Amidst all the gloom and doom of the home loss against the Lions has been lost the following pertinent information: the Cowboys will return from the bye healthy for the first time this season and, at 2-2, are a mere one game behind Washington and the Giants for the NFC East lead (and have already notched a victory against the hated 'Skins). So, while things in Cowboyland may seem dire, they are actually not so. The 'Boys are currently in a very good position insofar as their long term goals are concerned. And a couple of recent online articles attest to this.
In the first, reports from NFL scouting types have emerged claiming that teams are really struggling to run the ball this season--in fact, this is the worst running, league-wide, that many of them have ever seen. What this suggests is that, without an offseason, the o-line cohesiveness necessary to run the ball effectively hasn't had time to develop; this explains in part the record passing statistics for the first four weeks of the season. Another contributing factor to the high passing yardage figures is that many defenses haven't opened up their playbooks, because they just haven't had time to work on all the necessary details.
What we should expect this season, more than any other in recent (or even distant) memory, is for teams to change, to grow, to become more complex. This is doubly so of squads that have new head coaches, are implementing new schemes, or have a lot of new starters. The Cowboys, with a new defensive scheme and three new starters on the offensive line, qualify in two of these categories. The fact that the defense and O-line have not been the sources of weakness that they were in recent years is a testament to the efficiency with which the Dallas coaching staff conducted training camp and the in-week practices over this season's first month. If they are playing respectably now, the logic goes, wait until they have had the necessary developmental time.
So, unless Dallas continue to be visited by the big, mean Injury Ogre, things should be looking up for the rest of the season. In this cheerful vein, the good folks at The Landry Hat have released a list of the top ten reasons that the Cowboys will make the playoffs this season. Strangely--or, perhaps, pertinently--they only offer only nine reasons [EDIT: but have now included a tenth]--but many of them are interesting, and some of them compelling. Three of their reasons are those already mentioned: Dallas' return to health and the fact that the offensive line and the defensive unit will only get better as they become more familiar with one another and the scheme, respectively.
A couple of their reasons I found surprising. For instance: the return of Bruce Carter. To wit:
If this was Wade Phillips’ defense, I would not expect much of an impact from Carter this year, but this is Rob Ryan’s defense. He is renowned for utilizing every players unique talent and skills, even if it is in the occasional to rare sub-package. Carter also has the speed to play sideline to sideline; Ryan loves defenders with speed. Carter may not crack the starting line-up this season, but I do expect him to be utilized effectively in specific packages and situations that will allow him to flourish.
Although surprising, I find that I can't really argue with any of this...as long as the kid can actually play. We'll see...
Other reasons that the Cowboys will make the tournament have to do with important offseason questions that have received affirmative answers in the opening month. Specifically: who will be their kicker, and who will emerge as the third receiver? The excellent early work of Dan Bailey and Laurent Robinson have made Cowboys fans--and, apparently media pundits--far less anxious about field goal attempts and spread formations going forward.
Go here to read all ten (er, nine, no ten, no ...) reasons. And keep your chins up. Our brave 'Boys have a stiff test coming off the bye, but will be at full strength--on multiple levels--for the first time all season. And I think we'll see a different team in October that we did in September. And an even better one in November. And so on.