(Editor’s Note: The 2018 Cowboys were able to overcome a slow start to the season and not only make the playoffs, but win a game in the postseason. As the team looks to improve on that success, the writers of DallasCowboys.com will look back at last year, picking a positive and a negative from all 18 games that might be something to either build on or correct as we head into the 2019 season.)
Game 5: Texans 16, Cowboys 13 (OT)
Encouraging: Overall the defense played a stellar game, but considering a blown assignment in overtime that led to Houston’s game-winning field goal, it’s hard to call that a great performance. Individually, Jaylon Smith might have played his best game of his young career, showing exactly why the Cowboys took the chance to draft him. His 12-tackle, one sack effort was highlighted by a goal-line tackle on DeShaun Watson that saw him track the Texans quarterback down for a touchdown-saving stop before halftime.
Alarming: The Cowboys, most notably Jason Garrett, was criticized heavily for not going for a fourth-and-1 in overtime. They chose to punt and the Texans got the ball and put together one of their best offensive drives, leading to the game-winning field goal. More alarming than punting, was the fact Garrett didn’t think his offense, which is built around a physical ground game with the O-line and Zeke, could get a yard. Houston had just stopped them on third-and-1, proving yet again the Cowboys’ struggles in short-yardage situations.
Game 6: Cowboys 40, Jaguars 7
Encouraging: At the time, it was one of the best wins of the season. The Cowboys just waxed one of the favorites to win the AFC by a dominating effort on both sides of the ball. As the season developed, we saw the struggles Jacksonville would have, but it’s still a good win considering the score. Specifically, seeing Dak run the ball 11 times for 82 yards and a TD showed us what kind of weapon he can be on the ground.
Alarming: Hard to find anything negative with this game. The Cowboys dominated from start to finish on the scoreboard and stat sheet. They didn’t have many penalties or turnovers. But the one setback was a groin injury to Tavon Austin, who eventually missed the next nine games of the season, sidelining a dynamic weapon for the offense and special teams.
Game 7: Redskins 20, Cowboys 17
Encouraging: Coming off two straight games where the team allowed a combined 20 points, the defense was just as good against the Redskins, even in a losing effort and with 20 points put on the scoreboard. But one of Washington’s touchdowns was a defensive score and the Cowboys’ defense buckled down in the final three quarters of action and did everything possible to give the offense a chance to either tie or win the game.
Alarming: After rushing for over 200 yards the week before against the Jaguars, the Cowboys never got anything going on the ground, totaling a season-low 73 yards, including only 33 by Zeke. Yes, the Redskins have a good defense, but because the Cowboys were so one-dimensional, it took until the fourth quarter when they went to a no-huddle, hurry-up mode to actually move the ball.
Game 8: Titans 28, Cowboys 14
Encouraging: For a guy who had just come over from the Raiders and had to learn a new offense, Amari Cooper had a rather impressive debut with the team. He caught five passes for 52 yards, including the team’s first touchdown of the game. The narrative was this was a great start for Cooper and things should only get better. As it turned out, that proved to be the case.
Alarming: There were many specific aspects of the game that can be pointed to as to why the Cowboys lost. But the most alarming part of all was just a 14-point loss at home after the Cowboys were coming off a bye and so many changes were made, such as the Cooper trade and switching O-line coaches. To play like that and fall to 3-5, it gave little no hope for a turnaround, at least to the outside perception. Apparently, that game proved to be a wake-up call and/or a turning point for the players and coaches.