NOTES: Cowboys turn focus toward Buccaneers

Nov 13, 2022; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy looks on during the first quarter against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

NOTES: Cowboys turn focus toward Buccaneers

The Cowboys wasted little time on the film of Sunday’s loss to Washington, turning their attention to the playoffs and their opponent.

Dallas earned the No. 5 seed and go on the road to face Tom Brady and the fourth-seeded Buccaneers at 7:15 p.m. CT on Monday night at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.

The Cowboys are coming off their worst performance of the regular season in a 26-6 loss to the Commanders, where they put up just 182 total yards while allowing a rookie quarterback making his first NFL start to pick them apart for 204 total yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns.

“You want to be playing your best ball in January, absolutely,” Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy said. “I totally agree with that. We are all disappointed in our performance (Sunday), even if we would have come out on the other side of it. We have to reboot and go.”

So, they will have an extended week of practice to get it fixed, playing the final game of Super Wild Card weekend.

There is a lot to clean up. The quarterback has an interception problem – 15 in 12 starts. He has also thrown a pick-six in each of the last four games.

“It stinks,” Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott said about having turnover issues for the first time in his 6-year career. “Not having an issue like this with the ball (in the past), but for sure having more confidence in the things that I can do. It’s a fine line, and I have to get better at it, simple as that. This won’t continue.”

With recent injuries in the offensive line, the running game has taken a step back, including their 27 carries for 64 yards performance on Sunday at Washington.

“There were a lot of three and outs,” Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott said. “We just struggled getting stuff going, getting any momentum.”

The Cowboys attempted to punt 11 times on Sunday, five more than their previous high for a game in Weeks 4 and 5.

All concerning issues, as the team works to clean up their game before taking on the Buccaneers.

Failure to do so will end another promising season short of the preseason goal.

“There are no more guaranteed games,” McCarthy said. “You are guaranteed one game, and you gotta do whatever you need to do in playoff football to win and that has to be our approach. I have great confidence in this team and great confidence in the locker room. We have exceptional leadership.”

O-line struggling through changes

Recent injuries have stung the Cowboys along the offensive line.

After playing with the same combination from Week 4 through Week 14 of the season, the Cowboys are searching for the consistency that brought them early success.

Since losing right tackle Terrence Steele in Week 14 and then center Tyler Biadasz in Week 17, the line has dipped in quality of play. Especially in their post-snap performance.

“We are struggling with movement,” Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott said. “Just line movement that we have kind of struggled with all year, but it has been worse the past couple of weeks. The beauty of it, we got another life now. … We gotta get this thing right. We gotta get this thing rollin’ for the playoffs.”

Despite plugging in two future Hall of Famers in Tyron Smith at right tackle and Jason Peters and left tackle, the Cowboys running game is trending in the wrong direction. After gaining 154 yards against Jacksonville in Week 15, the Cowboys followed that up with 115 yards in Week 16, 87 yards in Week 17, and 64 yards in Week 18.

“We are going to have to play much better,” Cowboys right guard Zack Martin said. “Heading into next week, I’m confident in the guys in the locker room, but we have to move on and get ready for Tampa.”

What was once clearly the identity of the offense, the Cowboys hope to find their missing ground attack Monday night on the road.

Winless vs. Brady

There are four teams that the Tampa Bay quarterback has not lost to in the NFL, and the Cowboys are one of them.

Brady is 7-0 against the Cowboys in his career, including 2-0 with the Bucs – a 50-32 win in Week 1 of the 2021 season and a 19-3 win in this season’s opener.

“They’ve got the hand on us,” Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons said. “Since I’ve been here, we have never beat them. So, we gotta adjust and get ready. They still got everybody they had on their Super Bowl run.”

In the seven wins, Brady averaged just under 23 completions for 277.9 yards and at least two touchdowns.

Brady is also unbeaten against the Vikings (6-0), the Patriots (1-0), and the Buccaneers (4-0).

Pollard goes over 1,000

Cowboys running back Tony Pollard became just the ninth Cowboys running back to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season.

Pollard, who finished the season with 1,007 yards on 193 carries, broke the barrier on a 4-yard run early in the second quarter.

Pollard joins a list that includes Ezekiel Elliott (2016, 2018, 2019, 2021), Julius Jones (2006), Darren McFadden (2015), DeMarco Murray (2013, 2014), Cavin Hill (1973), Herschel Walker (1988), Tony Dorsett (1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1983, 1984, 1985) and Emmitt Smith (1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001).

Cowboys getting healthier

If all goes according to plan, the Cowboys should get back several key contributors in time for Monday night’s playoff opener at Tampa Bay.

Cowboys Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, who went out with a shoulder stinger in Week 15, and defensive tackle Jonathan Hankins, who was injured in Week 14, are both slated to return to practice this week. When they went out, Vander Esch was leading the team in tackles, and Hankins had finally found his footing after being acquired in Week 8.

The return of both defenders should help the Cowboys defend the run, which has been tough going over the final month of the season.

Cowboys center Tyler Biadasz, whose ankle injury in Week 17 looked serious, could also return this week if he can hit the benchmarks the trainers and coaches have set for him. Since going down, the Cowboys’ offensive line has been out of sync.

Cowboys cornerback DaRon Bland left Sunday’s loss early but is expected to practice when the team hits the field on Wednesday.

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