Monday, Dec. 28 10:04pm ET
Dallas Cowboys scouting report
By Tom Oates
Special to ESPN.com
The Cowboys went 8-0 against the weak NFC East, but only 2-6 against the rest of the league. Worse yet, they struggled mightily on offense down the stretch. That doesn't bode well for the playoffs even though the Cowboys will open at home against an NFC East team, the Cardinals.
At least the Cowboys have a toe in the playoff door. Unfortunately, that toe is very sore. Cornerback Deion Sanders missed the final five games with a sprained big toe on his left foot, and his playoff eligibility is in question. Without Sanders the last two years, the Cowboys are 2-6.
Coach Chan Gailey has brought much-needed discipline and a more sophisticated offense to Dallas this season. What is needed, however, is an offensive playmaker or two. Age and injury have turned the Cowboys into an average team.
Halfback Emmitt Smith has seven 100-yard games and would be the comeback player of the year were it not for Randall Cunningham. However, he's struggled in recent weeks as opponents are blitzing into his usual holes. ... The return of tight end David LaFleur should help the running game.
The passing game has become so one-dimensional that it scares no one. Wide receiver Michael Irvin has double the receptions of the next highest player on the team, but he's only scored one touchdown. ... Quarterback Troy Aikman has thrown very few interceptions -- the Cowboys have the fewest giveaways in the league -- but he doesn't have many touchdown passes, either.
Starting with the Vikings game, opponents have lit up the Cowboys with big passing plays. It got so bad fans were happy when oft-burned cornerback Kevin Smith returned from injury. ... Without Sanders, the run defense suffers because safety Darren Woodson has to play farther back to help out in coverage.
Tom Oates, who covers the Packers for the Wisconsin State Journal, writes a weekly NFC column that appears every Thursday on ESPN.com.