With just five games left in the season, the Dallas Cowboys are in strong shape with their 8-4 record and a two and a half game lead in the NFC East over their next opponent, the Washington Football Team, pending Sunday’s results. We should all feel good. Right?
Well, this is the fanbase of America’s team, and no silver lining comes without a dark cloud. The win over the New Orleans Saints seems a bit underwhelming. They had a roster that was more compromised than the Cowboys did, and Taysom Hill remains a huge question mark as far as being a legitimate NFL quarterback. A ten-point margin of victory just seems too small.
So should we be looking at this glass as half full or half empty? Our Tom Ryle and Terence Watson square off.
Tom: Look, I know that the fans wanted a blowout win by the Cowboys. But take away a late touchdown that they just seemed to fall asleep on, and it could easily have been a 17-point margin of victory, and that is a solid, even dominant win in the NFL. Yes, there were problems in the game, but clearly the good overcame the bad. And don’t forget the COVID turmoil that afflicted Dallas the week before the game, plus Trysten Hill’s suspension. New Orleans may have had its own problems, but that should not make us underestimate the still significant challenges the Cowboys had to fight through.
And a lot of the issues seem to be things that could easily correct themselves. Obviously the coaching staff will be back in place before long and they can resume normal practices. The highly restricted sessions they had to resort to had their own effects. Amari Cooper was very limited, just playing about a third of the offensive snaps. Get him up to the roughly 90% level that CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup both saw, and we should see more drives like the one really good one to score the first touchdown.
The defense gave up way too many big plays, but DeMarcus Lawrence looked every bit his old self in just half the defensive snaps for the team. Reinforcements are coming fast, with Hill only having to serve the one-game suspension after his appeal and Randy Gregory and Neville Gallimore both about to rejoin the ranks. Add them to Micah Parsons, Trevon Diggs, Osa Odighizuwa, and Jayron Kearse, and this defense could be poised to be a killer. And don’t forget Anthony Brown, who was much more effective when the refs didn’t seem on a hair trigger to flag him.
I think the Cowboys are just getting stronger, at exactly the right time. The Saints game was a beginning, not a stumbling block.
Terence: I hear you on getting better/healthy at the right time but a lot of these issues the Cowboys are having are issues that we have been talking about for years now. How many times have we said these things, they need to slow down the opposition’s running game, they need to limit big plays on defense, the offense has to get the running game going. We think of all of these as easy fixes yet they still happen. When are the mental errors going to be addressed?
The NFL is about the here and now and right now the issues that haunt this team are coming back at the worst time. It's crunch time and the Washington Football Team isn't that far back, especially with two games coming up against the Cowboys and Dallas facing the Cardinals later in the month as well. Mental errors and penalties have to end or they will allow the lead they've been protecting disappear.
Tom: Maybe I’m wrong, but I still believe the absence of so much of the coaching staff had a big impact on the Saints game. In particular, I think they were trying to account for the lack of Joe Philbin and his assistant line coach by keeping things simple. That in turn may have led to the rather unimaginative running plays Kellen Moore was calling.
But regardless of how right or wrong I might be about that specific issue, I still maintain that the Cowboys are seeing a great convergence of returning players and coaches, and the extra time after a Thursday game to rest up for the stretch run. And I’ll also state that I am not at all afraid of anyone else in the NFC East. With four of their last five games against division rivals, I see this as a chance to build some momentum for the playoffs. (Yes, I know, momentum isn’t real, but confidence and stacking a few more wins are valuable, and everyone else and his dog Aloysius is going to be using the term, so just take it as a kind of shorthand for all that good, intangible football stuff.)
Most importantly, the upcoming game against the Team could be the first time we will see the full roster for Dallas, at the healthiest they have been all year. To be at that point with just five games left before the playoffs is in itself a strong argument that this team is getting better, rather than being unfixable.
Terence: This team hasn't been the same since they were dragged through the mud against the Broncos. They had Joe Philbin on the sidelines then as well as Mike McCarthy and even then they had the talent to be able to win that game. This team on paper is a juggernaut but right now the issues are between the ears.
Whether is Prescott forcing the ball down the field for a big play instead of taking the dump off to keep the chains moving, Elliott saying that his knee isn't an issue but we can clearly see that he's limping, or the offensive line who now have the referees in their head, this team needs to take these ten days off to get back right mentally. Don't worry about the physical aspects of the game, those are in their favor because we've seen this team go toe-to-toe with everyone.
If they can get their minds right again then yes I can agree with you that things are looking up for the Cowboys, unfortunately we've seen this show before and I'll believe it when I see it.
Tom: Well, we’ll have to see how they play when they take the field again. I think they will silence your doubts. If not, things will get chippy around here, fast.