If you have been around the game long enough, you begin to understand why December is what everyone remembers. The playoffs are on the horizon, but teams must take care of business to secure a spot in the postseason tournament.
The Cowboys are entering a stretch run that features four division games in their last five contests with a two-game lead in the NFC East. If the team takes care of business, Mike McCarthy and Co. will not only claim a division crown but they could make a run at the No.1 seed in the NFC.
With so much on the line in the upcoming weeks, it is time for the Cowboys to play their best ball to maximize their potential as title contenders. If the Super Bowl drought is going to end this year, the team needs to turn it up a notch starting with a tough game against the Washington Football Team. We will have plenty of time to discuss that game, but here are a few other thoughts and observations from studying the Cowboys over the past few days…
The band is back together
The Cowboys' offense has not played up to the standard over the last month with lackluster performances against the Broncos, Chiefs and Raiders leading to questions about the unit's explosive potential in the playoffs.
Part of the struggles could be attributed to injuries preventing the Cowboys' top three receivers out of the lineup at various times this season. With Michael Gallup, Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb on the field for the first time since Week 1, the offense started to flash some of the explosiveness that made defensive coordinators squeamish against the Saints.
The trio accounted for 12 receptions, 166 receiving yards and a score (24 targets) on Thursday night with the unit rekindling some of the chemistry and continuity with Dak Prescott that makes the Cowboys' aerial attack one of the most difficult units to defend. Considering the lack of practice time and game repetitions for the group, the solid showing could foreshadow an explosive outburst for the offense down the stretch.
In a playoff push that could be decided by the Cowboys' performance against their division rivals, the re-emergence of the all-star receiving corps could be the difference in securing a division title this season.
It is Tony Pollard's time
The drumbeat is certainly building to put No.20 on the field as a bigger part of the Cowboys' offensive game plan. While Ezekiel Elliott should continue to play a role as the No.1 running back in the rotation, it is time to give Pollard more touches to add a different dimension to the offense.
The third-year pro is averaging 6.2 yards per touch (869 scrimmage yards on 138 touches) while flashing the big play potential that changes the momentum of games. Whether it is breaking free on a long run on the perimeter (SEE 58-yard score versus Saints) or his ability to turn short passes into long gains (SEE 32-yard catch-and-run versus Broncos), Pollard is a game changer who needs more opportunities to impact the game. Offensive coordinator Kellen Moore should have a special section on his call sheet with a handful of plays that will put the ball directly in the speedster's hands to give him a chance to create on the perimeter.
With Elliott ailing with a knee injury, the Cowboys need to give the rock to Pollard and let him go to work with the division crown on the line. The youngster adds a dimension that the veteran cannot provide and the offense needs more juice to separate from the pack.
D-Law makes a difference
The Cowboys' defense has played well this season, but the unit could emerge as a dominant squad with No.90 rejoining the lineup. The Pro Bowl pass rusher gives the defense a dynamic weapon on the edges and his presence enables others to see more one-on-one matchups in the trenches.
Although Lawrence's stat-line was not impressive (two tackles) against the Saints, it is not a coincidence that the Cowboys generated four turnovers in his return. The veteran's energy and persistence sparked a unit that kept the pressure on Taysom Hill in the pocket. The strong showing from the Pro Bowler and the rest of the defense gave the football world a glimpse of the unit's potential with the return of a key playmaker.
Can Dak continue to own the division?
The Cowboys have a chance to secure the division crown and a top playoff seed with a strong showing down the stretch. With four division battles in the final five games, the Cowboys simply need to take care of business to be in a great position to make a Super Bowl run.
Given the team's ownership of the division since Prescott's arrival, the screen printer should start printing up the t-shirts and embroidering the hats that are passed out when the NFC East is clinched. No.4 owns a 21-6 record against the Giants, Eagles and WFTs, and his success should give the team confidence heading down the stretch. In a quarterback-driven league, the Cowboys have the best quarterback in the division and his play should help them separate from the pack when the games have significant playoff implications.
Prescott has dominated his division rivals with his efficient performance and clutch play, and the Cowboys simply need him to play up to the standard down he stretch. If No.4 balls out, the Cowboys will win and grab a few championship souvenirs along the way.
Mike McCarthy's impact
After missing the Saints' game due to COVID-19 protocols, McCarthy returns as the team leader with the Cowboys entering a critical stretch. The one-time Super Bowl winner will need to navigate his team through a tough slate of division games that will ultimately determine whether the Cowboys are well-positioned to make a playoff run.
Given his experience and playoff success, McCarthy should be able to have a greater impact on the team's performance with his wisdom and expertise giving the team more confidence in key moments. How McCarthy manages the game and coordinates the three phases (offense, defense and special teams) will enable the football world to see his brilliance as a coach. While there have been plenty of questions regarding his coaching ability based on perceptions from his past, the veteran coach has a chance to silence the doubters by making his mark as a tactician, strategist and motivator during the Cowboys' playoff run.