Biggest Fixes Cowboys Must Make to Avoid 3-Game Losing StreakDecember 1, 2021
Biggest Fixes Cowboys Must Make to Avoid 3-Game Losing Streak
Every football team faces adversity at some point in the season, and the Dallas Cowboys are certainly seeing theirs right now.
After an excellent 6-1 start to the season, the Cowboys' Thanksgiving Day loss to the Las Vegas Raiders now has them sitting at 1-3 in their last four games with a Thursday night game against the New Orleans Saints next up.
The blows keep coming for the Cowboys, too. Dak Prescott was without CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper against the Raiders, and Dallas will now be without head coach Mike McCarthy, who has tested positive for COVID-19, while Trysten Hill is suspended for two games after punching Raiders lineman John Simpson.
The sky isn't falling, though.
The Cowboys are still two games ahead of the Washington Football Team in the NFC East standings. Cooper and Lamb will be back on Thursday, and the offense is still one of the most stacked units in the NFL.
That being said, there are still some adjustments that need to be made to snap the two-game skid before it becomes a full-blown losing streak.
Get the Run Game Going on Early Downs
As good as Dak Prescott is and as many weapons as the offense has, the Cowboys have to run the ball as a complement to their passing game.
The quarterback had 47 pass attempts while the run game sputtered, creating just 64 yards on 20 carries. And neither Ezekiel Elliott (nine carries, 25 yards) nor Tony Pollard (10 carries, 36 yards) were all that productive.
The lack of rushing is especially killing the offense on first down. Across the last four weeks, the Cowboys have attempted 47 first-down runs and only have a success rate of 45 percent. That's 25th in the league, according to Sharp Football Stats.
The Cowboys have a good offensive line. La'el Collins, Tyron Smith and Zach Martin are all back in the lineup. Elliott is carrying a knee injury, but Pollard has looked explosive when given space such as his 100-yard kick return against the Raiders.
It doesn't make sense that Dallas can't get the ground game going. The personnel is there, but it falls on the coaching to create some plays to support the pass game.
Clean Up Penalties
This is painfully obvious for anyone who saw the game against the Raiders, but Dallas can't afford to shoot itself in the foot with undisciplined play.
All told, the Cowboys racked up 14 penalties for 166 yards. A part of that could be cast on some overeager officiating, as the Raiders also had 14 flags.
But there's plenty of blame for Dallas, too. The 816 yards the team has racked up on penalty yardage is the worst in the league. The Raiders are No. 2 at 785.
The secondary was especially bad. Anthony Brown drew four pass-interference penalties. All of them were on third down when the Cowboys could have gotten off the field. A Tyron Smith holding penalty took away a seven-yard touchdown from Dalton Schultz that became a field goal.
In a game that was decided by three points, penalties killed the Cowboys' chances. It's those missed opportunities that Dallas needs to overcome.
Better Quarterback Containment
At this point, the secondary is bad and there isn't much that can be done about it.
Last week, Derek Carr passed for 373 yards and a touchdown, Hunter Renfrow reduced the unit to ash with eight catches for 134 yards, and DeSean Jackson burned them for 102 yards on three catches.
Again, though, this is a talent issue. Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis were a step too slow to stay in front of their assignments and there isn't much depth to turn to.
What can be better is the Cowboys' ability to generate pressure while keeping the quarterback in the pocket.
If you look at all of Carr's best plays from the day, there is a consistent theme: The Las Vegas quarterback is either throwing from a clean pocket or breaking containment as he did on a 22-yard scamper.
The good news for Dallas is that reinforcements are coming up front. DeMarcus Lawrence is expected to return on Thursday night, and team owner Jerry Jones told 105.3 The Fan (h/t Chase Goodbread of NFL.com) that Neville Gallimore and Randy Gregory could both be back in the lineup in two weeks against Washington.
All three would be huge pickups from injury. Lawrence can still play at a high level, Gregory has the most sacks on the team of anyone not named Micah Parsons, and Gallimore adds another body on the interior to the rotation.
With the potential to see Taysom Hill at quarterback on Thursday, the ability to force the quarterback to make plays in the face of pressure is going to be important.
All statistics via Pro Football Reference unless otherwise noted.