The “ESPN midseason report” column has this to say about the Cowboys you know and love: “Somebody has to win this division, so it might as well be the team with the most talent.”
That ringing endorsement is correct. But the season, like every Cowboys game until that last second ticks away, is far from over, and if I’m nervous about one thing it’s this:
It was a fixture of the late Flozell Adams teams that the Boys would be rolling along until Flozell or some other valuable O-lineman went down. And then everything was over forever.
There are all kinds of reasons why the Cowboys could go from almost beating the Broncos to almost losing to the Vikes, starting with the fact that they’re the Cowboys and they “almost” do everything, every game, but the proximity of the latter to the loss of Brian Waters for the season may not be a coincidence. And that’s not good news. Romo demonstrably had less time to do anything and his passing suffered. Maybe it was Jared Allen, maybe it wasn’t.
The Cowboys are playing the Saints this week, and the real problem is that the Saints have a great passing defense. They’re not, at this point, clearly better than the Cowboys. 6-2 though they may be, you can tell me which of their wins, whether against Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Arizona, Miami, Chicago or Buffalo, impresses you the most. It’s not a murderers’ row.
But the Cowboys have faced a lot of awful pass defenses lately and have not had to rely on their running game even though it seems like with a healthy DeMarco Murray they might be able to. But the Saints are giving up 211 passing yards a game, good for 5th in the league.
Again, part of that is Josh Freeman, Carson Palmer, Thad Lewis and what have you. But they still looked pretty good against, for example, Tom Brady (269 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT). Meanwhile, Drew Brees is going against a secondary that last game literally allowed a sick child to slowly roll from the 50 into the end zone with the ball. And Claiborne missed a tackle on him.
There’s a lot of “head on a swivel” stuff here. Obviously the ‘Boys have to watch out for Jimmy Graham, who’s almost as dangerous, in his own way, as Megatron (oh my god I compared someone to Megatron am I TRYING to get roasted on ESPN?). Darren Sproles is a shifty back that does a lot of his damage in the passing game.
But the real danger is that Brees is one of the very best at making the right call, and spreading it around, and it’s a guarantee the Cowboys won’t have everybody covered. It’s not going to get any easier if Jason Hatcher, who is still unable to raise his arm above his head—“it’s a nerve condition. You just have wait until the nerve gets un-pissed off”— doesn’t play, although it seems like DeMarcus Ware is likely to be back.
This game is the last one that will definitely be a monster matchup, believe it or not. After this it’s the Giants, the Raiders, the Bears who may still be without Cutler (although probably not), the Packers who may still be without Rodgers, the Skins and the Eagles. If they take care of NFC East business it’s hard not to see them not making the playoffs whatever else happens.
But a game like Sunday’s will go a long way to showing whether there’s any point in making the playoffs after all. Right now, if there’s anybody in the NFC East who might almost deserve the playoffs, it’s the Cowboys, but they’re not going to get to play the NFC East, once there.