Dallas Cowboys Need To Start "Long Haul" Off Right

Tim Heitman-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

The Dallas Cowboys face the toughest stretch in their schedule coming out of the bye week. Getting off to a good start against the Baltimore Ravens may be very important in keeping things from getting out of hand.

Time for a Garrettism. Jason Garrett loves to talk about how you play one game at a time (which proves that he is as prone to cliche as anyone).

But it isn't all that simple. There are times an NFL schedule breaks itself up naturally into parts, and for the Dallas Cowboys, that is true in 2012. There is the first four games that have already been played, starting with two road games. There is the upcoming five game stretch with four away games, and the lone home contest against a New York Giants team that will be hungry to get some revenge for the opening game loss to the Cowboys. And then there is the final seven games, which only has two away games left to play, and includes a rare three consecutive home games.

Coming into the season, a lot of fans were thinking the Cowboys were very likely going to be 2-2 as they are - but I don't think anyone was really expecting the games to have gone the way they have. As I have opined, the team is still trying to find an identity, and this has been noticed by others as well. If the upcoming mid-section of the season is not to leave the team too far out of things in the NFC East to come back, Dallas needs to have a good, competitive game against the Baltimore Ravens to get things rolling after the bye. Of course a win would be the preferred outcome, but showing they can hang with a team instead of getting put away early as they were against both the Seattle Seahawks and Chicago Bears is a priority.

If you are familiar with the history of the Ravens, this would look like a terrible way for Dallas to try and get re-established. They have not lost a regular season home game since November 22, 2009. They have a reputation for an attacking, dominating defense.

But take a closer look at things, as has already been done quite well in the FanPosts. Baltimore, statistically at least, is the weakest defense Dallas has faced this year. It is especially less formidable against the run than three of the four teams the Cowboys have already played. According to those numbers, this is the best chance Dallas has had in a month to get DeMarco Murray and the ground game cranked up again. And right now, you know that Rob Ryan and the defensive staff are tearing apart the video from the Ravens-Kansas City Chiefs to figure out how KC held Joe Flacco and company to 165 net passing yards and 9 measly points. (It wouldn't hurt to slow down Ray Rice, who a 99, a 101 and a 102 yard rushing game already this year, either.)

The bye week should also give the team some hope of getting at least marginally adequate play out of the offensive line, which will go hand in hand with the running game as well as protecting Tony Romo. Most importantly, the team needs to work on getting positive yards on first down. They have been absolutely dismal at this, leaving way too many long down and distance situations (another peeve I may have mentioned recently). Once again, on paper, Baltimore looks like a good team against which to get this done.

The most important battle Dallas has to win is in their heads. They have to believe in themselves first of all, and then they have to collectively overcome the myriad mental errors that have afflicted them, particularly on offense and special teams. If they can get that done, this could be the start of something good. Or at least, the beginning of survival of a very intimidating stretch of games.

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