Momentary setback or harbinger of troubles to come? That is the question facing the Dallas Cowboys after the discouraging loss to the Green Bay Packers. Now they face the 8-1 Minnesota Vikings to try and bounce back. And looming just four days later is the second matchup with the 7-2 New York Giants. Dallas needs to finish out the season with some indication they are a better team than their latest performance indicates. Our David Howman and Tom Ryle have different views of which way things are going. But you probably guessed that.
Tom: After watching Aaron Rodgers do it to the Cowboys once again, my PTSD is in full swing. Now it has another element, the way the team was going strong last season and then seemed to lose their confidence and competence down the stretch in 2021.
I am scared we might see that unfold again. What looked like a fairly easy second half of the season now looks much more difficult. At first glance, the 6-3 record would indicate that they are in the upper echelon of the NFC. Only three teams in the conference have better. But that mess in Green Bay makes it hard to feel they really are one of the best teams in the conference. You can blame it on recency bias, but when you have seen things go badly so recently, it is hard to disregard.
David: It’s hard for me to completely ignore that nagging sense of negativity in the back of my mind, as losing to Aaron Rodgers always does that. But the more I’ve sat on this Packers loss, the less concerned I get. The Cowboys have already been dealt plenty of adversity throughout the season, and this last game was the first time they haven’t overcome it. Plus, with the game going into overtime, it gets even harder to extract meaningful results from it. Statistically speaking, games that are that close end up getting decided by randomness more than actual skill.
Recency bias is a potent drug, but the body of work that this Cowboys team has put up this year is still strong. I keep coming back to the fact that this was Dak Prescott’s first road game all year, and it came in a notoriously rowdy stadium in some very cold weather. Their next road game is in a dome, which should help mitigate some of the factors I suspect were at play in Lambeau. After that, it’s back home to take on a Giants team that they already beat with Cooper Rush under center. I’m not even close to pressing the panic button.
Tom: This is a situation where the worries I have are all about the internal factors. While I see a lot of good things in this roster, there are lingering doubts about the mental toughness for this bunch. Sometimes they seem to be overthinking, and that includes how the coaches approach games. I am frankly disturbed by things like Mike McCarthy’s rant about the officiating after the last game, and how Dan Quinn misused his best weapon, Micah Parsons.
The Cowboys really got away from focusing on their strengths in that game and worried too much about their weaknesses. They still have a big issue with the receiving corps, which has not been addressed adequately either from adding talent or by getting someone besides CeeDee Lamb or Dalton Schultz more involved. While Tony Pollard has been doing a great job running the ball, there seems a real lack of use for him as a receiver. The run defense also continues to be a struggle, and Quinn seems to just keep doing the same things despite the results.
Nothing imparts any real faith that the team is going to get these things straight. And with some of the opponents coming up, starting this week, that has me as nervous as a cat in a dog pound.
David: The run defense is a problem that needs fixing, but I’m still not convinced it’s that big a deal. It could be argued that the Packers ran it too much, and Rodgers even took issue with the play-calling in the fourth quarter. Nine times out of ten, that kind of ultra-conservative play-calling doesn’t work out. Consider it just our luck that the one time it does work came against Dallas.
Also, while it would be nice to see this receiving corps get an upgrade, I don’t think it’s necessary either. Dallas has scored 24 or more points in each of their last three games; they did that only once before Dak Prescott came back from injury. And the Cowboys would’ve scored more were it not for two interceptions caused by miscommunication with Lamb and Schultz. Could the personnel be better? Sure, but what the Cowboys have right now is not holding them back.
The Cowboys are fourth in overall DVOA right now and they only have two opponents left on the schedule that are even in the top half of the league in DVOA. That’s the Titans and the Eagles, and only Philadelphia is ahead of Dallas in that regard. The Cowboys let one slip away, but they’ve been one of the best teams in the league all year. It’s not impossible, but it does seem unlikely that their performance against the Packers will become the new normal.
Tom: I hope you are right about that. This is a rare year, with so few really good teams in the league. It is an opportunity to finally change the narrative for Dallas. But that is going to be up to them. As I said, this is as much about the mental aspect of things, and the way those interceptions went down is a prime example. This team needs to put their best game on the field the rest of the way to finally get somewhere in the postseason. I just am not convinced they are up to that task. As it has been all year, this is a “show us what you really are” game coming up. We really need some evidence that the last outing was not the limit for them.