Just when the Cowboys were on the verge of joining the elites in the NFC, the team drops a game that was under their control. The 31-28 overtime loss to the Green Bay Packers not only impacts their playoff position, but it exposed a few issues that need to be addressed if this team is going to make a title run.
After spending a few days reviewing the tape and jotting down a few notes, here are some thoughts and observations from a former NFL scout…
What's up with the run defense?
That is the million-dollar question that defensive coordinator Dan Quinn must answer heading down the stretch. In their past two games, the Cowboys have surrendered 240 yards (Chicago Bears) and 207 yards (Green Bay Packers) on the ground. And the defense ranks 29th in rushing yards allowed per game (143.1) and 26th in yards per carry (4.75).
Those numbers are inviting future opponents to punch the Cowboys in the mouth with a hard-hitting running game to see if the star-studded defense possesses the toughness, physicality, and discipline to win a battle in a phone booth. In copycat league in which coach steal, implement, and utilize successful tactics that pop up during film study of their opponents, the Cowboys are guaranteed to see a heavy dose of power runs with Dalvin Cook, Saquon Barkley, and Jonathan Taylor on the schedule in the coming weeks.
Quinn can put the proper scheme on the board, but the Cowboys must execute the plan while exhibiting the toughness and physicality needed to stonewall runners plowing between the tackles. The combination of discipline and grit is up to the players and the coaches cannot bring it out of them with begging and pleading. If the Cowboys want to become a stingy run defense, Micah Parsons and Co. will focus on filling the proper gaps and bringing the thump to blockers and runners at the point of attack. Until the unit makes a decision to play like a collection of tough guys playing as one within the scheme, the Cowboys will continue to struggle against the top rushing attacks in the league.
Dak needs to take better care of the football
Despite putting up solid numbers since his return, the Cowboys' QB1 has turned the ball over too much for a player who has exhibited excellent managerial skills for most of his career. Prescott has thrown three interceptions over the past two weeks with a critical pick in the red zone.
Maybe the veteran is shaking off the rust after missing most of training camp and the regular season due to injury, but the miscues have been costly due to the point swings created by turnovers down in the red area or in the Cowboys' own territory. While it is common for franchise quarterbacks to push the envelope on tight-window throws, the Cowboys cannot overcome turnovers from their star players.
In a league in which most games are decided by eight points or fewer, the extra possessions and prime scoring opportunities are created by giveaways. With Prescott showing a penchant for turning the ball over in critical moments, the Cowboys need better ball security and judgment from their quarterback.
CeeDee Lamb settles in as WR1
The promotion of Lamb to the WR1 position has not produced the fireworks that some expected based on the third-year pro's talent, but No.88 could be on the verge of breaking out after a spectacular performance against the Packers. Lamb totaled 150 receiving yards and a pair of scores on 11 catches (15 targets) while showcasing the playmaking skills that make him a dangerous weapon on the perimeter.
The 6-foot-2, 200-pounder worked over the Packers' secondary from the slot and out wide on a variety of stops, short-and-intermediate crossers, and corner routes. Lamb's ability to dominate his one-on-one matchups on the outside enabled the Cowboys to balance out an offensive attack that was also finding success on the ground (31 rush attempts, 159 rush yards). Although the run-pass ratio was not exactly 50-50, the ability to throw the ball early and often to No.88 is a critical element to the team's offensive success.
Would OBJ fit in?
The football world is buzzing about the prospect of OBJ wearing the star. The three-time Pro Bowl wideout is on the verge of joining a team after rehabbing a knee injury suffered in Super Bowl LVI.
With OBJ established as a superstar with spectacular skills, the veteran would appear to be a perfect fit for an offense that needs another playmaker on the outside. While Michael Gallup is a solid option as a WR2/WR3, the fifth-year pro is rounding back into form after dealing with his own knee injury. OBJ is an upgrade over the incumbent with his show-stopping skills as a pass catcher. The eighth-year pro has the better route running skills and run-after-catch ability than Gallup, and he is a more natural fit as a No.2 wideout.
As the Cowboys inch closer to the post-season, the team needs more firepower to compete with the heavyweights in the NFC. The veteran's presence would force opponents to remove a defender out of the box to defend the Cowboys' three-receiver sets, which would create more room for Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard on the ground.
Considering the impact that OBJ could make as a complementary weapon for the Cowboys, the team should find a way to ink the superstar to a deal that ties him to America's Team.
The Cowboys' decision to add Takk McKinley to the practice squad could pay dividends down the road. The energetic edge defender is a relentless worker with a knack for creating disruption at the line of scrimmage.
Although the former first-round pick has never been a high-level sack producer in his six-year career, McKinley has flashed solid skills as a run-stopper and opportunistic pass rusher. If the Cowboys elevate him to a roster spot to join a rotation that features a number of high-energy defenders, the veteran could make contributions as a situational rusher in sub-packages.
As the Cowboys gear up for a post-season run that could hinge on the performance of the defense, the addition of a Dan Quinn favorite might add a little spice to the defensive line room.