My practice has been that if I can’t say something ugly about the Cowboys, I don’t say anything at all. Hence the silence here since my pre-season game-by-game analysis and forecasts, including my 6-10 prediction for the Cowboys’ record. Just a few hours away now from the unquestioned pivotal game of the Cowboys year, I feel compelled to throw out a couple of opinions. As with Job’s loquacious friend, Eliphaz, I cannot keep from speaking.
First, let’s acknowledge that it is very difficult to get wins in the NFL. Just ask the Saints, the Texans, the 49′ers, etc., It’s tough to get wins in this league. They don’t come easy. And the Cowboys this year have racked up a bunch of wins. With five games to play, they’ve already accomplished more Ws than in any of the last three complete seasons. So, you can’t deny that the team is much improved in many crucial areas. I hate to admit it; but I can’t ignore it. This team, this year, is vastly improved over previous seasons. The offensive line really is the envy of the league. They really do have a running game. (Let’s face it: Romo looks better this year because it’s hard to intercept a handoff!) While the defense has major deficiencies, they are a pack of ferocious head-hunters who fly around the ball and swarm to the action like the great Dallas defenders of the mid-90s. There doesn’t seem to be a selfish player on the team; at least, the overall team-first attitudes are keeping the problem egos in check. And the Cowboys this year are really fun to watch. They’re entertaining. They enjoy playing together. They’re all blocking downfield on every play. They’re having fun. And it translates through the screens into our living rooms. If you’re not careful, you could be caught up into thinking this group actually has a chance to do something grand.
(OK, this is where I take a final stab at writing this group off just like the Cowboys teams from the past 17 seasons.)
I believe they’re going to get beat today. As much as Chip Kelly’s offense is celebrated for its frantic pace and scoreboard-bursting numbers, the Eagles really do run the ball very well with LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles. And, as we’ve already seen, if the Cowboys lose the time of possession battle, they lose. If the Dallas D is on the field for too long, they’re exposed. With the exception of Scandrick and McClain, who’s having a career season, the Cowboys defenders are only marginal players who are being led by a coordinator who’s coaching way, way, way over the talent he has on the field. And they have absolutely no depth. Over the past four games, the Cowboys defense is ranking in the bottom three in the league in 3rd down stops, yards per play, red zone scores, and several other key categories. Other teams are beginning to discover the weakness: if you run the ball on Dallas, you win. And the Eagles run the ball very well.
So, let’s assume they lose today. The Cowboys are now 8-4, in second place in the division, behind in the tie-breaker with the Eagles, with four games to go. Three of those last four games are on the road. They have to turn around to play the Eagles again in two weeks, this time in Philly. And if they lose that game, the only way Dallas qualifies for the post-season is as a Wild Card. Maybe they squeak in at 9-7. The only guarantee is if they go 10-6.
How do you see the last four games playing out?
at Chicago – I don’t know; what’s the weather going to be like?
at Philly – How does Dallas win this one?
vs Colts – It’s a home game but can the Cowboys D stop Luck and the Colts?
at Washington – for the past three seasons in a row, Dallas has needed to beat a divisional opponent in the last game of the season to qualify for the playoffs; in all three years, they’ve lost that game and stayed at home for the postseason. Would you bet on them in the exact same scenario this year?
Bottom line: if the Cowboys lose today, they have to win two of their last four games to guarantee a playoff spot. And that will not be easy. If they win today…
Regardless, I’ll admit again, this Cowboys team is vastly improved and much more fun to watch play. Whether they win or lose today, the game will be close, the atmosphere will be electric, and it will be a blast to watch. But, I think they lose today. And I think the loss today starts the familiar December slide into playoff oblivion.