As we are about to hit the home stretch of the 2016 NFL season, the Dallas Cowboys are the first team to clinch a spot in the playoffs due to their NFC East rival, Washington Redskins, losing on Sunday to the Arizona Cardinals. While everyone is considering them to make it to the Super Bowl, they need to do a few things in these last final weeks.
Here are three problems facing the Cowboys as they enter the playoffs:
1. The Dallas Cowboys are getting too relaxed
Unfortunately, this is not the first time that the Cowboys played as well as they did during the 2016 season. If you go back to the 2007 season, the Cowboys had a 12-1 record and it seemed that Tony Romo was at the top of his game. In addition, they had one of the best defenses. However, since they had nothing to play for, the Cowboys would go on to lose two of their last three regular season games before being eliminated by the eventual Super Bowl Champion Giants in the Divisional Round. I have heard many people in New York radio and NFL people say that the Cowboys should not go into the playoffs on a fifteen-game winning streak. There has been a countless amount of times where teams have big leads and end up taking the foot off the pedal. Also if the Cowboys do go into the playoffs with a record of 15-1, does Dak Prescott have the ability to perform under that type of pressure.
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2. Failing to stay healthy
When you still have something to play for like the Dallas Cowboys have with winning the NFC East, you don’t want to sit any key players. However, possible MVP candidate Ezekiel Elliott is on pace for 387 touches in his rookie season. Elliot is the only exception as head coach Jason Garrett could use backup running back Alfred Morris to get some touches towards the end of the season to allow Elliot to get some rest prior to the playoffs. Dez Bryant is also someone to watch out for as he could have his snaps be limited over the next few weeks. In the case for Dak Prescott, he could use all the experience he can get over the next few weeks. However, teams are starting to realize how to play against him and they are succeeding. It would be foolish to bring in Tony Romo for a start in Week 17 as it could easily disrupt the flow and the success that they have had. Unfortunately, the Cowboys have been plagued by injuries on the defensive side. The only defensive starter that is on the IR is Guard La’el Collins, but the Cowboys have been lucky as Ronald Leary has played well replacing him. Cornerback Morris Claiborne is the only starter out of action as of this writing, however, it is expected that he should be back right before the end of the season.
3. Not finding a pass rush
One thing I need to give credit to the Cowboys is that their defense has played well, even though they have been plagued by injuries. This is shown through their effort, tackling, and timely plays. Entering Week 13, the Cowboys are ranked 27th in defense, this according to Football Outsiders. Pro Football Focus ranks the Cowboys pass defense as being 31st in pass rushing. It should be noted that the are getting back several key defensive players over the next few weeks and they have the Giants, Buccaneers, and Lions upcoming on their schedule. All three of these teams have very shaky offensive lines.
It is rare but not impossible to see a team have a low defensive ranking and make a run towards the Super Bowl. According to Pro Football Focus, the last time a team had a low defensive ranking was the Baltimore Ravens in 2012 who were ranked 24th. It should be noted that from 2009-2012, the Super Bowl champions had a defensive ranking that was not in the top ten.
Overall, in order for the Dallas Cowboys to make a run to the Super Bowl, they need to fix up a few things over the next few weeks.