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Where do we go from here?

The emptiest feeling pervades my room after having spent this day at work following the Dallas game on Yahoo! Game Channel. Was I pleased that we ended the season with a road win at Philly? That goes without saying. After all, living in Cleveland I could take comfort in the fact that one of Dallas's worst seasons is still better (barely) than Cleveland's, so there will still be something for me to reply to the local haters. This Sunday ended in the best possible scenario from where I see it: Dallas reached .500 in divisional play, the Giants beat the Redskins, and they also missed the playoffs. 

So where does that leave us? This blog has always been about the Cowboys as part of their division, so this entry will briefly show the picture as it has changed since the last post:

The Dallas Cowboys of 2011 are only part of the larger question mark of a league facing lockout. The coaching staff may look completely different by next year, and there are gaping holes in the offensive line and secondary. Nevertheless, the Joneses have a good chassis upon which to rebuild. They will not have to seek running backs, tight ends, or receivers with the urgency that other teams may have  to. But none of these units can function well in the offense that exists today without a solid O-line. The fearsome defensive line is a real asset, but a secondary that creates turnovers is what creates anxiety among opposing offensive coordinators.

The Philadelphia Eagles as they stand today are the most attractive team in the NFC East, and the win this Sunday changes nothing. They have an owner that commands tremendous respect around the league and nationwide for that matter. Andy Reid is the second most tenured coach in the league, and if Jeff Fisher is out in Tennessee he will be on top in that category. Michael Vick is by far the most intriguing comeback story that has been in professional sports. Forget about the burnout comebacks of Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden in baseball; an ex-convict who within two seasons moves two slots up and mounts the Miracle at the New Meadowlands is far more interesting. They have three playmakers in DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, and Jason Avant, as well as their solid RB LeSean McCoy. And before I forget they're the only East team that made the playoffs. If Michael Vick can persevere against Green Bay next Sunday, then I will believe that the Eagles have truly found a permanent system. I can't predict if Vick will be healthy enough to seriously challenge Atlanta or Chicago after that. With a loss it will be impossible for Reid and Jeffrey Lurie to prove that the organization has progressed by dumping Donovan McNabb.

Despite a far better record, the Giants may have an even more dissatisfied public to cater to next season than Dallas. After missing the playoffs for the seconds straight season due to a meltdown, Coughlin's team remains an underachieving mess. As of this evening Coughlin has been confirmed for next season, whenever that may be. To say that their situation isn't hopeless is of no consolation to the New York fans; they're exactly in the same situation as they were twelve months ago, with virtually the same system and roster. Jets fans are also keen to remind them that this season will be the second straight where the Jets are playoff bound and the Giants remain out of it.

FedEx Field will continue to be the picture of misery , whatever Daniel Snyder claims. They have improved by two games from the Jim Zorn era, but remain a throughly unattractive team with no clear leader on offense after the benching of McNabb, and a huge gap to fill in a defense that was supposed to showcase Albert Haynesworth. There are many reasons a team can go through a losing period. In Carolina and Buffalo it is due to small market blues; in Cleveland and Detroit it is because of a tradition of lethargic attitudes and low ambition. Washington suffers from a similar ailment as San Francisco. Both teams have very proud traditions, but the internal politics have spoiled the whole purpose of the club's activity, and that is to win titles. The Redskins scarcely improved upon last season's roster, apart from the McNabb  acquisition. But it is evident that even Jason Campbell could have won with the right accompaniment last season; he moved from Washington to Oakland and posted an 8-8 record.

One final note: Every single reaction from the last post included a ferocious outburst about my suggestion that Vince Young be added to the roster. I found every reaction to have a valid point: Vince Young would not be the magical solution to the Cowboys' problems. And it is true that Tony Romo has statistically performed better than him. But my suggestion was not to ax Romo and replace him with Vince Young within a day. I suggested that Romo's injury this season was a scenario that the coaching staff was not prepared for. Also, he performed rather dismally in the games he did play. Jon Kitna from his first appearance seemed clearly past his prime,  and was injured in Arizona leaving 3rd stringer Stephen McGee to carry the load. Placing a franchise's trust in one player has been the mistake of numerous teams this season. In New York the Giants never thought of benching Eli Manning, but he ended up leading the NFL in interceptions. The Vikings allowed themselves to be held hostage by Brett Favre's whims on game days, as well as their lack of an adequate back-up for him. And let's not forget that Arizona decided to take a respectable roster that was built for a Kurt Warner type quarterback and implant Derek Anderson at its head. These were all talented teams with good quarterbacks, but the absence of that quarterback or his failing performance left them with no contingencies.

Those who are Romo fanatics can continue to dream. This season proved just how unprepared Dallas is for a situation without him. It also proved that a good 2nd stringer like Michael Vick/Kevin Kolb can keep a team competitive. The Lions are a much improved team this season partly because they had Shaun Hill to replace Matthew Stafford. When Hill was a starter in San Francisco he hardly seemed to be a successor to Joe Montana and Steve Young. But that isn't what a back-up is supposed to be. Whoever will be the next back-up for Romo, he must be someone that can keep a team playoff competitive if Romo can't. He must also provide a proper threat to Romo as a starter in order to keep him motivated to retain his starting spot. I suggested Vince Young as an example because he seems to be on his way out of Tennessee, and he has had some success in the past. But that's only one possibility , and the readers can forgive me for speculating.

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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