My colleague Jim Scott made a point that the Cowboys must stay the course because wins are coming. The wins may be coming, but only if the Cowboys shake things up a little. The Cowboys have to win a game, period. It doesn't matter how they get the win but they have to figure out a way to get a victory soon or the return of their best players will be for nothing. We can't assume anything with the Cowboys at this point. Getting Tony Romo and Dez Bryant back will do a lot to help but them being absent isn't the only problem they are facing. They don't need an overhaul by any stretch but they certainly need to make some changes if they plan on winning any games in Romo's absence.
Matt Cassel showed his ability to make mistakes but even so it was a breath of fresh air compared to what they had with Brandon Weeden. Cassel looked pretty comfortable in the pocket and was able to at least keep the defense honest in ways Weeden failed to. They must stay the course with Cassel and now correct some of his decision making. Cassel is closer to the Jon Kitna-type backup that Jason Garrett likes which is why they turned the offense a little loose in his hands. The Cowboys must now get more players involved now that Dez Bryant has returned to practice. We just don't know how healthy he will be or if he'll be able to play this weekend against the Seahawks. Lucky Whitehead and Darren McFadden both showed their abilities to use their speed to extend drives and make plays.
The Seahawks rank third in total defense so those who are expecting the Cowboys to light them up will be disappointed. Seattle is allowing less than 300 yards per game which mean the Cowboys will have to get creative. The Giants were the seventh-ranked rushing defense going into this past game, but Dallas ran for their season's best 233 yards with McFadden having the best day at 152 yards and a score. The Cowboys have to remain stubborn and continue to run the football. The offensive line seems to have taken nicely to the changing of the guard with La'el Collins supplanting Ronald Leary. The reverse plays and end-around's helped Dallas convert 54% of their third downs last week. If not for their own mistakes, they could have won that game. That's something to build on and the Cowboys have to keep this offensive line in rhythm by pounding the rock. Dez Bryant will open up so many opportunities for the Cowboys vertically but the biggest thing he does is allow them to return to their identity. Having him back on the practice field is music to the ears, especially the other wide receivers on the depth chart who have really been underwhelming without him.
The Dallas defense has been coming on very strong and they remain one of the strengths of the team as a whole. Two things this defense has struggled with though is tackling and takeaways. Rod Marinelli has got the defensive line playing at a high level but the secondary is still struggling to bring guys down. They have got to learn their assignments and quit missing these tackles. The defense has been playing a lot of man-coverage which has allowed these corners to play to their strengths but the have not been able to capitalize. Though they are only giving up 238 yards per game passing, they also have been giving up 26 points per game which ranks them 24th. The secondary needs to return to Football 101 this week and learn how to make tackles. It's fundamental football plain and simple.
The biggest ailment perhaps right below the absences of the franchise quarterback and receiver is the fact that the defense couldn't take the ball away if you handed it directly to them. They would find some way to bat the ball out of bounds or give it back to the offense. Rod Marinelli is not used to having a team that can't produce turnovers and the Cowboys ranked second in the category in 2014. Their defense didn't get worse in the offseason, they got better. This drought has got to end and they certainly have the players that can do it but they have to figure out how they are going to create more opportunities for their offense. The Seahawks' offensive line has been awful this season and they have given up a league-high 31 sacks. There's room for the defense to make something happen, they just keep letting it slip through their fingers both literally and figuratively.
This unit has been about as much a letdown than you can have. It's about time to let Lucky Whitehead take over as the return specialist. They cannot keep using Cole Beasley because it's not his strength. Let Beasley run with the starting offense and give Whitehead the nod. The Cowboys got better starting field position in this past game due to mistakes made by the Giants special teams unit. They simply cannot get out of their own way and it's been tough to watch especially when Dwayne Harris ran right by them for a 100 yard score. They can't block, they can't tackle, they can't get positive return yardage. Rich Bisaccia has to get a shock of life to the unit and put the ball in Lucky's hands. He had one fumble in the preseason but he has home run abilities. They desperately need some thunder and lightning on special teams, give the kid a shot.
The Cowboys have three games remaining before Romo can return. All three are winnable games seeing as these team combine for an 8-12 record. Dallas is now a team in desperation and they have to get at least two of these next three games. They have already beaten Philadelphia on the road and Tampa Bay is struggling as are the Seahawks. So, James is correct to hope for at least two victories here and perhaps all three. The conflict is that this team has yet to win without Romo and nothing they have done can really give you the confidence to think that's going to change unless they clean up their mistakes.
The Cowboys still have control of their own destiny and the NFC East is not over yet with how close all these records are. However, the Cowboys seem to be struggling with easy things as much as the hard ones. They outplayed the Saints, Giants and even the Falcons at times but they still can't play a full game without mistakes and get a win. Dallas found some positives to build on against the Giants but who is to say they will actually be able to do so before it's too late? The Dallas Cowboys are firmly standing in the way of their own abilities to find success. Until we see it happen, it doesn't exist.