At 2-5, it seems like the greatest joke ever told to write a column claiming the Cowboys can win their division and represent in the playoffs. You can hear Jim Mora right now, "Playoffs? We got to win a game first." You can say it's improbable but it's certainly not impossible. Other teams in history have come from many games behind .500 to make it to the playoffs and have success. Why not Dallas? This is a team that was 2-0 before Romo and Dez Bryant were put on the proverbial shelf. There are plenty of reasons to believe that they can reach far down in the depths of despair to come out a contending player in the puzzle by season's end. Here are just a few to bring forth:
The NFC Least
Despite losing five straight, the Cowboys are but a game and a half away from the leader. The Giants are 4-4 and still have heavy hitters coming with the New England Patriots and Carolina Panthers on the horizon. At least Dallas will have their franchise quarterback by the time they see Green Bay or Carolina. New York has a secondary that just got shredded by the New Orleans Saints and they have produced very little in the pass rush department this season. The Eagles will meet the Romo-less Cowboys this Sunday night but their last meeting doesn't necessarily scare the 'Boys from Dallas. Sam Bradford has shown that he is not the answer at quarterback having thrown ten interceptions this year and ranking dead last in Total QBR with a pathetic 29.6. The Cowboys combo of quarterbacks rank 19th at 54.0 in QBR but at least that's not last. The Eagles have had a pretty solid defensive effort this season and rank first in takeaways but they have yet to face the Cowboys with Dez Bryant. Bryant in eight games against the Eagles has enjoyed 44 catches for 671 yards and seven touchdowns. He may not be 100% yet but he will likely be a factor. The Washington Redskins have played better but still have consistency issues from top to bottom and have another quarterback who is prone to turnovers. With a healthy Romo in two weeks time, the Dallas Cowboys are clearly the best team in the division from North to South and East to West.
Top Flight Offensive Line
The offensive line is gaining momentum and seem to have faith that Darren McFadden can make good on the holes he's been given. They are not wrong either, in two games as the starter, McFadden has gained 216 yards on 49 carries. It's not perfect but a 4.4 YPC average is certainly not bad for a team looking for their identity. PFF states that the Cowboys have the best offensive line, period. They have them ranked 1st in run blocking and 2nd in pass blocking respectively. Tyron Smith has only given up four hurries all year, folks. Not too mention that giving the reins to rookie left guard La'el Collins seems like it's paying dividends as well. As a BSPN insider, check out what they are saying about Collins:
Let's start with the player emulating Larry Allen. PFF has given out our highest grade possible for a guard just twice this season, and Collins has both of them. He leads all guards in "dominant blocks" recorded in our system, and perhaps more importantly for a rookie, he has been badly beaten only once in the run game.
Collins (71) consistently drives defenders down the field as a run-blocker. FOX/NFL
This is a player who had first-round talent but fell out of the draft entirely thanks to legal issues that enveloped him like a tornado right around the draft. Dallas snapped him up as an undrafted free agent and may have one of the most dominant players from the entire draft at pennies on the dollar. The Seahawks have a defense full of dominant players, and Collins treated them like blocking sleds.
You see, the Cowboys offensive line is getting it's groove and right before they welcome back their leader. If they can clean up some of the penalties and help this team over the hump in these next two games, look out NFL. Time to line up these road graders and let them run it down the throats of anyone lined up against them.
Defense Bends But They Don't Break
The Dallas defense finally snapped their turnover drought this past game against the Seattle Seahawks. If they want to continue to improve they need to keep their relentless effort to the ball. Greg Hardy has the ability to take over games and though he may not be someone you want to take to dinner, he is producing at a very high level. Sean Lee has been quiet the past few weeks but he has played at a high level for the majority of this season. Their main struggle has been gaining consistency in takeaways but this week should give them ample opportunity. The one place where the linked article above from Bob Sturm has got to have you optimistic about their future is their ability to limit big plays. The Dallas Cowboys defense currently ranks third in the league in explosive plays allowed. Sure, their corners may not dazzle you and their safeties have struggled to make some tackles but with a 3.14 explosive rate per game (their best since a 3.37 in 2009), Dallas is on the right track, my friends. They have played enough good football defensively to win some games, unfortunately their offense has failed them miserably in that same span. The defense is getting more healthy by the day and had one of their best games against the Seattle Seahawks. With Romo returning soon, the latter part of the season could really be something to marvel if this defense continues to play well.
The Schedule May Not Be Too Menacing
Other than Cam Newton and Aaron Rodgers, are there any quarterbacks left to face that scare you? Even the Packers when facing a pretty legitimate defense collapsed like a bad souffle. The Cowboys defense is becoming more legitimate and they may have something for Aaron Rodgers in Lambeau. Besides those two games, the Cowboys face Sam Bradford who is a turnover machine, a rookie in Jameis Winston, another turnover waiting to happen in Kirk Cousins (X2), Ryan Tannehill, Ryan Fitzpatrick and a guy name Tyrod Taylor. Sure, the Bills have a solid defense but with Romo, all those games seem to winnable. It'll take a little extra to beat teams like Carolina or Green Bay but it's not virtually impossible.
With all that said, here's the last reason to have hope left in the tank:
Tony Romo Is On The Mend
Romo is back at practice and throwing with some pretty good velocity if you ask the coaches. In Wednesday's media portion of practice, the great Todd Archer had this to say:
He took part in pat-and-go in warm-ups, worked through some individual drills and threw passes during the routes-on-air portion of practice. Romo threw a variety of routes to Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Vince Mayle, Devin Street and Jason Witten during the portion of practice that was open to the media and did not have an incompletion.
That's aces in my book as everyone waits on pins and needles for his return. Romo is the part that makes this entire machine go. His absence has shown everyone around the world what he means to this organization and how fortunate they are to have him. With him they were 2-0, without him they are 0-5. That right there speaks about as many volumes you can find. Tony Romo returning to this team makes all probables possible because he seems to be like a fine wine, he just gets better with age. Now, some may be pessimistic at his injury history thus far, but you can argue that for any football player. Now that Romo is returning to the lineup and throwing again in practice it may just have an effect on what this current team can do in two weeks time. "To be the man, you have to beat the man" as Ric Flair would say. Tony Romo is undoubtedly the man for the Dallas Cowboys and anything is possible with him in the fold.
This season is far from over. A few more losses could have me eating a ton of crow but at this point it's not time yet to give up on the 2015 Cowboys. Sure, it'll be an uphill battle. However, when you lose five straight and are still within striking distance of first place, and your starting Pro Bowl quarterback is coming back, there are reasons to be optimistic about those end of the year chances.