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Cowboys point-counterpoint: Better play, or just luckier?

Things have turned around the past couple of games. Why that happened remains up for debate.

San Francisco 49ers v Dallas Cowboys
A lucky bounce in the hands of a very good player equals good things.
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Over the past two weeks the Dallas Cowboys have been able to put together back-to-back wins for the first time this season. Those wins are keeping a small glimmer of hope alive for a playoff spot. More importantly, they just look like a functional football team after weeks of, well, not. We all hope that it is because the players and coaches have finally figured out how to get the job done on the field. But when you look at some of the things that happened during the wins, and that affected the opponents, there is certainly a question of just how much luck may have played a part. In their own version of the Christmas spirit, Tom Ryle and Terence Watson have things to say about it.

Terence: I have to admit I wasn't really a believer in what these coaches had players doing and sometimes I still think they aren't making the right calls, but over these past two games something has clicked for this team. I believe that the players have finally become comfortable in this system, particularly on defense. We aren't seeing the big mental lapses that we saw early in the season with blown coverages in the secondary or linebackers out of position and washed out of running plays. Now it looks like players have settled in and are doing more like what the coaches had envisioned.

A defense with the ability to create turnovers and an offense with the ability to make the opposing team pay for those mistakes is something for this team to build on.

Tom: Look, I will admit that there has been some better play, and maybe the coaches are finally getting things running the way they are supposed to. But that is not why they have stacked a couple of fairly convincing wins together. No, after a run of truly horrific luck early in the season, the breaks have started to go their way.

Now, first you have to understand that luck is really just about randomness and chance. That is why I point to the sudden flurry of takeaways as exhibit A. Those are one of the most unpredictable elements of the game, and things can sometimes swing wildly, as they have for the Cowboys. Early in the season, those were going almost totally against Dallas. Now, in just two games, they have taken the ball away seven times. It led to big early leads, and frankly they needed them. Even the touchdown on the attempted onside kick was all about the ball just taking the right bounce to land in CeeDee Lamb’s hands with a crease in front of him.

There is also that element of facing a couple of teams that have also had major injury issues, just as the Cowboys have suffered though. Since the team has nothing to do with how the schedule is built or how the opponents will be playing at the time the games roll around, that is very much a matter of chance, just as injuries themselves are completely random and pretty much beyond anything the coaches or players can do. Oh, and the last four games of the season wound up being against teams that are well under .500. This has just lined up for them to get some wins at long last.

Terence: You're right, turnovers are very random in this game but you can't overlook the fact you can see these players are playing with more confidence and understanding of the scheme they've had to learn this season. One big factor is the additional playing time for Donovan Wilson, Antwaun Woods, and Neville Gallimore along with the return of Leighton Vander Esch. They all seemed to understand their responsibilities and that has gone a long way in shoring up this secondary and defensive front. That's not luck, that's just talent being displayed on the field.

As for going up against teams with major injuries, you could say they same for them against the Cowboys. This is football and every player that takes the field in one way or another is good enough to make this roster. The Cowboys have found their best options to put on the field under these circumstances because they have had longer to work through these injuries. Let's also not discount the talent on these past teams. The Bengals just whooped the Steelers and the 49ers minus a few players beat the Rams not too long ago. These are good teams that just got outplayed by a Cowboys team that looks to have fully bought into their coaches philosophies.

Tom: Yeah, the Steelers are probably the worst team to go 11-0 in NFL history. Dallas did the Bengals a favor with the hit they put on Ben Roethlisberger. Pittsburgh was already sliding downhill, but that descent quickened following the hit on his knee. Oh, and about Vander Esch? He is likely not playing this Sunday, because of a bit of bad - wait for it - luck.

All that really helps prove my point, anyway. That confidence you see is largely a result of how the random elements have taken a turn for the better. The other teams are dealing with their own issues, it’s just that the past two games have been against ones that are not doing so well. I also don’t know about the Cowboys having done such a great job of getting the best players out there. Remember how long it took them to kick Zack Martin out to tackle?

But now even your namesake Terence Steele is starting to look like a real NFL player. No, I think that if the coaches had been doing a good job earlier in the season, the Cowboys would not have to depend on the Washington Football Team losing out to win the division. Yes, there has been improvement. I just don’t think that is at all the biggest reason the team no longer looks like a complete and total disaster. They had to have better luck. And I’ve always said, not entirely jokingly, that I’d rather be lucky than good any day.

Terence: I'm glad you brought up the offensive line. That's the group that has coach Joe Philbin’s hands all over it. I believe they held out on moving Zack Martin out to right tackle in part because they were dealing with so many injuries along the offensive line and when the players started coming back, mainly Joe Looney, they felt comfortable enough to move Martin with Looney's veteran presence in the middle of the line.

If anything shows that over time these players have come around to their coaching and are more comfortable look no further than the man with the awesome name. Terence Steele earlier in the season was a literal turnstile. He was eventually benched for Martin but thrust back into the starting lineup after Martin's calf injury. He looks to have learned from his mistakes and come out with the sole purpose of proving he belongs here and not just be seen as the weak link on this offensive line.

In these past few games the Cowboys players and coaches have shown you that they aren't going to give up and roll over for anyone. They are going to fight and end this season on a high note. This isn't luck, if I could steal a quote from Any Given Sunday: “You’re gonna see a guy who will sacrifice himself for this team, because he knows when it comes down to it your gonna do the same for him. That’s a team, gentlemen.”

And that right now is what every player is doing, playing like a team.