The Dallas Cowboys find themselves in an undesirable position coming out of their bye week. They saw all three NFC East rivals post wins while they were idle, and now they sit at 2-3 with a lot of work to be done to make it back to the playoffs. What happens is mostly in their own hands, as the last two losses were almost certainly due to their own mistakes. But they can also use any help they can get in the form of other teams having their own issues.
Fortunately for them, there is a whole lot of that going around in the NFL right now. Almost nothing seems to make sense in the league. The Cowboys themselves were part of one example of just how hard it is to figure out what it going on week-to-week.
- In their opening game, Dallas easily handled the New York Giants by a score of 19-3, where the only real problem the Cowboys had was getting touchdowns instead of field goals in the red zone.
- They then followed that up with a truly horrendous performance against the Denver Broncos, getting totally humiliated 42-17.
- Then last night, the Giants, after losing basically their entire wide receiver corps the preceding game, went into Denver and embarrassed the Broncos with a 23-10 win that didn’t seem as close as the score indicated.
That appears to make absolutely no sense at all. While the so-called transitive principle (Team A beats team B, team B beats team C, so team A should easily beat team C) is a fallacy, none of those games were even remotely close. Two score wins in the NFL are the basic definition of a convincing victory. What is even more remarkable is how things played out in the NYG-DEN game, given how ineffective the Giants’ running game has been of late.
Orleans Darkwa had 117 yards on 21 carries vs Broncos who had previously held Gordon, Elliott, McCoy, & Lynch to 95 yds on 50 att combined— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) October 16, 2017
That Giants win was hardly the only surprising result from this weekend.
- The Miami Dolphins, who have been having some real issues with Jay Cutler at QB, took down the defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons.
- The woeful Los Angeles Chargers, who can’t even fill a smallish soccer stadium with fans (which is admittedly more due to the NFL’s error than the team itself), knocked off the preseason AFC darling Oakland Raiders in a close game (the kind of game the same Chargers have almost never won of late).
- The Pittsburgh Steelers, who have a quarterback who keeps openly talking about his own retirement and a wide receiver who is trying to get traded to another team, defeated the last unbeaten team in the league, the Kansas City Chiefs.
- The Green Bay Packers went from one of the favorites in the NFC to unlikely to have any real shot this year when Aaron Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone, which will mean missing most of the rest of the season at a minimum, against the Minnesota Vikings. Just to make things even more difficult for the Pack, both their starting offensive tackles, on the field for the first time this year, went out with injury during the game.
- The New Orleans Saints hung 52 points on the Detroit Lions and suddenly look like a real contender in the NFC South.
- The Houston Texans lost defensive stars J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus a week ago, and still posted a comfortable win (OK, it was against the winless Cleveland Browns, but still).
- Adrian Peterson, who couldn’t get the ball in New Orleans, exploded for the Arizona Cardinals to lead them to victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
- Even the Chicago Bears managed to get a win over the struggling Baltimore Ravens.
It is chaos. Very little is going the way anyone expected.
Which means that any declarations about who is going to make the playoffs this year or not are clearly premature. Week to week, almost anything can happen. Despite what most of us think, the talent differential between teams is not really that great. Oh, there may be one or two teams at each end of the spectrum that have some separation from the rest, but most of them face a literal “on any given Sunday” scenario - every week.
Our BTB media guru Landon McCool had a very intelligent series of thoughts about this he shared on Twitter. I’m fairly certain I couldn’t improve on them, so here they are.
Im not a math guy, or a logician... but just think about the number of variables an NFL game... it's insane....— ✭Spooky McCool✭ (@McCoolBTB) October 16, 2017
That's why many coaches, including Garrett, view The Process as the right approach. There is SO MUCH you cant control. Why waste energy?— ✭Spooky McCool✭ (@McCoolBTB) October 16, 2017
if you try to wildly re-calibrate when things go wrong, or get lazy when things go right, things obviously will go much worse.— ✭Spooky McCool✭ (@McCoolBTB) October 16, 2017
That is the real key here. Don’t worry about the other guys, except to tailor your gameplan each week. Fix your own issues and try to maximize your own talent. There is always going to be some pure luck or chance, good or bad (as in Rodgers’ case). Sometimes you can’t overcome that, as the Cowboys found out in 2015. But in other times, the worst case scenario is not the end of the world, as they discovered in 2016. The Dallas coaching staff can rise to the occasion (if it has effective talent, at least). What is both a source of hope and concern is that the staff that oversaw the meltdown of ‘15 and the Year of Dak in ‘16 is basically still intact. Which job will they do?
There is some discussion starting up about whether Jason Garrett is coaching to save his job now. Again, that seems wildly premature, and no one should overlook the outstanding job Garrett did last year. You know, when he was named NFL Coach of the Year?
But leaving that argument aside, the Cowboys do face a real challenge to start accumulating some wins to get back to the playoffs. In that, the past weekend, and really the season to date, indicate a couple of things.
No game is unwinnable. No opponent can be taken lightly. If Dallas can get its own house in order and keep those two things in mind, they have a good chance of making it to the postseason. But first and foremost, they have to get things working well in all three phases of the game - and at the same time. If they can, things should be fine.
If not, well, there’s always draft season to look forward to.