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Cowboys Going All In During Bye Week

Drastic times call for drastic measures at Valley Ranch.

Cowboys putting all their chips on the table.
Cowboys putting all their chips on the table.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

There was a great deal of speculation that changes were coming for the Dallas Cowboys during the bye week. The offense was clearly struggling with Brandon Weeden at quarterback, Ronald Leary was just getting beaten too often at left guard, and the lack of productivity by the running backs made it hard to understand why Christine Michael was not getting at least a few more opportunities to carry the ball. Most of us felt something would have to change before the game against the New York Giants.

What came as a surprise was that the moves were made official before the first practice after the loss to the New England Patriots. Jason Garrett confirmed that Matt Cassel and La'el Collins were being promoted as starters, and that Michael was going to see more work alongside Joseph Randle and Darren McFadden.

it was perhaps the most change at one time (not involving new injuries) for the Cowboys since Garrett became head coach. He has long been known for "the process", which is about a methodical, grind-it-out approach to the game. The consensus of the media seemed to be that any moves would come next week, after using this week's practices to make sure what the team wanted to do. But based on Garrett's comments, it appears that the decisions were finalized on Tuesday, which means that the staff felt it had all the evidence it needed from previous games.

It has become an all-in situation for the Cowboys. With three consecutive losses, the margin for error has shrunk too much to stick with a methodical approach. The team has to make a move now, before one of their NFC East rivals start to pull away. The lineup changes, along with the claiming of Rod Smith from Seattle, shows that the team is going to try just about everything it can to get back on a winning track. The staff is looking to push every chip it has in.

The problem is that there are limited chips for the Cowboys to bet at this point. You aren't going to find anyone better than Cassel just waiting for a phone call from them.  If he has similar struggles moving the team, Dallas can only go with Weeden or possibly Kellen Moore, both of which are extremely long shots to make things better. Putting Cassel in is purely a case of playing the odds here based on his past record and the clear evidence that Weeden seems to have already banged forcefully into his ceiling. At least the team knows Cassel has exceeded that level of performance in the past.

As might be expected, Weeden was not happy about things. And he may be watching Cassel throw to Dez Bryant against the Giants if things work out the way the team hopes. That is not going to make him any happier as he will have to wonder how much of a difference having Bryant on the field would have made for him. But he had other opportunities, and except for the touchdown drive at the end of the New Orleans Saints game, he failed to capitalize. Right now, the Cowboys have to try and maximize every aspect of the team, and the odds look better that Cassel can turn Bryant's presence into yards and points.

The other major move actually was one that many considered inevitable. There is no argument that Collins is a more talented athlete than Leary and he was signed as the expected replacement at left guard - one day. But Leary has just never seemed right since suffering a groin strain, and one day suddenly became now. Although there is never any certainty, the odds are also in favor of Collins being better than Leary has been so far this season. Even if the latter is able to heal up and play more like he did last season, it is going to be hard for him to reclaim his starting job if Collins continues to play the way he did earlier in the season.

Running back still is something to be determined. Randle has not been horrible, but he has also not shown himself to be a clear number one. McFadden has not shown a whole lot of anything other than that he is pretty limited to running in a straight line and is very easy to knock down. Micheal, despite the near-mystic belief he inspires in many fans, is still an unproven quantity, and the Cowboys have just added another in his once and future teammate Smith. This is probably a wide-open situation, and anyone who gets a hot hand is likely to wind up the starter. There is also a chance for any of the backs to fill at least some of the role of Lance Dunbar. None of them are going to be the elusive threat Dunbar was, but the team can use a sure-handed back on obvious passing downs as a safety valve.

One way or another, the Cowboys have to find some offensive consistency to get some wins. The chances look very good that the team will finally roll out a Greg Hardy/Tyrone Crawford/DeMarcus Lawrence/Randy Gregory defensive line to confront Eli Manning, and if Hardy's performance against the Patriots and Gregory's work against the Giants in the first game are any indication, it could be a long afternoon for Manning - especially with Sean Lee and Rolando McClain manning the second level. The defense finally looks to be hitting its stride, but they have to get some help in terms of field position as well as points. The only thing that really needs to be improved defensively is takeaways, and it almost seems that just the law of averages is going to swing things in their favor soon.

But just waiting for good fortune to fall your way is a sucker bet. The Cowboys are using everything they have proactively to find a solution for their woes. It is a gamble, but a very calculated one. Going with the moves early rather than next week not only lets the team know clearly what direction the staff is taking them, it also shows a little boldness in pushing all those chips out there. That, in and of itself, is a message that the Cowboys are not giving up on anything. They may lose, but they are going to play the hand out to the very end.

Follow me @TomRyleBTB


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