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The Cowboys Have A Realistic Chance To Get Back In It

Things are a little less than perfect around Cowboys Nation and fans are clinging to the “glass-half full” approach to stay happy. Well, it’s time to pour it out and fill it with a nice cold glass of reality.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

With the recent struggles of the Dallas Cowboys, fans are looking for any way to make them feel better about the season. Often times, they'll crutch onto any type of optimism that brings them hope. Optimism is good, but it feels so much better to be convicted in what you believe so you don't have to spend the better part of your Sundays tensed up with so much uncertainty that surrounds you. And let's face it, uncertainty is all around us.

With so many questions about what the path ahead will look like, here are a few things that seem to be a little clearer in understanding just what things may look like.

The defensive monsoon is coming

The New England Patriots lead the league in third down percentage, converting 53% of their plays. But entering the game with Dallas, they were even higher at 60%. The drop off is a result of the Cowboys defense keeping them 3 for 10 on third downs last Sunday. With the expected return of Randy Gregory, third downs are going to get even tougher for their opponents.

The collection of strong talent on the defensive line is going to be so impactful for the rest of the season. Greg Hardy, Tyrone Crawford, DeMarcus Lawrence, and Randy Gregory are strong rushers. Jeremy Mincey and Jack Crawford are quality rotational guys and Nick Hayden has been solid in run defense. This group has a chance to be special when their big playmakers are out there and are strong enough to be effective when the reserves are called upon. In the early part of the season, the Cowboys defensive line had to rely on their deeper players on the roster and it made things more difficult for them. But that is not the case anymore. Barring injury, this will be a strong group going forward.

And when the defensive line plays better, the rest of the defense plays better.

The linebacker position was a big wild card coming into this season as Sean Lee's ability to stay healthy is always worrisome. But another concern was what type of player the team would have in Rolando McClain. It's a small sample size, but looking at the Patriots game, this duo looks outstanding. Add Anthony Hitchens in the mix, and this is an exceptional unit.

It's great to see the LBs perform, but that isn't too surprising because they are good players. What is surprising is the quality of play that the defense is getting from their cornerbacks. Morris Claiborne is having his best season of his career and has done a fine job handling the assignment of the offense's best receiver. Byron Jones is working out nicely as he's been shutting down the opposing tight ends. The team even has the luxury of swapping out Tyler Patmon and Corey White in order to better match up with different strengths of their opponent.

All these things put this Cowboys defense in a position to be wreak havoc for the rest of the year. That's good in theory, but just what type of challenges lie ahead for this defense.

QBs will struggle against this defense

The quarterback play of the Cowboys opponent has had a large part to do with whether or not they win the game.

They will see Manning and Bradford again in two of their next three games, but of the remaining quarterbacks on their schedule, there isn't as much to worry about.

When you factor in the improved pass rush coming, the defense should make it hard for these quarterbacks.

The turnovers are right around the corner

Creating turnovers has been a staple in Rod Marinelli's defense as the team went from 16 turnovers in 2012 (ranked 30th) to 29 in 2013 (12th), and 30 last year (2nd). The team has fallen down the ranks again as they are back at 30th with only creating three turnovers so far his season. While this is disappointing, the numbers aren't indicative of the opportunities the defense has had. If the defense wasn't putting on the pressure, hitting hard, and being in position to make picks - this would be a more concerning issue. The opportunities have been there, but they haven't been able to capitalize on them. Will this trend continue?

Loose balls and catchable interception opportunities usually mean good things so regression to the mean would suggest that the Cowboys should be creating more turnovers if the same opportunities are there. And with the resurgence of defensive pressure, this team will be in great position to boost their turnover numbers.

All this defense talk is great, but what good will it do without an offense that can be productive?

The offense gets it together

The Cowboys are making a lot of changes before they take the field against the Giants next week. Big changes. Matt Cassel replaces Brandon Weeden, La'el Collins replaces Ron Leary, and the running back touches will consist of more Christine Michael. What this all translates to is a great unknown. It can be better, worse, or more of the same. What is known is that the team is going to keep at it until they find things that work.

The biggest challenge the team faces is to keep opposing defenses from crowding the line of scrimmage. The only way this happens is for the offense to show it can win on the outside. This is what Cassel will be asked to do. He's going to have to connect on throws that Weeden didn't make.

The other part that needs to happen is that the Cowboys need to run more effectively against a loaded box. Jason Garrett is not willing to concede this battle just yet to where he is going to change up his offense to move the ball. Instead, he's going to keep doing the things that need to be done, only just do it better. The decision to go with Collins at left guard is an effort to have a better player at the position. The decision to adjust carries among the running backs is an effort to get better runs.

As hopeful as fans are that these changes will produce better results, there is one change that is assured to - the return of Dez Bryant. The Cowboys star receiver is getting close to returning and when that happens, the defense will have to adjust. If Bryant can make plays then the offense will be able to add another element that is currently not there. They don't have to transform to a top performing offense to win games. With a little improvement, this team can be solid enough to put some scoring drives together. And with a great defense to go along with it, the Cowboys will win some games.


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