The bye week has come and gone, and the (5-5) Dallas Cowboys are hard at work preparing for the (4-6) New York Giants. Looking at the division rankings, and the fact only one playoff team is coming out of the NFC East, it’s more than imperative Dallas comes away from Sunday afternoon with a victory.
The two areas that have haunted the Cowboys the most to date have been the running game, and the defense. There’s no doubt this .500 team is much better than their record indicates, but sentiments like that don’t get you to the next level. What does get them there is an honest look at what their shortcomings are, and getting better. Whether that means gameplaning better, changing personnel, or changing the offensive or defensive scheme will be up to the coaching staff. There just needs to be more production out of the defense and running game, or one of the other three inferior teams in the division will be NFC East champions.
Hypothetical question: If you could improve one area between the defense and the running game, which would you take? This will come down to improved play from two players in particular; DeMarco Murray and DeMarcus Ware. Each brings its own impact to the overall success of the team, and yet it doesn’t seem feasible that we’ll see both making huge strides by the end of the season.
The running game, and Murray in general, producing more would have a huge impact on the Cowboys as a whole. Opposing defenses would have to account for the running and passing games. You can’t stack the box or the back end will be vulnerable. If you play too many guys in coverage, Murray will be given the running lanes he needs to break a long run. Having a balanced attack on offense is the only way to go moving forward, and Murray’s play is key to the equation. If he struggles early, the play calling will move away from the run, and then the predictability sets in. That’s why Dallas has struggled at times moving the ball up and down the field.
Dallas’ defense is in pretty dire straits right now. Defensive captain Sean Lee is out with a hamstring injury. They’ve been playing without starters Morris Claiborne and JJ Wilcox, and it has shown. And yet the cog that is going to keep this unit performing is DeMarcus Ware. Without that pass-rushing force, the rest of the unit is vulnerable and weak. It doesn’t matter how well the secondary plays, unless there’s consistent pressure on the quarterback you can expect offenses to continue to put up big numbers against this defense. And don’t expect any kind of significant change to the defensive line this year. The only way the rush unit is going to improve is if Ware gets back healthy and starts producing again.
So which one is more important to the Cowboys success for the remainder of 2013? Is it DeMarco Murray and the running attack? Or does the defense need a boost from DeMarcus Ware and an improved pass rush? There’s a chance neither one improves significantly, or maybe the bye-week gods smile upon the Cowboys and both units come back stronger than ever. Time will tell.