Having attended the Dallas Cowboys game this last Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, I probably felt like most fans who watched. Namely, I was thrilled to watch them score 28 points in the first half, especially when all of the touchdowns were from running backs.
The second half? Well, let’s just say that the Cowboys were outcoached and outplayed in pretty much every facet of those two quarters. They didn’t appear to make any adjustments at halftime. Team owner Jerry Jones summed things up nicely here:
"“I think our early defensive success gave us a certain confidence in what we were doing, and the when we relied on that later … I think that betrayed us,” Jones said on 105.3 The Fan’s Shan and RJ show, per the Dallas Morning News."
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Although they are now 2-1 and still lead the division by a full game over all three rivals, they really do need a win in week 4. Sunday night they will travel to face the New Orleans Saints in the Superdome.
On paper, this game is a “can and should” win for the Cowboys. Hopefully, things will shake out in their favor.
The Saints are 0-3 on the season so far, and starting quarterback Drew Brees is day-to-day with a shoulder injury. He may or may not start.
Even if Brees does play, the Saints were 0-2 before he got hurt.
New Orleans has lost six in a row at home, and the Cowboys have won 10 straight regular season games on the road, dating back to the 2013 season.
Although the Dallas defense had a truly bad half of football this past week, they are still ranked #8 in the NFL for yards allowed on the season. The Saints have a pretty bad defense right now, ranked near the very bottom (29th). They are allowing 126 rushing yards per game.
Unfortunately for the Cowboys, games aren’t played on paper, and nothing is ever a sure thing in the NFL.
Hopefully, Dallas can build on the successful first half from week 3, and make the adjustments they should have made last week in order to continue scoring points.
If the Cowboys prevail this week, they will still be atop the NFC East by a full game. If not, they will definitely be sharing the lead with another team. Two of their division rivals, the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins, play each other Sunday afternoon. Both teams are at 1-2, so one of them will be 2-2 before Dallas hits the field.
Looking forward beyond that, the Cowboys will be without starting quarterback Tony Romo (broken clavicle) for at least six more games, hopefully no more.
If they drop the game to the Saints, things start to look much more questionable with regard to making the postseason:
After the Saints, the Cowboys face the New England Patriots, who are 3-0 and have superstar quarterback Tom Brady at the helm. As optimistic as I want to be, it’s tough to imagine that Dallas will pull out the win on that game. However, anything is possible. The Cowboys will have their first opportunity to see a couple of very strong defensive players on the field that week. Both defensive end Greg Hardy and linebacker Rolando McClain are available to play in that game. Both are currently serving four-game suspensions.
After the Patriots, Dallas has their bye week. They are hoping to have another injured star back after the break, as wide receiver Dez Bryant could play in the first game after the bye.
The next three games are all big challenges, against the New York Giants, Seattle Seahawks, and Philadelphia Eagles. After that, they face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
I would anticipate that the Cowboys will likely win two of the final four games without Romo (Tampa bay and one other game). With that in mind, they need to beat the Saints to give the team the best shot at winning the division and making the playoffs again this year. If Romo returns with Dallas at 5-4, they should be able to finish at 10-6 or better. This should be adequate to win the division this year.
They have certainly shown that they have the necessary talent to score points with the running game, and current starting quarterback Brandon Weeden did reasonably well in relief of Romo, going 22 for 26. Granted, he never really stretched the field much. Most of his passes were short dump offs in the 5-10 yard range, and he completed zero passes to his primary wide receiver that day, Terrance Williams.
Hopefully, they can do better than that Sunday night.
The return of 2014 Cowboys sack leader Jeremy Mincey to the lineup following a missed game due to a concussion should help them get more pressure on Brees than they were able to attain against Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan.
All in all, even though the season is young, this is a game the Cowboys really can and should win. If they don’t, it may come back to haunt them later.