The Dallas Cowboys saved their season last Sunday by beating the Eagles in Philadelphia. Their record is now 4-5 and they are in the midst of a crucial stretch of games. The next 5 week will make or break the Cowboys season. They play only one team that has a winning record. This is a chance for the Cowboys to get on track and make a late season push for a wild card spot in the NFC or if they get a little help along the way they may even challenge for a division title. Either way the Cowboys must take care of their business in the coming weeks.
This upcoming Sunday the Cowboys have the Cleveland Browns coming to the Billion Dollar Play Pen that is Cowboys Stadium. The Browns come into the game with a 2-7 record. They are a young team, with a rookie quarterback (Brandon Weeden) who has played like a rookie all season. The Browns may have a 2-7 record, but they have played every game tough. Their best player is left tackle Joe Thomas. Running Back Trent Richardson is a bruising back, but once again he is a rookie and could be hitting that rookie wall anytime soon. Their defense has some good players sprinkled in with a bunch of soft bodies. Linebacker D’Qwell Jackson was a Pro Bowler in 2011, and cornerback Joe Haden has become as much of a shut down corner as there is in the NFL.
The Dallas Cowboys have had a disgusting habit of playing down to their opponents under the Jason Garrett regime. Especially at home, where they always keep games close. The Cowboys need to take it to the Browns early and not ease off the gas pedal until the final whistle blows. Despite the talent listed above, the Cowboys have a far superior roster when compared to the Browns. They should be favored in almost every match up on paper, but the problem has been translating that dominance on the field. They need to force mistakes from the rookie quarterback, without committing the penalties and turnovers that have plagued them in these types of games in the past.
The Cowboys finally forced multiple turnovers on defense, including an interception by Brandon Carr that was returned for a touchdown and a fumble recovery in the endzone against the Eagles last Sunday. This week the defense needs to put pressure on the rookie, Weeden. Weeden has shown that in the face of pressure he will make mistakes and throw the ball up for grabs. Despite the turnovers last week, a disturbing sign was the play of the Cowboys rookie corner Morris Claiborne. He was beat twice down the field and flagged for two pass interference calls against the Eagles. As the season progresses teams are going to throw his way more, because Carr has played well on the otherside, which means quarterbacks will pick on Claiborne to avoid throwing at Carr.
After Sunday, the Cowboys play Washington on Thanksgiving Day. Then they stay home for a third week in a row when they play Philly again. They travel to Cincinnati and then come back home to play Pittsburgh. The only team with a winning record in this stretch is Pittsburgh and they just lost their quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to a dislocated rib that doctors have said could possibly puncture his aorta if it does not settle in place. He has not been put on any type of injury plan, so he may be in the line up or not. If Roethlisberger does not play that game becomes another winnable game for the Cowboys.
Winning six games in a row is difficult for any team in the NFL, so I won’t be greedy, but even if the Cowboys go 5-1 in this stretch, they will turn around what has been a disappointing season in a hurry. The division leading New York Giants have helped out by going on a two game slide into their bye week this week, meaning if the Cowboys win this Sunday they will only be a game behind the Giants in the NFC East. The Giants come out of their bye week to play Green Bay and have games with Atlanta and Baltimore later in the season. Both the Cowboys and Giants play New Orleans late in the schedule, so if the Cowboys take care of business in these next 5 games, they will be in a very good position heading into the final stretch of the season.
Tony Romo has posted a record of 20-4 in the month of November in his career. If that trend continues, the Cowboys will be sitting pretty entering the December stretch. the difficulty of winning six games in a row in the NFL is tough for even the best of teams, but the way the schedule has set up for the Cowboys they have their best shot in the next five games. Under Jason Garrett the Cowboys have typically played down to lesser opponent, but if the Cowboys can avoid that trend, they will be staring at a playoff spot in their grasp and maybe even a division title with a little help from our friends. This stretch of games will tell us if the Cowboys are a force to be reckoned with, or a disappointment.