The six turnovers that marred the performance of the Dallas Cowboys against the Arizona Cardinals made the game puzzling. Was this just a day when the team saw uncharacteristic mistakes by several players, or was it a reflection of the real nature of the team?
I obviously don't know (although I am really, reallllllly hoping it was the former), but it did make me feel a bit less confident than I had been feeling. Of course, this is just the pre-season, and the games played before the actual season don't always give a truly accurate read on what the team is going to do when the games actually count. But they are not meaningless.
The coaching staff is presumed to have a lot more knowledge about where the team is than the fans, but that doesn't keep us from trying to figure things out. After a couple of days of mulling it over, I think that the Cowboys are a team that definitely has good pieces, but has not yet shown that it can put those pieces together in a functional way.
Now, that is based on less than one half of football played by the starters, some of whom will not likely see the field at all before the season opener against the New York Giants. Still, I will personally be a bit nervous about the next game, which is when the teams usually have the "dress rehearsal" for the real games to come. I want to see the Cowboys put it together and play a complete game for a half or more.
This is probably over-thinking things a bit on my part, but I can't help but feeling that Dallas has done a very good job of collecting some really, really good parts. There are players all over the roster that have the potential to be in the top five or ten at their position, and some will be legitimate candidates to be All Pro if they get through the season healthy. Dez Bryant is poised to have a monster season, which will not hurt Tony Romo's game, and Jason Witten is still Jason Freaking Witten. DeMarcus Ware, Jason Hatcher, Sean Lee and Bruce Carter are all looking very good in the 4-3. Even the most worrisome parts of the team, like the lines and the safeties, have shown that they are able to overcome injury issues and still put a credible performance on the field.
But football is a hard game to play, because it takes all the pieces working together. The thing that the loss to the Cardinals showed was that it only takes a few breakdowns to nullify a lot of good work. Defensively, the Cowboys were very strong, pulling many of the starters early in the game and still keeping Arizona from scoring a touchdown, despite the special teams and offense repeatedly giving them some excellent field position. Take away just one of the turnovers, particularly the first three, and the Cowboys would likely have won that game. The offense was just inexplicably sloppy with the ball, and the fumbled punt return pretty much ruined the night for the special teams. It left things very unsettled.
That is also a good term for the injury situation. While the Cowboys have avoided having any starters suffer season-ending injuries, they have lost a significant backup player, and many other are having to miss significant reps while they try to get healthy for the beginning of the season. While it is not a sign of imminent disaster, it is unsettling.
It was only one pre-season game, and it can easily be countered this week. And even if things don't go well, that hardly means that the season is going to be a failure. I have personally been in a few rotten dress rehearsals that were followed by very successful performances. Still, I will feel a whole lot better if the Cowboys can come out and show us a good, effective performance across the board this Saturday against the Cincinnati Bengals.
If they should have that game, then maybe the multiple mistakes against the Cardinals will have served a purpose in driving home the point that you cannot afford lapses like that. Just one turnover is too many to surrender in a league where the difference in the teams is just not all that great. It is the era of parity, and most of the Super Bowl champions of recent years have been those teams that held it together late in the season and were hot in the playoffs.
Of course, a good pre-season game is not a guarantee of future success. Remember, in 2008, the Detroit Lions (under head coach Rod Marinelli, now the Cowboys' defensive line coach) went 4-0 in preseason before going 0-16. So all this is probably much ado about nothing. But it the time of year when we look for every sign we can to give us some indication about how the team will fare.
Right now, the signs are just a little hard to read.
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