The Dallas Cowboys concluded the second quarter of their season this past Sunday night with another close loss in Atlanta. Once again the outcome was disappointing for Cowboy fans, and any hopes that the Cowboys have for being a part of the postseason are very close to being on life support. The Cowboys have simply not taken advantage of their opportunities and have suffered for it. They are and have been an average team since the late 1990s, and average teams must capitalize on opportunities when given.
The first quarter of the 2012 season the Cowboys compiled a record of 2-2. The team had victories against the Giants and Buccaneers, and suffered losses against the Seahawks and Bears. Turnovers, penalties, and mistakes, as have been the storyline of this year’s team, helped lead to this outcome. Had the ball bounced a little differently (figuratively speaking), the team could have possibly been 3-1 or 4-0 and built a cushion for the tough upcoming second quarter.
The second quarter of this season was seen by all as the most difficult stretch for the Cowboys. Surprisingly, they were competitive in all four games. The team had its lone victory against the Panthers. It suffered its three losses to the Ravens, Giants, and Falcons. Again, like the first quarter of the season, this quarter was also marred by turnovers, penalties, and mistakes. Again, the team could have conceivably gone 3-1 or 4-0 during this stretch, but it just didn’t work out that way.
As Cowboy fans now turn their attention to the third quarter of the season, let’s take a look at what is upcoming:
Week 10 (@Philadelphia; 3-5; .375 winning percentage)
Week 11 (vs. Cleveland; 2-7; .222 winning percentage)
Week 12 (vs. Washington; 3-6; .333 winning percentage)
Week 13 (vs. Philadelphia; 3-5; .375 winning percentage)
If the Cowboys hope to keep their shrinking playoff hopes alive, this will have to be the quarter where they make up ground. Although the team will likely have to finish 6-2 to have a chance for the postseason, they will need to take it one game at a time. The Cowboys will play three of the four at home at Cowboys Stadium and have been a strong team in the third quarter of recent seasons.
The Cowboys will face the Eagles twice during this span, starting this Sunday afternoon. This team was the self titled “dream team” in 2011 after a stellar haul of offseason moves. Both teams are saddled with identical 3-5 records. The head coaches, Jason Garret and Andy Reid are both on very warm seats that are getting hotter by the week. If either team misses the playoffs, the coaches could very well be looking for a new job this spring. Both teams can also be looking at some serious personnel changes as well if things don’t turn around. As bad as the Cowboys offensive line has been this season, the Eagles has been even worse. They look at times as if they are actually trying to get Michael Vick killed in the pocket.
Besides the two games with the Eagles, the Cowboys will play the Browns and Redskins in a span of five days. Cowboy fans must hope the team can go undefeated during this stretch, or at least 3-1. The Thanksgiving Day game with the Redskins will be a very intriguing match-up as the Cowboys face RGIII for the first time.
The defense of the Cowboys has played very well this season, but it’s the offense that has been holding this team back. The team has sorely missed DeMarco Murray in the line-up, and the running game has been almost non-existent since he has been out. The team has also missed Phil Costa at the center spot on the line. In his limited time, he really had shown growth from the 2011 season. To date the signings of Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings in the offseason don’t look to be the solution going forward. Hopefully that will change, and the Cowboys can get a proper return on their investment in these two players. Doug Free has been an absolute shell of himself at the right tackle spot as well, as he can’t seem to keep up with the pass rushers the Cowboys have faced and has also been a magnet for penalties.
Hopefully the offensive play calling can be handled by Bill Callahan going forward, as Jason Garrett has been exposed time after time of not being able to handle the responsibility. The Cowboys should also mix in some more “no huddle” offense into their game plan, as they seem to move the ball efficiently when they are in it. The team is 5th worst in the NFL in the red zone, only scoring a touchdown on 44% of the time when they are there. They can move the ball down the field going to Jason Witten, but teams have long been able to hold him down in the red zone and force the Cowboys to settle for field goals. In a prior article I mentioned a free agent who could help in this area, but the Cowboys have shown reluctance to bring in a receiver from outside the organization.
Cowboy fans will watch this upcoming third quarter of the season with great interest. Either a run to the playoffs will have to start soon, or fans will turn their attention to other aspects of their lives. While a top 10 pick in the upcoming NFL Draft is nice to have, I’d rather have a trip to the postseason where anything can happen. We will soon have an idea what direction this thing is headed.
Follow Craig Cortemeglia on Twitter at @ccortemegliaTLH