Well, it wasn’t boring. From the trade for Amari Cooper, to replacing offensive line coach Paul Alexander with Marc Colombo (and Hudson Houck), to announcing a long-overdue inclusion of Gil Brandt in the Ring of Honor, the Dallas Cowboys generated plenty of headlines and stories during their bye week.
Now, it is time to get back to football. Sitting at 3-4, Dallas is facing a hard road ahead if they are to make a run at the playoffs this year. But the trade and the staff shakeup indicate that is exactly what they are trying to do. It was an unusual level of adjustment for a team that has maintained more of a “keep it steady” approach for several years, particularly since Jason Garrett became head coach.
So what happens? Well, none of us can see the future. But some of the staff here at BTB offered up their thoughts on the matter.
Tom Ryle: The Cowboys have been in every game this season, and that is one thing that I expect to continue. What they need to do is figure out how to get over that away-game hump they face. While many are pointing to the last nine games as a test for Jason Garrett, to me it seems much more like Dak Prescott is going to be the one who is judged on where the team winds up. He is not in any danger of being cut, since there is no real alternative to him at the moment, but his contract is up next year, so this will be part of the decision making process about whether he is a true franchise QB.
The good news is that he seems to have been improving over the last four games, and the team obviously wants to do what they can to help him succeed. Cooper and the “back to the future” approach with the O line are both things that should help Dak a lot. Meanwhile, the defense is ready to do their part.
My best guess is that the team is going to wind up at either 9-7 or 10-6, with a couple of comfortable wins while future losses look a lot like the earlier ones, very close. If it’s the former, they will not be playing in January, but a 10-6 record should mean they go into the playoffs as the NFC East champs, as the division is still ripe for the picking.
Michael Strawn: What do I expect from the Cowboys the rest of the season? My answer is the exact same as it was prior to the season - I have absolutely no idea. I said this team could be 4-12 or 12-4 before the season and at this point I’d say they could be anywhere from 6-10 to 10-6. And that’s the problem; this team has no real identity or consistency from week to week.
So I would say I expect continued inconsistency. I expect the defense to look good generally but then struggle against top flight quarterbacks (Brees, Ryan and Wentz make up four of the team’s seven remaining games). I expect up and down play from the secondary. I expect the Demarcus Lawrence to continue to play like an All Pro and the rest of the defensive line to look mediocre. I expect solid play from the linebackers but probably not a lot of big plays.
On offense I would expect continued struggle on the offensive line. I expect Tyron Smith to continue to look like an average LT and not an All World LT. I expect Conner Williams to be overmatched at times. I expect La’el Collins to have good games and bad games. However, I expect the passing offense to improve from terrible to average (which is a significant improvement). I do believe Amari Cooper will immediately become a legitimate threat that opens up opportunities for himself and others. This will make life easier for Dak and he’ll return to the 250 yard per game passer he was in 2016. This, in turn will enable Zeke to return to the league’s most productive running back.
Add all that up and I’d say 9-7 or....with a sweep of the remaining division games...10-6. That means going either 7-2 or 6-3 the rest of the way. So call me an optimist.
Michael Sisemore: Based on what we’ve seen thus far through the first seven games, they’ll be a team that flirts with .500 for the year. Now, can that change? Without question it can but there is not an inch left on that margin for error.
Tyron Smith and La’el Collins have been two of the most disappointing players on offense. We hear that they weren’t confident in the “catch and react” technique that the former offensive line coach was implementing and prefer to attack aggressively. If they can snap back to their former selves, I expect to see an offense come to life around them.
In order for the Cowboys to get defenses to respect their passing game, they have to get Amari Cooper started quickly with Dak Prescott. They must prove they can use Cooper before folks will back off allowing Ezekiel Elliott to his thing.
Been saying this for two weeks now but this team will need to win a few road games for anyone to buy into them as a legitimate threat. At the very least, the Cowboys must split the remaining four road games. 7-2 is looking like the magic number. I expect them to fall just shy at 9-7, going 6-3 but missing the playoffs. At that point, we can start expecting a few changes and surely bigger changes than anything they did during this bye week.
David Howman: I expect this team to take a huge step forward after the changes that have been made. Amari Cooper is exactly the type of receiver that Dak needs and I expect Scott Linehan to get him involved super early against Tennessee, which will open things up for other guys, specifically Beasley. That’s what Dez did for the offense in 2016, and it’ll happen again here.
With the promotion of Marc Colombo and the return of Hudson Houck, the OL will be going back to their zone blocking scheme that these linemen love so much, and I expect significantly better play from Tyron and La’el, which will only help Dak and Zeke .
Overall, this is a team that was on the verge of winning their first road game but penalties killed them. This team has been dominant at home, but they need to win on one road. Luckily their four remaining road games are against teams that are a combined 11-19, including the free-falling Buccaneers and even more hapless Giants.
In the long term, I expect this team to get back on track offensively and be significantly better than what we’ve seen so far, finishing the year on a four-game win streak to go 10-6.
Well, that’s what we think. What is your take? Join in the conversation in the comments with your own prediction.