With a huge game against the division rival, Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday night, the BTB staff stops by to answer a few questions.
Question 1 - I've heard a lot of fans question the front office moves this season as they are upset that the organization didn't do enough to address the backup QB and kick return positions. And now with the release of Joseph Randle, it make some people think of another possible misread on the level of ability with what they had at running back. The poor QB play has severely dampened the Cowboys season. Is there any part of you that feels like the brain trusts at Valley Ranch might have whiffed on a few things?
Jim Scott: I don't see what they could've done differently. DeMarco Murray isn't worth the money he's getting and wouldn't have helped any. The running game is clearly finding its footing and not been the issue anyhow. The player we miss the most is Dwayne Harris, clearly, both on coverage and returns, but the contract he got was way too huge. But with hindsight I would've offered Harris a contract instead of Cole Beasley, but there is no guarantee that would've worked, though.
Tom Ryle: Hindsight is great, but I don't think anyone could have foreseen quite the combination of issues that the Cowboys actually have faced. No, they were not perfect, but fans have a very unrealistic set of expectations for their teams. Dallas had a plan this offseason, but multiple things went wrong. The big factor was always Tony Romo, and everyone said before the season that it was pretty much over for the Cowboys if he went down for a long stretch. Well, guess what? Everyone was right, and now they all are acting shocked that what everyone said turned out to be correct. Yes, it would be nice to have a really reliable backup quarterback, but very few teams actually do. Plus, as rabblerousr pointed out in his article on key positions, it was not just the QB that was lost. It was most of the vital positions that were affected.
Michael Sisemore: They whiffed on some things but so do 31 other teams in the league. The reality is that this team wanted to keep DeMarco Murray but not at $8 million per year, which the Eagles were willing to pay. The real problem with the running back position comes at their evaluations of their current stable of backs and their biggest mistake was not drafting one. I think when we look back at this past draft, we will marvel at Byron Jones, Randy Gregory and La'el Collins perhaps even Damien Wilson, but they let the draft get away from them a little bit and that happens. If you tell me that they end up hitting on 3-4 of those picks though, I will tell you that's a win. As for the quarterbacks; other than drafting one, what else was there to do? The Cowboys thought they were fixing their issue when they traded for Matt Cassel. Just about every team in the league would be up a creek without their starting quarterback, especially when their starter is the caliber of player that Tony Romo is. Moving on the the kick returner, it was either Harris or Beasley. Beasley has struggled this season but with number nine in the fold, there is no way I choose Harris over Beasley. They didn't trust Lucky Whitehead in the beginning and are being forced to trust him now. It was the same thing with Harris too, remember he was cut once from the Cowboys before he became the Dread-Head Kid.
Rabblerousr: Of course they did; every front office whiffs, and not every roster is perfect. Not in the free agency era. In times like this, its important to put things into perspective. Everybody wants to talk about the 11-5 Patriots without Brady, but that's the exception to the rule. More common is what happened to the 20-11 Colts without Peyton Manning: they went 0-13 before salvaging two late-season garbage wins or the 2013 Packers, who went 2-5-1 when Aaron Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone. Simply put: you simply cannot plan for the loss of an elite QB.
Question 2 - When you look at the Cowboys' offense, it is perplexing to see all the talented players on the field, yet they can't put the points on the field. They have a great offensive line, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, and Cole Beasley, yet - nada, they can't find the end zone. Clearly, the play of the QB has been the big issue, but if Dallas goes out there and gets the offense going against the Eagles, outside of a strong running game -what do think is the most prominent reason for success?
Jim Scott: You've already answered it -- good QB play. If they had one game of decent QB play in this five game series, they'd have a win.
Tom Ryle: If the Cowboys get the offense going this week, it will be a combination of Matt Cassel getting more comfortable, Dez Bryant taking another step closer to his old self, and the team in green being the Eagles and not the Seahawks. I also think that Scott Linehan called a much more conservative game last week than he will in this one, due to that thing about who he is seeing in the defensive secondary this week.
Michael Sisemore: It's going to have to be a combination of the receivers getting back on track. A big part of that has to do with the abilities of Dez Bryant getting healthier. After a big foot injury, it's going to take him a minute when the Cowboys only have seconds to spare. Dez Bryant has to ignite the fire for this team and it'll certainly help when Romo comes back but the time is now to get a victory. I would never have expected the offense to struggle so mightily without one but when you lose both Romo and Bryant, what do you really expect? They need better execution all around and it will help if Cassel and Bryant can find some rhythm over the next two weeks with some sprinkles of Witten, Beasley, Williams and perhaps Butler.
Rabblerousr: In the last couple of years, the Cowboys have really struggled to run the ball against Philadelphia, but they have found some big plays in the passing game. If they have success it will be because they give Matt Cassel time in the pocket. Against the Giants he had sufficient time to look downfield and hit his targets; against Seattle, he wasn't afforded the same opportunities.
Question 3 - The Eagles offense looked horrible in week two. And now the Cowboys defense has Greg Hardy, Rolando McClain, and a more viable safety option in Byron Jones. It's hard to imagine the Eagles performing better against this defense, but I imagine they will. Where can you see Philadelphia hurting the defense?
