Three quarters of the regular season is gone and as we enter the final month of what has already been a wild roller coaster ride, its time to take stock of this team and see where we are headed.
The run game has suffered mightily since Felix Jones went down. One could make a solid argument that Felix wasn't used enough before his injury and that Barber took too many hits early in the season and his lack of production and explosiveness now are direct results. A fresh Barber is clearly a more potent weapon than the one we have seen recently. Dallas is in a tough situation in that more of the workload will need to go to Choice if Dallas wants to make any sort of run in the playoffs, but because of the race for a wild card berth, Dallas cannot afford rookie mistakes or a letdown in production. Deon Anderson continues to improve.
The offensive line has blocked well when Kosier has played, and not well when he has not. Cory Procter is clearly not viable at this point and going with Holland at his spot is clearly a desperation move. Rumors of Flozell's demise were a bit hasty in that he has played well when healthy, despite his poor-hearing-induced false starts. Marc Columbo has played reasonably well in a contract year. Gurode has been solid, if unspectacular and Bigg, while not being the dominant force he was last year, is still no slouch.
The receiving corps is back on track, thanks largely to Romo's return. T.O. is still one of the top 5 or 6 WR's in the game and Roy Williams is slowly coming along. Crayton is back at the slot position where he can regularly beat the press and make catches on drags and crossing routes. Martellus Bennett has been a surprise (given his Hard Knocks antics) and quietly become a new threat that has to be accounted for in certain sets. Finally, Jason Witten has become the best player at his position in the entire NFL, surpassing Antonio Gates.
At QB, it is now clear that this is Romo's team. As he goes, so go the Cowboys. He is truly an elite player who is still learning the nuances of his position. When given protection, he will generally make good decisions and can make things happen (note: not all of them will be good) when plays break down. If he ends up with 30 TD's and 13 INT's after missing three games, we should all be satisfied. This team has a holder for kicks masquerading as a backup QB.
The line has been a letdown (again) save for Ratliff, who despite having 30 fewer pounds on him than the other top 3-4 NT's in the league, has played very well this year. Canty, Spears and the rest of the DE's have delivered little in terms of pass rush and have been inconsistent against the run. This is a position of need going into the off season.
The LB's have been a mixed bag. DeMarcus Ware is having a memorable season and will likely establish a single-season team record while challenging the NFL mark. Age and injuries have finally caught up with Greg Ellis and he is not much help against the better offensive tackles. Anthony Spencer is showing his quickness off of the snap, but needs to be more aggressive. Zach Thomas has been a great pickup for the Cowboys and is the heady player they needed on running downs. Bradie James is solid at the other inside spot. Kevin Burnett sightings have been few and far between. Bobby Carpenter has been a bust.
The defensive backfield continues to be the weakest part of the starting 22. No CB has played consistently well enough to make opposing offensive coordinators think twice about throwing in their direction. Newman has McNabb's disease (new injury waiting to happen), Henry's attempt to cover a WR with his horribly stiff hips is a first down waiting to happen and Ken Hamlin's play has been non-descript coming off of a pro bowl year. Keith Davis tries hard, but is just too limited athletically. Watkins = Bobby Carpenter. It's the DB's that will likely be the reason that Dallas finally sees it's season end before it should.
Nick Folk is showing no signs of a sophomore slump and is having another great season. His accuracy from 40 - 49 yards is phenomenal, and...he is clutch. His lack of distance on kickoffs is a small price to pay for his FG prowess. Sam Paulescu is the guy you want punting if your drive stalls at the opposing 40 yard line, not at your own 40 yard line. The return game has suffered without Felix on kickoffs. Punt returns have been poor all year. The good news is that our kick coverage teams have played much better in the last several weeks, which has helped the defense out a lot.
Well, this is a tough one for me, because I vociferously called for Wade Phillips' firing earlier this year. While the team has been better since he "supposedly" took over defensive play calling duties, I still think he is a Chan Gailey/Dave Campo look alike. His country bumpkin demeanor doesn't foster confidence in me or most die hard fans. But, we'll let the cards fall as they may. Brian Stewart is an empty Cowboys T-Shirt. Jason Garrett, having received much criticism, has done a pretty good job handling this team. It's hard to argue with their offensive success when everyone has been healthy. Hudson Houck has also been under fire, but injuries across the line has made it tough for him to have the impact many expected, and this team lives or dies based on how well Romo is protected and running lanes are created.
I believe Dallas can overcome a lot, but unless the defensive secondary (I hope Dave Campo reads this) raises their level of play in the next month, Dallas could be watching the playoffs from home. Seriously, I would take these nine days to put Henry in at FS, insert Jenkins at his CB spot and ask him, Newman and Scandrick to play press coverage 75% (see the irony?) of the time. I'd let Henry match up on athletic TE's and help out over the top, but that's it. I'd also run Choice A LOT more in the next few weeks, because Barber looks beaten up and that doesn't bode well. I'm glad to see the return of the downfield passing game, but blitz pickup by TE's and backs, along with good decision making from Romo will be critical in the stretch drive. I think Dallas will have to win 75% of their last 4 games to get a berth.
Whatever happens, this should make for a December to remember.