3 Mistakes the Cowboys Must Avoid in October

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistOctober 6, 2021

3 Mistakes the Cowboys Must Avoid in October

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    In 2020, the Dallas Cowboys' season went from bad to worse in October. This year, they'll attempt to take the season from good to great. 

    After going 1-3 in October 2020 and losing Dak Prescott for the season, the Cowboys have already kicked off the spooky month with a 36-28 win over the previously unbeaten Carolina Panthers and now sit at 3-1 on the season. 

    With their only loss coming by two points to the defending Super Bowl champions on the road, there's a case to be made the Cowboys are off to a better start than anyone outside of the 4-0 Arizona Cardinals

    Mike McCarthy's team has three games left in October. With the New York Giants, New England Patriots and Minnesota Vikings up next, Dallas could conceivably be 6-1 heading into November.

    However, the team will need to avoid these three mistakes to get there. 

Taking the New York Giants Lightly

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    There are a lot of reasons the Dallas Cowboys could be looking past their upcoming NFC East game against the New York Giants. 

    For one, the Giants are just 1-3, after picking up their first win in overtime last week against the New Orleans Saints. For another, they have Jason Garrett calling the offense and that doesn't exactly strike fear into the hearts of Cowboys fans. 

    But there are some reasons to worry about the Giants and take them seriously despite their poor record. Saquon Barkley, who is coming off a major injury last season, is starting to find his footing. He had his best outing to date with 52 yards on 13 carries and five catches for 74 yards in Week 4.

    The Cowboys' defense has improved from last season, but it still has some weaknesses. The unit is 30th in yards allowed per play and 26th in rushing yards per attempt. As Barkley continues to look more like the explosive and dynamic player who was drafted second overall in 2018, the more he becomes an actual threat.

    It isn't as though the Giants have been blown out every week, either. Before the win over the Saints, they had lost to the Atlanta Falcons and Falcons by a combined four points. 

    The Cowboys losing to the Giants in Week 17 last season should be all the motivation they need, but they can't afford to overlook New York.

Getting Away from the Ground Game

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    In the season-opening loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Ezekiel Elliott had 11 rushes and Tony Pollard was given the ball three times. The Cowboys threw the ball 58 times while handing it to their running backs just 14 times. 

    Some of that was by necessity. The Bucs' secondary was banged up and their run defense is infamously stingy against the run. 

    Since then, McCarthy has leaned on the duo of Elliott and Pollard much more. Case in point, the former had 20 carries while the latter got 10, giving the two eight more rushing attempts than Prescott's 22 pass attempts. 

    Despite the week in which the run game was non-existent, the Cowboys have the fifth-highest run percentage in the league and the highest over the last three weeks. 

    They won't see an elite run defense in October, though. The Patriots are 10th in rushing yards allowed on a per-carry basis, but the Giants are 21st and the Vikings are 28th. 

    In short, Elliott and Pollard should continue to be a heavy part of the game plan. That will help the offense keep defenses honest and aid the defense by keeping them off the field. 

Continuing to Be Conservative on Defense

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    The DeMarcus Lawrence injury continues to haunt the Dallas defense. Through four weeks of play, the Cowboys have nine sacks but are among one of the league's most tame pass-rushing teams. 

    They are also one of the more conservative teams in the league when it comes to bringing pressure. Dan Quinn's crew is 22nd in pressure percentage (22.2 percent) and 22nd in blitz percentage (21.2). 

    Last season, the Falcons blitzed almost 10 percent more under Quinn than what he is doing with the Dallas defense this year. 

    In Lawrence's absence, Micah Parsons has taken over as the team's primary pass-rush threat. He has 11 total pressures and 2.5 sacks, while Randy Gregory has eight pressures and two sacks. 

    Taking a look at the quarterbacks coming up, getting pressure on the passer is going to be pivotal. Daniel Jones may be inconsistent, but he does well when given time; Mac Jones is a rookie, so getting him off his spot is still the best strategy; and Kirk Cousins has been one of the best passers from a clean pocket this season. 

    The Cowboys have to find a way to be more consistent in pressuring the quarterback and it can't just come from the defensive line winning their matchups one-on-one. 

                  

    All advanced stats via Pro Football Reference unless otherwise noted. 

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