The Cowboys in 2016 were one of the most feared teams in the league. They had a dynamic duo in the backfield that garnered not just Rookie of the Year talk, but MVP conversation for Zeke Elliott and Dak Prescott. Their offensive line was as stout as any group of five in NFL history. Their defense was sneaky good. This is not that team.
The season is young
Second place and .500 is not where most had expected to see Dallas in the early days of October. They have been outscored by three points in their four games combined and giving up 215 yards to a back who struggled last season did not help the Cowboy fans feel at ease.
Not all was doom and gloom after Sunday. Ezekiel Elliott had a bounce back game, eclipsing the 100 total yard mark (85 rushing, 54 receiving). Dak Prescott threw for three scores. The offensive line gave up only two sacks versus one of the best pass rushing teams from a year ago.
However, a loss is still a loss. The Cowboys were often outplayed on Sunday by a team many picked to be in the hunt for the number one overall pick. To their credit, they did hold the Rams to seven field goal tries, but Greg “The Leg” Zuerlein was perfect, much to the happiness of his fantasy owners.
Why the struggle?
When a team who is the prohibitive favorite to go to the Super Bowl is slow out of the gate, fingers get pointed in all directions. Is it the play calling? Is it a sophomore slump from Dak or Zeke? Has Dez lost a step? Is the defense not blitzing enough, or too much? Too much man coverage on the outside? The schedule is rougher this year than last?
All valid questions. However, one Cowboy legend had this to say:
“I think that what’s probably struggled is the consistency of the run game. And I think that some of that has to do with two-fifths of the offensive line has changed from what it was a year ago,” Aikman stated on KTCK FM 96.7. ” I think that is maybe taking a little bit of time. I don’t consider it a huge concern at this point.”
If anyone knows about offensive line play, it is Aikman, who played behind a line that made Emmitt Smith a Hall of Famer. A bad line also cost Aikman his career, thanks to injuries.
Two key pieces of the hogs up front are missing from last season. Right tackle Doug Free called it a career, and Ronald Leary left to go to the Mile High City in free agency. La’el Collins is now taking Free’s place at the right tackle position. Chaz Green is filling in for Collins at left guard.
Collins has been hit and miss, literally this season. He has shown spots where he could be the fourth All-Pro on that line. Von Miller proved why he won’t be. Granted, Miller does that to a lot of guys on the opposite side of the football, but for the Cowboys to have the success they had a year ago, this spot needs to be shored up before the weather turns cold.
At least they aren’t THAT bad
Often when fans see how great their team can be, a step back can cause a mild case of panic. The Cowboys have taken a step back, but they are not terrible.
The Cowboys rank in the top half for points scored (23.5, 15th), yards (343.2, 12th), passing yards (229, 15th) per game. While none of those numbers are eye popping, they are not anywhere near last place. If you are looking for a silver lining, the Packers rank near the bottom in rushing yards every year.
They sit at 2-2. However, they are 1-0 in the division. That division has the Giants in it, so they are most certainly guaranteed a win when the two teams meet up in Week 14 at MetLife Stadium.
It could always be worse, they could be in Cleveland or be the unwanted team in Los Angeles (Chargers).
“Very few times in the NFL does a quarterback go back and everything is clean and everything is easy and [he has] a nice pocket to throw from,” Dallas coach Jason Garrett said, courtesy of ESPN. “There’s always somebody in your face, you always have to move, you always have to keep your eyes down the field with people around you and make plays. He’s capable of doing that from the pocket. He’s capable of doing that by running and making things happen, but also just buying some time and getting out in space and keeping his eyes down the field.”
That is the very definition of “faith.” Rarely does a second year man have the talent and assets around him that Dak does. While he enjoyed a mostly clean pocket last season, he is getting experience in improvisation. Dak has the tools to pull this off. Three touchdowns against the Rams should be the turning point.
Positivity from a good source
“We just got to keep pushing,” Bryant said. “It’s a process. I said that it’s a process. And when it clicks, it’s going to click and it’s going to be one of the best things you’ve ever seen on turf.”
For one, the fact that Dez Bryant is not bellyaching about touches and storming off the field is a good thing. He is positive the season will turn around. They face a rough test when the Packers come to Jerry’s World before their bye week. If Dallas can stop Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, their schedule puts their destiny in their hands.
Five of their six division games come in the second half of the season, and a crucial Week 17 game in Philly could decide the division. The Cowboys have time to right the ship, and after inspiring performances by the O-Line, Dak, and Zeke, the Cowboys are showing signs of returning to who they were last season.
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