The Cowboys are coming off a win, but their backs are still firmly on the wall with three games to play. There is no room for error for this team that is 4-9 before playing the 49ers.
Here are five points to think about involving the Cowboys as they press forward here in December.
McCarthy will get a chance to build his program.
The pandemic completely disrupted the NFL offseason and presented several challenges to new coaches taking over programs. Although coaches should be able to adapt and adjust to their circumstances, the Cowboys owe it to McCarthy to give him a chance to fully implement his program in normal conditions. The Cowboys need an offseason program that includes traditional OTAs, mini-camps, and voluntary class room sessions to comprehend schemes. In addition, the players need time to adapt to the new standards established by the new coaching staff.
With more time to teach and drill the fundamentals and scheme, the Cowboys should be an improved team under a head coach that better understands the culture in Big D.
Win or go home.
The Cowboys' playoff run starts this week with a loss (or a Washington Football Team win) eliminating them from postseason contention. The dire nature of the situation should lead to more intensity and urgency from the team as every play takes on a greater significance. The Cowboys' effort should be at level 10 with each member of the team emptying the bucket on every snap. From running to the ball with reckless abandon to finish runs with more violence to special teasers sacrificing their bodies on downfield blocks on kick returns, the Cowboys' individual and collective effort must match the urgency of the situation. If the Cowboys also turn it up a notch with their physicality while paying closer attention to the details, they could stave off elimination for another week.
Tony Pollard is ready for primetime.
The second-year pro has added a spark as a multi-purpose playmaker for the Cowboys. Pollard has popped three 60-plus yard kick returns this season and shown explosive potential with the ball in his hands weaving through traffic. The field flipping returns have set the Cowboys up in prime scoring position and helped an anemic offense generate more points. On offense, Pollard has become a solid complement to Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield as a change of pace weapon. He has settled into his role as a dynamic runner between the tackles with enough juice to turn the corner on perimeter runs. Pollard has shown the potential to take it the distance (see Minnesota game) while also displaying the grit and toughness to pick up the dirty yards. If he continues to produce in limited action, the Cowboys will need to figure out ways to put him on the field with Elliott to maximize the offense's potential in the near future.
Can Mike Nolan fix the run defense?
Despite the Cowboys' dominating performance against the Bengals, the memories of the defensive struggles against the Ravens and the Washington Football Team lead to concerns about the unit's ability to stop the run. The Cowboys have been gashed by opponents with well-coordinated running games that mix misdirection action with downhill zone or power-gap schemes. The blur action from wide receivers freezes the linebackers and edge defenders with the interior defenders forced to fend off combo blocks and double teams at the point of attack. The orchestrated misdirection has produced big plays against an undisciplined Cowboys' defense with a crew of linebackers prone to jump out of their assigned gaps to chase ghosts in the backfield.
Against a 49ers' offense that features a ton of pre-snap shifts and motions followed by a synchronized running game that mix of zone and gap schemes, Nolan must preach gap control and eye discipline to his unit this week. If not, Kyle Shanahan will utilize a familiar blueprint to bludgeon the Cowboys a ground and pound attack.
The band is back together.
Injuries to Donovan Wilson, Chidobe Awuzie, and Trevon Diggs left the Cowboys' defensive backfield without many playmakers on the perimeter. Although a host of young defenders held down the fort in their absence, the Cowboys' defense should improve quickly with the A team poised to return to action in the coming weeks. Wilson and Awuzie add a veteran presence to the lineup with Diggs upgrading the talent on the island. As a group, their returns should enable Nolan to be more creative with his scheme and more aggressive in key situations. The Cowboys were able to cruise past the Bengals with a simple approach but Nolan should be able to expand his call sheet with more experience and playmaking potential on the field.
The Cowboys will take on the Philadelphia Eagles in their last home game of the regular season on Sunday, Dec. 27 at 3:25 p.m. A limited number of tickets are on sale now. Get yours now before they sell out!
Details on all of the health and safety procedures you can expect at AT&T Stadium can be viewed at www.DallasCowboys.com/safestadium.