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Cowboys need to smooth the rough edges of their offense as they look toward the playoffs

Cowboys need to smooth the rough edges of their offense as they look toward the playoffs
4 months 4 weeks 5 hours ago Tuesday, December 26 2023 Dec 26, 2023 December 26, 2023 7:53 PM December 26, 2023 in Sports - AP - National - Football
Source: APnews.com
Miami Dolphins wide receiver Cedrick Wilson Jr. (11) catches a pass as Dallas Cowboys cornerback Stephon Gilmore (21) defends during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 24, 2023, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

FRISCO, Texas (AP) — Dak Prescott's sporadic offense is as good a reason as any why Dallas has lost consecutive games for the first time in two years.

Finding consistency for one of the NFL's most productive units will be a priority in the final two regular-season games for the playoff-bound Cowboys (10-5), starting Saturday night at home against NFC North champion Detroit (11-4).

The offense was really good on the first two drives in a 22-20 loss at Miami, but didn't come out of a midgame funk until the Dolphins had a two-score lead (16-7) midway through the third quarter.

The stretch of three possessions with three punts and just one first down looked a lot like a week earlier in Buffalo, when the Cowboys barely had 100 yards of total offense before a meaningless fourth-quarter touchdown drive in a 31-10 loss.

"We know who we are, and we know when we get going," Prescott said. "You saw it in the first two drives and you saw it late in the game there. It's just about being consistent all the way through for the offense."

Doing that against the Lions won't be the final answer.

The Cowboys have been one of the league's best offenses all season at home, where they have a 15-game winning streak and are outscoring opponents by almost 25 points per game.

The key will be at Washington in what figures to be the week before a playoff opener on the road, unless NFC East-leading Philadelphia (11-4) loses at least once in the final two weeks.

Not only are the Cowboys guaranteed to have a losing regular-season record away from AT&T Stadium (3-5 with a game to go), their offensive production isn't even close to the same.

The road losses to the Bills and the Dolphins were the first back-to-back defeats since the first of these three consecutive playoff seasons in November 2021. Two years ago, Dallas responded with a 5-1 finish to win the division.

"Still all the confidence in the world in this football team and going on the road," right guard Zack Martin said. "We just have to make more plays."

WHAT'S WORKING

When the Dallas offense gets moving, it's hard to stop. The Cowboys lead the league with 44 drives of at least 10 plays. Their 17-play drive to take the lead in the fourth quarter was their longest TD march of the season. A 15-play drive on the first possession ended in a fumble at the Miami 2-yard line.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

While Prescott credited the defense for keeping Dallas in the game by holding the NFL's No. 1 scoring offense almost 10 points below its average, that unit couldn't get the crucial stop after his go-ahead scoring toss to Brandin Cooks. The Dolphins ran off the final 3:27, capped by Jason Sanders' game-ending field goal.

STOCK UP

WR CeeDee Lamb was so good early against the Dolphins, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio did everything he could to take Lamb out of the game.

But that wasn't until after Lamb had extended his touchdown streak to seven games, becoming the third Dallas receiver to do that along with Dez Bryant (2012) and Terrell Owens (2007).

Lamb had 93 of his 118 yards in the first quarter in his seventh 100-yard game of the season. Pro Football Hall of Famer Michael Irvin holds the single-season club record for 100-yard games with 11.

STOCK DOWN

The Cowboys are having a hard time generating explosive plays for Tony Pollard in his first, and possibly only, season as the lead running back. He averaged 3.2 yards per carry against the Dolphins and his average for the season is at risk of falling below 4 yards. It's never been that low.

Playing on the $10.1 million franchise tag in his fifth season, Pollard averaged at least 5 yards per carry in three of his first four years. He had 12 total TDs last season, but has just five this season.

INJURIES

The Cowboys will hope for the return of eight-time Pro Bowl LT Tyron Smith after he missed the Miami game with a back injury. It was his fourth missed game this season.

KEY NUMBER

13 — Micah Parsons had half a sack against the Dolphins to join Pro Football Hall of Famer Reggie White as the only two players with at least 13 sacks in each of their first three seasons since sacks became an official stat in 1982.

NEXT STEPS

While the Lions have wrapped up their first division title since 1993, they're still in the mix for the No. 1 seed in the NFC. San Francisco and Philadelphia have the same record. The best bet for the Cowboys to overtake the Eagles in the NFC East is to win both remaining games while hoping the New York Giants can pull the upset of Philadelphia in the regular-season finale.

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