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Nine Cowboys Games and What Do We Know?

A handful of facts on a bloodshot Monday:

1. The Cowboys, at 6-3 remain atop the NFC East, one game ahead of the Eagles and Giants.

2.  Dallas is tied with the Cardinals for the third best record in the conference, behind New Orleans and Minnesota

3.  Dallas has the best scoring defense in the NFC, though it ranks 8th in the NFL.  Dallas should remain a solid NFC contender as long as the good health continues on this side of the ball.

4.  Point three leads to a chicken-egg question.  The Cowboys would rank 3rd in the AFC in scoring offense, behind only the Colts and Chargers.  Yet,  they rank much, much lower in the NFC.  Look at the NFL and the top scoring defenses all reside in the AFC while the top scoring offenses are in the NFC.  Do the NFC teams score so much because the defenses in conference are relatively weak, or is there some other explanation?

5.  The NFL season is one of attrition.  In that respect, the Cowboys remain blessed. Yes, they lost starting right tackle Marc Colombo, perhaps for the season, but their injured secondary players appear set for quick returns.  CB Mike Jenkins maintains that he will be back against the Redskins while Jerry Jones claimed that Ken Hamlin's ankle injury was not believed to be a long-term issue.  With Washington and Oakland, the two worst scoring offenses in their respective conferences next on the schedule, the Cowboys' defense should remain on track, health sustaining.

6. Injuries have to be assessed according to team depth, not just by position; if you suffer an injury at a deep spot, it's not so bad.  If you're thin or empty on a unit and lose a starter, you're sunk.  In this sense, Dallas got a bit lucky.  If you were to rank their linemen from 1-9, Doug Free would rate 6th, just behind the five starters.  I'd probably put Marc Colombo 4th on this list, ahead of Kyle Kosier, but behind Gurode, Davis and Adams.  This means that Dallas would realize the least drop-off from starter to backup.

Compare that to last year, when Cory Proctor replaced Kosier for much of the season at left guard.  While Kosier is the lowest rated of the five starters, the drop-off from his level of play to Proctor's was significant.

7.  Dallas has likely reached the its limit of serious o-line injuries.  Free was the best backup, and he may be the only backup who could give quality long-term starting play.  We know Proctor's limit.  Montrae Holland you ask?  I think the fact that Proctor is active and Holland frequently isn't says a lot about the team's confidence in him. 

Free may take this opportunity and run.  He may show he's much better than Rob Petitti and Torrin Tucker were in '05,but the Cowboys may be facing a similar situation.  Petitti had to start as a low round rookie that year because Ryan Young and Jacob Rogers could not play. The Cowboys were able to progress into playoff contention with him, but collapsed when Flozell Adams tore a knee ligament. 

That team could absorb one significant line injury  but not two. I believe this team finds itself in the same situation. It can progress with Free in the lineup but I don't think it can start Free and another of the backups. 

8.  Dallas' offense has struggled facing 3-4 fronts.  Dallas has faced two thus far and could muster only ten points against the Broncos and seven against the Packers.  The Cowboys face just one more 34 this year, when Norv Turner and his DC Ron Rivera bring their Chargers to Cowboys Stadium.

9.  The Redskins bring a shiny new win with them to Cowboys Stadium next week.  They're not going to feel any sympathy for Dallas. They lost Pro Bowl LT Chris Samuels to a neck injury weeks ago.  They lost RG Randy Thomas before that.   Only C Casey Rabach remains from Washington's '08 starting five. (Ask the Eagles about OL depth today.  Or the Packers. It's part of the game. There's no crying in football.)

10.  The Redskins are a divisional rival, which means anything can happen.  If you're looking for another reason why this game is far from certain, know that Washington ranks 2nd in NFC scoring defense behind the Cowboys.  The Redskins offense can barely muster 14 points per game, but DC Greg Blache's guys do not surrender many points.