IRVING, Texas – Matt Cassel will make his seventh start of the season Saturday night against the New York Jets, with the playoffs mathematically still possible but unattainable without help within the NFC East – and without better offensive play.
The Cowboys (4-9) have averaged 15 points per game in Cassel's first six starts, five of them losses. They have scored one or fewer touchdowns in four of those games. They've converted 2-of-20 third downs in the last two games, including this past Sunday's 28-7 loss to the Packers.
The offensive struggles include, but aren't specific to, the quarterback position.
"Everyone has to rally around Matt," offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said, "and know if I do my job better and each individual coach and player does their job better, Matt is going to perform better."
Cassel completed 13 of 29 passes for 114 yards, no touchdowns and one interception against the Packers for a season-low 41.5 quarterback rating.
Key catches, solid protection, a strong running game – all those areas can help Cassel perform at a higher level.
How can Cassel help himself Saturday?
"I think he's got to trust himself. He's a really good player," Linehan said. "Trust that, 'I'm not trying to be perfect' exactly the way I say to do it or Coach (Jason) Garrett or Coach (Wade) Wilson.
"He's got to go out here once it starts and he's on the stage and we're not out there, just go out there and cut it loose. You're here for a reason, and he is. Just trust your abilities and your instincts, and sometimes that frees a player up to."
No question Cassel's time within the scheme has factored into the offense's inconsistencies. Acquired via trade in mid-September, Cassel hadn't worked with star receiver Dez Bryant until after the late-October bye week when he became the fill-in starter for an injured Tony Romo and Bryant returned from foot surgery.
Cassel doesn't believe being new to the offense has prevented him from being aggressive.
"I feel like I have played within the offense and played within the boundaries of the offense," he said. "At the same time, if there's opportunities that are there, I've taken my shots when I'm supposed to take the shots (downfield)."
The biggest improvement area, Cassel said, is execution.
"I just need to keep getting better each and every week," he said. "I've got to continue to put the guys in position to make plays and also with ball placement, being on top of my protection and everything else that goes along with playing the quarterback position.
"Obviously the other night was a frustrating night for us offensively. We got back to work this week and hopefully we'll have a better outing this week."
The offense will be challenged. The Jets rank fifth in total defense and tied for third with 24 takeaways. The Cowboys, conversely, have eight.
Like Green Bay did last Sunday, the Jets will present multiple looks within their front seven knowing they have excellent coverage players, including All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis.
"They have good players at all three levels, and I think they use them well, and part of using them well is their ability to move guys around and try to present some complicated looks to you, particularly in the third-down situations," Garrett said.
Sustaining drives is critical not only for the offense, but the Cowboys' defense, which was on the field for 81 plays last Sunday.
So is finishing drives. The offense ranks 29th in red zone efficiency, scoring touchdowns from inside the 20-yard line 44.4 percent of the time. They're 2-of-5 in the last two games.
Cassel's a part of that, but Linehan and Garrett have emphasized that the entire unit must function better going forward.
"We have to figure out a way in a hurry to get ourselves in that end zone and perform better at every position, let alone just quarterback," Linehan said.