I must start out by saying "I told you so" before Monday night's game against the Bears when I posted that the game would hinge on turnovers. In the offseason, I also posted regularly about the need to focus on the offensive line, which I thought more important than fixing the secondary.
The funny thing is -- after Monday night's game, I'm not feeling like the Cowboys' season is lost. It could be. It could be. If we play like we did against the Bears or Seahawks or Bucs, we are going to lose to the Ravens, Eagles (twice), Giants, Washington (once), Falcons, Steelers, and possibly the Bengals and Saints. We could easily finish 6-10 or 7-9, and last in the NFC East.
But we could also fix most of the mistakes we made in Monday's game. And we've already shown an ability to do just that.
1. Tony Romo. Romo had interception-killing games early last year against the Jets and Lions. But after the Lions debacle, his picks stopped. He took care of the football for the rest of the year. So, he could do it again.
3. Offensive line. This is the key. Last night I saw more answers than problems. I didn't see a single false start penalty. I don't recall a single holding call. I don't recall seeing Doug Free get beat in pass protection all night. I saw the Mackenzy Bernadeau whiff that led to the back-breaking third pick and TD return, but Bernadeau could get better. The Cowboys also COULD replace him in the starting lineup. Brian Waters? Montrae Holland? Derrick Dockery? Overall last night I saw vast improvement in the O-line, mostly in pass protection. If they can continue to solidify there and then start to improve their run blocking, I see possibility. This will probably remain the weakest link to the team, but if Romo doesn't turn the ball over, I think our O-line and D could be good enough to win 10 games.
4. Defensive pressure. Let's not kid ourselves. Our D-line backups and ILBs are good enough to stop other teams' run games. But they aren't so great at getting pressure. But if you put back a healthy Spencer and Ratliff, this dynamic could change just enough to keep our secondary from getting picked apart like it was last night.
5. Defensive backfield. Rob Ryan and Henderson have a moldable group of DBs. Last night, and in the Seattle game, they were outcoached. They still have time to turn this around, however.
6. Turnovers (positive ones). This is probably the quickest way to change our fortunes. If we can play games in the plus turnover column, our offense is good enough to score on short fields and it often takes points off the board for our opponent. Last year we were plus 4. Right now we are minus 8? With Brandon Carr, Mo Claiborne, Spencer, Lee and Ware, we can generate turnovers. But we need to start playing from ahead so that other teams make mistakes first.
Overall, I would agree with the assessment that we are weaker than a championship needs to be in the trenches. But I don't think we are so weak that we can't focus and change our fortunes going forward. The Cowboys may not get it done. And if they don't, I put the onus squarely on Jason Garrett, Rob Ryan, and Bill Callahan. But I also think this team could turn it around.
Our opponents may seem invincible, but they aren't.
Baltimore lost to the Eagles despite receiving numerous turnovers. The Eagles offensive line is not what it was last year, and Vick can make mistakes at any moment, so they can be beat. We've beaten the Giants once already. The Steelers are not as formidable as in past years. The Saints' defense is terrible. Washington is dangerous but also mistake-prone and weak on defense. Atlanta barely beat Carolina at home. The Bengals are a toss-up at their place. The Browns are our weakest opponent. Carolina can also be stopped.
The most probable outcome is probably 8-8 again. But 10-6 is still possible. Can our coaches get us there? That's the question.