1. Once everyone is healthy, the offense will be almost unstoppable.
With the possible exception of the opener against the Jets, the Cowboys have not had all of their offensive weapons healthy at the same yet this year. Despite the multitude of injuries, they are still averaging close to 25 points a game. Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, Romo, Witten, and Felix Jones have all been banged up to varying degrees. The bye week should provide them all with a chance to return to 100%. Once everyone is healthy, the only thing that can stop this offense is themselves.
2. Despite the impressive start and Sean Lee doing a convincing Superman impression, the defense is still a work in progress.
The ‘points against’ statistic doesn’t capture how effective Rob Ryan’s defense has been. Remember, the offense gave up 14 points against the Lions, there was a blocked punt for a TD against the Jets, and several short fields have been handed to opponents as a result of turnovers.
We all know that Ryan runs an extremely complex defense and that they are playing without the benefit of having a full offseason to install his complicated schemes. The longer this unit plays together, the more they will gel, and the more comfortable they will become with Ryan’s scheme. Moreover, the longer they are able to practice together and the more time they have in the classroom, the more complex and exotic Ryan can get with his play calling. Ryan basic strategy is premised on confusing the offense; as the playbook gets bigger and bigger, the ability to consistently cause confusion will grow.
The defense is ranked 4th in the league in terms of yards given up. In my mind, the most important stat is that the Cowboys are ranked #1 against the run: opposing offenses are averaging a paltry 3.1 yards per carry for less than 62 yards a game. The longest run they have surrendered is a very tolerable 19 yards.
If the old adage that it gets harder and harder to pass effectively as the season wears on is true, the Cowboys are in good shape.
3. The NFC East is not the powerhouse it used to be.
Call me crazy if you want, but I still think that the Boys can win this division. They have already beat the Redskins on the road, and the Skins beat NY. The Giants are getting gouged for over 116 yards rushing per game. The G-men are giving up over 21 points a game, and they have not faced a team with the offensive firepower of the Cowboys. And the Dream Team Eagles? Well, they are 1-3. The Eagles have the 3rd worst run defense in the league, giving up almost 140 yards per game. The Eagles have really struggled to protect Vick. If they lose Vick for even a couple of games, it will be very difficult for them to win now that Kolb is a Cardinal.
The point is simple: they Boys are capable of beating every team in the division.
4. Barring some kind of serious mental disability or learning impairment, both Romo and Garrett had to have learned something from the loss to the Lions.
I have made an effort to not read any of the anti-Romo verbiage this week. The truth is that no matter how many unfathomable mistakes he makes, Romo will also make almost as many, if not more, eye-popping and jaw-dropping positive plays. Moreover, Romo is not going anywhere anytime soon; he still gives this team their best chance to win. So, love him or hate him, he is the QB of the Dallas Cowboys for the foreseeable future. Get over it.
Let’s be honest: Romo has committed his fair share of costly mistakes in the past, but I can not think of anything that even comes close to being as bad as the colossal meltdown that occurred against the Lions. I have to believe that the loss to the Lions has had a dramatic impact on him. He also has a whole extra week to contemplate what happened; he has to wait an agonizing extra 7 days before he has any hope of getting that awful taste from his mouth. I also have to believe that the loss to the Lions will renew his dedication to protecting the ball. More importantly, I hope that he realizes that he doesn’t have to score a TD (or even get a 1st down in the case of the Lions game) on every possession to win football games. It would not surprise me if the loss to the Lions is the sort of ‘rock-bottom’ experience that really causes lasting changes.
As my previous articles have argued, I believe that Garrett deserves as much of the blame for last weeks loss as Romo. If Garrett is even close to being as intelligent as everyone says he is and his education suggests, he must have learned something from the loss. He should be able to make the necessary adjustments to ensure that such a catastrophe never befalls this club again.
5. The offensive line should get better and better.
Given their inexperience and limited time playing together as a unit, the OL has played reasonably well. I have to believe that Costa’s errant snaps were an aberration. Conventional wisdom says that the more the young guys get some game experience and the more they play together as a unit, the better they will play. There is some evidence to support that assertion already:
The running game has improved since week one. Felix actually rushed for over a 100 yards against the Skins, albeit mostly because of 2 long runs. Against the Lions, Jones rushed for an almost respectable 3.6 average on 16 carries; Choice had 39 yards on just 6 carries. I am not suggesting that the Boys have a formidable running game yet, but they are improving. I do not think that this is ever going to be a team that wins by running the football, but I do believe that the running game should continue to improve to a point where the rushing attack is not an insurmountable weakness.
The pass protection has also improved. You could easily argue that the OL had their best game against the Lions. Romo was sacked 4 times against the Jets, but only once a game since then. Against the celebrated DL of the Lions, the OL held up fairly well. Doug Free bounced back from a poor outing against the Skins, and the line played well as a group. One of the most dominating interior lineman in the game, Suh, was a non-factor.
The OL still has a long way to go before it has any hope of being anything other than the weak link of the offense, but their gradual improvement provides us with reasonable hope that they will eventually play like a solid unit. (I am trying to forget that an injury to either Smith or Free could be devastating because Jeremy Parnell is the only other OT on the roster.)