, they'll temporarily take over the division if they beat the Washington Football Team on Thanksgiving.
With just one team possessing a winning record left on the regular-season schedule, Dallas can make a run and finish the year by hosting a playoff game. This doesn't mean, though, that making a few adjustments wouldn't help Dallas' cause.
Here, we'll examine three changes the Cowboys could make to help improve their odds of finishing atop the NFC East.
Run the Dang Ball
This one shouldn't be that hard to figure out. Dallas has a backup quarterback in Andy Dalton under center and one of the league's best running back duos in Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard. Yet, the team ranks just 12th in rushing attempts for the season and first in pass attempts.
This is a level of balance that needs to change. Something closer to what we saw in Week 11 should be the norm moving forward.
In Dallas' Week 11 win over the Minnesota Vikings, the team rushed for 180 yards on 31 rushing attempts. Dalton attempted 32 passes. While Dallas didn't win convincingly (31-28) the end result was still a victory.
By focusing more on the run, the Cowboys can help protect Dalton while also keeping opposing offenses off the field. Seeing as how the defense ranks dead-last in points allowed, this should be a top priority down the stretch.
Get CeeDee Lamb More Involved
Rookie wideout CeeDee Lamb is a big play waiting to happen. He's shown as much on long receptions and on tough catches, like his wild touchdown reception against Minnesota.
"Unbelievable body control and discipline and focus," head coach Mike McCarthy said of the catch, per Rob Phillips of the team's official website.
Good things tend to happen when the Cowboys get the ball into Lamb's hands, as they did against the Vikings. The rookie had three punt returns for 48 yards and six offensive touches for 46 and a touchdown. Why, then, did the Cowboys go away from Lamb in the previous weeks?
In Weeks 5 and 6, Lamb was targeted 11 times in each game. Since then, he's been targeted just 23 total times and no more than five times in a single game. He hasn't had more than four receptions in any of his last four games.
While Dallas does need to focus more on running the ball, getting Lamb more opportunities in the passing game should be a goal. Doing so should help create more explosive plays while also preventing opposing defenses from clamping down on the ground game.
Bring in Some Pass-Rush Help
Part of Dallas' problem defensively has been an inability to pressure opposing quarterbacks. Dallas has just 19 sacks in 10 games and too frequently gives opposing passers time to survey the field and find the open man.
A schematic shift from defensive coordinator Mike Nolan could help, but the Cowboys should look into adding a free-agent pass-rusher like Cameron Wake or Clay Matthews III.
Adding another pass-rusher wouldn't yield immediate results, of course. Due to the NFL's COVID-19 protocols, incoming players must undergo six days of testing before entering team facilities. Essentially, this means that a player isn't likely to get on the field for two games after being signed—unless a team is willing to play after just days of prep work.
Still, adding a player now could give Dallas reinforcements for the final month, which would be huge. The Cowboys will wrap the season against NFC East foes the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. One of those games (or both) could have the division title hanging in the balance.