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Spagnola: Only the beginning of a 4 game mission


FRISCO, Texas – Here is the Cowboys mission if they choose to accept it:

Win the next four games, starting Sunday at 3:25 p.m., AT&T Stadium, with the New York Football Giants.

Plain and simple.

And this is not something the Cowboys should be thinking about. You know that ol' saying in the NFL about taking 'em one game at time.

And if they have an urge to, as Dak Prescott likes to say, "get out of their lane," then Mike McCarthy might have told them the same about heading into this game against the 2-7 Giants, having to play their third quarterback out of necessity, undrafted rookie Tommy DeVito making his first NFL start.

"You got to farm your own land," said Mike, and I'm sure he must have picked that up being in Green Bay all those years because can't imagine anyone from Pittsburgh taught him that.

Or if that were reminder not enough, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones pointed out Friday morning on his 105.3 The Fan radio segment, "Any game you walk into you can lose in a New York minute."

That's for them, week-to-week snapshots. For us, we're allowed to look at the big picture. We're allowed to say, maybe even demand, the Cowboys arrive at AT&T Stadium on Sunday night, Dec. 10, with a 9-3 record for their rematch against the Philadelphia Eagles, now 8-1 heading into Sunday's bye.


Me thinks not.

Look, we've been pointing out that, starting with this Giants game, four of the next five Cowboys games are at AT&T, where they are riding an 11-game home winning streak. But of the next four games, three are at home – Giants, Commanders and Seahawks – the lone exception next Sunday at Carolina (1-8), a team having just lost to the now 3-7 Bears, tied with Arizona (1-8, the one win over the Cowboys) for the worst record in the NFL heading into Week10. The Panthers are in jeopardy of potentially losing next year's first pick in the draft they owe the Bears when trading away a bundle for the right to take quarterback Bryce Young with the No. 1 pick in 2023.

Shame on the Cowboys if they lose that game, or if they do, then they certainly aren't who we thought they were leaving training camp.

Then it's Washington on Thanksgiving, 4-5 and losers of two of the past three, facing Seattle Sunday. After that, then a Thursday night game at AT&T against those Seahawks (5-3). All that to get to the Eagles at 9-3.

Got to protect "our house."

Which starts Sunday afternoon, and if McCarthy has said it once, he must have said it about five times this week, "At the end of the day we need to go get this sixth win."

Righto. Imperative, giving new meaning to a "must" win. Maybe even "must wins, thanks to that loss to the Cardinals and basically the no-show against the Niners.

So, let's start here. The Giants. And let's remind while the Cowboys clobbered the Giants in the season opener, 40-0, here is how the game started. The Giants took the opening kickoff at MetLife right down the field into a second-and-2 at the 8-yard line before the sky began falling. First a false start. Then a bad snap quarterback Daniel Jones recovers for a loss of 14 more. Then while attempting a 45-yard field goal from the 27, Cowboys first-year safety Juanyeh Thomas, making his NFL debut, blocks Graham Gano's kick, the ball picked up on the run by the recently signed cornerback Noah Igbinoghene and returned 58 yards for a touchdown.

Then after a three-and-out, the Cowboys drive all the way to the Giants' 6-yard line but have to settle for a field goal from the 2, now 9-0 (rookie Brandon Aubrey missing the only extra point of his career). Next the game-wrecker, Trevon Diggs deflects Daniel Jones' pass intended for Saquan Barkley and DaRon Bland intercepts the first of his now four interceptions so far, returning 22 yards for his first of three picks for touchdowns already. Now 16-naught, the Cowboys having gained just 72 yards.

And before you knew it, with 8:03 left in the half, the Cowboys were up 26-0. Ballgame.

Never that easy.

And don't take Nate Newton too seriously when guesting on Friday's Mick Shots, predicting a 100-0 Cowboys win. But you get the point, right?

But these Cowboys are far from a finished product. They still need to figure out how to run the ball consistently. They still need to clean up pass-pro, Dak having been sacked 22 times, on pace to go down 46.75 times in 17 games. That would become the second most in his previous seven seasons, the 56 in 2018 his career high.

Plus, he has sustained far too many pressures, and while he has run the ball 29 times, the vast majority of those are from being forced out of the pocket.

Then there is the matter of running the ball, the team averaging just 3.9 yards a carry, just a smidge better than the 3.8 causing Ezekiel Elliott to be severely criticized for last year.

Then the defense, no finished product either. The Cowboys have 13 takeaways in eight games, far off the pace from last year when they totaled 33 and 34 in 2021 to become the first team since the Steelers from 1972-74 to lead the NFL in consecutive seasons. Plus, the Cowboys have just three in the past four games – losing two of those – their projected 27.6 pace over 17 games lagging behind.

And here is one more item needing attention. For the season, opposing offenses have converted 37 percent of their third downs, sorta average. But in the three losses, Arizona, San Francisco and Philadelphia all converted at least 50 percent of their third-down opportunities, a combined 51.4 percent. No can do.

These two stats are what irked defensive coordinator Dan Quinn the most in the 28-23 loss to the Eagles: no turnovers and poor third-down defense.

So this mission starts Sunday with the sagging Giants. Carries on against the Panthers, Commanders and Seahawks before meeting up with the Eagles again to complete this run of four home games over the next five. But these next four are a must to lend further meaning to that Eagles rematch.

Because after that to close the season for the Cowboys it's three of the final four on the road, and a rocky road at that, having to play at Buffalo (5-4), at Miami (6-3) and at Washington, with the lone home game no patsy against the currently 6-2 revitalized Lions.

"I mean for us, as I've talked about it, it's about us continuing to grow and for us to get better," Dak said. "And the only way that does (happen) is if we go out there and take care of business in the manner that we expect to."

In the manner they "expect to," we "expect 'em to" and, by the way, in the scheme of things "need to" during this upcoming four-game mission.

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