FRISCO, Texas – Back at it.
And no time for these Cowboys to rest on their laurels.
Sure, great the Cowboys have won two straight and four of their last five. Great they are 8-3, second-best record in the NFC East, third-best record in the NFC. And get this, own a 3-1 division record, actually a half-game ahead of the 2-1 Eagles in that regard, having to play them Eagles and Commanders a second time.
So this team hasn't accomplished a thing yet, at least not meeting any of their goals with six games remaining, half of those games against teams with winning records and all in a row to end the season, Eagles (10-1), at Tennessee (7-4) and at Washington (7-5).
That means time to keep getting better, and when it comes to what this team must improve on, that's easy for sure.
"Just penalties. Yeah, for sure, penalties," says Dak Prescott.
No kidding. The Cowboys have committed 83 penalties, costing them 626 yards in penalty yardage, compared to the 70 on opponents in 11 games for 557 yards. Not only that, the Cowboys are the second-most penalized team in the NFL to only Denver's 87. Why, the NFL average is 65.6.
Worse, think about this: Not only have the penalties moved the Cowboys back those 626 yards, an average of 59 a game, but also they have canceled out 152 yards gained on those penalized plays.
And get this: While head coach Mike McCarthy points out 36 of those penalties have been pre-snap legalities, they have incurred double-digit penalties in three games, two of those losses to Tampa Bay and Philadelphia with 10 in each, and then nine in the Green Bay loss, an ugly trend. And then there was the season-high of 13 on Thanksgiving, somehow overcoming those to beat the Giants.
That's no way to play successful football.
"It's frustrating when you have those penalties like that," Prescott says, "because all it is, is discipline. And you don't think we're not disciplined, it's a little thing of focus. Like I said, three different guys on three different times and you've got three pre-snap penalties that are in bad situations, and this game is won off of situations.
"You get a pre-snap penalty on second-and-1, nobody is really blinking their eyes. OK, so what? We're second-and-6, you know what I mean? Whatever it was, that's fine. Not that's it's fine (you can get over that). Yeah, but when you're third-and-8, now you get a penalty in your red zone and you're third-and-13, you're (in trouble). Not only that, you're on the brink of a field goal or not a field goal, and now you put the play-caller in this position, do I run the football and just kick it or pass? Or do I be aggressive or not be aggressive?
"The game is won in situations, so once we're in focus we have to be dialed into those situations and focused on that."
And it is high time after this little break to take a big _shot_ at cleaning up these transgressions.
- Dak Effect: This is nothing against Cooper Rush, winning four of his five starts at quarterback with Prescott out following his thumb surgery, but in Dak's past five starts the Cowboys are leading the NFL in these games averaging 33.8 points a game after 22 a game during his absence. Even better, the Cowboys are now converting an NFL-high 57.1 percent of their third downs over the past five games, while in the previous five they were at 34.9 percent. And most importantly, winning four of the past five, same as they did when he was missing, thanks to "Coop."
- Digging Diggs: Sometimes interceptions don't tell the whole story about cornerback play. Trevon Diggs, after his NFL-high 11-interception season in 2021, now has three after 11 games, putting him in a three-way tie for eighth after 12 weeks, the Eagles' Chauncey Gardner-Johnson the leader with six. But … Diggs is second in the NFL with 13 pass breakups, an indication his coverage keeps improving. And for context, Diggs, with six games to go in his third season, has 48 career pass breakups, second to only Terence Newman's 52 during his first three seasons (2003-05). So there.
- New Receiver: The Cowboys welcomed a new receiver into practice on Wednesday. No, not OBJ. It was James Washington, having spent the first 12 weeks of the season on injured reserve. The Cowboys began his 21-day ramp-up window, and while this is his first practice since fracturing his fifth metatarsal during the first padded practice of training camp, it's his first full practice since the end of last season with Pittsburgh. The free-agent signee had played 60 of a possible 64 games over his first four seasons in the NFL, and when missing 11 so far this season, Washington said, "For a while there I thought I was getting old." He has no idea, having turned 26 in April.
- Worm Turning: The Cowboys' defensive Achilles heel has been stopping the run, especially after getting hit in consecutive games for more than 200 yards rushing, the Bears going for 240 and the Packers for 207. But maybe they have figured something out because since then the Cowboys have held Minnesota to 73 rushing yards and then the Giants with Saquan Barkley to 90, the first time all season they've held consecutive opponents to less than 100. This is also the first time since the first three games of the 2021 season they have done so in consecutive games.
- Holiday Leftovers: Next test, though, for this Cowboys run defense is the Colts' Jonathan Taylor, the 2021 NFL rushing champ with 1,811 yards who also totaled 18 rushing touchdowns, both of which set Colts' single-season records. And he's currently totaling 779 yards rushing and four touchdowns … So let's give Ezekiel Elliott a hand if everyone fears this Taylor guy, since he has seven rushing touchdowns and the one-two punch of Zeke and Tony Pollard has combined for 1,338 and 13 rushing touchdowns … Continue to be impressed with Tyron Smith's on-field rehab work, running awfully well and maybe just a week or so from beginning his 21-day practice period while on IR … Thought the five-day break would have swept that flu bug out of the locker room, but not so much. Diggs and Michael Gallup missed Wednesday's first full practice listed with "illness."
And for the last word we turn to COO Stephen Jones, not willing to concede the NFC East title to the first-place Philadelphia Eagles, currently 10-1 with the best record in the NFL and also with a win over the Cowboys the first time around. But with six more games to play, and knowing the Cowboys play the Eagles the second time around on Christmas Eve, Jones subscribes to the theory of it ain't over until it's over.
"For sure, we've got to play one game at a time," Jones said during his radio segment Monday on 105.3 The Fan, then referring to the Eagles' 40-33 victory over the Packers Sunday night, saying, "Watched that Eagles game and obviously they are one of the best teams in football, yet I still think we have an opportunity to get in there and maybe get that East in the end if we'll do our part.
"We've just got to get in there and take each game one game at a time, keep getting better each week. You know, you mentioned probably the No. 1 priority is let's get these penalties and certainly the turnovers, which you've got to keep out of your game as well. And the flipside of that is create some turnovers. If we can do that down the stretch, we're going to improve on what already is I think a good football team."
Well, that stretch starts Sunday night, and he certainly hopes whatever's waving at AT&T isn't yellow.