Well, here we are. It is time once again (already) for the annual two-home-games-in-five-days stretch that generally shapes the Cowboys season.
Only this year, here we are and the Cowboys sit high above the NFC and are in the foreign position of almost being comfortable.
But it has certainly not been a comfortable week at the Star as Tony Romo conceded his decade-long reign as QB1 on Tuesday before Thursday brought us the news that he had first tried to get it back. I know there are plenty of things to unpack there and continue to prepare for Baltimore on the weekend, and Washington in six days.
This week will tell us even more about the 2016 Cowboys. First, let's see what you have for me this morning:
Q: Obviously, Romo isn't going to stick around in 2017. Which teams do you think he would be a good fit for?
I think the line forms to the right. He is a solid QB who could have several more years. I don't think that his health can realistically hold up, but the Cowboys claimed they think it can as recently as yesterday. Of course, I believe we all know that Jerry's comments yesterday were simply setting the table for a nice trade negotiation in the spring time, but he still said that "five more years" mantra he has repeated for about three years. Evidently, the five years never actually starts in his mind. There really should only be about two years left based on his original optimism. Somehow, Jerry's optimism has actually grown with more injuries in a way that makes you think he believes that this is actually time off for Romo that has extended his career, rather than repeated back injuries which generally spell the end.
Anyway, just off the top of my head: Chicago, Minnesota, San Francisco and perhaps Washington and Arizona in the NFC. In the AFC, I would figure Denver, maybe Kansas City, Cleveland, New York and even Houston could exhibit some interest. So there are 10 teams that Tony might consider with varying levels of need and attractiveness. I figure a draft pick seems in play, but it is tough to predict that. Minnesota was desperate in September when they traded a first for Sam Bradford and I think everyone now realizes the folly in that. I would be shocked if you get close to that.
Q:Besides Dak and Zeke, what other factors do you think have contributed to this Cowboys turnaround from 4-12?
Players? A healthy Dez Bryant (sort of) and a healthy Terrell McClain along with Byron Jones at free safety all seem to be the types of moves that have really assisted this.
Coaching? I think the coaches have done a nice job - after a very poor one last year where they seemed out of ideas by October 1 - of really challenging themselves to put a system in place that best suits Dak Prescott. Yes, coaches look smarter when they have better players, but the confidence they have installed in everyone with their courageous calls has been contagious.
Personnel? The draft is more than Prescott and Zeke. The picks of Maliek Collins and Anthony Brown have also been quite solid. If Jaylon Smith joins the group in 2017, this may be the best draft in 40 years.
Q: What should Cowboys fans fear about the Ravens' offense, if anything?
Yes. They should fear the deep pass. The Ravens will do what Pittsburgh tried to do, which is take some deep shots and get big catches or flags. They will be emboldened by the Steelers getting six explosive plays - the high all year against Dallas. Mike Wallace is a very impressive deep threat, as is Breshad Perriman if he can continue on his development path.
Teams are now going to go after the Cowboys secondary. It is vital they put this fire out quickly.
Q: So do the Cowboys make it a clean sweep of the AFC North on Sunday?
I say yes, but that obviously is rather worthless if this team starts to think it has accomplished anything so far. I recoiled a bit when Tony labeled this as a "magical season" on Tuesday. I would suggest that there has never been a magical season in NFL history built on the merits of things accomplished by November 15. That portion of the season can put you in position for magical situations down the road, but 8-1 is just not the goal. They know that, but I don't want anyone to get it twisted. Magic only occurs in January and February.
All that said, this team is on a roll of great confidence and repeatability, and that is why I think the Cowboys are a flat-out better team than Baltimore. But Baltimore has won enough over the years to know that they can win games in any location and any situation. They are a strong-willed team that loves street fights.
Q: I know Pittsburgh goes for two a lot. But do they generally keep chasing the points when they fail early? They really put themselves in a tough spot Sunday afternoon.
The game on Sunday was pretty crazy in that regard. I would not call that normal at all. They just started chasing the points all day because they also felt they were chasing the game all day. Why they did it right off the bat at 6-0 made little sense, but from there, they acted like they were pot-committed all day.
And watching that, as much as many of us think the 2-point conversion is underutilized, it is hard to think they pushed the cause in the positive direction that day. That might also go for Seattle a few hours later. This is the issue with innovation. Someone has to go first and then find success or everyone gets even more reluctant to join them on the pier.
Q: Seattle's offense seems to be coming around as Russell Wilson gets healthy. How do you rank Seattle vs. Dallas in the NFC?
Seattle is the king of the NFC in my mind. The playoffs always go through them. If they have to come to Dallas, you would favor the Cowboys. If the playoff game is up there, you would favor the Seahawks. Cowboys fans cite their October win in 2014 as proof they can win up there, and it is. But it is far from assurance that it will happen again in January.
Seattle has the one defense you should really fear and the one QB you should really fear. That combination puts them in play, despite their rough start, the offensive line issues, and the fact that Marshawn Lynch has surely not been replaced by something similar.
I will just say this - I still fear Seattle a lot.
Q: The Ravens have always been known for defense. Haven't paid that much attention to them this year. Are they still formidable?
Oh yes. They are very good still. They have two really solid safeties. They have very good linebackers, too. They can get there off the edge to the QB and they have some huge boys inside that make inside runs very difficult. This is the side of the ball that is quite formidable. Be ready for a challenging day for the offense. Of course, every time we say that, the Cowboys destroy the supposed "great" defense that is put in front of them.
I am not calling them Arizona or Seattle or Minnesota on defense, but they are pretty legit.
Q: Was Tuesday's Romo announcement all him or did the Cowboys finally decide to get this Dak-Tony thing over with?
Q: Prescott seems to be spreading the ball around to even more receivers as the season goes on. Is this a case of him becoming more comfortable or Linehan opening up the offense for his rookie QB?
I would say yes. Linehan's design clearly encourages a QB to spread the ball around based on how the defense presents itself. Take what they give and make their decisions as a defense always wrong.
But, Prescott really does make sure that he looks everywhere. He doesn't force the ball and that requires him to scan his options and do the math in his head before pulling the trigger. I cannot stress how impressive it is to build up the stats without ever putting the ball in harm's way. I know we can pick apart his film and talk about missed chances (although I also believe it is overstated), but my issues with a QB are to move the team, win on 3rd downs, and keep the ball out of trouble.
Dak Prescott does that all with grades that are far beyond just "passing."