Sole possession of first place. Sit back for a moment and let that sink in. And while you are at it, remember how you felt just one year ago. Did you really believe that the Dallas Cowboys would make this fast a recovery?
Is it the Cowboy Way in effect? I suspect that has something to do with it.
More importantly to me is the fact that the Cowboys have been taking care of business the past four weeks. There have been some games that were tighter than they should have been, but four times in a row the team has put one in the W column, and that is all that matters. Well, that and the collapse of the rest of the NFC East. With the Redskins officially declared out of it by OCC, the Eagles on life support, and the Giants in a familiar late season swoon headed into a game with the undefeated Packers, the Cowboys are the only team left in our division that is headed in the right direction.
But one of the tenets of Jason Garrett's philosophy is that the season is played one game at a time. And nothing has been clinched yet. This week, the team goes to the desert to face the Arizona Cardinals, so it is time for my weekly Football Forecast.
Just a note for those of you that may not have caught my Forecasts before: The percentage is the likelihood of bad things happening for the respective units. And there is no 0% or 100%, because there is no certainty in football (or much else in life, but I'll leave the philosophical musings to tanstaafl).
My pretense that I can predict the unpredictable after the jump.
One thing you may notice is that some of the numbers here are leveling out. That is something that I expected when I started this. The team's identity is becoming clearer, and I would hope for some consistency, at least in the stronger units.
Quarterback The argument will continue about just how good a quarterback Tony Romo is, but I know what I think. When you look at his statistics (especially in the fourth quarter), he has to be considered among the elite. But that is not what has convinced me. It has been the repeated spins out of pressure and the almost seeing-eye completions the past couple of weeks. This is an NFL quarterback who is playing the best ball of his career, and who may just be getting better every game. Yes, he still will make a bad throw - the difference between him and all the other top quarterbacks is that very few will give him a pass.
The only issue here is the loss of Jon Kitna. With Stephen McGee still so much of an unknown (the Great Suckitude strikes again), the team is in a shaky position if Tony should go down. I haven't seen anything yet, but I am sure the team is looking for a veteran QB as insurance.
CHANCE OF QB BEING A PROBLEM: 20% Last time: 20%
Running Back The measure of a running back is not whether he gets 100 yards. It is whether he gets the yards when they are needed. The 27 yards DeMarco Murray got on five consecutive carries on the game winning drive against the Dolphins show that he is the back this team has been looking for. With Felix Jones coming back into the lineup, this position is just getting better. Now, if we can just get a fullback healthy.
CHANCE OF RB BEING A PROBLEM: 20% Last time: 20%
Tight End/Fullback The health of Tony Fiammetta is the only question mark here. He may be getting better, but it is unlikely he will be ready for this week. According to some comments in another thread, Shaun Chapas may be brought up from the practice squad, but I haven't seen anything beyond the radio show that was quoted.
Update: Shaun Chapas will be promoted for the game, see OCC's article.
Meanwhile, Jason Witten is still Jason By God Witten, future Hall of Famer/Ring of Honor member, even when he is being mugged out of bounds and forced to
cop a quick feel try to avoid hurting a cheerleader. Even Martellus Bennett and John Phillips continue to make small but positive contributions in the passing game.
CHANCE OF TE/FB BEING A PROBLEM: 20% Last time: 20%
Wide Receiver I believe in Laurent Robinson. He seems to have become the player Tony Romo looks to when he is in the red zone, and he delivers. He is not perfect, and it will be very good to get Miles Austin back (although it is not certain for this week as far as I can tell) but with the help of the Senator, and DeMarco coming out of the backfield, Laurent and Dez Bryant can still get the job done. Three receiver sets are still a bit of an issue since it puts Kevin Ogletree or Jesse Holley into the mix, but fortunately that is not a formation the Cowboys use excessively.
CHANCE OF WR BEING A PROBLEM: 20% Last time: 40%
Offensive Line The ups and downs continue. Fortunately, there seems to be a sort of balance, with some of the line having a good game while others in the unit are struggling a bit. Last game, Phil Costa had a good outing, which helped offset some struggles by the rest of the Yuglies. And I think there is no doubt that Tony Romo is now making these guys look better. This is going to be a worry the rest of the season - but I for one think it could have turned out much worse.
CHANCE OF OL BEING A PROBLEM: 40% Last time: 40%
Defensive Line I was worried about the defensive line stopping the run, but they held Miami under a hundred yards, and got involved in pressuring Matt Moore, so I was pretty pleased with them. Kenyon Coleman in particular had a good game. So why did the number go up for them? Did you see what Beanie Wells did last week? Yeah, it was against the Rams (see: DeMarco Murray's breakout game), but that is still something to pay attention to.
CHANCE OF DL BEING A PROBLEM: 40% Last time: 30%
Linebacker Anthony Spencer had an excellent game. DeMarcus Ware was a presence, even though he did not show up statistically (well, according to the announcers, at least). Sean Lee is better one handed than about 75% of the ILBs with two good hands. Bradie James and Victor Butler were contributing. Just, guys, watch that Beanie fellow.
CHANCE OF LB BEING A PROBLEM: 20% Last time: 40%
Defensive Backs Larry Fitzgerald. Any questions? (And yes, I know Mike Jenkins is supposed to be back, but I still think this is where the biggest problems will be, even if Kevin Kolb and John Skelton are the options at quarterback for Arizona.)
CHANCE OF DB BEING A PROBLEM: 70% Last time: 50%
Special Teams Oh, yeah, they have this kid named Patrick Peterson returning punts. How good is he? The Hall of Fame asked for his shoes. With a returner who is making people forget Devin Hester, I would suggest Mat McBriar kick to the sidelines. Way to the sidelines.
On a positive note, Dez Bryant had a crucial punt return against the Dolphins, and even though he only got 20 yards, it just looked better with him handling the duties. And Felix Jones was in on the kickoff returns. Hopefully that will start to pay some dividends. But the jury is still out.
One more thing: Dan. Bailey. ROCKS!
CHANCE OF ST BEING A PROBLEM: 40% Last time: 60%
Coaching I sorta doubted things last time. But taking a longer view, I think the Cowboys are where they are primarily because of the job Jason Garrett and the coaching staff have done. They have set the tone, brought in some key players, and mostly made this a much tougher team than it was last year. There are still a few holes, but so many problem areas from 2010 have been upgraded. And I cannot fault the play calling against Miami. The execution was not always there, but I thought the plan was very good.
CHANCE OF COACHING BEING A PROBLEM: 20% Last time: 50%
Jerry Jones I mention him more out of tradition. He still is out there talking, but I just get the sense he and JG are so much on the same page right now that it doesn't matter (except when his jokes get taken too seriously).
CHANCE OF JJ BEING A PROBLEM: 20% Last time: 20%
Meanwhile, the Cowboys are still in sole possession of first place in the NFC East. Going into the game with the Cardinals, they just need to do one thing.
Oh, and FEAR THE STAR!