It has been a strange week for the Dallas Cowboys. While things seem to be getting closer and closer to a tipping point as far as the season goes, we have seen another Greg Hardy controversy, Joseph Randle has been demoted and is facing multiple issues on and off the field, and everyone is anxiously awaiting whether or not Dez Bryant will play this Sunday (he is listed as questionable on the official injury report, putting him at 50/50 - which is not a lot of help, really).
All and all, it makes it hard to focus on just one thing. So here are several items for your consideration as we go through Halloween and the return of Daylight Wasting Time.
Are we finally in a true "must win" situation? With the rest of the NFC East all having at least three losses, it really isn't over yet. No one else looks poised to run away with the division. Still, the losing streak is disturbing. The Cowboys truly need a victory to try and get some confidence back. This tweet certainly raises some concerns.
Kills me to say, but the Cowboys are a very fragile locker room and FO. While the Jones's are steadfast another loss is a killer for others— Birddog26 (@Birddog26) October 30, 2015
For those who don't know about him, Birddog works with the Cowboys as an outside consultant/trainer and deals regularly with both players and staff. If he sees that kind of brittleness in the mental state of the team, then finding a way to get a win this week becomes even more important.
They need Dez back, and for more than just his receiving skills. Bryant is more than just a tremendous weapon on the field. He is a true emotional sparkplug for the team. Everyone around him just seems to play a little harder when he is involved. Unless he is truly ready to go, the team does not need to rush him onto the field. But it is hard to hold him out when the team is struggling so badly.
That aspect may also be why the Cowboys seem far less concerned about the Hardy incident last week than so many of the armchair moralists out there. The fire Hardy brings to things may be something of an equivalent to Bryant's for the defense.
This is a game where the improving pass rush may tip the scales. Russell Wilson has been sacked far more than any other quarterback in the league, 31 times, six more than the next most sacked QB. Dallas needs to keep this trend going, as well as continue the very good protection they gave to Matt Cassel against the New York Giants. If they can put Wilson on the ground multiple times, and not let the Seahawks make up for it with the running game, then their odds of winning are much better. There is also good news that Rolando McClain is healthy this week after fighting through a case of the flu against the Giants, which could help in both phases of the defense. (For a more thorough examination of what the Cowboys need to do to win, see Michael Sisemore's excellent gameplan post.) Another advantage for the rushmen is that starting left tackle Russell Okung is questionable for the game (after having been erroneously reported as doubtful) with a toe injury. Even if he plays, he has been very poor so far this season, and it may be a lose-lose situation for the Seahawks with whether he plays or not. Not only does that make the Seahawks more vulnerable to the edge rush, it may force them to keep a tight end in pass protection, making the coverage easier to maintain.
A new starter at safety? Barry Church suffered a dreaded high ankle sprain against the Giants, and is questionable for the game. This could mean Byron Jones could get the start against Seattle. Jones has been living up to his first-round selection, and having him in instead of Church may wind up being a case of addition by subtraction. Church has been a very dependable starter, but it looks like Jones' superb athleticism and impressive football intelligence make him a better option. He certainly appears much better in coverage, and still has the size and strength to play the run. It was widely speculated that he would be more valuable to the team as a safety than as a cornerback, and that is coming true. It is a nice coincidence that he could get his first start as a safety in the game where Darren Woodson is being formally inducted into the Ring of Honor.
It may not be a break game, but it could make Cassel. Outside of his largely useless arm strength, the only advantage Brandon Weeden had over Cassel was how he took care of the ball. Had Cassel not thrown the ball away so much against the Giants (and he had at least one other pass that should have been intercepted), Dallas would almost certainly have won the last game. If he cuts down on the errant throws and leads Dallas to a win, he could not only cement his place as the backup this season, but he could earn himself a new contract as the veteran backup Jason Garrett prefers for a few more years.
This may finally be the game CMike shines. Yes, we keep saying that it is finally time for Christine Michael to make a big contribution, but this might really be it. Darren McFadden is the starter, but you have to wonder if the staff really wants to have him carry the ball as many times as he did against the Giants. Michael will be facing his old team, and we saw last week how players often find a little something extra against their former employers when Dwayne Harris broke the Cowboys' back with his touchdown return. Michael will still be in a relief role as a back, but he may get some of those big runs against a tiring defense that we saw Randle get last year.
The senior Senator may have a big game. In the most excellent podcast this week (the 50th from our fearless team of Landon McCool and rabblerousr), Seahawks writer Spike Friedman made this point. He said Seattle has been vulnerable to tight ends, and Cassel showed he has already developed a lot of trust in always crafty Jason Witten. Lookfor that combination to be working again. Now if he can just find Cole Beasley . . .
It is a huge game, but it looks like they are all going to be big this year if Dallas is to have any hope of getting back to the playoffs. These are all things that look to be pieces of the puzzle this week. What others do you see? Jump in the comments and share them.