3 Big Changes Cowboys Must Make in 2022 Offseason After Playoff Loss
The Dallas Cowboys returned to the postseason over the weekend, but they were quickly ousted from the Super Bowl LVI race.
Fans are going to remember Dak Prescott's ill-fated run at the end of regulation and his inability to clock the ball in time for a Hail Mary attempt. However, the Cowboys ceded Sunday's contest to the San Francisco 49ers long before that.
With a porous run defense and 14 penalties, the Cowboys were lucky to even be in a one-score game late in the fourth quarter. San Francisco matched up well with Dallas, and the Cowboys allowed the 49ers to execute their game plan. And with that, Dallas' season is over.
It's now on to the 2022 offseason and an examination of what needs to change. Here we'll examine three moves the Cowboys must make following Sunday's playoff loss.
Hire a Game-Clock Coach
The Cowboys decided to run a quarterback draw with 14 seconds remaining in regulation and no timeouts. According to Sports Illustrated's Michael Silver, offensive coordinator Kellen Moore called the play, and head coach Mike McCarthy signed off on it.
This was not the first time the Cowboys have displayed some questionable clock management.
In Week 2, for example, McCarthy allowed nearly 30 seconds to wind off the clock instead of trying to get closer for a go-ahead Greg Zuerlein field-goal attempt. That decision didn't cost Dallas a win, but it prompted post-game questions.
"We were just going to run it down, but the clock I was watching came off the board," McCarthy said after that game, per NFL Media's Kevin Patra.
Questionable clock management has been an issue for McCarthy since his time with the Green Bay Packers. Heading into 2022, Dallas needs to hire a coach who specializes in clock management and late-game situational awareness—and listen to what he or she has to say.
Given the amount of micromanagement, analytics and payroll involved in NFL coaching staffs, it's surprising that teams don't prominently employ clock assistants—coaches whose sole responsibility surrounds time-specific play-calling and timeout usage.
If McCarthy and Moore cannot be trusted to manage things late in games, Dallas needs to hire someone who can be.
Strengthen the Defensive Interior
The Cowboys desperately need to bolster their run defense in the offseason, and the work should be focused on the interior.
Defensive ends like Demarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory and linebackers like Micah Parsons are perfectly capable of defending the run. However, Dallas' defensive line regularly allows opposing backs to get to the second level.
On Sunday, the 49ers rushed for 169 yards. On the season, Dallas allowed an average of 4.5 yards per carry, ranked 23rd in the NFL. While the Cowboys defense is good at generating pressure and forcing takeaways, it's vulnerable to the run. As we saw Sunday, that can be a significant problem.
Dallas should work on beefing up its defensive front, either through free agency or the draft. Targeting a free-agent run-stuffer like Larry Ogunjobi or a prospect like Georgia's Devonte Wyatt could go a long way toward addressing the Cowboys' biggest defensive liability.
If Dallas has a better anchor against the run, perhaps teams like San Francisco won't make for such an unfavorable postseason matchup in future.
Make Tony Pollard the Lead Running Back
After Sunday's game, running back Ezekiel Elliott announced that he had played through a partially torn PCL in 2021. While Elliott deserves credit for toughing things out this season, it doesn't change the fact that he isn't the same dominant rusher he once was.
Elliott was slightly more better this season (4.2 yards per carry) than he was in 2020 (4.0). However, backup Tony Pollard has been even more effective over the past two seasons. In 2020, Pollard averaged 4.3 yards per carry. This year, he averaged a whopping 5.5 yards per carry and emerged as one of the league's most explosive runners.
"I heard about him, but I didn't know he was this good," 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said of Pollard, per ESPN's Ed Werder. "He's a hard-nosed runner with home run speed."
It's time for Dallas to give Pollard a more prominent role in the offense. Whether that requires parting with Elliott or simply rearranging the work share to make Pollard the lead back, something needs to change. The Cowboys offense is more potent with Pollard on the field than it is with Elliott. It's time to get Pollard on to the gridiron more than he has been over the past two seasons.