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Play calling remains problematic for Cowboys as playoffs loom

Following a 28-14 loss at AT&T Stadium to the Tennessee Titans that saw Dallas drop to 3-5 on the season, there was plenty of talk amongst the fans about blowing up the roster. The coaching staff, as well as much of the offense, needed to go in their assessment. And since the Amari Cooper trade meant Dallas no longer had its 2019 first round draft pick, tanking would no longer be an option. The Cowboys, however, did not give up. With their backs to the wall, Dak Prescott and Company rattled off 5 straight wins through the toughest stretch of their schedule, but it wouldn’t always be pretty.

Despite scoring at least 22 points in all but one of those games, the offense largely struggled to find consistency, often striking early only to go dormant for long stretches. Even when things did tend to “click,” it was thanks mostly to big plays between Dak and the aforementioned Cooper. On Thanksgiving Day against the Redskins, Amari Cooper took over with touchdowns of 40 and 90 yards respectively. A couple of weeks later against the Eagles, he became the first player in NFL history to score 3 go-ahead touchdowns in the fourth quarter or overtime. Aside from that, it hasn’t been pretty this year.

Dallas is 23rd in total offense this season, thanks in no small part to Amari Cooper and his impact throughout the second half of the season. However, even with Cooper in the lineup, the Cowboys remain 31st in redzone scoring.

With a big, mobile QB in Dak Prescott and a top 3 running back in Ezekiel Elliott, such a mark should be unfathomable, yet it’s a reality that is all too real. Rather than running Elliott more frequently or utilizing RPOs, a strength of Prescott’s, Dallas tends to get cute like the attempted reverse to Cooper Sunday against the Bucs. Oftentimes, Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan seemingly forgets Elliott is even available, electing to throw the ball three straight times.

Obviously, Dallas’ offensive woes aren’t all tied to Linehan -Prescott and the offensive line have both struggled mightily at times this season- but when you have capable tools for putting points on the board and routinely misuse them, inevitably much of the blame will point to you. Prescott isn’t a pocket passer but Linehan seems either unwilling or incapable of changing his playcalling style to compliment his third-year quarterback. The result is an offense with a lot and little production despite featuring the league’s leading rusher in Elliott.

There’s little question that the Cowboys defense is talented enough to get Dallas to its NFC Championship game in 22 years, let alone the Super Bowl, but it’s the offense that may end up hamstringing a potential playoff run. Through 15 games, Dallas is averaging just 20.2 points/game, a mark good enough for 24th in the league overall.

To their credit, whenever Dallas manages to reach at least 20 points, they’re 8-0 on the season. The problem lies with the games in which they fall short of that mark. When failing to score at least 20 points, Dallas is just 1-6, with the lone victory coming in the form of a 13-10 clash with the New Orleans Saints. In that game, Dallas failed to score after the half, and it was the defense who had to hold down an electric Saints offense.

We’ve already detailed how mediocre the Dallas offense is aside from explosive plays, which isn’t something their identity is based on, so when the offense does manage to get into the redzone, it’s crucial that it scores touchdowns as opposed to being forced to settle for field goals.  If it can’t do that with at least some regularity, the defense will be forced to play nearly flawless football in order for the team to advance. It’s hardly a fair request but one with potentially no alternative.

The Dallas Cowboys & Mavericks Staff Writer for Dallas Sports Fanatic, as well as the founder of The Dallas Prospect, "DDP" covers a wide range of sports and pop culture topics. His work can be found here as well as and The Dallas Prospect YouTube channel.

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