What We Learned: Injuries caught up to Cowboys, troubling Thanksgiving trend

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The Dallas Cowboys lost for the third time in four games and everything has gone wrong for them at the wrong time. Quarterback Dak Prescott hasn’t been the same since missing time with a calf injury. The offensive line gets a new starting five weekly it seems, and the defensive line is out so many players their best edge rusher is actually LB Micah Parsons. The Cowboys are now in a race with the Philadelphia Eagles for the NFC East, and it’s time for them to turn it around.

Unfortunately this has been a trend for Dallas under Prescott. Dallas has never made the playoffs when they had a losing record during the three-games-in-11-days stretch culminating in the Thanksgiving holiday.

In 2016, and 2018 Dallas swept all 3 games in that time period and won the division twice. In 2017 they lost to the Philadelphia Eagles and the then San Diego Chargers by a combined score of 65-15. In 2019 the Cowboys were swept by the New England Patriots, the Buffalo Bills, and the Chicago Bears. In 2020, an Andy Dalton lead Dallas team beat the Minnesota Vikings before losing to the Washington Football team by 25, and the Baltimore Ravens by 17. They were home watching the playoffs all three of those seasons.

If the Cowboys can’t fix this trend, they will be watching the playoffs from home yet again, and it will have been 26 years since the Cowboys had made an NFC Championship Game, let alone the Super Bowl.

A team can learn a lot from their first losing streak of the year, and here are some examples of what we learned about this team.

Injuries finally caught up to the Dallas Cowboys team

Winning in the NFL isn’t easy, and it gets more difficult every time a team loses a player to injury, or suspension. Hugely impactful stars such as Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, Randy Gregory and Demarcus Lawrence missing games is clearly a problem everybody can see, but an accumulation of role players going down can be just as devastating. The Cowboys have had to deal with both.

The defensive line is struggling to get pressure besides Micah Parsons with the injuries to Demarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory. Parsons and two other players had one quarterback sack each, he had as many tackles for a loss as the rest of the defense combined, and he had five QB hits, which was more than double the rest of the team combined.

The linebacker core has also struggled since Parsons has had to move to the edge position. Team speed, playmaking, and physicality is woefully absent without Parsons at that position. The interior of the defensive line is down Brent Urban and Neville Gallimore and they impact the linebackers as well. The opposition’s offensive line has an easier time getting up field without the starting defensive tackles to eat up blocks.

Cooper went out with COVID, missing two games at the same time Lamb missed one with a concussion and tight end Blake Jarwin went on IR with a hip injury. The missing pass catchers have taken a toll on the offensive performance.

All these contributors, whether stars, starters, or rotational pieces being out makes the Cowboys have to try and be perfect to win, and that is not easily accomplished. Dallas is getting multiple stars back from being out as early as next Thursday against the Saints. The team is hoping they can cause a resurgence for a struggling team right now.

The special teams unit is the best on the team currently

During this stretch of games that the Cowboys have lost three out of four the offense has been much worse than expected, even with all the players they have had missing. The defense has possibly been better than expected considering their injury situation, but they haven’t been consistently great either. The special team unit has done its job and made big plays over that same time period.

In the debacle against the Denver Broncos the Cowboys special team unit almost turned the game around with a block punt by Malik Turner. The block was negated because it went passed the line of scrimmage and was touched by Nashon Wright which made it a muff, that was then recovered by the Broncos. Tony Pollard also had a 54-yard kick return and Bryan Anger dropped a punt inside the 20-yard line.

The next week Dorance Armstrong did block an Atlanta Falcons punt and this time Wright recovered it for a touchdown. New kicker, Lirim Hajrullahu, went five for five on his kicks as well. Last week against the Kansas City Chiefs Anger dropped 3 punts inside the 20 and Greg Zuerlein returned to hit all three of his field goal attempts.

In the Thanksgiving game against the Las Vegas Raiders, Zuerlein did miss a 59-yard FG and an extra point, but came in clutch with the game-tying field goal with 19 seconds left. Anger was even better. He had two punts inside the 20, but even more impressive averaged 55 yards per punt. Anger had a punt from the 5-yard line that ended up on the Vegas 40 and another punt from the 13 that ended up on the Raiders 32 after a penalty moved them back ten extra yards. Add a Pollard 100-yard kick return touchdown and this might have been the best game for the special team unit yet.

Conclusion

The doom and gloom is out in full for Cowboys Nation currently, but it may be too soon to throw in the towel. The last two Super Bowl winners have had similar seasons. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were 7-5, the Chiefs were 7-4, and both teams lost three times in four games in the middle of their season.

The Cowboys have Lawrence and Gregory returning to rush the passer, allowing Parsons to return to help the linebacker core. Brent Urban, and Neville Gallimore will be back to help clog up the middle and open up room for the linebackers to run and hit. Donovan Wilson will bring his physicality to the box and the back end as well. On offense the top two receiving threats, Cooper and Lamb will open up the offense, and Jarwin won’t be far behind to bring more firepower.

This season is far from over, and teams will have a chance to get healthy and on a hot streak before the playoffs begin. Dallas still has a two-game lead, and the tiebreaker over the Eagles in the division currently and that’s how you get a chance at a Super Bowl championship, make the playoffs.

You can find Mike Crum on Twitter @cdpiglet or at Youtube on the Across the Cowboys Podcast.

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