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Can The Offensive Changes Get The Cowboys Back On Track?

After three consecutive losses, the Cowboys enter their bye week with a lot of work to do. The team will look to make some changes to the starting lineup, but will it be enough to make a difference?

Mike Stone/Getty Images

It was such a beautiful moment in time when Joseph Randle leaped over the goal line to take a 28-14 over the Atlanta Falcons with 40 seconds left in the first half. After the first 10 quarters of the 2015 season, it was looking like this team was going to coast their way to a respectable record despite missing their two biggest offensive playmakers. The running game was finally showing flashes of explosion, Brandon Weeden was orchestrating the offense nicely, and Lance Dunbar was finally being utilized to help spring the offense for big plays.

But then the next 10 quarters happened and darkness filled the sky. From that point on, the Cowboys offense would go on to average less than a field goal per quarter on their way to three straight losses. The running game would struggle, Brandon Weeden wasn't able to move the ball, and the Lance Dunbar excitement was no more as his season ended with a torn ACL. The team would drop out of first place in the division and now is faced with a great deal of uncertainty as they look for ways to keep their season hopes alive.

The problems the Cowboys have are plentiful. Jason Garrett and company will use the bye week to look for ways to spark this team and help get them back to their winning ways.  With new changes on the horizon, will it be enough to give fans a reason to believe the team can weather the storm?

Will Matt Cassel be any better?

The biggest change will be to the team's most important position on offense, as Matt Cassel will be replacing Brandon Weeden at quarterback. While many fans had brought out the torches for Weeden long ago, the team's new option doesn't necessarily mean it will bring positive results. Cassel brings with him 10 years of experience. He's a former Pro Bowler and has a winning record in the playoffs. Of course, none of that matters as that's all in the past. The only real question is - what can he do now?

There are a lot of similarities between these two quarterbacks. If fans are expecting more plays down field, they are going to be disappointed. Cassel doesn't have the arm strength that Weeden has and his best throws will be more of the same - short, underneath passes. Where the two quarterbacks differ is how they go about their progressions. Cassel is very sharp and decisive. He keeps his head moving and can check through different receivers a lot faster than Weeden. One of the knocks on Brandon was that he "settled" for too many short plays. Part of this is because he's careful and doesn't throw into coverage very often, but another part is because he isn't seeing the field very well and able to determine where the ball is supposed to go. This usually results in a short, dump-off pass to someone other than a wide receiver.

Cassel will make these throws. He'll be able to do a better job finding the open receiver. The down side to this is that he will throw picks. So the determining factor on whether the Cassel switch turns out to be a good one will be the net improvement from how much better he can be moving the chains compared to the damage the turnovers cause. There is risk here, but the Cowboys must have their quarterback drive the ball and score points. You got to risk it to get the biscuit.

Can the offensive line return to form?

The offensive line is the centerpiece of this offense. Without them, they go nowhere. So far this season, they have had trouble creating running lanes. The teams Pro Bowl linemen are playing fine, but the other two are not. Both Ron Leary and Doug Free haven't played very well and it is hindering the collective group. Rookie La'el Collins will step in to replace Leary. It will take a little time to come to fruition, but Collins is the better player. This group will be a lot stronger as the season progresses.

Do the Cowboys have a good enough running back?

Watching how differently Joseph Randle and Darren McFadden run provides a great perspective of what is happening in the running game. McFadden is such a straight-line runner. He's got good burst and will churn out a good run whenever a lane is present. The downside to McFadden is that he always requires a lane to run in. Joseph Randle doesn't. In fact, even if you give him one, he might up and decide to take a scenic route instead. The offensive line's inability to create space has caused Randle to improvise. It's hard to be too critical of him since his best run of the year came off of a play where he had to escape two defenders in the backfield before scampering for a 37-yard TD run.

So which is better, a running back who is more disciplined at running where he is supposed to or one who can make something out of nothing?

Well, neither of these options are working very well in the current state of the offense so the better question is which will be more effective once the running lanes open up a little better? The team is going to keep looking for this answer. Randle will have chances. McFadden will have chances. And you got to believe that Christine Michael will get more than just one chance per game.

I think Randle still comes out as the lead dog here as the combination of holes + trust will get him more dialed in to his responsibilities. But don't be surprised to see the Cowboys try a bunch of different options until they find what gives this team the best chance for success.

Can the offense get a little help from another skill position player?

The most alarming thing from watching the offense last Sunday was how completely lost they were without Jason Witten. The Cowboys tight end had always been there as a safety net, but the Patriots took him completely out of the game. Without having other players that pose any sort of viable threat, the offense will continue to be at a disadvantage. Defenses will continue to focus on the Cowboys small list of play makers. The blue-print has been laid out, so the Cowboys must find alternative approaches. They cannot just sit by and let this happen.

The team needs to look at different ways to supplement contribution for that last offensive skill position in order to help take the pressure off the other guys. While there might be some other names brought onto the practice field over the next couple weeks, the easiest solution is just to do a better job utilizing the ones they have. The switch to Cassel may do just that.

Jason Garrett has long preached that this team is always about getting better. So it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise that amidst all the recent struggles that several changes follow. Will these changes be the answer? Only the coming weeks will tell, but at least the team is not sitting on their hands or stuck with a bad case of denial that all these things will work themselves out.


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