3 Takeaways from Cowboys' Week 17 Loss

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistJanuary 3, 2022

3 Takeaways from Cowboys' Week 17 Loss

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    Roger Steinman/Associated Press

    The Dallas Cowboys came into Week 17 with an opportunity to claim the No. 1 seed in the NFC. They needed help in the form of a Green Bay Packers loss on Sunday night, but the Cowboys also had to win their game against the Arizona Cardinals.

    Dallas failed to hold up its end of the bargain, giving Green Bay a chance to clinch the top seed on Sunday Night Football—which it did.

    If the season ended today, Dallas would now be the No. 4 seed, behind Green Bay, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the winner of the NFC West. That could mean only one home playoff game having to play the top-seeded wild-card team in two weeks.

    It was a costly weekend for the Cowboys, who took on a legitimate conference contender and got punched in the mouth. Here's what we learned during Dallas' 25-22 loss in Week 17.

The Offense Needs to Find a Rhythm Quickly

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    During Dallas' four-game winning streak entering Sunday, the Cowboys were largely carried by their defense. In Week 16, however, the offense finally regained its explosive form, and Dallas dropped 497 yards and 56 points on the Washington Football Team.

    The Cowboys most certainly hoped that was a sign of things to come. It wasn't. Against Arizona, the offense retreated into its shell and produced a mere seven points through the first three quarters.

    A pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns shrank the deficit, but this was a game that had no business being close. For the majority of the game, the Cowboys were out of sorts offensively, especially on the ground.

    In all, Dallas produced 301 yards of offense and was 3-of-11 in third down. Big plays were nearly impossible to come by, and the running game was nonexistent. The Cowboys netted just 45 rushing yards, while starter Ezekiel Elliott was held to a mere 1.8 yards per carry.

    The Cardinals rank 21st in yards per carry allowed.

    Dak Prescott, coordinator Kellen Moore and the rest of the offense are struggling to find the explosiveness and the consistency that were once hallmarks of the Dallas offense. That's a problem heading into the postseason, as Dallas' defense might not be as great as we thought.

The Boom-or-Bust Defense Is Back

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    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    A year ago, the Cowboys defense was just plain bad. Dallas finished the 2020 season ranked 23rd in total defense and 28th in points allowed. Things are better under new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, largely because of the unit's ability to generate takeaways and sacks.

    "They're playing lights-out," Elliott told reporters after the Week 14 win over Washington. "The D-line has got their ears pinned back. I feel bad for the opposing quarterbacks."

    What we saw Sunday is what we've seen at various points in 2021. When the defense doesn't rack up sacks and turnovers, it can be quite ineffective.

    We've witnessed smothering defense from Dallas at times, but it hasn't been consistent. While the Cowboys rank seventh in points allowed, they rank 19th in yards allowed. Takeaway machine Trevon Diggs leads the league with 11 interceptions but has also surrendered 853 receiving yards and four touchdowns, according to Pro Football Reference.

    More often than not, Dallas is going to have a boom-or-bust defense that relies on turnovers. It busted against the Cardinals, who racked up 23 first downs, were 9-of-18 on third- and fourth-down attempts and  held the ball for nearly 35 minutes of game clock.

    Dallas is now 1-3 in games when it doesn't force a turnover.

Losing Michael Gallup Will Hurt

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    The Cowboys also appear to have lost wideout Michael Gallup for the postseason to a knee injury.

    "Gallup, who was quickly ruled out today, suffered a torn ACL, owner Jerry Jones told reporters. Assuming the MRI confirms, he'll be out for the season," NFL Media's Ian Rapoport tweeted.

    With the offense struggling to find a rhythm and the defense capable of disappointing at any time, losing Gallup is big. He only appeared in nine games this season because of a calf injury, but he's been a big part of the passing attack when healthy.

    In his nine games, Gallup caught 35 passes for 445 yards and two touchdowns. on Sunday, he caught three balls for 36 yards before getting hurt during the touchdown reception. Of his 35 catches, 23 have gone for first downs, according to Pro Football Reference.

    With Gallup out, Dallas will likely turn back to Cedrick Wilson as its No. 3 receiver behind CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper. Wilson has 40 catches and four TDs in 15 games this season, but the Cowboys would undoubtedly prefer to have all four receivers available.