By Zach Walker
How has the Dallas Cowboys season gone? Well, let’s see, at very least the Super bowl talk is at an all-time low. Most fans would have figured this sobering up moment would have come in the form of a loss of a playoff game, but it didn’t happen that late in the year. The playoffs are a far cry from where this team is now. Hate to say the word “miracle” but that’s pretty much what this season is reduced to. That miracle comes in form of Tony Romo returning on November 22 against the Dolphins in Miami. There is a game between now and Romo’s return but that’s not what we’re talking about here. How has the rest of the team been holding down the fort in his absence? Let’s take a roll through the whole season so far, with the guys who have been available for this team.
Quarterbacks: Tony Romo’s late game heroics in the season home opener against the Giants really looked to put the Cowboys on the right track going forward. However, the Angel of Death manifested itself in form of Justin Hicks in the second game of the season on the road against the Philadelphia Eagles when Hicks landed on Tony Romo fracturing his clavicle. Hicks fractured the entire season for the Dallas Cowboys. Romo was put on short term designated for return injured reserve and that might be where the season got screwed up. Insert King Checkdown, Brandon Weeden. No one knows, and no one will ever know what was told to Brandon Weeden before his first game against Atlanta. Whether it was play it safe or just lean on the running game, he took to heart what that message was and it cost him the job three games later. He was nothing to write home about against Atlanta, did too little too late in New Orleans and was pretty much useless against New England. After Weeden’s unimpressive game against New England, it was the Matt Cassel show. In his first game, coming out of the bye week, Matt Cassel was clearly going to break the Brandon Weeden train of thought by throwing the ball deep. It really didn’t work out for the Cowboys, because Cassel threw three interceptions in that game. Against Seattle, he showcased some wheels, but even then it wasn’t enough. Seattle won after throwing everything they had towards Cassel on the Cowboys’ final drive. Against Philly, Castle was pretty average, looked efficient except for the one turnover. Hicks showed up again, sixed an interception and that is the difference in the game. Castle hasn’t looked polished but he looks much more able than Brandon Weeden and will likely get the start at Tampa Bay. It is truly incredible and almost goes beyond words, the importance of Tony Romo to the Dallas Cowboys. Sarcasm aside Romo should probably get some MVP votes. The Cowboys higher-ups, Jerry and Stephen, are getting a very open preview of what life post-Romo is going to look like, and if they don’t plan ahead, this is clearly a six win team, tops.
Running Backs: Without DeMarco Murray, it’s the Joseph Randle show! That wasn’t very entertaining while it lasted. Easy in, easy out. Leaning heavy early on Lance Dunbar looked to be the weapon that he was supposed to be but in New Orleans, just four games into the season, Dunbar blew out his knee and probably ended his career in Dallas. For the remainder of the season, the Cowboys are probably going to lean heavy on the one man they probably did not count on leaning on, in Darren McFadden. However, McFadden has looked good behind the line that is starting to come back around. The Cowboys traded for Christine Michael and the most action that he has seen so far was against his former team against Seattle. It’s been a total revolving door for the backfield this year and to be honest the Cowboys probably would like to have had DeMarco Murray on their side.
Pass Catchers: Dez Bryant hasn’t been around long enough in the season to really make a big impact, but he did catch a pretty spectacular touchdown against Philadelphia and looked to have tested his foot against Philadelphia as well. Jason Witten has continued his Ironman, unbelievable streak of just being the most reliable person in the NFL. They haven’t leaned a hundred percent on him like they should have in Dez’s absence but he’s always going to be there. Cole Beasley has had an up and down year, he’s looked hot, he’s looked cold and had some fumbling issues this season. Against Philadelphia, he looked pretty good in a 100 yard game with nine catches and two touchdowns, which is a pretty spectacular game for Beasley. Then there’s Terrence Williams. I can’t recall the last time a player has gone from someone who you think you can rely on to a player that is seemingly sabotaging his own team. Williams has gone through so many games with drops and bad routing and lackluster play from a number two wide receiver and really must bring up questions about his reliability going forward. My draft pick, Gavin Escobar, has been almost completely missing from the season. I don’t know if he’s injured or what, but he is not on the field helping his team at all. With Dez returning, things should open up and ease the coverage on everybody else.
Offensive Line: The line has been a roller coaster of consistency. Ron Leary gets hurt, then in comes Mackenzy Bernadeau, then they finally give the nod to La’el Collins. Collins looks the part when on the field, with the same caliber silver back talent as the rest of the offensive line around him. Tyron Smith has had an up-and-down year. Zack Martin doesn’t exactly look like the same guy but that could probably be attributed to his injury in the preseason. Doug Free hasn’t been the same kind of rock that he has been in the past, none the less, from the right tackle spot no real change from him. Travis Frederick is full-blown, full-on the heart of the offensive line. I really don’t think, or I can’t recall a single penalty on Travis Frederick this year. Frederick is at this point looks like an All-Pro. The line has yet to pitch a perfect game or a complete game. They’ll have a good the run game, but they’ll give up pass protection. Solid blocking up front, they can’t get the push in the run game. They just need to put it all together like they did last year.
