It's the Competition, Stupid

I think it's funny how, when watching football, there are so many different explanations for the Cowboys' wins (and losses). I hear a lot about specific changes in our playcalling (e.g., running the ball more), specific shuffling of personnel (including injuries), an "on game" or "off game" for Romo, etc., etc. I hear about sudden increases in our NY/A and decreases in the NY/A of our opponents. I hear about turnovers. Even more puzzling (more below) I hear a lot about trap game, momentum, and the lack of consistency.

All of these forms of analysis have their value. But the one thing they have in common, in my opinion, is that they underplay the significance of our competition--who is taking the field against us. Want to know why we ran all day against the Rams? Because they went light in the box (in order to take away Dez), and the runs worked. Want to know why we didn't run against the Chiefs? Because they went heavy in the box (and let Dez run wild--and would have lost the game if he had caught that last ball). People can gripe and gripe and gripe about the Cowboys not having an identity, but that is our identity: we take what they are giving us. We don't find ways to win, we find ways to let the opponents lose.

We win on turnovers (despite abysmal pass offense vs. pass defense stats) against the Giants, not because that's who we are, but because that's who they are. The Giants have been losing the ball to other teams--and our defense has not taken the ball away from teams that don't cough it up.

We shut down the Rams' offense and jump up to an early lead, not because that's who we are, but because that's who they are. They allowed the same thing in their previous loss--and in their previous win.

For some reason, perhaps for fear of taking away from the Cowboys' achievements (as in the "it's just the Rams" meme), we often overlook the amazing consistency of this team for its last couple of dozen games.

We beat bad teams. We lose to good teams.

This is the Cowboys. In 2012, it didn't matter if we were in a trap game, if we were coming off of a loss, if we were coming off of a win. It didn't matter if our starters were healthy or if everyone was in the hospital. It didn't matter if we ran well or poorly, if Tony Romo had a career game or if he kept throwing interceptions.

At the end of the game, against teams with losing records, we had a win.

At the end of the game, against teams with winning records, we had a loss.

That's an identity that keeps you at a basic 8-8 record, year after year. There are 3 ways that identity can change:

1) Bad teams start beating us. I don't expect this to happen; I think we're making too many good moves. More good news: simply by beating bad teams, we will probably make the playoffs. Unlike the last few years, our division has bad teams.

2. We keep our basic profile, but sharpen it. This means we stop being blown out by good teams. So far, so good. We've met one good team (3-0), who beat us by only a point. This might not be something new--last year we had plenty of close games--but we'll see if we can stay away from the wrong end of a blow-out all season long. The other way of sharpening our basic profile is, or course, to beat the bad teams more decisively. So far, our wins this year look better than last season's--we've gotten the lead earlier and done more to extend it.

3. We start beating good teams. I don't know when, or whether, this is going to happen. Like I said, I think we're making good moves. I'm also pretty optimistic that we can reach the playoffs even without beating good teams. The bad news? Until we learn to beat good teams, we don't have Eli's chance in a shootout with his older brother of actually going anywhere in the playoffs. And all those good moves we're making? Other good teams make good moves too. So before we start talking about Superbowl or deep run, we have to beat a good team. It's been years now.

Now, three games is not enough to prove that this year will look like last year. But for now, I can only shake my head at the people who sound like the Cowboys are wildly inconsistent, great one week, terrible the next. Because for more than a year, they haven't smacked down a high-rated opponent or slipped to a terrible team. On the contrary, they've only been great against bad teams, and only been terrible against good teams. That's the definition of consistency.

It isn't the inconsistency of the Cowboys. It's the level of their competition.

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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