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Patrick’s POV: With season spiraling, Cowboys have opportunity to evaluate

Be it injuries, coaching, or lack of talent, the Dallas Cowboys aren’t playing like contenders which means they can use the rest of the season to look for solutions.
Credit: AP Photo/Patrick Semansky
Washington Football Team quarterback Kyle Allen (8) calls out the play against the Dallas Cowboys in the first half on Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020, in Landover, Md.

DALLAS — 2020 has not been the year many expected from the Dallas Cowboys. 

There were no rookie mini camps to integrate the draft class. There were no organized team activities to familiarize the players with any new playbook schemes. There was only a truncated training camp and no preseason football games for the new coaching staff to evaluate the roster.

The Cowboys new staff led by Mike McCarthy had only a few holdovers from the previous regime, which cut into the continuity of the team. With an unprecedented offseason, and the bevy of injuries that followed, Dallas finds themselves 2-5 after seven games.

With a road game against division rival Philadelphia and a matchup against undefeated Pittsburgh next, the Cowboys could be 2-7 by the time their bye week hits, after aiming to be among the NFC favorites as the season began.

It would be easy to point to the relatively new staff as a reason for why the Cowboys are struggling after a non-traditional offseason. However, it’s also true that the Cleveland Browns and Washington Football Team are in that same boat and they just beat Dallas by a combined 33 points.

McCarthy is a veteran, Super Bowl winning coach who brought in his dream team of assistants, many of whom have previous head coaching experience. While the lack of coordinated preparation over the summer surely hindered the Cowboys, it’s not an excuse that flies when other teams are thriving under similar conditions.

The injuries are a legitimate reason for why the Cowboys have been failing so spectacularly. The injury list is not exactly a full justification though, as every team has its ailments. 

However, the Cowboys have lost both starting offensive tackles, two backup tackles, their starting right guard, and their starting center from opening day. And that’s just the offensive line.

The defense has had key members come and go from the injured reserve list. The starting tight end lasted three series into the season. The injuries carry a lot more weight as a rationalization for the dreadful season than many of the other explanations. 

Case in point: Dallas also lost the heart and soul of the team when quarterback Dak Prescott went down with a season-ending injury in Week 5.

While the defense has been hit by injuries, a lack of athleticism and talent seem to be the bigger issue there. Frankly, the defensive roster has a lot of bad players. New defensive coordinator Mike Nolan inherited a unit that lost plenty prior to the season.

At 2-5, the Cowboys are just a half game behind the Eagles for first place in the NFC East. However, despite being close to a division lead, the Cowboys are not close at all to being a good football team.

The Dallas offense without Prescott has scored just 13 points in two games. The team is turning over the football at a rapid rate, with 2.3 turnovers per game to just 0.4 takeaways per contest. 

Down to their third string quarterback after Andy Dalton suffered a concussion, it is time for the Cowboys to go into evaluation mode.

At this point, the Dallas front office and coaching staff needs to figure out which players can be a part of the future for this team. With third string rookie, seventh-round pick Ben DiNucci almost certainly starting against Philadelphia, they will get to see if he can be the backup beyond this season with Dalton, only signed through the end of the year.

On the offensive line, undrafted rookie Terence Steele has become a real issue as he’s been entrusted with more playing time than anyone could have anticipated. The Cowboys need to evaluate their swing tackle position and also see if Steele can be salvaged beyond this season.

With Zack Martin hopefully returning against the Eagles, they could potentially move second year lineman Connor McGovern to the left guard spot. This could allow them to play 2018 second-round pick Connor Williams at offensive tackle. 

Williams has had his struggles blocking interior defensive lineman. In college at Texas, Williams was the left tackle for the Longhorns. With his athleticism, Williams might be better suited on the perimeter.

Shuffling the line in such a manner would also allow for a more extended look at McGovern and would take pressure off Steele from having to continue in a starting role.

On the defensive line, the Cowboys should look to get fifth-rounder Bradlee Anae more snaps. The rookie has played sparingly through the first seven games of the season. Given that the defense has struggled with creating consistent pressure, Anae is one option. 

Randy Gregory is another, as the 2015 second-round pick made his anticipated return from suspension but only saw six snaps at defensive end against Washington.

At linebacker, Jaylon Smith has once again become a liability on the field. Opposing quarterbacks appear to be looking for No. 54 and then attacking him in the passing game. If Dallas is truly eager to examine their roster, 2019 undrafted free agent Luke Gifford should be first up to get snaps at the position.

The secondary is where the Cowboys need the most help. The Daryl Worley experiment at cornerback has failed. Chido Awuzie has been missed in the lineup, but should be eligible to return against the Eagles.

The Cowboys drafted Reggie Robinson in the fourth round in April but have yet to play him on the field. Instead, Dallas has opted for Stephen Parker, an undrafted free agent who hasn’t played well either. 

Robinson may have looked behind during camp, but the team needs to see what they have. The Cowboys need to determine if he’s the cornerback they drafted or the safety they have tried to convert him into.

It might not be the expectation of playoff glory that fans were sold, or the players that they hoped to see on the field, but at this point the Cowboys have nothing to lose except time to evaluate their roster for better days to come.

What developments would you like to see for the Cowboys in Week 8 against Philadelphia? Share your thoughts with Patrick on Twitter @PatSportsGuy.