It is technically too early to say that the Dallas Cowboys are facing a must win game against the St. Louis Rams. But with a 2-3 record after what may have been the hardest part of the schedule and facing an 0-5 team, a loss this Sunday would make having a winning record, much less making the playoffs, exponentially harder.
The Rams game should be an easy win, especially with quarterback Sam Bradford in a walking boot and questionable for the game. But with the now seemingly endless string of games decided by four points or less for the Cowboys, you have to worry if the team has a knack for playing to the level of the opponent - and managing to lose.
The offense has ongoing problems that just got worse with a key injury against the New England Patriots. But the defense should be set to feast on some mutton this week. It's time for my forecast for the team.
Just a reminder: The percentage is the likelihood of problems from each area. The lower the number, the more likely I think that the team will be successful in that area.
My predictions after the jump.
Quarterback I caught a bit of a show with Mickey Spagnola on the radio today, and he brought up an interesting point I had not really thought about. The Cowboys game plan against the Patriots was designed to protect Tony Romo, who still has a broken rib. They wanted him to get the ball out of his hands fast, limiting the play calling, particularly attacking deep, and also keeping him from rolling out as much as he has in the past.
Tony is getting better, but he ain't all back yet. However, he did not have a meltdown. He even showed some resilience after having an early interception. I am still worried about him, but I think he will have a better performance. But the Rams are no pushover against the pass, either.
CHANCE OF QB BEING A PROBLEM: 50% Last time: 60%
Running Back Felix Jones got hurt again. However, DeMarco Murray is looking like he can play some ball. And St. Louis is 30th in the league against the rush. This might finally be a game where the rushing attack can be a major help. If, that is, they get some holes to work with, which depends on some of the other grades here.
CHANCE OF RB BEING A PROBLEM: 40% Last time: 30%
Tight End/Fullback Tony Fiammetta missed another game, which didn't help the run. His status is not certain although there is hope he could come back. That would be a very good thing. Jason Witten was the center of attention for the Pats defense, but he still caught the only Dallas touchdown in the game, and he certainly shouldn't have a worse game.
CHANCE OF TE/FB BEING A PROBLEM: 20% Last time: 20%
Wide Receiver As I mentioned above, the game plan limited the passing attack a bit. But Miles Austin looked pretty good and Laurent Robinson is apparently a legitimate 3rd receiver. However, questions about Dez Bryant' lazy pass routes on the radio are a bit disturbing. Still, there is a lot of talent here.
CHANCE OF WR BEING A PROBLEM: 20% Last time: 10%
Offensive Line I don't believe I am writing this, but Montrae Holland, AKA Lumpy, is back. With Bill Nagy going to IR with a broken ankle, the offensive line is in turmoil again. And as has been pointed out, including in KD's analysis of what contributes to negative versus positive plays, the O line has been having some important breakdowns. It looks like Kevin Kowalski may have to be the answer. If not, we will find out how Lumpy is going to do. Not the best of all possible things.
CHANCE OF OL BEING A PROBLEM: 60% Last time: 30%
Defensive Line The offense had some big issues against the Patriots. Except for the last drive, by what is one of the two best quarterbacks active in the league today, the defense was rock solid. Marcus Spears got a sack, and Dallas is still the number one team in the league against the run. And St. Louis is 27th in the league running the ball. This looks like a win.
CHANCE OF DL BEING A PROBLEM: 20% Last time: 20%
Linebacker Sean Lee returned to what appears to be his natural place as the leading tackler on the team. DeMarcus Ware is still DeMarcus Freaking Ware. Anthony Spencer had seven tackles. And, although it may not be a factor this week, Bruce Carter is ready to practice. I think these guys are drooling over what they may do this week against the 29th overall offense in the NFL.
CHANCE OF LB BEING A PROBLEM: 10% Last time: 20%
Defensive Backs They got my Game Ball of the week. That pretty much sums it up.
CHANCE OF DB BEING A PROBLEM: 20% Last time: 30%
Special Teams Again, Dan Bailey was perfect. No major returns allowed. Quietly, this has become a very solid part of the team.
CHANCE OF ST BEING A PROBLEM: 10% Last time: 10%
Coaching Rob Ryan is apparently a true genius. If Sam Bradford is out and A. J. Feeley has to play, this could get ugly, in a really good way.
Jason Garrett is taking a lot of heat for his play calling, especially on the three and out before Brady got the ball to drive for the winning score. But didn't he do exactly what we were all yelling for him to do the previous game? And, as I mentioned above, he was calling the game to protect his quarterback's rib. Let's see how he does in the softer part of the schedule coming up, but I am not feeling too bad here.
And Joe DeCamillis deserves mention for what he has done with the special teams.
CHANCE OF COACHING BEING A PROBLEM: 30% Last time: 30%
Jerry Jones Jerry passed on making a trade, although there was apparently some interest in Tashard Choice. With Felix out, he made what looks to be a logical decision. And on Monday, he apologized for some of his critical comments about the play calling right after the game. Right now, Jerry is basically behaving himself and letting the coaching staff do their job.
CHANCE OF JJ BEING A PROBLEM: 30% Last time: 40%
I expect a win here. I would like to see a big (two touchdown) win. But there will be butterflies. I will be nervous until this team starts to put some wins up. Hopefully, this is the start of a bit of a run.