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Mailbag: Finding More Success In The Red Zone?


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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