After watching the tape from Monday night's loss to the Cardinals and getting prepared for Sunday's game in Washington, here are my five biggest takeaways about the Cowboys here after six games.
Quit the finger pointing.
It is common for losing teams to grow frustrated as the losses mount but the Cowboys can't let the disappointing start destroy the culture of the team.
As Mike McCarthy looks to re-establish a championship program, he has to squash any dissension that pops up in the locker room during an extended losing streak. The reported discord between players and coaches that recently emerged in an anonymous report from NFL Network must be addressed and rectified immediately for the Cowboys to have any chance of turning things around. McCarthy can't avoid confrontation with his players and coaches regarding the matter. The leaks show a lack of trust and buy-in from the players. Moreover, it shows a lack of accountability from everyone in the program.
To resolve the issues, McCarthy must clearly communicate his vision for the team and how they are going ti get back on track. He must take ownership of the coaching mistakes that have popped up along the way while also challenging the players to own up to their end of the deal. This conversation will be uncomfortable between the players and coaches but the issues must be addressed directly or they will continue to fester and eventually destroy the chemistry in the locker room.
Championship teams are built on trust and communication. McCarthy must repair the lack of trust between players and coaches by clearly communicating his standards and expectations while soliciting feedback from the group on how the coaches can serve them better. If everyone in the building can renew their focus and make daily improvement a priority, the Cowboys can climb out of the tailspin and resume their wing ways.
The Cowboys really miss Dak.
Perhaps the Cowboys took their QB1 for granted over the past five years. Prescott has been nitpicked by every armchair quarterback across the country as the leader of America's Team but his value to the Cowboys was on full display during the team's meltdown against the Cardinals. The Cowboys clearly missed his playmaking ability as one of the top quarterbacks in the game but his leadership, toughness, and resilience were notably absent during the game.
That's not a knock on Andy Dalton as a competitive QB2 thrust into a tough situation but No.4 is built to overcome adversity. He's done it throughout his background and the lessons learned from those experiences have helped endure less than ideal circumstances this season to keep the Cowboys competitive in the NFC.
From dealing with the musical chairs along the offensive line to the Cowboys' leaky defense, Prescott has been able to take his game up a notch to keep the team within striking distance in every game. The Cowboys' ability to rally is a testament to his ability to bring them back as a leader and multi-faceted playmaker.
Prescott is the team's unquestioned leader and his tough-guy persona resonates with the team. While others might harp on his flaws or deficiencies as a player, it is clear that he is the right quarterback for the franchise going forward.
What's wrong with Zeke?
The two-time NFL rushing champ was expected to carry the Cowboys' offense in Prescott's absence. Elliott was excepted shoulder a heavy workload on the ground as McCarthy and Kellen Moore leaned into the running game to alleviate the pressure on a backup quarterback early in the game. To their credit, the Cowboys attempted to feed Elliott early and often against the Cardinals with 11 attempted touches in the team's first 14 plays but No.21 fumbled the ball twice during that span.
The fumbling issues continue a disturbing trend from Elliott based on his NFL-worst four rush fumbles in 101 rushing attempts with another fumble on a reception. The display of butterfingers has always been a part of his game, as evidenced by his 20 fumbles (nine fumbles lost) in 1,491 touches, but he wasn't considered a careless ball carrier with the rock in his hands.
That said, the Cowboys' RB1 has suddenly developed a reputation as a fumbler and opponents are attacking his arms at every turn. Elliott's carelessness has made him a bit of a liability on an offense that needs him to carry the load as the No.1 option.
How he responds and addresses his fumbling woes will go a long way to determining whether the Cowboys can get back into the win column against a Washington Football Team that has plenty of talent on the defensive side of the ball
LVE's return bolsters the defense.
The Cowboys' defense played well in spurts against the Cardinals due to the return of No.55. The (cite dimensions) restored the order of the defense with his reinsertion into the lineup at MLB. He not only alleviates some of the pressure on Jaylon Smith to handle all of the communication responsibilities between the tackle-to-tackle box but he gives Mike Nolan another playmaker on the field.
LVE's presence played a role in the Cowboys opening the game with three straight defensive stops. And it will continue to make an impact on a unit that's struggled to slow down the opponent's running game in recent weeks.
Although Vander Esch's return won't remedy all of the team's defensive woes, it certainly gives them a chance to re-establish their style of play as they continue to acclimate to Nolan's scheme.
The secondary needs to get on the same page.
The lack of communication, chemistry, and trust throughout the defensive backfield has been one of the Cowboys' biggest defensive problems. The repeated mistakes from each of the players in the secondary signals a lack of scheme comprehension or overall talent. Sure, some of the miscues are understandable due to the transition into a new scheme without a full offseason but the inconsistent execution of basic concepts is alarming with so many veterans on the field.
Whether it is the safety and corner failing to cut and replace deep crossing routes (see Seattle game; Tyler Lockett's first touchdown) or a veteran cornerback squatting while responsible for the deep third in Cover 3 (see Cardinals' game; Christian Kirk's 80-yard score), the Cowboys are failing to execute the simplest parts of the scheme. In addition, the team's rookie cornerback looks confused in man or zone coverage whenever opponents utilize stacked or bunch alignments with picks, rubs, and crossing routes featured within the concept.
Considering the issues that have repeatedly popped up during the first six games of the season, the coaches and players need to have lengthy discussions on how to get everyone on the same page in each coverage. Through conversations, dialogue, walk-throughs, and practice reps, the secondary should be able to solve the issues that have plagued their play since the beginning of the season.