Taylor Williams

Missing Links: 4 Keys To The Cowboys Finishing Strong

Created on Nov. 23, 2013 4:00 AM EST

When it comes to how the Dallas Cowboys can save their season (if at all), there are almost too many ways to go.

You can discuss big solutions — let Jason Garrett resume the play-calling, and install more man coverage on defense — just as easily as small, such as feeding Dez Bryant or signing a veteran linebacker. You can find hope in the division standings or despair in the defensive stats. You can maintain faith in Jerry Jones, or you can call for pink slips.

In the end, a lot of cards will have to fall into a lot of precise places for the ‘Boys to make the playoffs. But if the following conditions are met, the week-to-week outlooks will be unquestionably brighter.

Stay Healthy

With J.J. Wilcox and Morris Claiborne back, and DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher rested, the Cowboys have the pieces in place to bolster their pass defense up front and in the backfield. Miles Austin’s return on offense should pay immediate dividends in coverage for Dez Bryant and Jason Witten. Keep them healthy, and the Cowboys have an immediate shot at improving their shakiest facets on both sides of the ball.

Ultimately, injuries are uncontrollable, which is why Dallas really needs its backup safeties and D-linemen to start producing and allow the starters some snaps off.  

Beef Up The Run Game

Of all offensive areas needing improvement, this one could go the furthest if realized. Why? Because the Cowboys’ season now rests heavily on the offense’s ability to control the clock, rattle off lots of plays that tire the defense, move the chains and convert red-zone chances. The season is theirs, and their alone, to save.

DeMarco Murray is a great first-down back, but he needs help in short-yardage, buck-the-line situations. Cue Joseph Randle. However, the Cowboys also need to pass more on first downs. Meaning more carries isn’t the answer; they just need more efficiency, particularly in terms of converting third-and-shorts and punching the ball into the end zone.

Steel Tony Romo’s Mind

Another reason to focus on improving the run: Romo and his knack for folding under pressure. Because if ever there was pressure on No. 9 — as well as opportunity to carry the team like the elite quarterback he’s supposed to be — it’s now. Whether by fault of injury or scheme, the Cowboy defense simply can’t contribute more than the minimum to a winning effort.

The division is tight; the Eagles and Giants are both ascending. In his last two losses, Romo is averaging 167 passing yards on a 44 percent completion rate. It’s a question of accuracy rather than ball security, and it might help if the play-calling called for more vertical shots. Romo needs the confidence instilled from big-play success to keep him playing like the division’s best quarterback.

Survive Sean Lee’s Absence

The middle linebacker’s hamstring injury decimates the heart of the defense. Tied for fourth in tackles and third in interceptions, Lee’s instinct for the ball has been the driving force behind the team’s 22 takeaways. It appears Ernie Sims, who’s struggled with reading the run, will man the position; Bruce Carter, who’s had major problems in pass coverage, will take over the calls.

Look for the Raiders and their powerful running game to determine how detrimental Lee’s absence is. But if the Cowboys can shut down the run without him and eke out a couple wins, his return will give the defense some momentum and bite to close the season. The solution? Same as always: get off the field.

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