Friday, September 30, 2016

DMN - Mailbag Sept 30

So, you are three games into your season at 2-1, favored in Game #4, and life is great because your rookie class is already contributing in several spots! It's very rare around here to have so many things falling properly.
Unfortunately, we can't stop there, can we? Ominous storm clouds are rolling in. NFL success requires keeping the key players on your roster healthy and part of your workforce.  Every team will sustain injuries. But the randomization of these injuries seems to control standings by the end of the year.  
So, here we are, on the final day of September, and the Cowboys do not feel good about their three most pricey assets:  Tony Romo's health never seems consistent, Dez Bryant has a hairline fracture in his knee, and Tyron Smith's back keeps locking up. Our friends at Spotrac have a full page on the Cowboys' investments, and the names at the top verify the poor injury fortune so far.

It certainly isn't an exact science, but in the case of the Cowboys, it sure looks close. That is, in July, you ask me "Who are the three guys you must keep healthy in 2016?" I am likely saying Romo, Bryant, and Tyron. Maybe Sean Lee gets in there, too. But, man.  
The issue here is how serious Tyron's situation is. Any time we start talking about back issues, we worry. Then, we look back at how much training camp Smith missed. And, how he didn't play much in the preseason (20 snaps in Seattle). He couldn't get through the opener. He didn't even play in Week 3 and looks likely to miss Week 4. It might be time for us to start looking at the breadcrumbs a bit. Smith's back issues might be a bigger deal than the Cowboys are letting on- which is actually something we should be used to.
I am officially worried about Tyron Smith. And Chaz Green is not a step down - he is a flight of stairs down. The Bears did not expose how much it will hurt if Tyron cannot return at full strength. Stay tuned.
Now, after that buzzkill, let's answer more emails and comments:
Q: Who are the 49ers players that Cowboys fans should be concerned about Sunday?
Well, luckily, they have about as pedestrian an offense as we will see all season - even including the Bears.  At least Alshon Jeffrey and Kevin White represent some premium talent at WR. San Francisco has nothing on offense beyond RB Carlos Hyde, and he is still looking for his first 500-yard season.
The 49ers have a so-so offensive line, very poor QB play and nothing out wide to bother Dallas. In other words, the Cowboys are playing two of the worst offenses in football in consecutive weeks- and still get to play Cleveland later in the year! Yay fourth-place schedules!
Now, on defense, the 49ers are pretty good. CB Navorro Bowman is a stud. They have solid edge rushers (although my favorite, Aaron Lynch, is suspended for one more week) with Eli Harold and Ahmad Brooks on the blitz, and they're very stout against the run up front with Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner. The secondary is strong, too.  
In other words, do not underestimate this opponent. They are a different team at home. Let me prove it. Here are the home/road defensive splits for the 49ers since the start of 2015. They are not easy to break down in their own stadium. This might take all day.

Q: How much of what Zeke did against the Bears was him beginning to find his way and the fact that Chicago is pretty bad?
In the words of my friends in England, the song "Can we play you every week" comes to mind.  The Bears are bad, they were banged up, and they were on a short week. So, yes, seeing a lot of good things for the Cowboys that night is fun, but we should also keep the opponent in mind. Styles make fights and this fight was over early. The Bears can't compete right now with many teams on their schedule.  
That said, Zeke was about to break out against anyone. This week, when the running lanes are far more difficult to find, we'll learn more.
Q:  How hurtful is the La'el Collins injury to this team if he's out 9-10 games?
It sure isn't great. If you limit it to a simple Leary for Collins trade, everything is fine. But it never works that way. We now see Leary and Green getting starts which isn't ideal. If another one hits, the Cowboys will really be scrambling. So much of this sport comes down to keeping guys healthy and ready to go every seven days.
Q: Saw where oddsmakers had Philly as NFC East favorite now. How do you see the division at this point?
I imagine everyone likes the Eagles now. I might have expected six or seven wins from them this year and they already have three in September. That is great. But two wins came against the hapless Bears and the Browns. The Steelers win is great, but I still have massive questions about the Eagles. Lane Johnson's suspension appeal is huge - if he misses 10 games they are really in trouble. 
Carson Wentz has been nice, but his growth process has featured short passes and ideal defensive contributions. Just like people are betting against Dak Prescott keeping this up, I imagine Wentz can't do it for 16 games with that group of skill players, either. Not only that, take a look at the Eagles schedule from Week 6 on. They have a run of games in the final two to three months that would bring most teams to their knees. So I am not buying Eagles stock right now. They are good, but don't let 3-0 fool you.  
My views on the division are still the same: It is all bunched together between seven and nine wins, and all four teams can fall in that range.  
Q: Cowboys' OL a little banged up. Is 49ers' front 7 good enough to cause Dallas problems if OL isn't what it usually is?
Yes. The 49ers are going to cause issues on Sunday for sure with their front seven. Do not underestimate that group - especially with the left side of the Cowboys OL likely weakened and likely no Dez. Beware.
Q: So does Terrance Williams, who hasn't been too good anyway, become a non-factor if Dez is out for any length of time? Can Brice Butler make a difference?
That is the test, right? Both Williams and Butler are going into free agency and this is a perfect chance for one of them to show the front office they need a nice extension. If they fail without Dez, the team might decide it needs a WR in the draft and let this entire cast of guys around Bryant and Beasley go and start over again.  
Butler has always impressed in camp, but now we need to see it on the field in games. One of these two needs to take another step. Williams is more proven but obviously has more people to convince he's worth what it would take to keep him here.
Q:  Why has Colin Kaepernick gone from a Super Bowl QB to a guy who can't beat out Blaine Gabbert?
Well, let's suggest that Jim Harbaugh is a genius to get Kaepernick to the Super Bowl and on the brink of winning it. But let's also keep open the possibility that he may have another chapter to his book and it could start this week. I still think that Kaepernick's skill set fits perfectly with Chip Kelly's scheme, but perhaps they are just convinced he is a lost cause. Then again Gabbert is just not very good at all.
I think we might see Kaepernick on Sunday and if we do, I will be curious what that does to the emotion of the game in the stadium and so forth. It might be quite the wildcard for Kelly to play.
Q:  What would be three key points for the Cowboys to get a win vs. the 49ers?
Let's go with:  1) Prove you can run the ball against this front. 2) Get Prescott space to create with his dual-threat options and 3) Win the line of scrimmage on defense - don't let Hyde get loose.
This one is going to be close and will take three hours to decide.  The 49ers are no joke.  
Beware! Ambush awaits in Santa Clara.  Enjoy the game and your weekend.  I have the Cowboys in a tight finish.

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