Last year we found a way to win a ton of close games. This year we haven’t been able to close out teams in the fourth quarter. What’s holding us back this year? Is it the level of competition? Thanks. – MATTHEW K / DALLAS, TX
Rob: I still believe this team is capable of beating anyone in the league when they play a clean game. Sunday wasn’t clean – for either team, thanks in part to terrible weather – but there have been self-inflicted mistakes that swung the game in all five losses. Four have been by a combined 22 points. Last year they won a bunch decided by a touchdown or less. The margin for error is so thin in this league, especially when you play New England on the road.
David: There’s no way it’s the level of competition, because this team found ways to beat good competition last year. Wins against the Eagles, Saints and Seahawks all spring to mind. If I had to simplify it, I’d start with the fact that they can’t win the turnover battle. They’ve turned the ball over in nine of 11 games, and they’ve failed to generate a takeaway in five of 11 games. On top of that, I think conservative play calling and untimely mistakes have hurt them in games that come down to the wire. It all adds up to give you an 0-4 record against teams above .500.
Although my question (same topic) went unanswered last week, this week can't hide the fact that Dallas special teams are a problem. From a blocked punt, to a missed field goal, penalties, and fumbles due to not being in right position, this team was ready to be taken advantage of by the GOAT Belichick. Where does Dallas go from here? - TONY LABANCA / MEBANE, NC
Rob: We’ve discussed special teams on our platforms recently and certainly weren’t ignoring your question. Jerry Jones spoke at length about it after the game, and it was the biggest factor in the game Sunday. The Patriots thrive on field position. Their average drive start was their 41-yard line. The Cowboys’ was the 21-yard line. Two turnovers directly led to 10 Pats points and a pair of pre-snap penalties spotted them 20 yards on a fourth-quarter field goal drive. It’s something they’ll look to clean up on a short week.
David: Sorry we missed your initial question, because it was absolutely a valid concern. This was the fourth week in a row that poor special teams performances hurt the Cowboys — and it’s never been as glaringly obvious as it was in New England. You don’t have to take my word for it, because Jerry Jones ripped into the special teams units himself on Sunday night. Honestly, I don’t know where things go from here. The Cowboys prefer not to make big changes during the season, although they did replace Paul Alexander during the bye week last year. After a game like that, it’s fair to wonder about the future of special teams coordinator Keith O’Quinn. Having listened to Jones’ strong comments on Sunday night, I’d assume O’Quinn — along with Jason Garrett and the rest of this staff — have some work to do in the final five weeks of the season to right the ship.