With a big game against the Seattle Seahawks on the docket, I look to my fellow BTB peers to help answer some questions that have been weighing on my mind.
Question 1 - Joseph Randle is having some personal issues that may or may not be related to losing the starting RB role. Greg Hardy is knocking clipboards out of coaches hands. Is there anything about what's going on that makes you wonder if Jason Garrett isn't doing enough to keep the locker room strong?
Tom Ryle: I think there is a lot of tension in the locker room over the losing streak and the risk of such a promising season going down the tubes. I doubt there is much Garrett can do. Without knowing more about Randle's personal issues, we can't really judge about that.
Dawn Macelli: Randle's situation does not bother me. I was through with him the moment he became the Underwear Bandit. Sure there are plenty of situations involving players criminal history that are much worse, but I cannot think of anything any dumber to get arrested for if you are a professional athlete. I was ready for him to go as soon as that happened. Beyond Randle, I think that most of the issues are being blown out of proportion because of the fact that it is the Dallas Cowboys. Emotions run high in the game and the team is not meeting expectations this year. It happens in 32 cities around the league at one point or another. If it were another DE playing in say Jacksonville this would have already blown over.
Rabblerousr: No, I think this is and will remain a strong locker room. That said, our good friend Birddog tweeted the other day that he felt this was a fragile locker room and front office, in that "we had very high expectations and running full speed into a brick wall and feels hopeless." So, if anything, there is a chance that profound disappointment and the inability to eke out a win without Romo will cause them to lose the "won't quit" attitude, and the belief that they can tough it out.
Question 2 - One of the most frequent things I have been hearing on social media from disgruntled fans is that the Cowboys are really this bad and we can't keep using injuries as an excuse. If this is true, then we are going to be in for a rude awakening when Tony and Dez return. Do you see it this way or is this team still good enough to have a shot at something special this season?
Tom Ryle: The problems this year all come down to Romo and Bryant being hurt and the fact that Brandon Weeden was just not an adequate backup. The latter is something that the team can be held accountable for, but the injuries were not really something that could be helped much. There is also the fact the offensive line was having problems, possibly because of Ronald Leary's injury. If the two most important skill players had not gone down so early, this would be an entirely different season. It is a good team, but most teams would have had a struggle with those kinds of injuries.
Dawn Macelli: Dallas is two plays away from the social media meme being the NFC East is in trouble when Bryant and Romo return. If TWill runs a good route and they make a play on special teams, the Cowboys beat the division leaders on road and without two superstars. Social media is a fickle thing. As for the Boys, they are still the most talented team in the division, but as I have been saying in The BEast Report, New York and Washington are doing the right things. Their current building processes are following the Garrett pattern. Give it a season or two and the division will once again be the BEast.
Rabblerousr: As several have pointed out, we are assuming that Romo and Dez will come back rust-free and the Cowboys will run the table once they return to the lineup. So, this team can be really, really good (I believe they are) but it won't matter, since they've also been really, really unlucky (and football has been demonstrated to be the "luckiest" of the major American sports).
Question 3 - The game against the Seahawks is a big game for Dallas. It's winnable, but it's going to take a really good team effort. What worries you the most about this game?
Tom Ryle: The turnovers. If Dallas can't take the ball away, and if Cassel doesn't protect the ball, it is going to be a rough game and a long season.
Dawn Macelli: Russell Wilson's ability to scramble. The keys to beating the Seahawks are to stop their weapons, Lynch and Wilson. I think that the Boys can handle Lynch plus limit the ability of Wilson to go downfield through the air. Part of what they will do to stop the pair is to get after it up front. They want to meet Lynch in the backfield and also smack Wilson in the mouth. They can do that, but Russell is a slippery one and if he gets outside the pressure he will hurt Dallas. I wonder how many times this week the words "Stick & Wrap" came out of Marinelli's mouth. The Cowboys are going to have to wrap up Wilson when they get to him.
Rabblerousr: The offense's inability to protect the ball. The Cowboys were hitting on all cylinders when they played the Seahawks last year, and won despite a negative turnover differential. There is no way they do that again, unless there are some flukey returns involved. If Seattle wins the turnover battle - which, given Dallas' recent history, is certainly a real possibility - then the Cowboys have no shot.
Question 4 - Last week the Cowboys got contribution from some unexpected players (McFadden, Whitehead, Street). What lesser known guy can you see making a surprise impact on Sunday?
Tom Ryle: I actually expect this one to be about the big names stepping up, Bryant, McClain, Hardy, and the O line. Besides, there aren't many lesser knowns left to look for much from, really.
Dawn Macelli: I have to agree with Tom on this one. A big name is going to have a big day if the Cowboys win. That big name is going to be Sean Lee. Beast Mode, meet the Beast Slayer.
Rabblerousr: The place where the Cowboys will enjoy the greatest advantage on Sunday is their defensive line against Seattle's offensive line; there are multiple spots where the Seahawks' O-line can be exploited. So, I'll say Jack Crawford, who has been playing well of late and is good enough to provide a mismatch opportunity inside.
Question 5 - If Dez Bryant returns and makes his presence felt, Cassel plays better, and the Cowboys pull off the upset - can you see a ray of sunshine emerge from the clouds? Could a single victory really change the complexion of the season?
Tom Ryle: If they win this game, of course there is hope. It will give a huge lift to the team. The problem is keeping their heads straight if they don't win it. Huge, huge game.
Dawn Macelli: A win would be big. Dallas needs to win two games without Romo. If they do that, then things are on decent footing for Romo to lead the team into the post-season and once there they can make some noise. I saw enough out of Cassel last week to know that the team trusts him a lot more than they did Weeden. That matters. It may make all the difference come week 17.
Rabblerousr: Absolutely. A victory here, against the reigning NFC champs? With lesser teams in Philadelphia and Tampa Bay on the horizon? No question. But this may well be the toughest game in this stretch other than the one against New England. It will take not only a top effort but, frankly, some luck for the Cowboys to win. They'll need a couple of big plays and a fortunate bounce or two to pull this one out. And Cassel will have to play a turnover-free game.
Okay, that's what the writing staff thinks. What are your answers to these questions?