Dallas Cowboys have come to the point when the next few games can determine the fate of this team in the season. So far, they have played five matches and lost three of them, which is devastating result compared to the success they had in the previous campaign. Not that the team was awful – they had good games, and even the ones they lost (except Denver) boiled down to the last possession. Right now, they are near the .500 mark just like it is the case with the other NFL squads with a couple of exceptions. This NFL season is full of surprises, and everyone can win or lose. To prove this statement is right, 21/32 teams in the league are around .500 with one game above or below.
Last season, the Cowboys started out with the loss and then recorded 11 consecutive wins, but it appears that much has changed this year. People were discussing whether Dallas could win the title before the season started, but now that it has begun and the team has struggled, reaching playoffs would be appreciated at first. Week 6 is a bye week for the America’s Team, and it couldn’t have come at a better moment. Now, the squad needs to assess the situation and make some changes. Here are the most critical factors which will influence the team once they are back on the field.
Ezekiel Elliott’s Suspension
One thing that is obviously big even though it doesn’t affect Elliott’s performance on the field is his six-game suspension over allegations of domestic violence. It is only the matter of time when the suspension will be enforced, while Zeke and NFLPA filed a temporary restraining order so that he could play for the Cowboys.
So far, Elliott has played every game for Dallas, but the NFL filed for a stay of the restraining order which is supposed to place Zeke on the sideline. We are waiting for the US Fifth Circuit Court to give a ruling sometime this week and this is supposed to finalize the process that has been going on for more than a year.
Even though Elliott has been good, he was not the All-Pro running back we got used to seeing last year. So far, he has averaged 3.7 yards per carry, and about 79 yards per game, which is 30 yards fewer compared to 2016. Rushing and passing yards combined, Elliott recorded 527 yards this season with three TDs. If Elliott’s suspension starts, it will be difficult to navigate the ship without him.
Sean Lee’s Injury
If someone in Dallas can lead the Cowboys defense, it is Sean Lee, who is an All-Pro player and one of the best linebackers in the league. Of course, we all know that Dallas let so many players walk free in the off-season and Lee is here with a bunch of rookies, which do have potential, but it takes time for them to develop. Lee cannot defend the end zone by himself, but he can help a lot. Even though he has missed last two games, he is second in tackles, averaging eight per game. Perhaps, we would have watched a different game against the Packers if Lee had been on the field.
So far, the Cowboys allowed 118 rushing yards per game, which puts Dallas at 20th place. Last season, however, this team was the best in this category, allowing only 83.5 yards. With the bye week, Lee is going to have enough time to recover from his hamstring injury, and he should be ready for the game against San Francisco on October 22. With this guy on the field, the defense is more confident and have someone to lead them. Hopefully, he will be able to stay healthy for the rest of the season.
Tyron Smith came out of the game against the Green Bay Packers, and we should look at it as a good thing. Prior to the match, Tyron Smith didn’t practice once due to his injury, yet the Cowboys have decided to keep all eight of their offensive linemen active for the game just in case. Smith played against the Packers and luckily for him a bye week is coming, and he will have time to rest and get ready for the next round.
Moreover, tackle Chaz Green is also troubled by a slight injury and this bye week should be right-time-coming for him as well. Before the game against the Los Angeles Rams, Green struggled with soreness in his hip, and he missed the last practice, not starting the Rams game. Once again, Jonathan Cooper started at guard, and according to the Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett, it appears that the starting guard position is open and everyone can claim it. There are 11 weeks to go before the season ends, so we will keep watching what happens here.
Last year, Dallas’ offensive line had been the best in the league and so far this season, they still haven’t reached the level we expect them to be on. Hopefully, they will figure out the way to improve this aspect of the game.
Dallas’ defense has been a mixed bag this season with 16 total sacks and just four takeaways. DeMarcus Lawrence leads the league in sacks, and the pass rush functions well, whereas David Irving displayed his dominance in his first game after the suspension with two sacks. Also, Benson Mayowa, Tyrone Crawford, and Maliek Collins proved their value.
Even though this segment of the defense works, the plays that make an impact somehow lack. For instance, Lawrence’s strip-sack of Siemian in Week 2 against Denver, or Crawford’s mistake for not recovering Jared Goff’s fumble, etc. In the meantime, Dallas’ defense recorded interceptions in the first two games, but they have failed to do so in the last three. If there is something that needs to be fixed, it is defense, and the crew has to do this as soon as possible. There are flashes and moments which show that they might be a good defensive team, but there is no consistency.
Ask any player or coach to talk about the games in the near future, and they will always give you the same answer: “We have to worry about the today’s game. We are going one step at a time.” Or something between those lines. However, the next duel for Dallas is against the San Francisco 49ers, and they at 0-5. Up to this point, they have been one of the worst teams this year without even having a close game. This could be an excellent way for Dallas to bounce back and start a winning streak.
But let’s look beyond the 49ers, and it doesn’t look pretty at all. In the next six weeks, Dallas is going to face difficult opponents. On November 5, they will play against the only unbeaten team – Kansas City Chiefs. Following that game is the outing against Matt Ryan and his Falcons, whereas they will also face the Philadelphia Eagles, that have been on a three-game winning streak. The Redskins (2-2) can also be a tough opponent on October 29, led by Kirk Cousins one of the best passing QBs in the league.
It is too early to panic, but Dallas’ 2-3 score is unexpected. Luckily for them, they can fix a lot of things in the bye week and get back on the track.