The key to winning down the stretch and winning the division has it’s usual suspects, but there is one element that I’m going to be watching more than anything else. It’s stopping the run on the road. So far this year they’ve done a great job of stopping the run on the road, and overall, when they do that they win.
Last year the CowboysÂ gave up a whopping 143 rushing yardsÂ per game on the road and didn’t fare well in those games. This year on the road, they have given up a measly 88 yardsÂ per game and won all four games. I believe this to be the number one key to winning the division. Who would have thought?
Had you told me the Dallas Cowboys wouldÂ have a prayer at stopping the run at home or on the road I would have called the funny mobile to bring you a straight jacket and take your loony ass away. I say this not because of Ware or Hatcher, but because of the LB situation once Lee went down. They didn’t have a LB proven or otherwise that appeared to be able to step into the middle linebacker spot and play to a standard that could accomplish that, but the front office, coaches and players all surprised us. First; the front office went out and signed a twice retired former 1st round pick in Rolando McClain that revived his career by being a run stopping machine. Second; they drafted in the forth round, a little known linebacker out of Iowa who turned out to be pretty darn good. Thirdly; the coaching staff, mainly Matt Eberflus, has done a fantastic job at really coaching this unit up to play exceptionally well. The players are believing what the coaching staff is teaching them, and playing very well. Nobody really expected, (hoped but not expected), McClain to be so good. Durant was proving to be one of the best on the team at the linebacker position. It’s a shame that he went down. They drafted HItchens to take the place of Lee in case he went down to ANOTHER injury. I don’t believe for one second they envisioned him to be as good as he as been.
There are other factors I’m looking at if they are to meet my expections of 12-4. First off they have to go 5-1 down the stretch with four of them on the road. To do this they have to, as mentioned, stop the run on the road. They also have to continue to run the ball. It doesn’t have to be just DeMarco MurrayÂ because Joseph Randle is averaging a whopping 6.9 yards per carry. in all three losses they threw the ball more than they ran it. This can’t happen down the stretch. IT JUST CAN’T!!! They also need to open the play book. For the first time that I can remember, in the Jason Garrett era, they ran the running back screen three, that’s right three times against the Jags: on two of them they gained a first down, and on all three they gained positive yards. I’ve been screaming for this play for a while now. The Cowboys have one of the most athleticÂ young offensive lines in the NFL, and all three running backs are solid at catching the ball. The most dangerous RB the Cowboys have for this play is the shifty, quick, and fast Lance Dunbar, who is far too under utilized.
They must add some variety to the offensive formations and play calling. For the first time in 2014 they ran a double reverse against the Jags, and although it lost a couple of yards, a minor tweak in design can change the effectiveness of that play. They also ran a shallow crossing play to Dez Bryant out of the slot position andÂ as we all know, he scored a TD. I really hate and despise some of the vanilla formations and lack of imagination that comes out of the offense. They line up, no motion, no stacking or bunching, and just let the defense dictate who will be open instead of getting some motion, or using other methods to guarantee someone will be open. As a defensive coordinator you just love the fact that you can line up your defense and you don’t have to make any adjustments. You know that the Cowboys aren’t going to do anything that will confuse you. As a former offensive coordinator I get so frustrated watching such vanilla formations.
The last thing they must do if they are going to have success down the stretch and win the division, (although listed last) I believe most important is to keep Tony Romo upright. He is the franchise. If he goes down the Cowboys would be lucky to win a game. I’ve always, and still do believe that if Tony Romo had a team around him he could win it all. This is a completely different team without him. If Romo is out a defense can line up to stop the run, and make Brandon Weeden beat them, which he can’t do. Speaking of which, there have been some bad free agent signings by the Dallas Cowboys in the past, but more so because of how much they gave up to get them or how much they paid them.Â In the case of Brandon Weeden, it’s due to talent and not because of how much he earns or what was given up to get him. It’sÂ because he is bad…REALLY BAD.
I’ve seen a lot of bad QB play, had teams that I’ve coached where I didn’t have a good QB, and nothing, absolutely nothing, will take a team down fasterÂ than a lousy QB. BrandonÂ Weeden is just that. The front office has been, in my opinion, getting better at personnel decisions, but without a doubt, signing Weeden was one of the worst in franchise history in my book. Keep Romo upright, continue to run RB screen plays andÂ continue to developÂ some creativityÂ on offense. Besides keeping Romo upright, stopping the run on the road is is also crucial for winning down the stretch. Â If they do what I’ve listed, I believe the Dallas Cowboys will win the division going away, and will make a lot of noise in the playoffs.