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Four Reasons For Optimism As The Cowboys Close Out The Season

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The news has seemed all bad this week, but a step back may help you gain some perspective.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Dallas Cowboys
They still have the two best rookies of the season.
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

It has been an unsettled week for the Dallas Cowboys. After getting swept for the season by the New York Giants, there was an apparent disconnect between the head coach and the owner/general manager/carnival barker of the team. A roster move to get a veteran running back active led to losing a promising rookie on waivers. And now some disturbing injury news has defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence out for the coming game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and backup offensive tackle Chaz Green is going to injured reserve after a back problem flared up in practices this week. The miasma of worry is palpable among the fans.

Well, it shouldn’t be. There are plenty of reasons for optimism, and even some of the negative developments this week actually point to some possible good things. So let’s put on the silver and blue shades and consider why we should still be feeling very good about the season.

Controlling their destiny

Yes, the Cowboys have now lost twice to the Giants, but in between those two defeats (by a grand total of four points), they racked up those eleven wins, and that puts them atop the NFC, with a two game margin over both the Giants and the Detroit Lions. The Giants of course are hoping to overtake Dallas for the NFC East, while the Lions still could nudge them from the number one seed, if my math is correct.

But that would take several things. The Giants would have to have an outright advantage or a tie with Dallas, in which case they would get the nod for having the head-to-head advantage. To get to an outright win, the Giants would have to sweep their final three games, and the Cowboys would have to lose all three. If Dallas wins only one more game, the Giants would still need to sweep all three games, and similarly if the Giants lose one game and the Cowboys still lose all three, it winds up in a tie. But ANY combination of a Dallas win and a New York loss, and the Cowboys clinch the division.

Similarly, the Lions would have to sweep their last three games while Dallas loses all three to take over the number one seed. The Atlanta Falcons, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Seattle Seahawks all could also threaten the Cowboys, but only if they win all their remaining games and Dallas loses all of its.

And the Cowboys play both the Buccaneers and the Lions, so they can put either of those teams out of range by winning. Also, the Giants and Lions play this Sunday, so one of them is going to be almost certainly eliminated as a threat to the Cowboys’ playoff seeding. If they tie, the Cowboys would lock up everything with a win on SNF.

The odds are strongly in favor of Dallas, and only a massive collapse from here to the end of the season will put them in any real jeopardy. And remember: They have a playoff spot locked up, no matter what.

Dak should be back

There is no reason to think that the struggles Dak Prescott had last Sunday are permanent. He has been too resilient this year, and has shown far too much already. But more importantly, the rest of the offense did not help him a lot. Part of that was a ferocious effort from the Giants defense. There were also some drops, and some questionable play calls, especially going away from Ezekiel Elliott in the second half (although he was not having as much success on first down). However, this was offensively a team loss. Meanwhile, the defense more than held up its end, playing possibly its best game of the season.

This week, the Buccaneers come to AT&T Stadium, which has finally become a home field advantage for the Cowboys. Additionally, it is nicely climate-controlled, so Prescott won’t have to deal with really cold weather, which he had only played in once during his college career. The Bucs are on a five-game winning streak, but currently have a -3 points differential on the season. Their defense is constructed much differently from the Giants’, being much lighter in the front seven. That should see more opportunities for Elliott to make good gains on first and second down, keeping the Cowboys out of the third and long situations where they have floundered in the past couple of weeks. Offensively, Tampa Bay is mediocre both passing and running the ball, although they have done better during their recent games. Dallas needs the win, but at least on paper, they stack up well against the opponent Sunday.

The problems from last week need to be fixed, but one painful loss does not mean that the Cowboys have forgotten how to win.

Don’t read too much in the ramblings of Jerry Jones

There was clearly a disconnect between head coach Jason Garrett and Jerry Jones early in the week, as Garrett never wavered in his assertion that Prescott had the starting job, while Jones gave one of his stream-of-consciousness answers that seemed to throw some doubt on the situation. But Jones is well known for twisted circumlocutions when he is talking to the media, and when you look at what he said, it really boils down to “you can never say never.” That is true at some level, but the media, especially the national NFL writers and radio blatherers, all seized on his remarks as an impending decision by Jones to put Romo in if Prescott stumbles again. And that is just not how things work at the Star. Garrett is going to be the driver on who is his quarterback, and he has no plans to put Prescott on a short leash.

Notably, one of the parties in this ‘controversy” backed off on his remarks, and it wasn’t the coach.

“We completely support Dak as our starting quarterback. Unequivocally. That’s that,” Jones said. “There is no issue there at all. It’s very fortunate that we have depth there.” - Ft Worth Star-Telegram

For some reason, I am reminded of the story about a time when Stephen Jones had a disagreement with his father Jerry about an important decision, and it wound up with Stephen holding Dad up against a wall explaining the facts of the matter to him.

In any case, cooler heads with a less confusing way of putting things have prevailed.

There seems to be a plan at running back in effect

The loss of Darius Jackson to the Cleveland Browns on waivers created a large degree of angst, which seemed out of proportion for a back who could never get onto the active roster all season for a game. Part of the disgruntlement stemmed from losing a fan favorite (disclaimer: he was my personal pet cat this year, which may make it all my fault) in favor of Darren McFadden. You know, the team’s leading rusher from last year. The guy who was expected to be the number one running back at the start of camp, although we all knew that was temporary. But there are indications that the plan is to make immediate use of McFadden.

This may be one of the steps being taken to get the third down conversion rate back up to where it was before the dismal performance of the last two games. McFadden may be seen as a better pass protector than either Lance Dunbar or Alfred Morris. It will be interesting to see if he is the back brought in both to spell Elliott, which has been a pattern every third series or so this year, as well as for obvious passing situations.

So even the puzzling roster move involving Jackson may fit in the overall plan to get things back on track. This is the final stretch for the Cowboys, and while it got off to a really bad start in New Jersey, there are many opportunities to get things back on track for the playoffs. And the odds seem to favor Dallas, no matter how you look at them.

Now they just need to go out and take care of business tomorrow, and we will all feel a lot better.

Follow me @TomRyleBTB