There is a hazard in winning a game as convincingly as the Dallas Cowboys did in their 44-7 victory over the Buffalo Bills, and that of course is overconfidence. One strong, blowout victory does not assure success next week (see: St. Louis Rams game followed by Philadelphia Eagles game.) So it is time to stop the celebrating and start looking at what the possible problems might be for the Cowboys when they go to Washington to face the Redskins.
Because of the four losses the Cowboys have this season, every game at this point has a certain "must win" aspect to it. Although a loss right now is not fatal to Dallas' chances of getting into the playoffs, it would make things much more difficult. As has been covered here repeatedly, the next three games are ones that the Cowboys should win by almost any kind of analysis you use. But the 2011 season is littered with examples of mind-boggling upsets, and I believe I remember a team that started the 2010 season at 1-7, and then closed out the last half of the season at 5-3, with a chance to win late in all of the losses.
I am going to try and keep this realistic, but I will admit that it is hard to have a very gloomy outlook when so many things went so well last week. But Washington is not the same team as Buffalo, so let's take a look at what Dallas is facing.
First, the standard reminder: The lower the forecast percentage of problems, the better for the Cowboys. And there are no forecasts of 0% or 100%, because nothing is absolutely certain in the NFL. Well, at least as a far as how the games turn out.
My almost informed look ahead after the jump.
Quarterback Part of me says that the performance Tony Romo put up last week was a once in a career kind of game. He has certainly had his bad moments during the season, and it seems like it would be prudent to keep that in mind and keep the percentage up a bit. But even with his two well publicized meltdowns, he is the number four ranked quarterback statistically in the NFL. And last week, the offense meshed so well that all the numbers are improved this week. Even if one of the offensive units has a hiccup, it seems likely the others would take up the slack.
But mainly, I just think Tony has finally gotten healthy at the same time the other 10 guys on the field are also peaking. Now the only question is how long can they all stay at that level?
CHANCE OF QB BEING A PROBLEM: 10% Last time: 20%
Running Back The only concern for the past four weeks, really, has been depth. DeMarco Murray has continued his dominant performance, and done so in all phases of his game. Now, with Felix Jones likely to return, the depth issue is not really an issue any more, and it is kind of exciting to see what might happen with Felix going back to his "change of pace" role. Despite some early concerns that DeMan and the Cat were basically the same kind of back, I think Murray has clearly shown that he is a strong, every down kind of player, and I think that Jones will benefit from not being asked to fill that role, which does not seem to suit him.
CHANCE OF RB BEING A PROBLEM: 10% Last time: 20%
Tight End/Fullback I apologize to Martellus Bennett. Last week I said
Now, if they just never have to throw to Martellus Bennett again . . .
That was a nice catch. You are now up to one in a row. Don't get cocky.
Meanwhile, Jason Witten has solidified himself as the team's leading receiver while fortifying the case for an eventual ceremony in Canton. And all Tony Fiammetta needs to add to his game is the right nickname. He certainly has all that blocking stuff down.
Still, it does look like they will continue to target 'Tellus, so the numbers don't get better here.
CHANCE OF TE/FB BEING A PROBLEM: 20% Last time: 20%
Wide Receiver Is it possible that the return of Miles Austin is more of a luxury at this point of the season than a necessity? With him out, the passing game was . . . the best it has been, ever? Yeah, Tony was throwing that gaudy 88.5% completion rate, but as I understand the game, someone has to catch the ball as well. And on Sunday, that included Kevin Ogletree and Jesse Holley. But without question, the big boys in this bunch were Dez Bryant, who had as complete a game and as good a catch as he has had all season, and Laurent Robinson, who is my early nominee for the "Where in Borkum's Riff did HE come from?" award. Having Miles back will make me feel a little more relaxed, since it seems inevitable that someone else will get nicked up, but the team does not have to have him to win most games.
CHANCE OF WR BEING A PROBLEM: 20% Last time: 40%
Offensive Line Except for the network, and the fact they didn't do the clock thing last week, this part of my forecast from last week is still accurate.
One of my favorite plays in the game was the second touchdown, when Fox put a clock on the time Tony had to wait for Robinson to come open along the back of the end zone. My next favorite play was just about any of the positive plays DeMarco had. Oh, and no sacks on Tony?