Jim Scott: Rolando McClain has been a huge disappointment to me. He's been slow and out of position, as well as not being nearly as physical as we expected him to be. Between Sproles and Ertz, they should be able to put a lot of pressure on our LBs and if we don't put Hitchens in to replace McClain I fear one of those two will be open a lot.
Tom Ryle: The first worry is that Sam Bradford has a really good game, which he does do at times. The Cowboys should get really good pressure on him, but if he is able to get the ball out quickly without throwing interceptions the way Eli Manning and Russell Wilson did to neutralize the rush, it could be a real worry. The second problem is the running game. Dallas has shown itself to be vulnerable to the run, especially up the middle, and if Rolando McClain has another lackluster game in the middle, it could be trouble.
Michael Sisemore: The Eagles like to spread things out and for the Cowboys, they must have a repeat performance of week two. Rolando McClain has worried me recently with his seeming lack of effort. I would flirt with the idea of using Anthony Hitchens a bit more in this game. He and Sean Lee seemed to work pretty well together. The Eagles are going to hurt the Cowboys if they don't figure out how to make tackles. They cannot keep giving opponents the short field and now the secondary needs to step up and help their pass rush. It's the chicken or the egg theory all day long but both have to work collectively. Barry Church has been disappointing and if he's hurt, put Wilcox in for him. This defense is still going strong but they have to figure out ways to tackle with efficiency and get the ball back from Philly.
Rabblerousr: I don't see them "hurting" the Cowboys offense. But I have a hard time imagining that Dallas will so utterly shut down the Iggles' running game on Sunday night. So, if they are able to accomplish anything, it will be that they will run the ball decently and, as a result, sustain drives. If they can run the ball, it will reduce the number of times that Bradford has to make a play. That's good for Philly, since the Cowboys want to force Sam Bradford to have to beat them.
Question 4 - The Cowboys are going to need a balanced team effort to pull out this win against the Eagles, but who do you think steps up and has a big game for Dallas? Give me your offense and defense X-Factor player of the game?
Jim Scott: The offense is going to have to be Cassel. Everyone else is pulling their weight. Defensively, it has to be McClain -- he's been the weak link there and it hasn't been close. As I hinted above, this presumes Hitchens doesn't take his snaps.
Tom Ryle: Offensively, I still think Jason Witten is going to break out big. Defensively, I think Morris Claiborne is going to get an interception that will have a big impact on the game.
Michael Sisemore: I think for the offense to have a chance, Dez Bryant has got to dig down deep within himself and get this offense humming. He doesn't have to light up the scoreboard but he needs to be a factor in every facet including pushing the others to perform better. If he's playing well then everything falls into place for them and they'll be able to put some points on the board. Their futility has been troubling and they need to show what they are about by pounding the rock and distributing the ball to all their playmakers. Defensively, this is a game where Greg Hardy could be huge but I'm going to focus on Randy Gregory. With the absence of Peters, the Eagles are going to do everything in their power to account for 76. That could spell a big day for a lesser force and Gregory makes the most sense because of his speed. This could be one of those games where folks really start to learn this young man's name.
Rabblerousr: I don't think anyone on offense is capable of being an "X-factor" in this game. But I'll give you two on defense: Byron Jones and DeMarcus Lawrence. Jones has been playing better every week and most reports are that he's due for a breakout game. Up front, with Jason Peters out, the Eagles will probably do everything within their power to limit Greg Hardy, which means that Tank will get one-on-one match-ups against journeyman Dennis Kelly, who will play right tackle as Lane Johnson scoots over to the left side. Number 90's gotta win that matchup...
Question 5 - Suppose the Cowboys beat the Eagles. This would secure them the tie-breaker over Philadelphia for the division should both teams end up with the same record. It would also give Dallas the advantage against the New York Giants in terms of tie-breakers as they have two divisional losses and still have one more game with the Eagles. With a Cowboys victory and the subsequent weeks consisting of Tampa Bay, followed by the possible return of Romo, is it possible that despite the five straight losses that this one single win against the Eagles could completely change the complexion of the Cowboys playoff hopes?
Jim Scott: Absolutely. A win here changes everything. As does a loss. This game is the season for Dallas. A win and they are right in the thick of things for the division race with significant tiebreakers. A loss and they have an insurmountable hole. Between the tiebreaker implications, along with the swing in record, this game represents a two game difference against New York and Washington and THREE against the Eagles (who I feel are the biggest threat to win the division away from us). It's an absolute must.
Tom Ryle: It's not just possible a win Sunday will turn things around, it is almost the only thing that can get the Cowboys back on track. It will greatly improve the confidence of the team and re-energize the fans. Overreaction Monday works both ways, but a complete reversal of attitude would be somewhat justified in this case.
Michael Sisemore: Absolutely. The Cowboys just need one win and this game is huge no matter how many people downplay it with ifs, ands, or buts. That's nonsense, the Cowboys must win the ballgame. It only takes one victory to jump-start this team's batteries and get on a roll. They just have to remember who they all are and execute the gameplan. Fight, scratch and claw their ways to a victory and it could change the entire season. Believe that CowboysNation.
Rabblerousr: For my answer, I'm just going to paraphrase part of the question: this one single win against the Eagles would completely change the complexion of the Cowboys playoff hopes. For all the reasons you enumerated.
Okay, so the front page had their shot. How about you? What answers do you have to these questions?