Here at Shutdown Corner, we want to help. So once a week, we'll go in and examine a team coming off a bad week, bad month, maybe a bad decade (you're in luck, Cleveland), and see what fixes can be made to turn around the season. So step aside, we've got this. Next under the microscope: The Dallas Cowboys.
Where they stand: 7-6, second place in the NFC East, two games out of the NFC wild card.
What's gone right: This may just be because I'm one of the converted, but I feel like this is the year, at last, that the world has come around on Tony Romo. You know the cliche: Romo's a choker, he gives the game away at the worst possible time, he'll never win the Big One, et cetera. Truth is, as Sports Illustrated noted in a cover story last week, Romo's got the best fourth-quarter regular-season QB rating in history, and his 11 game-winning drives since 2011 lead the league. He fails, yes, but it tends to be when the spotlight's brightest. As it turns out, that "it's not Romo's fault" excuse actually carries weight after all. Romo, along with Dez Bryant (T-3 for touchdowns among receivers), has held up his end of the bargain.
What's gone wrong: So if Tony Romo actually is a decent quarterback but the Cowboys still aren't winning, what's the problem? Well, start with the defense. The Cowboys defense is worse than you and ten of your friends. They're giving up a league-worst 427 yards a game, ranking 28th against the run and dead last against the pass. Monday night's 45 points surrendered to a second-string quarterback in Chicago is a perfect encapsulation.
What we'd fix: Get this: Dallas has a winning record in December exactly once since 1997, and as Sports Xchange notes, Romo is 11-16 in December. That's absurd. Dallas has to play with a sense of higher urgency across the board. That's the kind of thing you shouldn't have to tell a team, but this kind of late-season swoon indicates an endemic apathy at the end of the year. Dallas still controls its own destiny, and this year, rather than creatively figuring a way to pulverize its fans' hearts, it ought to just, you know, win the damn games.
Also, if team owner Jerry Jones were giving us the authority to fix the Cowboys, we'd do so by firing general manager Jerry Jones and bringing in someone who knows how to put together a football team. Jones has demonstrated conclusively that he is absolutely mediocre at building a club. Romo's going to be around for awhile; he deserves a better supporting cast.
The road ahead: For Dallas, it's not too bad: home against a presumably Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay and on the road against a talentless Washington, concluding with a meaningful finale against Philadelphia. The Eagles, meanwhile, face Minnesota and a highly motivated Bears team before Dallas. Advantage coming into the finale: slightly toward the Cowboys, particularly given that Dallas won the first meeting between the two teams.
Is there hope? If this were any other team but the Cowboys, we'd say yes, absolutely. But Dallas has perfected the art of the knife-twist hope: that is, they get you thinking that this year it's really going to be different, promise, and then, at the exact moment you start to believe, BOOM, they twist the knife on you once again. So, yes, Dallas is likely going to figure a way to either go 8-8 yet again, or win the division and then fail spectacularly in the playoffs against San Francisco. Sorry, Cowboys fans, but you know it's true.
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