The Dallas Cowboys have now lost four games in a row. At times like these, it's easy to predict the demands for "something" to be done. The Miami Dolphins fired their coach and are on a two game winning streak. The Detroit Lions have now jettisoned their offensive coordinator. Is now the time for Dallas to make a drastic change before the season is lost?
In a word: no.
I think it's legitimate to question whether the team might be losing faith in, or touch with, the Jason Garrett way of doing things. This last game should've been a handy victory, but players the team has needed to step up stepped very hard down instead. The number one wide out fails to finish a route to the sideline, giving up an easy pick-six. The special teams ace-- brought in for no other purpose -- gets blown out of his lane assignment and gives up a back-breaking touchdown return. The punt returner who is back there strictly to not muff the ball does. These kind of lapses in consistency are incongruous with the Way of the Rooster (TM - Dawn Macelli) and, more importantly are totally congruous with an old adage: "good teams find ways to win, bad teams find ways to lose." At this point Dallas is playing like a bad team.
But there is reason for hope. The issues that have been plaguing the team through the losing streak were not the issues on display Sunday afternoon. The next three games are against teams struggling as mightily as the Cowboys to win. The division is very much within reach. There also the imminent return of nearly ten percent of this year's salary cap to the line up in Dez Bryant, providing a much needed receiving threat to inspire respect in defenses.
While Matt Cassel's three interceptions certainly had a lot to do with the Dallas loss, there is no question the offense overall performed much more efficiently against the New York Giants than it ever did under Brandon Weeden. One of the interceptions was a mere mechanical error (those things happen), one was clearly on the wide receiver, and one was a poor read. The fact remains that Cassel made more plays Sunday than Weeden did in the three weeks prior, combined. And this fact can be no more clearly illustrated by the sudden re-emergence of the Dallas running game. While La'el Collins certainly had his contributions to the effort, I think it's very clear that Dallas has backs who are capable of running the ball if they're not facing constant eight and even nine man fronts. The offense was powerful and capable, hitting a third-down conversion mark that we got used to last year. Police up the turnover issue and add in Dez Bryant and you have a team capable of beating people.
While they did not get the 12 sacks that some of us were hoping for, Eli Manning was under pressure and played like it. He barely had a 50% completion rate and 170 yards total. Consider that nearly half of that came on two big plays (both of which had their flukey aspects) and you begin to realize what kind of day the Dallas pass defense had. While the run defense was less stellar, they held tough for the most part, giving up most of their yardage on their one really poor sequence of the game: the Giants' only touchdown drive. Let's repeat that, by the way -- the Giants' only touchdown drive. The Giants scored over half of their points for the game while the defense was not even on the field.
The next three games are the Seattle Seahawks, the Philadelphia Eagles, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Now, I do not mean to say that they will be cake walks. Before the season, the Eagles and Seahawks would like have been considered two of the tougher games on the schedule. But all three of those teams have lost as many games as Dallas has. Furthermore, two of the three Seahawks victories have come against teams playing worse than Dallas and, while the Eagles have had more impressive wins, Dallas has already beaten them in Philadelphia. All three remaining games before the return of Romo are winnable. Taking two of three is not at all an insurmountable task.
Dallas is a half game behind the Eagles and a game and a half behind the Giants. The Giants, however, still have a slew of games against tough teams, including the Patriots, Jets, Panthers, and Vikings, who have a combined record of 20-4. They also have to finish the season against the Eagles, who will not go quietly for them. The Giants will slip some. But Dallas currently has the best division record in the NFC East at 2-1. If they can hold serve at home against the Eagles and Redskins, they will essentially be assured of the best record in the division (at least a tie) and be going into the final game of the year at Washington to be able to seal the division tiebreaker. They are far from out of it as long as they beat the Eagles. A loss against Philadelphia truly damages their chances.
The long and the short of it is that Dallas has seen the improvements they wanted to see -- a stout defense capable of pressuring quarterbacks and limiting scoring opportunities and a resurgence of their run game with a more respectable passing threat. While the turnovers are notably absent, that has been more the fickle nature of an oblong ball -- highlighted once again by a spectacular play by Byron Jones that didn't count (as the ball hit the ground approximately one-half inch before hitting his foot). The sacks were coming. Turnovers are coming. Wins are, too. The ship is righting -- now is not the time to overreact and toss it over the other way.