This week against the New York Jets provides an opportunity for the Dallas Cowboys to get right and regain a foothold in the NFC East if they can pull out the win on the road. At 3-2 and riding a two-game losing streak, the Cowboys aren’t as highly thought of as they were two week ago and need to bounceback with a win to stay atop the NFC East and win a game that they should win.
As important as a week six game can be though, getting a few things right for the rest of the season is just as important. The Cowboys won’t contend for the division or make a deep run in the playoffs unless they’re able to fix some glaring issues in all three phases.
1. Consistency on Run Defense
If there’s a glaring issue with the Dallas Cowboys right now, it’s on the defensive side of the ball and their inability to stop the run consistently. On Sunday against the Green Bay Packers, they were gashed by Aaron Jones and the offensive line. The defensive tackles had a hard time holding their gaps and the linebackers struggled to pick up the slack from the interior defensive line.
The Dallas Cowboys sitting at 3-2 need to be better this week against Le’Veon Bell and the New York Jets. They can’t afford to allow the Jets to get going on the ground and let things get easier for a returning Sam Darnold at quarterback.
Even beyond week six, opposing offenses are going to test the Cowboys run defense with the success that the Colts, Rams, and more recently the Packers have had on the ground. With the pass rushers they have, the Cowboys defensive front has to get better at getting the opposition in longer downs and distances in order to unleash DeMarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn.
2. Rectify Slow Starts
Even with huge numbers on the offensive side of the football, the Dallas Cowboys have struggled in the first quarter of games. Through five games in 2019, the Dallas Cowboys are averaging four points per game in the first quarter. In the second quarter they’re averaging just 5.6 points per game. So in the first half of games, they’re averaging just 9.6 points per game.
The third quarter is by far their best quarter of the game where they’re averaging 10.4 points per game and 6.2 points per game in the fourth quarter for a combined 16.6 points per game in the second half.
From the second quarter on, the Cowboys are averaging 22.2 points per game.
On the Cowboys opening drive Sunday, it appeared like they were going to overcome their first quarter slow starts, but hurt themselves on several drives with turnovers, penalties, and a sack that took them out of field goal range.
Like we saw on Sunday against the Packers, the offense can’t depend on the defense to carry them through their slow starts. In order to stay in first place in the divisional race and with a big NFC East matchup looming with the Philadelphia Eagles, the Cowboys have to get over their first-quarter woes.
The games are only going to get more difficult as the season goes along and the Cowboys can’t afford to average a little more than a field goal a game in the first quarter.
3. Special Teams Needs to Contribute
Brett Maher’s 57.1% field goal percentage is the third-worst in the NFL through the first five weeks of the season. That is not good. The only two kickers with a worse percentage play for the Tennessee Titans and the Miami Dolphins.
There is a growing fear that Brett Maher’s inaccuracy could end up costing them a game later in the season and it certainly didn’t help the Cowboys on Sunday against the Packers. In a 10 point loss, the Cowboys missed out six points with Maher’s misses. Though it’s understandable when kickers miss from beyond 50 (Maher’s 0 for 2), for a kicker that has as much leg as Maher has, you’d think he’d be better. In 2018, he was when he was 5 of 6 from beyond the 50-yard mark. One of his misses on Sunday was from within 40 yards and those are kicks you just have to make.
In the punting game, Chris Jones isn’t the same punter we’ve grown accustomed to over the last several years. It doesn’t seem like he’s getting as much on the football and hasn’t been able to flip the field. His 42.5 yards per punt is the worst of his career and it feels like at least once a game he has a punt that makes you scratch your head.
While the kicking game has gotten all the headlines, the return game isn’t doing much to help the Dallas Cowboys either. At 6.1 yards per punt return, the Cowboys punt return unit ranks 21st in the NFL. On kick returns, the Cowboys are 31st in the NFL at 16.8 yards per return. Tavon Austin on punt returns and Tony Pollard on kick returns need to find a way to make a play happen for this team. It’s not reasonable to expect your offense to drive 80 or more yards for a score every time they take the field and the return units need to carry their weight.
Jason Garrett always talks about winning in all three phases of the game and the Cowboys special teams unit hasn’t been very special. The Cowboys offense and defense have had their moments in games and have carried the team at different points of the season thus far, but the special teams unit hasn’t really done much to help this team win. Time for that to change.
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The Dallas Cowboys have 11 games left on their schedule and have to take care of business this week against the New York Jets. They can’t afford a slip up on the road against a team that they absolutely should beat. The Cowboys are a good team, but they have to figure these things out if they want to stay in contention as we inch closer to November and December.