The Cowboys need a win in the worst way on Sunday.
It’s time for the Dallas Cowboys to get in the win column. Their second game of the season is not quite as challenging on paper as the first, but the Los Angeles Chargers are still far from easy to beat. After digesting just how close they came against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and what caused them to fall short, here are the things we need to see from them if they want to be 1-1 rather than 0-2 after this Sunday.
Find a way to get a pass rush
Originally this was down the list a bit. But the stunning news that DeMarcus Lawrence was going to be out for six-to-eight weeks with a broken bone in his foot vaulted it right to the top. The run defense seems much improved last week, Dallas was tied for fourth fewest yards allowed on the ground. But they were one of only two teams that did not get a single sack in their first game. That has to improve. Even before the Lawrence news, it wasn’t getting any easier with Randy Gregory going on the COVID list and not expected to be back for the game.
That could lead to Tarell Basham having to play a big part in the pass rush. Dorance Armstrong as the primary fill in for Gregory has to step up as well. It doesn’t look great. There are other ways to get this done, as rookies Micah Parson and Osa Odighizuwa both graded out very well rushing the passer.
Top 5 pass rush win percentages per @PFF from rookies with at least 10 pass rush snaps:
1. Christian Barmore (19/21.1%)
2. Joe Tryon-Shoyinka (12/16.7%)
3. Azeez Ojulari (19/15.8%)
4. Micah Parsons (13/15.4%)
5. Osa Odighizuwa (26/11.5%)
— Trevor Sikkema (@TampaBayTre) September 14, 2021
Inside pressure is something the Cowboys have lacked, and it is great to see Odighizuwa already helping improve that. Dan Quinn seems to be more in favor of blitzing than he has in the past. Parsons has all the tools and talent to be very effective. He may even be used as an end some to find a way to get to the quarterback. Dallas needs to pressure Justin Herbert and really need to get at least a couple of sacks. The goose egg in that stat is something they really need to work on.
Make it work at right tackle
It was the big story this week before the Lawrence injury. It still is huge. Mike McCarthy says they are still looking at their options in practice, while Jerry Jones stated that Terence Steele would fill in for La’el Collins during the latter’s suspension. Jones probably just revealed the most likely outcome in his loose-lipped way. But even if they wind up going with Ty Nsekhe instead, they need to figure out how to function well. The RT this week will have to deal with Joey Bosa. That can be a tall order for anyone.
Do not take the comments by McCarthy about things still being decided to mean that the option of moving Zack Martin from RG to RT is still on the table, however.
#Cowboys HC Mike McCarthy says Zack Martin playing RG helps both the center and the right tackle.
— Jane Slater (@SlaterNFL) September 15, 2021
That’s a key element most don’t consider. Both Steele and Nsekhe would need some help. Martin provides it to their left. The Cowboys can and should provide them more on their right. The traditional way to do so is put the tight end on that side. Dallas also has another option available this week in Noah Brown. He is an exceptional blocker for a wide receiver, and could be very effective chipping the outside pass rusher from the slot before going out to run a route.
If the Cowboys can provide Dak Prescott a little time, the offense can cook. And Prescott doesn’t need much time. He had the second fastest time to release the ball in the league in week one at only 2.39 seconds. If he continues that, he does not need the blocking to hold up for long. That helps the RT as well.
Kellen Moore has to continue his wily ways
Any time an NFL team gets over 450 yards in a game, it is working well. And as Moore himself observed, yards are yards. It doesn’t matter how many are on the ground versus through the air.
Against the almost impenetrable run defense of the Buccaneers, Moore wisely leaned very heavily on his quarterback’s arm. It led to the highly productive results despite the team only gaining 60 yards on the ground. But the Chargers were far more generous in their first game, yielding 126 yards. Most of those were to Antonio Gibson of the Washington Football Team. The Cowboys of course have Ezekiel Elliott, with a side of Tony Pollard. And with Martin back in the lineup, they should be able to open much better holes to run through.
We discussed this overall idea and much more on the latest episode of Ryled Up on the Blogging The Boys podcast network. Subscribe to our network so you don’t miss any of our shows! Apple devices can subscribe right here and Spotify users can subscribe right here.
That should be an opportunity to get Elliott and Pollard on track to contribute more on the ground. In turn, that should take some pressure off Prescott. We may not see the Cowboys pass for over 400 yards, but they still should be able to put up some big overall numbers. Moore’s attitude to take what the defense gives is refreshing. He and Prescott just need to make sure it happens. With the big problems on defense, they may need to put up 35 or 40 points just to have a real shot at winning. Which segues nicely to the next point.
Overcome the red zone woes
One area where Moore and Prescott did not deliver was in the red zone. Dallas only went one for four, which is just not good enough. Part of that may be the opponent they faced, but in any case they need to be much more effective when they get in close. This is another way that Elliott could be much more a weapon for them rather than mostly contributing with his superb pass protection skills. They also need someone to step up as a receiving threat in the zone. The tight ends and Brown could be possible answers. Amari Cooper’s route running skills also could be a way to overcome this deficiency. However they do it, they need to find a way to get six rather than settle for the uncertain chance of a Greg Zuerlein field goal.
The secondary must tighten up
Yes, it was against Tom Brady and his excellent receivers. Still, giving up 391 passing yards is worrisome. Herbert and his receiving corps are not at the level of Tampa Bay’s weapons, but they are not a bottom of the barrel passing offense by any means. Washington has a very stout defense as well, yet the Chargers lit them up for 334 yards through the air. Improving the pass rush is part of the equation, but the Cowboys cannot allow another game with two 100 yard receivers. Trevon Diggs had an excellent game, but the rest of the defensive backs, particularly Anthony Brown, did not. The coverage simply needs to improve, especially against Herbert, who is far more likely to throw 50/50 balls than Brady. One thing that was really puzzling the first game was the almost total absence of Maurice Canady. If Brown starts off struggling again, we really need to see if his camp was a mirage or not.
Get your special teams fixed, John Fassel
The special teams performance was just not good. Sticking with a kicker in Zuerlein who admitted he did not feel 100% was a highly questionable decision that just did not work. Additionally, the coverage, especially on kickoffs, was very poor. Fassel showed last year he could get much better out of his units. He needs to get things back in shape right now. There were certainly other things that led to the team coming up short in week 1, but a better showing by the special teams could have pulled the win out.
Those are the things that clearly need to show up if Dallas is to avoid starting the season in a hole. We can’t rely on the rest of the NFC East to be as bad as it was last year. The Cowboys must prove they are the cream of that crop.