In today's headline round-up we look at the aftermath of the games on Sunday and find that - for what it's worth - the Cowboys are just half a game out of first place in the NFC East despite having a worse record than 24 other NFL teams. And they face what is likely their most manageable stretch over the next few games.
Team health is looking up, all injured players are expected back at practice on Wednesday and the Cowboys have maintained their crisp pace at practice from the previous week.
We also look at how the discussion about Sean Lee in a nickel role just won't come to an end, marvel at some good penalty news for a change and reaffirm our belief that Leonard Davis is a nice guy. Not only does he risk life and limb to heroically save some baby ducklings, he also doesn't throw the O-line backups under the bus. Quite the opposite, in fact. Enjoy.
The Cowboys are feeling pretty good about themselves and maintain a positive outlook despite a 1-2 start and a worse record than 24 other NFL teams. But despite that, they are only half a game out of first in the NFC East.
The Cowboys put themselves at risk of getting left behind by losing their first two games. Yet when they returned to work Monday, their 1-2 record left them only a half-game behind everyone else in the NFC East and 1 1/2 games behind the best record in the NFC.
Tom Orsborn from the San Antonio Express News maintains that the slow start hasn't cost the Cowboys much, and that the team is confident it can maintain the momentum gained from the road win in Houston:
"I do think it's a break to be 1-2 and still be in the hunt in what we all thought was going to be a strong division," tight end Jason Witten told reporters in Irving. "We didn't start out the way we wanted to start out, but we still control our own destiny, and that's all that matters," linebacker Keith Brooking said.
Nick Eatman from The Mothership argues that the Cowboys remain in the middle of the NFC picture and quotes both Coach Wade Phillips and Jason Witten.
"It's nice that everyone in our division has lost a couple of games, which puts us in a better situation since we've only won one," head coach Wade Phillips said. "It's really about what we do. I think you're better off looking at yourself. If you win, it takes care of itself. It's all about this game and how we approach this game."
"Everybody has two losses," tight end Jason Witten said when asked about the division race. "It helps us out, obviously, to not played well early and still be in the situation we're in. We just need to move forward and understand that we need to start playing our best football and build off what we did against Houston."
The Cowboys come off the bye week rested and facing what could be a manageable stretch of games, hopefully just as the team enters their prime zone: the post-bye week.
Any team could seize control over the next month — and the Cowboys are set up to do it. Their next four games are against teams at or below .500. Three of those games are at home, starting Sunday against Tennessee (2-2). Plus, there's this tidbit: Dallas has won at least three straight games coming out of its bye every season under coach Wade Phillips.
"It's a little bit of a fresh start," tight end Jason Witten (FSY) said. "That doesn't neglect what we've done in the past. I think we have to look at that with a critical eye, and we did. I think this team is moving forward."
The Cowboys continue a recent trend of turning in inspired practices. Perhaps giving the players three days off wasn't such a bad idea after all, at least according to Coach Phillips:
"I think the players with the time off, mentally, come back a little stronger and we got to utilize that," Phillips said. "We want to still draw from the momentum we had from the last ball game but it's still about how you approach things and I think today's practice was spirited.
Another reason for optimism seems to be the improved health situation of the team. The Cowboys expect to be fully healthy for the Titans.
The club returned to practice Monday after a long weekend break owed to the bye. All injured players – tight ends Jason Witten (knee) and Martellus Bennett (ankle), offensive linemen Marc Colombo (knee) and Kyle Kosier (knee) and wide receiver Dez Bryant (hip and ribs) – engaged in various activities and are expected to fully participate in Wednesday's practice, coach Wade Phillips said.
Almost a week after Wade Phillip's somewhat unfortunate remarks that Lee won't be used as the nickel linebacker, the Cowboys' PR department is still trying to put the right spin on what Coach said. This time, they sent the heavy guns: Jerry Jones weighs in on what Sean Lee can and can't do.
On what to expect from Sean Lee this season:
"I think there are parts of the nickel packages and the special packages on defense that Sean Lee can do right now. And that's the big thing, right now or later. He's going to be able to do anything you want him to do at linebacker. He's as smart as a whip plus he's very instinctive and he's got a work ethic that's unmatched. All of those things in my mind will make him a contributor this year and certainly one in the future."
"There's several things about the nickel linebacker (the spots he's playing). He's real good at two or three of them and he's got some work to do and one or two others. I think that's what Wade was referring to."
Jan Hubbard at the Star-Telegram has an article up in which Leonard Davis says to give Alex Barron a break. Davis says that even with the backups on the field the Cowboys run the same plays and do not adjust for the changed personnel. Davis is also quite supportive of the Cowboys O-line backups.
Davis went on to say, "We’ve got quality backups. Anytime you can have depth like that, it makes it tough for the other team to really have the advantage. Because usually when you don’t have quality depth, it’s a big dropoff. Maybe that’s when coordinators kind of tailor the game plan according to that. "But the situation we’re in, we have good enough quality depth that we don’t have to do that, we don’t have to modify the game plan."
After getting called for 12 penalties in the first game, the Cowboys have successively reduced their penalty total in each game to six against the Bears and five against the Texans. There have been 62 games played so far this season featuring 124 teams. Only 33 teams had less than five penalties, so those five penalties against the Texans are pretty good for a team that has been known to have the occasional penalty issue in the past.
Good News? No Defensive Pass Interference calls on your defensive backs, and no holding penalties on your offensive line since Week 1 against Washington. To keep Tony Romo from being sacked against Chicago and Houston without committing a single holding penalty is quite note-worthy to me.