Despite yet another slow start, the Dallas Cowboys did just enough to beat Detroit, keeping themselves in first place in the NFC East for one more week.
Almost everything that the Dallas Cowboys did Sunday in Detroit was quite predictable. Facing a team with a backup quarterback, a running back fresh off the practice squad and missing numerous starting defensive players, the game was too close for comfort.
Eventually, the talent on this team was enough to overcome a lesser opponent. Quarterback Dak Prescott had another phenomenal game. Receivers Michael Gallup and Randall Cobb stepped up for a laboring Amari Cooper and the defensive line put enough pressure on the quarterback Jeff Driskel to earn Dallas a 35-27 road victory.
The win was absolutely necessary as the Cowboys room for error is almost none. Sure, Philadelphia lost again this week, giving Dallas a full game’s worth of breathing room plus the tiebreaker.
The problem is that next week Dallas plays the New England Patriots. That same team who did them the favor of dispatching the Eagles lies in wait for Dallas next Sunday. While Philadelphia has a tough game as well, hosting the Seahawks, the path to accumulating wins is far easier for the Eagles in the long run.
Philadelphia ends the season with two games against the Giants, one versus Miami, one against Washington and the huge Week 16 game against Dallas. The Cowboys, meanwhile, still have dates with Buffalo, Chicago, the Rams and the Redskins besides that re-match with Philadelphia.
If Philadelphia beats Seattle next week, it’s easy to see them getting to ten wins. That very real pressure on Dallas makes every game from now on absolutely necessary. What else is pertinent to the Cowboys playoff hopes is that their level of play improves dramatically from what we saw Sunday.
The secondary, especially the safety play has got to improve by leaps and bounds. Missing Jeff Heath on Sunday, Dallas started Darian Thompson in his place. Thompson somehow found a way to play worse than Heath has all year (stunning when you put that into perspective), giving up three big plays that were pivotal in keeping Detroit in the game.
Someone besides Xavier Woods has to step up. Veteran Josh Jones was brought up from the practice squad and rookie Donovan Wilson deserves more reps, but likely Heath or Thompson will need to get better or else this will be a major problem moving forward.
Another thing that needs immediate attention is the poor tackling that Dallas puts on film week after week. While it was not as bad against Detroit as it has been in other weeks, there were still at least seven or eight easy tackles missed by this team. That cannot continue moving forward with the level of talent the Cowboys will be facing in the weeks ahead.
Lastly, the special teams have to stop being an albatross around the neck of this team. Just this week alone, there was a penalty during a punt attempt by Detroit that gave them a first down. There were two instances where returner Tavon Austin lost yards, simply because he ran backward too much to try to make a big play. Also, Dallas gave up a 30+ plus yard punt return and kickoff return in this game.
These three areas, if not improved upon quickly, could end up costing the Dallas Cowboys a shot at the playoffs. When playing a team like New England, all of your flaws will be exposed. Buffalo, Philadelphia and the Rams have the talent to do the same.
Of course the Dallas Cowboys will take the win over the alternative option, however, there is still a ton of room for improvement. Unfortunately, there is not a ton of time in which to improve.