Defensive Line: The way that Randy Gregory started the season against New York, there was real optimism with when Greg hardy came back, it was going to be put together. Gregory goes down with an ankle sprain and really hasn’t been seen since. Tyrone Crawford has been good at getting pressure and mopping up tackles in the run game no real change, guy’s a work horse. DeMarcus Lawrence has had a pretty quiet year. He looked really well against Seattle until the final drive. Then there’s the man that everyone loves to talk about, Mr. Greg Hardy. He’s been…. pretty alright. Four sacks in four games and has an interception. I can’t say that much more was to be expected of him because he came out firing, but I don’t know if he’s truly released the ‘Kraken’ yet. The Londoner, Jack Crawford has been a pretty damn good rotation guy for the defensive line. He’s getting good pressure and has three sacks on the season. Jeremy Mincey has been pretty alright in the rotation. The pressure has been there, but the line is just not getting home quick enough but there is something to be said about quarterbacks getting through their motions quicker and getting the ball out of their hands faster or that’s just another excuse. I have to get in a mention of David Irving. Dude has come on strong, blocking a kick against Seattle and played a hell of a game against Philadelphia, don’t know where he’s from but I’m glad he’s here.
Linebackers: The defense rides and dies with Sean Lee. I’ll give you examples: against Atlanta there was a series in which Sean split his lip and went back to the locker room for stitches. During his absence, Atlanta moved the ball so much better. Against the Saints, he knocked himself out of the game with a concussion very early on and it wasn’t the same defense afterwards. And again against Philadelphia, got knocked out of the game with a concussion, two in one season; that’s not good and for the rest of the game, it was a totally different defense after Sean Lee went down. He just has to stay on the field, some way. It hasn’t happened for him yet but he has to change that, or else the defense isn’t the same. Rolando McClain has been pretty neutral not bad, but not good. His tactic against Philadelphia was interesting to say the least, he knocked two of his fellow linebackers and impeded Byron Jones in his coverage, not on purpose, but the damage was done. Anthony Hitchens has been good but I’d say he’s probably not on the field enough to make it seriously large impact I’d like to see him on the field more because the dude knows how to make tackles if the game is in front of him, then Hitchens is pretty damn good.
Defensive Backs: As would have been expected when losing Orlando Scandrick, the coverage hasn’t been completely solid but it’s not terrible. Brandon Carr has been up and down as has been his entire tenure here in Dallas. He’ll miss a tackle one play, then over tackle on the next play. Coverage is Brandon Carr coverage, and that’s just how it goes. Morris Claiborne really hasn’t actually played poorly this season, people will think that way because it is Morris Claiborne, but he really hasn’t played too bad. He’ll have good coverage, continue good coverage, then get a bad penalty that I think is more along the lines based on previous notions of Morris Claiborne. His press coverage has been solid pretty solid for this year so far. The big plus has been Byron Jones, the rookie. He’s tight in coverage, he’s got the skills, he’s got the moves, he’s got the ability and that’s the thing. I mean, so far this kid has been as advertised and then some. Corey White hasn’t had too much so far. The safeties have had a pretty poor year. JJ Wilcox is determined to knock himself out. He plays like a hip fired bazooka, just shooting across the field trying to wreck anything in his path. I love watching him play. It’s fantastic in stereo, he’s crazy but I don’t know if that’s necessarily what the Cowboys need from a safety. Barry Church played pretty negative early on and during this last couple of games, where he’s had an injury before the game and has been questionable to play, he’s played two straight games where his play has been known and has been much better.
The Cowboys, the entire year have always been one player away from winning most of these games. Whether that was Romo for the entire year, or Scandrick in coverage, or Sean Lee for the New Orleans Saints game. The Cowboys, at this point, tank. Get the high draft and start over next year. That won’t happen though, because Romo is going to come back and the Cowboys will win and push themselves further from the front end of the draft lineup and try and make a playoff full court press, but this season has been a rough one to watch. This team has looked like a team because of their matching uniforms, but have not looked like a unit yet this season.
So can this team make a run? Well, they get Romo back, but they must win against Tampa. MUST WIN. No more losing, they need a win. Romo gets to go against Miami, then come home on a short week and play the HOT Carolina Panthers on Thanksgiving. Then a Monday night match up against Washington, then a shortened week of travel to Green Bay, where Rodgers isn’t allowed to lose. Then a weird week, shortened again, this time for a Saturday night game against the Jets. Then into Buffalo, in late December, that should look fun. Then a finish against Washington at home. Why is it that I see the Cowboys making a serious run at this, like everything goes the Cowboys’ way finally, then lose out on the playoffs with a hate filled loss to Washington? Just saying.