Cowboys Six-Piece Nuggets: Not What We Ordered

Kevin C. Cox

You ever have one of those trips to the drive-thru where you know that the folks inside are going to screw up your order? That's how it feels watching the 2012 Cowboys.

Fast food. It's horrible for you and if there was a nuclear war it would probably still survive along with the cochroaches and that fruitcake from Aunt Elma that they even refuse to touch. It sure does work for you when you don't want to slave over a stove, though! I grew up eating six-piece nugget meals from McDonald's. So in honor of a team that also couldn't get the order right while staring at a cash register with pictures of the food on them, I dedicate this post to my childhood value meal.

I think even the most optimistic fans have come to the realization that 2012 probably isn't going to be the order they placed at the window. It's not going to be the year that the Dallas Cowboys hoist their sixth Lombardi Trophy. After falling to the Atlanta Falcons 19-13 on the road, the team now sits at 3-5 at the midway point to the season.

That places them in 13th place in the NFC conference; pending tonight's matchup between the Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans Saints. Yes, there are only 16 teams in the NFC.

Even with a favorable schedule coming on the horizon, there has been no indication that this team will be able to capitalize on a string of what should be edible opponents, ripe to be devoured by a hungry, playoff-priming team.

@ Philly (3-4), vs Cleveland (2-6), vs Washington (3-6), vs Philly (3-4), @ Cincinnati (3-5).

Dallas would probably need to come out of that stretch 4-1 at a minimum to have something to fight for down the stretch, and their penchant for finding ways to lose doesn't inspire much confidence in being able to accomplish that; especially with three of them being division games.

So the question becomes, where does this team go from here?

If you want a measuring stick for this coaching staff, you'll get no better litmus test than the competitive nature of this team moving forward. Will they continue to fight? Will the young players get the opportunity to make impressions for more playing time? Will they get the snaps to prove their worth?

Dallas has these and many other question marks that will need to be answered over the coming weeks. Some are easy to ascertain, others fans may not want to really consider. Such as:

1. Bruce Carter looked like a man with a light bulb over his helmet last night. He was everywhere on the field; reading and reacting correctly. He made several "stick'em" hits that stopped Falcons in their tracks, deflected passes and on a blown tackle by Danny McCray, chased down Julio Jones from behind (while passing Mike Jenkins). It appears that those of us that had faith in the redshirt freshman are having it rewarded. He appears to be the second straight, second-round steal at middle linebacker for the Cowboys front office. Unless...

2. No one is mentioning it, because he is the king of the castle for the future of this team's defense... but will Sean Lee be in the lineup more often than he isn't? This is his third season and his third major injury situation. Sure, he only missed one game last year, but he was severely hampered by his club hand for several games last season. Dallas appears poised to duplicate San Francisco's Patrick Willis-Navarro Bowman combination, but will it all be just a tease?

3. The injury bug at the safety position cannot be understated. Danny McCray is no Barry Church. The entire defensive scheme has been altered because the Cowboys have no faith in McCray doing a credible job and it reared it's head again last night as Julio Jones and Roddy White were given huge cushions to try and keep them from getting behind the defense. The result was both of them running free across the middle on several occasions, and still getting behind the defense on occasion.

Matt Johnson's rookie year was a wash, and you can clearly see that Rob Ryan's pressing corner style has gone by the wayside. It's a shame, because they invested $50 million and the top two picks in the 2012 draft in order to play that style. With the question marks around Church's Achilles and Johnson's hamstrings, I don't see any way that either a top pick or healthy free agent money isn't spent on the position.

4. Will Tony Romo re-sign with the Cowboys to stay longer than next season? Some may have missed it, but I thought I saw Tony Romo yelling at the sideline for one reason or another. It's easy to speculate that he was frustrated with the playcalling, especially after he lobbied for a different "pace" during the week. It's easy, so I'll do it.

Now, obviously Romo is to blame for some of the offense's struggles but he is hardly the only one at fault. Neither is Garrett, neither is the offensive line, neither are the receivers that run bad routes and drop crucial third down passes.

They are all at fault. The question is, with all the flack that Romo receives from the fan base after winning 60% of his starts with the team and seemingly being under appreciated... does he want to return?

5. Profootballtalk.com tried to make a big deal about Jerry Jones being locked out of the Cowboys locker room after the game. We've since learned that it was for a period of only 10 seconds, per ESPN's Tim MacMahon.

But wouldn't it be hilarious if the Cowboys proactively tried to lock Jones out of his own locker room. I mean, he's your boss, he will fire your arsons! With all the media focus on Dallas, and the PFT article is clearly a sign that they are chomping at the bit for controversy to brew up, can the team stay together over the remainder of the season?

Jason Garrett started 5-3 when he took over for Wade. He went 8-8 last year and is now 3-5. Yes, JerryJones is hemming on his support of Garrett.

6. Is anyone else looking forward to a DeMarco Murray, Lance Dunbar, mid-round draft pick backfield in 2013? Felix had a handful of good plays after a rocky start, but it's time to say goodbye. And yes, he used to be my favorite young player, and even I'm ready to get on to the next chapter.

7. Sometimes, on the rare occasion, you'd get seven nuggets in your value meal because two fused together when being battered. is there any hope that this team fuses together while being battered by the media and fans alike? Is there any hope that we're not talking draft before December?

The needs are clear. Anthony Spencer's contract is an issue (though he can be franchised again) because Kyle Wilber hasn't been seen. Safety has to be addressed despite both Sensabaugh and Church having long-term deals. Jenkins will need to be replaced at corner (most likely with a midrounder) and there is still the interior of the offensive line and "the Doug Free".

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