The Dallas Cowboys went on the road to face the Minnesota Vikings back in Week 11 and laid out a 40-3 smack-down of one of the NFC’s top teams.
At the time, it looked as though Dallas had turned a corner. Quarterback Dak Prescott was back following thumb surgery to repair a fracture suffered in Week 1, running back Ezekiel Elliott was showing finishing power that had not been seen in several seasons, and the Dallas defense was crushing opponents in a way that hadn’t been done in generations.
All signs pointed to a team on the verge of becoming one of the most well-rounded and dangerous in the league.
However, during the second half of the season, several notable issues have arisen that could become major liabilities as the Cowboys look to defeat Tom Brady for the first time in his career when the Bucs and ‘Boys meet in a Monday Night Football game to cap off Super Wild Card Weekend.
The biggest and most significant issue has been turnovers. Once one of the NFL’s most high-powered, the Dallas offense has become a turnover machine in recent weeks.
Prescott has thrown interceptions in seven straight games, including three pick-sixes, and finishes the season as the league-leading quarterback for tossing interceptions with 15. Prescott managed this ugly feat while playing in 12 games after sitting out Weeks 2 through 7 with a broken thumb.
Doug Farrar writes in USA Today that Prescott’s sudden increase in turnovers is a multi-faceted issue that won’t be easily solved. Around half of Prescott’s interceptions this season came on deflected passes, including two of the three pick-sixes.
Dallas also ranks 18th in the NFL, according to NBC Sports, with 19 dropped passes accounted for during the 2022 season.
Prescott is struggling under pressure as well. Last season, Prescott was among the NFL’s best when facing five or more pass rushers, but he has dropped to the middle of the pack this season.
Some of that can be attributed to changes along the offensive line, which has dealt with a string of injuries and the need to insert rookie players at key positions. Center Tyler Biadasz is the most recent player to go down with an injury, forcing the Cowboys to move players out of position to fill in.
Results have been predictable, with more teams getting pressure when bringing just three or four defenders.
The offensive line issues have also been a factor in the run game. In Week 18, running backs Tony Pollard, Ezekiel Elliott, and Malik Davis accounted for just 64 yards on 27 carries and no touchdowns.
The week before against the Titans and with Pollard out, the unit turned in just 87 yards on 32 carries. The stagnant run game has forced Prescott to throw more and to take chances he might not normally take, leading to an increase in turnovers.
Facing the Buccaneers in round one is an opportunity for redemption for Dallas. The Cowboys lost to the Buccaneers in the season opener each of the last two seasons and was eliminated from the playoffs by the San Francisco 49ers last season in the Wild Card round.
Dallas has not won a playoff game since 2018 and will need significantly better offensive line play to prevent another loss.