If someone had told you before the season that the Dallas Cowboys would come out of the bye week able to get back into a tie for the division lead with a win over the New York Giants, you probably would have felt pretty good about that.
That is assuming that you were not also aware of the dismal way the entire NFC East stumbled through the first half of the season, or of the several games Dallas could have won but couldn't, or of the crushing in the Crescent City just before the bye. And we won't get into the whole .500 record thing.
However they got here, the Cowboys now face six games in which they can determine their own fate. Win four or five of these games, and they will almost certainly win the division. Even three wins could get them there, depending on how things fall. As OCC observed, no one game is really the end of a season, until you are mathematically eliminated, although a loss often seems like it.
There is no question that a win against the New York Giants would make the path ahead a lot more manageable. Plus it would keep our little site here from approaching meltdown. A win does not make a playoff berth automatic. But a loss would be a fair indicator that the team is not headed in the direction we want it to go.
The good news is that there are a lot of areas the Cowboys can improve in.
Well, maybe I need to rephrase that, since having issues in every phase of the game except special teams is hard to package as a good thing. What gives us some reason for hope, rather, is that the bye week offers a lot of opportunity to get some things fixed. For the moment, I am taking a completely positive attitude.
First and foremost, the team is going to be healthier than it has been in over a month. As Bryan Broaddus pointed out on Twitter before the bye, Dallas played fifteen straight weeks without any break whatsoever. That's three and a half months straight with no extra time between games to heal up. Broaddus took the view that this is not only a physical grind but a mental one as well, and the team should come out of the bye in a much better state mentally and physically. Dawn Macelli wrote about Miles Austin, DeMarcus Ware, and Morris Claiborne, the three main players that the team should enjoy having back, but this should also help players like Jason Hatcher that were still playing but showing the effects of the long haul. And there might even be a wild card or two, like rookie DeVonte Holloman, who was out for several weeks.
It has been a chance for the coaches to sit down and see if they need to make some adjustments, although Jason Garrett has already indicated that he doesn't see anything major coming for the Giants.
"We've had discussions about all that kind of stuff," Garrett said. "(But) we don't anticipate a whole lot changing in that regard. We don't want to get into all that stuff."
That may be attributed to his normal Garrett-speech mode, in that the team could be planning to go with a wishbone offense using Leon Lett as the new quarterback, and he would say about the same thing, but I think it is more a reflection of what several of us have been seeing. Joey Ickes has the best analysis of it in his thorough look at the passing game from the first ten weeks.
While I do agree with the idea that the coaching staff leaves something to be desired when it comes to the rhythm of an offense, and utilizing player's talents in proper ways, I truly believe that the problem with this offense of late has been an execution problem, whether it's drops by receivers, or failures at the quarterback position as highlighted above, the players are leaving yards and points on the field each and every week through the air.
Dave Halprin has already brought this up as well. The team has been executing poorly of late, and it is not just the offensive players. This team has looked bad. Perhaps Broaddus is onto something, and they just were getting tired and worn out. And not just in a physical sense. The way the Cowboys played the past few games before the bye certainly looked like the fatigue was mental as well as physical.
That may be the best case scenario, because tiredness can be fixed. The team should come out of the bye with a little fire. If the miserable performance against the New Orleans Saints was them hitting a low point, then perhaps they can come back A win over the Giants would be a great way to start the stretch run. A loss, while not eliminating them, would really put a strain on the chances to at least get to the postseason.
How the game goes is going to be a big indicator of how the season winds up for this version of the Cowboys. And it will tell us a lot about just what the team is made of. Right now, I am optimistic they will have a strong finish.
I hope I am not let down.