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It’s a great feeling to have a bye week when riding a five-game winning streak like the Dallas Cowboys currently own. During this stretch of early-season games, the Cowboys earned a three-game lead in the NFC East. The easiest path to the playoffs is always winning the division and the Cowboys have put themselves in great position after six games.
However, there are still 11 games left to play and the goals for Dallas seem loftier than simply winning the division. The Cowboys are good, but if they want to accomplish more and make a deep postseason run there’s plenty to correct.
Here’s where the Cowboys need to be better if they want to make a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
Put an end to the sloppy play
The Cowboys employ one of the best offenses in the league and have an aggressive defense that is good at taking the ball away. The Cowboys rank third in point differential with a +57 on the season, indicating they are winning most phases of the game.
As good as it all appears, the Cowboys still aren’t playing to their potential. Turnovers and penalties are making games more difficult than they need to be.
The Cowboys have seven giveaways, including three in the red zone, and that’s a number that needs to be reduced. The offense has at least one turnover in all but one game, and that was saved by a quick whistle blowing a play dead against Carolina.
Penalties are also a major issue for the Cowboys, as the team ranks next to last with 47 infractions against them.
The Cowboys are the 2nd most penalized team, however, have the most beneficiary penalties for them. 5th in yards against and 3rd in beneficiary yards.
The Eagles are the most penalized, TB has most yards against, and Philly has most beneficiary yards.
— Dan Ruppert (@Dan_Ruppert) October 19, 2021
In Week 6 against the New England Patriots, it came close to costing the Cowboys a win. The penalties haven’t hurt Dallas just yet, but it’s just a matter of time until they cripple the team in a close game.
It’s tough to win games in the NFL consistently with these failings, which speaks to how good the other aspects of the Cowboys’ offense have been, but both need to be cleaned up for the Cowboys as the season moves along.
Get better against the run
The game against New England was the first time this season the Dallas defense surrendered 100 yards to a running back. Leading up to Week 6, the Cowboys had the second-fewest rushing attempts against them. Dallas was finally challenged in the running game, and they weren’t up to the task.
The numbers will say the Cowboys are still a top-five rushing defense, but they are giving 4.3 yards a carry, which is in the bottom half of the league, and have allowed all five of their rushing scores in the last three games. After the bye, the Cowboys will have eight games against top-20 teams in rush attempts.
If teams are looking for a blueprint to beat the Cowboys, this will keep Dak Prescott and the offense off the field. The Cowboys do get some defensive line help back after their bye and one of the keys to staying among one of the best teams in the league will be their ability to stop the run.
Improved red zone efficiency
The Cowboys’ offense is averaging over 30 points a game and that doesn’t include their three defensive scores. They look like an elite offensive group. Yet, they have red-zone issues that have kept the Cowboys from taking their offense into the next stratosphere.
Dallas ranks 25th in the league in red-zone efficiency, at just 56%. Three turnovers in the money zone in the last two games haven’t helped, but the Cowboys have struggled when they’ve gotten inside the opponent’s 20-yard line all season long.
Cowboys on the first 80 yards of their trek toward the end zone average 0.15 expected points per play, the third-best mark in football.
Across the final 20 yards they rank 21st in EPA per play.
Cowboys red zone offense is bad 😬 https://t.co/6j7kd9Fx7Y
— Kevin Gray Jr. (@KevinGraySports) October 20, 2021
Red-zone woes were a significant factor when the team lost their only game, Week 1 to the Buccaneers, and it needs to be addressed before it costs them again. Against the best teams in the league, they’ll need to convert on those opportunities.
The offense has no issues moving up and down the field, but it’s bogged down when the ground the defense needs to protect shrinks.
The Dallas Cowboys have shown they are for real this season, if they clean up some of these issues moving forward, they’ll be a tough out.
You can chat with or follow Ben on twitter @BenGrimaldi