The Dallas Cowboys Biggest Obstacle is…


In a young season marred by injuries, the Dallas Cowboys must overcome their biggest obstacle to stay alive.

It’s become fundamentally obligatory to mention in every article that Tony Romo and Dez Bryant are both significantly injured and expected to miss between 6-10 games. Overcoming their absences will be a difficult task, considering the falloff in talent behind these franchise cornerstones.

But we need to move past that.

The Dallas Cowboys have been scrambling to fill the cupboard, adding receiver Brice Butler last week, and quarterback Matt Cassel just yesterday. Minor roster moves were expected, considering the lack of depth at the two positions.

Neither the “next men up” (Brandon Weeden and Terrance Williams), nor the newly acquired depth (Butler and Cassel), are going to seamlessly assimilate into this current offense. Things will have to change for the Cowboys to succeed.

The biggest obstacle to be overcome isn’t simply replacing Dez and Tony, but rather eliminating those unmanageable third down situations. Penalties, play-calling, and miscues have all lead to unmanageable third down situations for the Dallas Cowboys this season.

The Cowboys are currently ranked 16th in the NFL with a 43.48% third down conversion percentage.  Last season, they converted 47.09% of their third downs, ranking them #2 in the NFL. Third downs were the Dallas Cowboys’ specialty, and a primary reason they logged a 12-4 record in 2014.

To think the Cowboys have struggled with Tony Romo at the helm, imagine how bad it will be with Brandon “I only throw to the right” Weeden running the show. How can a backup overcome an obstacle that the more-talented starter was even having problems with?

Eliminate the penalties, poor play-calling, and miscues would be a good place to start.

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The penalties hit absurd levels by halftime last Sunday. The Cowboys would go on to tally 18 penalties for the day, ranking 30th in the NFL in penalties this season. Offensively speaking, there are good penalties and bad penalties. Good penalties are QB-saving holds; bad penalties are pre-snap mental penalties like false starts and illegal formations. The Cowboys had far too many “Bad” penalties on Sunday.

All too often, penalties led to 3rd and 10+ situations for the Dallas Cowboys. Even with a top-5 QB, the odds are stacked against you from converting 3rd and long in the NFL. Noise cannot be an excuse in pre-snap penalties. Everyone has to deal with it and the Cowboys have a silent count to overcome it.

Play-calling isn’t where it used to be last year either. Last season, the Dallas Cowboys led the NFL in 1st down runs. This season, they are only 19th. Instead of playing to their strength, the Dallas Cowboys have been opting for less successful downfield pass attempts on 1st downs.

Like the penalties, unsuccessful passing on first down has a trickle-down effect that impacts every play thereafter. Unsuccessful passing on first down often leads to one run and one pass the following two downs. If a first down is not achieved, then the pass to run ratio for that possession is 2:1 – the opposite of what this team is built for.

The Cowboys ran the ball over 70% of the time on first down last season. Opponents knew it was coming and still couldn’t stop it. With Weeden under center, the Cowboys would be wise to go back to this formula for success.

DeMarco Murray didn’t do it all on his own either (see also, Philly, where he is doing it “all on his own” to the tune of 11 yards). Last season, Demarco enjoyed one of the best yards before contact stats in the NFL. Teams knew DeMarco was coming, yet holes were still opening, and the running game still found success.

With continued play and strong coaching, the in-play miscues will end, but the pre-snap penalties must stop yesterday. Together with better play-calling, this team may be able to tread water until the starters return.

For as boring as it sounds, 3rd and 3 is a manageable down and distance that should be the goal of most play-calling on 1st and 2nd downs.

The unmanageable 3rd downs are the biggest obstacles facing this Dallas Cowboys team right now, but they are obstacles that can be overcome.

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