Random thoughts, musings and misgivings from the BTB writers as we prepare for the first divisional match of the season against the Giants.
Was Cowboys' success meticulously planned?
Rabblerousr: Although we really shouldn't, it's difficult not to evaluate events and assess the efficacy of decisions by their eventual outcomes. As the 2014 Cowboys continue to enjoy on-field success, it makes the team's off-season decisions - many of which seemed insignificant or barely made headlines, others of which felt like tragedies and travesties - loom as matters of great import, wisdom and foresight. Let's take a trip in the way-back machine, shall we? I'll set the dial for January, 2014. Check this out:
January 28: Cowboys announce Scott Linehan hiring and Rod Marinelli promotion
March 5: Cowboys discuss paycut with Ware
March 7: Cowboys release Phil Costa, lowered Mackenzie Bernadeau's contract
March 9: Anthony Spencer drawing interest from other teams
March 10: Punter, holder Chris Jones signs his RFA tender
March 11: Cowboys release DeMarcus Ware, Miles Austin
March 12: Cowboys sign Jeremy Mincey, Terrell McClain
March 13-14: LB Will Herring comes and goes; Jason Hatcher signs with Washington
March 17: Cowboys sign Brandon Weeden
March 18: Cowboys sign Henry Melton
March 22: Dave Halprin writes post titled "Anthony Spencer, Cowboys Likely Playing the Waiting Game"
April 26: Cowboys sign Anthony Spencer
What at the time seemed to be a series of moves driven largely by salary cap limitations now look like shrewd maneuvers made with a vision in mind of the team that the Cowboys have indeed become. Frankly, the Dallas defense couldn't operate as they have this season with Ware still on the roster; his loss, while significant, meant that a much-needed philosophical shift could occur.
Its much clearer from this historical vantage point...
Is the Rolando McClain trade Jerry Jones' finest move as GM?
Joey Ickes: This is premature... But I wonder if one day five years or so from now we will look at the Rolando McClain trade as Jerry Jones' finest move as general manager of the Cowboys. When you consider the "window" of this team largely revolving around the number of years in which Tony Romo will remain a viable NFL franchise QB, the ability to drastically improve the defense over the course of a 3-5 year period is extremely important. The potential long-term impact of McClain upgrading two different positions in the linebacking corps upon the return of Sean Lee, and doing so without using a premium draft pick could be huge in this team's efforts to become a championship level defense.
How long can the good times last?
Kegbearer: Cowboys fans and others are now thinking Dallas looks like a legit contender, but it seems everyone is wondering when the floor will fall out from under this improving team. Can they survive injuries? Is Tony Romo and his back tough enough? Can DeMarco Murray survive an entire 16-game season? Will the O-line collapse without veteran Doug Free? It seems the franchise has answered far too many offseason questions, so now a whole bunch more are popping up as the media is still not willing to trust the Garrett-led Cowboys to find success.
Personally, I trust this team and coaching staff to survive whatever adversity is thrown their way. Perhaps it will take a few division wins to start convincing others. However, Dallas will host New York in a seemingly lose/lose situation where it is likely that the Giants will be fighting very hard to regain their pride and save their season, so it seems unlikely they will play so terribly that the Cowboys manage a shutout. Be prepared for some "Eagles are better" talk to surface even if the Cowboys manage a respectable victory.
When will the pass rush arrive?
Gary Morris: Anthony Spencer has been getting steadily more snaps and looks like he's getting closer to his pre-injury form. DeMarcus Lawrence has rejoined team practices and looks terrific by all accounts. Will we see Spencer and Lawrence in top form and starting at DE for the Arizona game in Week 9?
Who is the face of the Dallas defense?
OCC: This is a thought that's been bugging me since the offseason, and I still don't really have an answer for it. We have an abundance of nationally recognizable names on offense, but on defense? DeMarcus Ware was the soft-spoken, soft-mannered face of the Cowboys defense for a long time, but not anymore.
Sean Lee probably should be the face of the Cowboys defense - and has the contract to prove it - but it's hard to be the face of anything if you're constantly injured. Mo Claiborne has the draft pedigree to be a star for this defense, but his health and performance to date have negated that. Rolando McClain? Henry Melton? Anthony Spencer? Maybe after this season.
Right now, this is a defense of unknowns and question marks, at least from the outside looking in. But that (relative) absence of big-name talent may be this defense's greatest asset. Rod Marinelli likes to say that 'effort doesn't take talent.' And this defense plays exactly like it knows it cannot rely on talent but will have to win through sheer effort - flying to the ball, playing with speed, intensity, urgency, and above all: discipline.
The unsung heroes on the coaching staff.
Tom Ryle: The Cowboys have largely avoided any real injury problems this season, with Doug Free being the first significant one on offense. Except, of course, for the linebackers. Rolando McClain and Bruce Carter have been in and out of the lineup, and Sean Lee and DeVonte Holloman were lost before the season. Yet the team has not seen a serious problem with the play of the linebackers, as Justin Durant, Anthony Hitchens, Kyle Wilber, and even Cam Lawrence have filled in whenever and however needed.
We rave about so many of the assistant coaches, but I haven't seen any praise for the job Matt Eberflus and Ben Bloom have done with these guys. It is especially impressive how they have turned Durant and Hitchens into players that can be plugged into any of the three positions as required. Even though the linebackers have probably totaled up the most missed time as a percentage of available snaps for any position group, they have by and large been the heart of the defense. According to the team stats at the mothership, the top five linebackers (not including Cam Lawrence) are all in the top ten of the list of tacklers. I find that remarkable, and almost completely overlooked.
There is still a lot of untapped potential on this team.
Dawn Macelli: The most glaring opportunity for immediate improvement is in the third phase of the game, special teams. I have no doubt that Coach Bisaccia has been putting in the effort this week and that we will see an improvement there. Beyond that area, there is even more untapped potential. On offense we saw several mental errors that Linehan, Callahan, and Pollack will have been working on as well. There were too many holding calls and a snap error that need to be addressed. On the other side of the ball, Marinelli's guys are playing as a team and as they continue to learn the scheme they will continue to get better. The Dallas Cowboys are growing up quickly, but they have not peaked yet. To steal a phrase from our friend Birddog26's twitter feed on gameday, this group has the potential to become "scary good".
neithan20000: I think this week may be Lance Dunbar's coming out party. The team used him to good effect last Sunday, but only on a small number of plays. The Giants have a slow linebacking corps, I wouldn't be surprised to see Dunbar be a big part of the gameplan