One of the best things about writing for Blogging The Boys is being able to sit down with my colleagues and discuss what we are thinking about the Dallas Cowboys. Recently Tom Ryle and I got together around the virtual office water cooler and debated what changes we expect to see from Jason Garrett and Company as the team comes out of the bye week.
Dawn: It is a given that the Cowboys needed the bye week as an opportunity to step back and regroup as an organization. They entered the season with high expectations only to have things blow up in their faces right off the bat with the injures to Dez Bryant and then Tony Romo. Those were critical blows, but even without those losses it looked to me like things were not quite right with the team.
Tom: Subsequent events indicate that the injury to Ronald Leary was worse than the team let on. That, plus some signs that Doug Free is not 100%, has hampered the offensive line. This put the run game behind, then the loss of Romo just made it worse with the lack of respect from defenses for Brandon Weeden to hurt them over the top.
My gut feeling is that everything that has limited the offense starts right there. We know the kind of talent that the Cowboys have up front, but they have not been the unit we were looking for so far. Having two guys at less than 100% will hamper any line. One other thought that has been playing out in my mind is a nagging question about how much losing Bill Callahan has hurt the offensive front.
I think it is less about losing Callahan and the fact the team has been facing extra men in the box so much. It is hard to block the run well when you have more defenders than you do blockers. With eight in the box, they outnumber even a two tight end set.
That is a very good point. Every defensive coordinator in the league knows that without Tony and Dez the Cowboys are not looking to beat them over the top. They have to rely on that group of linemen to get the job done. It is a simple formula to give the big guys more than they can handle by stacking the box.
While we are on the topic of the line, I think it was inevitable that we would see La'el Collins take over at some point this season. How do you think that move is going to impact the Cowboys in the short term?
Short term he is not likely to be as good as a healthy Leary, but is probably a good bit better than Leary is hurt. I think it helps now, and by the end of the season he will be rock solid.
Something that I think we did not realize was how much the pass rush was hurt by losing both Randy Gregory and Terrell McClain in the first two weeks. Now that Gregory is getting back up to strength, we are seeing some of what could have been from the first.
Gregory is an impact guy for Marinelli's defense. That is the side of the ball that I am cautiously optimistic about. Getting some pieces back is going to help out there. I expect Greg Hardy to help alter the character of the defensive front as well. He has the potential to strike fear in opposing passers. Having a tandem of Lee and Rolando McClain at linebacker will help as well.
Hardy may be the biggest "game changer" on the team. With the problems both the Eagles and the Giants had during their game, the Cowboys pass rush could be on the quarterback all night. The unknown is going to be whether the offense can move the ball with some consistency.
And that is my biggest concern. Weeden has not been able to get it done. Matt Cassel is an experiment that Garrett has to try. Something is going to have to happen to give the offense a spark. If Cassel gets the team moving through the air then everything will open up. If he can get the team moving I look for Brandon Weeden to be released as soon as Tony comes off of IR.
It's a big if, true, but there was almost zero indication that Weeden could get things together. He just needs to play his game and not press. The apparent switch to Christine Michael as the starter may help if the running game can get going. But it sill is most likely going to depend on Cassel being able to find and hit open receivers, and not throw bad balls if they aren't there.
I am glad you brought that up. Michael is a guy that I wanted in Dallas when he came out of college. Everyone knows that a couple front page writers (not naming names) have some underlying interests in seeing an Aggie have success with the Cowboys, but I think that he has the potential to be the solution at running back for the Cowboys. The big thing is, as you stated, they are going to have to be able to loosen the defense up for him to get things done.
The good thing is that the Eagles beat the Giants basically with their pass rush. Unless the G-men come out and play like an entirely different team, the Cowboys may be able to do much the same thing. It certainly looks like a game where Dallas may be able to be patient with the offense and find what works best for both Cassel and Michael. If the Cowboys can establish a running game early, then the game should go well.
That was my impression as well. The defense is starting to resemble the group that we anticipated when the team broke camp. That should solidify the defense to where they can carry the load until the major weapons on offense can get back on the field. The NFC East is still up for grabs, and if the Cowboys can hang around over the next few weeks I like their chances to slip into the playoffs again. With a healthy Romo and Bryant they have the potential to do something similar to what Eli and the Giants did a few years back.
The addition of Bryant should make a huge difference as well, although it likely will not be for another week based on what is coming out of Valley Ranch. But when he can stretch the field and draw double coverage, things will open up for Cassel. Dallas probably needs to win a minimum of two games before Romo comes back, but they may be able to do better.
A pair of division wins without him would help tremendously and the Cowboys also have the Bucs on tap before Romo makes it back. The potential for three wins is there. It all depends on how well the changes made over the last week work out.
Don't automatically pencil in a loss against the Seahawks, They have been staging fourth quarter collapses in just about every game this season.
Any given Sunday.
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