FRISCO, Texas — As the playoffs quickly approach, confidence in the Dallas Cowboys making a deep playoff run has gone from "Hey, that's a team you don't want to play in January" to "It's the same Dallas team, just a different year."
While there are logical points and fallacies to that argument, it's hard to look at back-to-back road losses – two opportunities to get just one quality road win before the end of the regular season – and feel confidence in going into San Francisco or Philadelphia in a few weeks. At this point, you would almost feel a little queasy about going into Tampa Bay with the way the Buccaneers have put it together in the last few weeks.
But when we heard from the players in the locker room following the loss to Miami, there is still that confidence that was present at the beginning of the month.
"We know who we are," Dak Prescott said postgame. "You saw it on the first two drives and late in the game. It's just about being consistent. If we stay consistent and the defense plays like they did tonight, it's a different story."
Consistency. It's a theme in all of the wins for the Cowboys, and it's an issue in all five losses that have trends that put the Cowboys behind in games and make it difficult on any one side of the ball to overcome.
Let's look at those numbers, starting with the running game.
Sunday's performance in Miami from Tony Pollard (38 yards on 12 carries) was one of his worst of the season, and it didn't allow the Dallas offense to completely open up as the game went on. Even though other ballcarriers combined for a healthier 13 carries for 59 yards, the Dallas offense failed to rush over 100 yards for the fifth time this season. In those games, the Cowboys have lost four with the lone win being against the Chargers in week six.
The running game directly plays into Dallas' efforts in winning the time of possession battle – something that Mike McCarthy tries to emphasize both from an offensive perspective and in playing complimentary football.
When the Cowboys fail to win the time of possession battle, they are a healthier, but still middle-of-the-road 3-3 on the season. In those six games, they were outgained on the ground in four.
Concurrently, the running game also helps in sustaining long drives. In Mike McCarthy's West Coast-type system, quick and short action that picks up chunk gains at a time helps to sustain that time of possession advantage to allow for long and methodical drives.
On Dallas' 43 drives with 10 or more plays, the Cowboys have scored on 36 of them. Of the seven they failed to convert on, four of those were catalysts in a loss where a lack of offensive success was a contributing factor.
But if you're looking for one statistic that has been the end-all, be-all in all five of the Dallas losses this season, you can point directly into the biggest contributor to complimentary football" the turnover battle.
When the Cowboys lose the turnover battle, they are 1-5 on the season. In the last two losses, the Cowboys have failed to generate a takeaway which has put the offense in compromising situations. Those issues only compound when the offense gives the ball back.
All in all, the problems that the Cowboys have had in 2023 are fixable. When you feel frustration from players in the locker room after tough losses like the one in Miami, it's because the team is truly right there. The biggest question that will determine any January success is if they can get out of their own way in certain areas.