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Mailbag: Finding More Success In The Red Zone?

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Over the last couple years (or more) the Cowboys seem to have to settle for three points in the red zone more often than one would think is reasonable. I understand that the defense gains an advantage by having to defend a smaller field, but with the weapons this team has this year and over the last few, do you see this as more of a play-calling or personnel issue rather than just stout defense? — MIKE LUCAS / ROCHESTER, NY

Nick: I think what it stems from is the decline from the offensive line in recent years. Even though that unit has had its share of Pro Bowlers, we don't see a dominant group in the running game on goal-line and short yardage. That's big-boy football and you need to be able to knock people off the ball. So I think it's a combination of defenses playing it tighter and clamping down the passing game with a short field, but also the fact the Cowboys came overpower the defense anymore by just running the ball. 

Rob: The Cowboys are currently 29th in red zone efficiency, scoring touchdowns just under 52% of the time. And you make a valid point: although the offense was better there last year (15th at 57%), they were actually worse two years ago when they won 10 games and the division (29th at 48%). I don't have an exact answer for why because it's probably a combination of personnel (especially this year with the injuries) and situational play-calling in some cases. They've also simply turned it over a few times, including Garrett Gilbert's interception against the Steelers. But it's worth noting they were much better scoring touchdowns inside the 20 (68%) in the first five games before Dak got hurt.

Will a five- or six-win NFC East winner cause the league to rethink division winners and playoffs? I think five wins will win the East. — RICH W / MUSKEGON, MI

Nick: At first, it's hard to think 5-11 will win any division. Just doesn't sound right. But, even with the Eagles and Giants having three wins each, I can't really see any of them getting to six. So yeah, I tend to agree that five wins will probably get it done, especially for Philly, which would be 5-10-1. So if the Cowboys are going to win this thing, they better go 4-3 down the stretch to finish 6-10, or if it's only 3-4, it better be against Washington, Philly and NYG and hope for some help.

Rob: I believe the division winner will have more than five wins. Remember, all four teams will be playing each other down the stretch. To answer your question, I absolutely don't think the league would alter the seeding format based off this season. It's a major aberration, in my opinion. This isn't a direct comparison, but the NBA hasn't changed the East-West playoff format despite the West being a much more competitive conference for the last 20 years or so. Here, we're talking about one season where everything seems out of whack.

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