It looks like the offensive line is finally jelling (and making my forecast number last week look silly). But I am not going to get quite as optimistic here. First off, I am a little less confident in their consistency than I am in any other unit offensively. And second, Washington is ranked 12th overall defensively, and 9th in passing yards per game given up. That is better than most of the other teams Dallas has faced this year, and way better than Buffalo. They have players like Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan, and London Fletcher, and will be a much greater challenge. We are going to have a much better idea of how far along the offensive line has really come after this game. If anything is going to be an issue, this is it.
CHANCE OF OL BEING A PROBLEM: 40% Last time: 50%
Defensive Line Now things get a little dicier. While the offense was lights out, the defense was at times brilliant, and at times pedestrian. On the Bill's lone scoring drive of the game, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Fred Jackson marched the team smartly down the field, with the assist of two penalties on Dallas. Jackson racked up 114 yards rushing, although quite a few of them came when it was too late for the running game to help the Bills. The good news is that Buffalo's offense is a lot better than Washington's. But the D line has tended to be counter-intuitive for me. What I mean is that they seem to do well when I expect problems and they tend to muddle about a bit when I expect them to have a good game. Looking at the stats, they ought to do well Sunday. So I am a bit concerned. Not majorly worried, just a bit concerned.
CHANCE OF DL BEING A PROBLEM: 30% Last time: 40%
Linebacker Last week I had to use a bit of a cheat, since it was not certain whether Sean Lee would play. Well, the Killer Q Tip was in the game, and although he had some issues wrapping up, he and the rest of the linebacking unit held up well. Not much has changed this week, except that Bruce Carter has another week of experience, and DeMarcus Ware has been passed by Jared Allen for the sack lead (I don't know if that motivates him, but I just wanted to throw that in there as it seems certain one of them will set a new season record). I am curious about Bradie James not getting a snap last week, while Keith Brooking was playing. I don't know what it means, but it does make me curious.
CHANCE OF LB BEING A PROBLEM: 20% Last time: 20% - 50%
Defensive Backs My rationale for the figure this week can be summed up in two words: Rex Grossman. I think Ryan Fitzpatrick is a much better quarterback than Sexy Rexy (which, I guess, makes him way better than all the other quarterbacks in the NFC East), and as you may recall, the Cowboys picked off three passes. Very quietly, this bunch has become very efficient, even with Mike Jenkins out. Terence Newman is having a great year, Abram Elam is showing us why Rob Ryan brought him to Dallas, and no one is stinking up the joint. Plus Frank Walker became the poster child for how this team has effective depth this year. Against a good offense, they may still be a 30% or even 40% unit. But not this week.
CHANCE OF DB BEING A PROBLEM: 10% Last time: 40%
Special Teams I would like to share with you how concerned I am that David Buehler is no longer around to kick off.
So, what is the over/under on how long Dan Bailey's consecutive field goal steak gets?
OK, having said that, we will likely see the first really good kickoff return of the season, just to humble me before the football gods. (I'm going to watch the replay of the Bronco's win as penance, so hopefully not.) And the Cowboys have an issue with kick returns, namely, they don't do them very well. It hasn't affected the season so far, but I am getting a little uneasy.
CHANCE OF ST BEING A PROBLEM: 30% Last time: 20%
Coaching I have already done a post this week about how I think Jason Garrett's coaching was actually just ahead of the curve for the tools he had, and things seem to have evened out now. Everything was working, especially before half, and hopefully that continues.
Rob Ryan seems to be on a similar trajectory, although he is behind JG. The team actually looks more like what we expected it to be the first half of the season, a potent offense carrying a defense that is still getting it together. I think it is a case of the offense improving markedly and overtaking the defense, which has just been undergoing a slower but still steady improvement. The defense is still vulnerable to key injuries (see: Killer Q Tip), but the way it handled Buffalo, particularly their passing game, was impressive.
CHANCE OF COACHING BEING A PROBLEM: 20% Last time: 30%
Jerry Jones He had some things to say about DeMan and the Cat this week. He was . . . measured and reasonable, and at times it sounded like he was just explaining a decision that had been made. One that he had input but not control over. And he was angry at David Buehler for not being in shape this year (and maybe making him look a little foolish).
Good job, Jerry.
CHANCE OF JJ BEING A PROBLEM: 20% Last time: 30%
Here is the bottom line: The Cowboys need to put up another strong game. It is time to solidify what we saw coming together against the Bills. If they can, this could be a really exciting stretch run. If not - well, you know.
So GO COWBOYS!