5 Changes the Dallas Cowboys Need to Make Heading into October
The Dallas Cowboys' Mike McCarthy era hasn't gotten off to a great start.
Sunday's 38-31 loss to the Seattle Seahawks dropped the Cowboys to 1-2, but they're still remarkably atop the NFC East. While they should have no problem holding off the scuffling Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants and Washington Football Team, the Cowboys have work to do to live up to their Super Bowl aspirations.
The Cowboys boast one of the NFL's most talented rosters on paper, but they would be 0-3 had the Atlanta Falcons not completely collapsed against them in Week 2. Although upcoming games against the Cleveland Browns and Giants should provide them with get-right opportunities, a Week 6 meeting with Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals already looms large.
The following changes could help Dallas get back on track in the coming weeks.
Work Out Kickers
The Cowboys signed kicker Greg Zuerlein to a three-year, $7.5 million contract this offseason, but they may already be having buyer's remorse.
During their 20-17 loss to the Los Angeles Rams in Week 1, Zuerlein missed a 53-yard field goal that would have tied the game at 10-10 midway through the second quarter. He redeemed himself with the miracle onside kick in the Cowboys' thrilling comeback victory over the Falcons in Week 2, but he struggled again Sunday, missing one extra point and getting another one blocked in the loss to Seattle.
One of those whiffs kept the score tied at 9-9, and the other cost the Cowboys a chance to tie the game at 16-16 midway through the second quarter. Had he made those, the offense wouldn't have needed to attempt a two-point conversion later in the game that failed.
Zuerlein hasn't been consistent enough for one of the league's most prolific offenses, so the Cowboys should bring in some competition for him.
Dallas often gets mentioned whenever a big-name safety like Jamal Adams or Earl Thomas lands on the market.
After Week 3, one has to wonder why the Cowboys haven't pounced.
The back end of the defense has been a massive problem, particularly at safety with Xavier Woods and Darian Thompson. They've been the last line of defense on long touchdowns from Atlanta tight end Hayden Hurst and Seattle wideout Tyler Lockett.
Woods has allowed a completion on each of his four targets, while Thompson has allowed three completions on his four targets. That isn't taking into account their overall responsibilities on each down, either.
Thomas is still a free agent after the Baltimore Ravens cut him in August, as is Eric Reid, who had a career-high 130 tackles last year with the Carolina Panthers. An upgrade at safety wouldn't fix everything on the Dallas defense, but it's exhausting seeing it stick out as a weakness again.
Other Special Teams Changes
Special teams coordinator and "team fundamentals coordinator" John Fassel was supposed to bring stability to Dallas. However, he has done anything but stabilize things.
Ball security hasn't been a strong point for the Cowboys, who lost three of their four fumbles in Week 2 alone. And Fassel's special teams unit has failed on multiple two-point conversion attempts, fake punts and missed extra points.
If nothing else, Fassel needs to swap in players who won't make the same mistakes. For instance, running back Tony Pollard has already fumbled on offense and has struggled on kick returns, including a muffed one in Week 3 that resulted in a safety on the next play.
The Cowboys need to focus on ball security in practices, and they need to swap out players like Pollard who make critical mistakes.
Mix Up The Defense
The Cowboys defense has faced three high-octane offenses while trying to install a new scheme without a typical preseason. Key defenders such as linebacker Leighton Vander Esch and cornerback Chidobe Awuzie are already on injured reserve.
Regardless, coughing up the most points in franchise history over a two-game stretch, plus the most points in franchise history over the team's first three games, is problematic.
That isn't good enough for a unit still loaded with talent like linebacker Jaylon Smith and defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, who has yet to record a sack. Star cornerback Byron Jones is long gone, so the Cowboys need to consider schematic changes and lineup tweaks.
On the personnel front, defensive tackle Trysten Hill needs to take a seat after a dirty play that injured Seahawks running back Chris Carson and a costly personal foul on a helmet-shot to Russell Wilson. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan also needs to simplify his schemes for the time being to cut down on miscommunications and blown coverages.
Keep Shuffling the Offensive Line
Something has to work up front eventually, right?
Week 3 wasn't exactly a banner showing for the Cowboys offensive line. Dak Prescott threw for 472 yards and three touchdowns, but he was under consistent pressure and threw a pair of costly interceptions. Ezekiel Elliott was alarmingly unproductive, rushing for only 34 yards and a score on 14 carries.
To be fair to the guys up front, Terence Steele left the game and Zack Martin slid to tackle, making the way for rookie Tyler Biadasz to make his debut.
The key from here may be more shakeups until something sticks. Connor Williams has been a notable weak point (55.0 Pro Football Focus grade), so perhaps the Cowboys should put Martin on the right edge and shuffle their other linemen around until Tyron Smith and La'el Collins return.
The offense as a whole has been encouraging, especially with so many passing targets breaking out. But it'll need to do the heavy lifting while the defense struggles, so testing out some lineup shuffles in the trenches, especially in winnable games against the Browns and Giants, would make sense.