The Dallas Cowboys are between an embarrassment and a potential disaster. There’s a lot to think about, so of course that’s what we’re doing.
Part of our disappointment is on us
Many of us, certainly including me, convinced ourselves that Mike McCarthy was the answer, or at least a major improvement, and that his staff of veteran coaches would quickly and easily set things aright in Dallas. They would take the talent that had been wasted under Jason Garrett and make an immediate and deep playoff run.
Yeah, not so much. The more optimistic of us turned out to be far too much so. Even the ones who advised being a bit more circumspect are still disappointed that things have gone so poorly, and may have been at least a little influenced by that same kind of over-expectation.
Simply put, we just flat underestimated how hard this was to do under the pandemic restrictions. It was a new coach, coming in with an almost new staff, installing new schemes, and trying to create a new culture. By video call. It is at least interesting that the other team that hired an experienced NFL head coach this year, the mellifluously named Washington Football Team, is having some problems that might not be happening if they had a normal offseason/preseason/training camp.
Not only is Dwayne Haskins not starting for the Washington Football Team on Sunday, he's not even No. 2. Alex Smith will back up Kyle Allen against the #Rams.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) October 7, 2020
I feel like Dwayne Haskins is the victim of the perfect storm.— Torrey Smith (@TorreySmithWR) October 7, 2020
1. New regime that didn’t draft you
2. New offense with no offseason
3. You can compete right now in a bad NFC East
4. QB2 behind you that is ahead of where you are with understanding and executing the offense
Furthermore, there are now some real questions about the talent level on the defense for Dallas. Aggravated by some key injuries, they are just not playing well. At all. Combine that with the aforementioned issues, and things are going, well, like what we should perhaps have been much more prepared for.
Mostly, though, this was just uncharted territory for all NFL teams, and those with new staffs just had additional layers of difficulty added. It’s unclear that experience was really a help for coaches. They may well be doing what they have always done, and having a very hard time adjusting to the team not responding the way they are used to.
Thank goodness for Kellen Moore. Imagine if the offense did not have his apparently extremely valuable continuity.
The Giants game should be better
While the Browns under Kevin Stefanski somehow have managed to avoid the pitfalls that the Cowboys have flopped into, the next opponent is clearly struggling mightily. Their offense has been ineffective, with the New York media shocked at the predictability and lack of ability to adjust under Jason Garrett. Maybe they should have checked in with us. With Saquon Barkley out, they have only managed three touchdowns the entire season. Even as bad as the Dallas defense has been, the Cowboys should easily outscore them.
While optimism has been dealt a severe blow, it is still hard to imagine that the rash of turnovers committed by Dallas will continue. Just cleaning that up could allow them to outpace Daniel Jones and company. And the defense should have a much simpler task this week. WR Darius Slayton is their only big receiving threat so far, and the Cowboys’ top three WRs all have more yards than him. Outside of him, TE Evan Engram and WR Golden Tate are the only targets that have exceeded 100 yards so far. And rushing is not going well at all, either, with QB Jones the only player that has accumulated over 100 yards in four games, largely on scrambles - and the next, RB Wayne Gallman, has a whopping 52 yards so far.
If the Cowboys don’t win this one, it will be incredibly damning. I just don’t see it happening.
But I didn’t see the way this season has started, either, so I am still as nervous as the proverbial long tailed cat in a room of rocking chairs.
It’s about time for Ezekiel Elliott to be a real factor
So far, the star running back for the Cowboys had been anything but. That is what happens when you are behind by a bunch most of the time, and Dallas has played pretty much without a lead for the entire season. If they can just get an early lead and hang onto it for a bit, then Elliott should be a much bigger part of the offense. So far, his most important contribution has been in pass protection. He’s done that very well for the most part, but we want to see him break off some big gains. His longest run of the season has been for 24 yards - and ended with a fumble.
This team needs to see him put up 100 yards or more, hopefully while they are using him to burn a little clock and keep moving the ball while they have that sought-after lead. He has been the missing ingredient in the offense. Seeing him in the mix would be very, very encouraging, and the team needs some of that.
So far, this is turning out to be an epic draft class
With Joe Looney not practicing, it appears certain that Tyler Biadasz will be the third draftee from this year’s class to start for the team, joining day one starters CeeDee Lamb and Trevon Diggs. All reports are that Biadasz has stepped into the center job with aplomb and played well, even better than Looney. Lamb has not just lived up to expectations, he has exceeded them, looking like he’s been out there alongside Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup for three or four seasons already. Diggs has had more struggles, but clearly is as good as any other healthy defensive back the team has.
Three starters from one class in their first season, when you only had seven picks to begin with, is an extremely good result. While the rest of the class has yet to make much impact, this is still pretty remarkable. You have to wonder just how good these guys could be had this been a normal year.
So, could we keep the new IR rules forever?
OK, this isn’t just about the Cowboys, but something that really stands out. The ability to bring any player back from IR, and after only three weeks, has made life much easier across the league, and you have to wonder if the owners are paying attention.
The NFL is, as far as I know, the only professional league that forced most players who went on IR to sit out the year. Once, it was all of them, but we have seen a gradual relaxation of things recently. The exigencies of the pandemic led to temporary rules that make so much more sense. When you have players on multi-million dollar contracts, having to decide to keep them on the roster because their injury would likely be one that the player could return before the end of the season just tied the hands of teams. It had to have also added pressure to rush them back, since sitting on the bench was hurting the team. Now, with unlimited returns from IR, the roster can be kept at full capacity while players recuperate and rehab. It just makes too much sense to keep at least that part. The three week minimum may change, but it would be worth considering for a permanent change as well.
The old rules seemed to be rooted in some kind of fear teams would game the system, but they just came up with other ways to do so at times. Having taken a full plunge into the ability to move personnel to IR and bring them back without limits may be just what is needed to get the normally conservative NFL to take a major step forward.
However, don’t underestimate the ability of the owners to act contrary to their own best interests and the good of the game. They are just conservative by nature, which comes at least in part from being mostly a bunch of old, rich guys.
Still, it’s unlikely the rules will ever go back to what they were, at least not completely. It would be good.