DALLAS — We’re now officially a quarter of the way through the NFL season and the Dallas Cowboys are sitting at 1-3. It’s been as close as you can get to being a disaster for the Cowboys thus far, who are one onside kick gift in Week 2 away from being 0-4. There’s no way to sugarcoat things, this team isn’t very good right now.
On the bright side, with the division being as bad as it has been so far, the team can still find its footing and make it to the playoffs as the NFC East winner.
However, going by the adage from former head coach Bill Parcells that states “you are what the record says you are,” you should forget all the talk about the division being terrible because Dallas hasn’t shown the ability to be any better than their rivals through four weeks. Also, for these Cowboys, the goal is never to just qualify for the playoffs, it’s to win the Super Bowl.
Here’s what we’ve learned about the Cowboys at the quarter pole in the season:
The offense, especially the passing game, is elite
Let’s start with the good news for the Cowboys: the offense is really good. They’ve had to rely on the passing game too much because they’ve fallen behind in every game, but quarterback Dak Prescott has been playing lights out. Prescott leads the NFL in passing yards with 1,690 and the offense is tops in the league in both yards per game (a whopping 509.5) and in passing offense (407.8).
Dallas’ offense is also averaging 31.5 ppg, good for third in the NFL. If they could stop turning the ball over on offense, they would be scoring even more and it’s possible that they can out-score the other issues facing the team going forward.
Turnovers are a major problem
The Cowboys are dead last in the league in turnover differential at -7. They aren’t creating nearly enough takeaways – just two through four games – and they are giving the ball away too often. With an offense this good, Dallas needs to be scoring more points and forcing other teams to keep up. If they can get opposing offenses to be one dimensional, they could be creating more turnovers.
Getting takeaways has been an issue on this defense for the last few years, so this isn’t new. The Cowboys need to find ways to get turnovers and give their explosive offense some short fields to work with. When this happens, their record will improve.
The defense is bad
There are a lot of theories as to why the Cowboys’ defense has been epically bad, ranging from the players to the coaches. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle and there’s enough blame for both groups.
The players haven’t been good enough, but it’s more than just a lack of talent. It hurts to lose some of your best options due to injury, missing LBs Leighton Vander Esch and Sean Lee, DT Gerald McCoy, and CBs Anthony Brown and Chidobe Awuzie have been massive blows, but the lack of effort is a bigger deal.
There are too many examples where players just aren’t giving the hustle required during a game and it’s disheartening.
With that said, the coaches are not absolved from blame. New defensive coordinator Mike Nolan hasn’t gotten his defense to buy into his scheme or they haven’t fully learned the nuances of what he’s teaching yet. Either way, it’s been ugly.
Not having a full offseason or preseason to work out the kinks of a new scheme hasn’t helped, but much like the players, Nolan needs to do a better job. The hope for the team is that, with more games, the defense will have had more time to grasp the scheme.
The team is going to be aggressive
During the season-opening loss to the Los Angeles Rams, the Cowboys went for a fourth down conversion instead of kicking the game tying field goal. It didn’t work out that day, but we learned that Mike McCarthy is going to lead a team that is much more assertive than his predecessor.
What has followed has backed up that strategy, the Cowboys have tried two fake punts and gone for it on fourth downs more than any other team in the league, except the Atlanta Falcons. The score has dictated some of those decisions, but the Cowboys have been aggressive in all aspects through four weeks.
These are just some of the key observations from the Cowboys in the first four weeks and they have led the team down a 1-3 start. It isn’t ideal, but we’ve seen what this version of the Cowboys will be and expectations from before the season need to be tempered.
The results haven’t been good, but there’s still time for the Cowboys to turn it around, provided they learn from the first quarter’s results.
What are your thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys with 1/4th of the season now in the books? Share ‘em with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.