Barring injuries along the way, there is no such thing as a bad win in the NFL. But not all wins are equal, either. The Dallas Cowboys showed that they can win a close, back and forth contest last Sunday against Washington. Now, with a Chicago Bears team that has many of its top players either out or hobbled, and that may not have been all that good with them, the Cowboys need to do more than just come out with a win in the unfriendly confines of AT&T Stadium. They need to, as the (cleaned-up) old saying goes, open up a can of butt whoop.
It’s not that a fairly close victory against the Bears would be a bad thing. After all, the team is still rolling with rookie Dak Prescott at quarterback, and despite his remarkable start, he is still very much learning on the job. And Ezekiel Elliott is trying to get fully up to speed. The offensive line has not gotten to its expected level of performance, and may have injury concerns of its own.
Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith had his lower back stiffen up Friday and was unable to take part in a full... https://t.co/YL2aUGcASh— Todd Archer (@toddarcher) September 23, 2016
Meanwhile, the defense is playing mix-and-match along the line and trying to find a workable middle linebacker. At least there is some good news in the secondary.
Scandrick was absolutely springy in #Cowboys locker room. Best his 2 hammies have felt all week @1053thefan— mike fisher ✭ (@fishsports) September 23, 2016
Still, there are enough possible issues for Dallas that a narrow win would still be a good outcome. However, this may be the best chance the team has to really dominate an opponent prior to the return of Tony Romo, and doing so would have important benefits.
A strong showing, which would be winning by two or more scores, would help establish just where the Cowboys are this season, even without Romo. The Bears are already being discussed as one of the worst teams in the league (and Dallas will also get to play the other leading candidate, the Cleveland Browns, in November). A good team should have a relatively easy time beating them. Although hardly conclusive, this game is a way for the Cowboys to measure themselves. The team made some good progress from week one to week two. A comfortable win would be one indication that the progress is continuing. Besides, almost all who covers the Cowboys or the NFL at large favor Dallas to come away with a win, although the expected margin of victory varies widely.
More important is the impact the game can have on the team’s confidence and attitude. So far, the players seem to feel good about what they have going, but that can always use some reinforcing. Probably the most beneficial thing would be to get Elliott and the running game functioning well. A reliable or even dominant rushing attack is part of the overall blueprint for this year, whether or not Romo is taking snaps. So far, that has not materialized, and this is the best opportunity for getting it going for the next several games. Even those who cover the Bears think Dallas has an excellent chance of running roughshod over them. And red zone efficiency is also a facet of the game to improve. Doing these things will help with that self-confidence. A narrow victory could leave some lingering doubts - and of course, stumbling and losing would be a major blow that we most fervently hope does not occur.
The offense is not the only part of the team that needs to take advantage of the situation. Chicago has all kinds of issues when they have the ball, starting with the likelihood of starting Brian Hoyer (although there are reports that Jay Cutler is lobbying to get a chance to play). Of course, backup quarterbacks have thrived against the Cowboys in the past (see Matt Flynn, for instance). But the Bears also have issues with their offensive line and running game, and their top weapon, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, may not be able to play, and will probably be less than 100% if he does. This is a chance to get some sacks and takeaways, and hopefully show that Rod Marinelli is coming up with some answers utilizing his somewhat restricted talent pool.
There is also the coaching staff. For them, this is not about confidence or belief, because Jason Garrett, at least, is fairly unshakable there. What this is about is continuing something that seemed to have started in Washington. The staff was not so conservative, using play-action on first down, going for it on fourth and one inside Dan Bailey range, and trying a surprise onside kick. The play calls, especially on offense, were frequently unpredictable and effective. Even the decision to move Tyrone Crawford out to DE during the game showed a willingness to take a calculated risk. That trend needs to continue, and hopefully will meet with success to ensure that the staff does not revert to conservatism and “playing to not lose”. And a larger margin of victory can also display a “killer instinct”, something the Cowboys have not always shown. When Dallas gets a lead (thinking positive here), they need to focus on building on it, not protecting it. If they get the Bears down, they need to push them down further and not let them even think about getting back up.
It’s really more about intangibles than anything. This is a Dallas team that is still very much finding its identity. There are still quite a few parts that they are trying to fit together and see if things will run smoothly. Prescott has done much more than anyone expected, but now the rest of the machine needs to start humming. Success breeds success, and that is just what the Cowboys need. As has been noted, this is also the chance to start the first winning streak in over a year, and it appears to be the best chance to do so for several weeks. And just squeaking by is not as valuable as a domination.
The Cowboys need every advantage they can get as they try to recover from last years debacle. This is an opportunity to create just such an advantage for themselves. They need to seize it.