This Sunday's early October game against Detroit could prove extremely vital to the Dallas weather forecast come January. Dallas has the opportunity to move to 3-0 against the NFC on the season with a win. It would also cement an important tie breaker with a team that appears to be a playoff contender, something that could come in handy.
After Sunday's game against the temporarily undefeated Detroit Lions, Dallas will have faced four teams currently in Football Outsider's Top 12 in Defensive DVOA. The Jets are ranked sixth (after being first before Sunday), 49ers fourth, Redskins 12th and the Lions are ranked second.
DVOA stands for Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average. It's a metric that compares performance on a play-by-play basis to what the average NFL result is in the given down, distance and game situation.
DVOA breaks down every single play of the NFL season to see how much success offensive players achieved in each specific situation compared to the league average in that situation, adjusted for the strength of the opponent.
Things start to get better after the bye week, when Dallas hopes to have a relatively healthy roster for the first time since the first quarter of the season opener. Obviously the team isn't looking ahead, but as fans our focus has no such limitations.
By Week 6, Tony Romo should have a much better handle on his cracked baby back, and it's expected Dez Bryant's thigh bruise will be healed by then as well. A healthy Miles Austin hamstring and a sturdier shoulder for Felix Jones are possible as well.
Room for improvement exists with each opponent, but the unbalanced middle of the Cowboys schedule contains the following teams with their current, respective Defensive DVOA ranks: Patriots (30), Rams (32), Eagles (24), Seahawks (15), Bills (19), Redskins (12), Dolphins (31), Cardinals (18). The Cowboys could be poised to go on a powerful run of point gouging in the near future.
The fact that the Cowboys pass rush has been so disruptive to this point in the season also gives hope for bye week improvement. While Alan Ball has improved each week as he gets reacquainted with the cornerback position, Orlando Scandrick has yet to have the opportunity to display his off season improvement. He should be good to go against the Patriots, a game in which the team desperately needs to combat Wes Welker in the slot.
Mike Jenkins has been in and out of all three games with various injuries. A week without keeping his head on a swivel should do wonders for that troublesome shoulder.
Defensive end Jason Hatcher is also expected back for the New England game, per the team's interpretation of Tuesday's MRI. The team will miss him against Detroit's offensive line though.
LG Derrick Dockery and Cowboys second round pick Bruce Carter are expected to return to the team for the second half stretch, at two of the Cowboys' weakest positions. Bill Nagy is currently the offensive line's weak link, and the middle linebackers opposite Sean Lee would need to meld together to contribute properly. There's a huge question if Carter can provide that this year, but Bradie James' pass coverage and Keith Brooking's run D could stand being upgraded.
Although the Cowboys do face two of the league's most potent offenses, overall the post-bye schedule isn't overly daunting. The defense will be tested, but there are quite a few middle of the pack offenses ripe to be throttled down.
Here are the current, offensive DVOA ranks of those foes: Patriots (2), Rams (27), Eagles (17), Seahawks (30), Bills (1), Redskins (14), Dolphins (9), Cardinals (19).
If the Cowboys can manage to pull off a home win against the Lions and enter the bye week at 3-1, I have a feeling Tom's forecasts are going to get sunnier as the temperature drops. The walking wounded Cowboys will be ever so happy to bid a hearty good bye to the early season nicks and bruises.