Signs that football season is in full swing: My static blood pressure is clipping the top end of Stage 1 Hypertension, my dog hides under the bed from my constant screaming at the TV, and the Cowboys are woefully underachieving expectations set by laudy preseason buzz. I’ll admit it, finally with the long overdue decommissioning of Coach Garrett-Bot, an impressive draft haul, and a few surprising free agent acquisitions, I drank a healthy dose of the Cowboys-flavored sugar-water this off-season. (Spare me colloquialisms about fools and shame.) Yet, to lend undue credence to the doubters, so far, the Mike McCarthy era has been … well, rocky, to avoid hyperbole. After the most recent debacle in Seattle on Sunday, a mistake-laden 38-31 slice of tarte d’humilité, Dallas is but one inexplicably defended, miracle onside kick away from an 0-3 start.
Given the slate of contests drawn in the first few weeks — road games (crowd or no) against the resurgent Los Angeles Rams and the aforementioned Seahawks — sitting on a 1-2 record should not have been too far out of the realm of possibility in the minds of even the most optimistic Cowboy fans. But the way in which those losses played out (and that the one win was so improbable) is what has made the early season so frustrating. Though it’s true that the ’Boys have suffered a deluge of injuries — more than 10 projected starters or regular contributors — it’s been the unruly penalties, defensive big play susceptibility, the offense’s shameful ball security, embarrassing special teams mishaps, and head-scratching coaching decisions that have been the hallmarks of the young season.
After the unprecedented comeback win against the Falcons last week in which they spotted Atlanta four turnovers and allowed 39 points, Dallas seemed to try to follow the same clumsy script to victory, giving up another three turnovers and 38 points to Seattle. Sadly, Dak Prescott’s lights-out fourth quarter heroics would come up short on Sunday. There’s only so much one player can do, especially when he digs his own hole by causing all three of the turnovers.
For those keeping count, the Cowboys defense has given up a total of 97 points through three games, a franchise-worst to start a season. This defense is a mess. It doesn’t help that they appear to give up as much yardage on boneheaded penalties as they do busted coverages. The secondary is maybe the worst in the league. Atlanta’s Calvin Ridley and Seattle’s Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf seemed to almost never have a defensive back within 10 yards of them. Rookie cornerback Trevon Diggs is already the best player in the secondary, and that is saying a lot. That ball punch-out on Metcalf at the 1-yard line certainly saved a touchdown and is one of the more athletic plays from a Dallas corner in decades, but as good as it appears he can be, a player with three whole games in his NFL career shouldn’t be leading your entire defensive backfield.
Perhaps the only thing worse than the Dallas defense has been their special teams play. Setting aside the magical game-saving “watermelon kick” against Atlanta, John Fassel’s squad has missed kicks (including two extra points *eye roll emoji*), muffed punts (costing a safety against Seattle), and failed at (multiple) fake punts. “Bones” Fassel has a long way to go to live up to the lofty reputation as an ace coordinator he earned while with the Rams.
To play the optimist, I think the offensive side of the ball looks to be every bit as good as advertised. Despite a makeshift offensive line that saw only guard Connor Williams playing in his usual position and a turnover bug that’s set upon the skill positions like a late-August Texas-sized mosquito cloud, they’ve shown they can move the ball and in a variety of ways. The three-1,000-yard-receivers claim flaunted by Amari Cooper prior to the season’s start doesn’t seem like such a ridiculous notion. Ezekiel Elliott is still a top-three back in the league, and Dak is playing like a man trying to earn a $200 million contract. They may very well need to score more than 30 a game to have a chance to win, but I believe they can.
If you dare gaze into the reeking cesspool of ignorant reactionary hot takes that is football Twitter, the sky is falling. I happen to still have a great deal of faith. The Cowboys would have to lose (more) significant players to injury for significant periods of time to keep from running away with this dumpster fire division. The schedule is friendly. In fact, I see only three opponents the rest of the way that you could say are decisively better than the Cowboys, despite their obvious flaws. I fully expect them to stabilize what’s so far been a circus of stupid mistakes. They will also get healthier. We could argue how far they may go in the playoffs once they get there, but I still feel they will, in fact, get there.
Fans have been yearning for something other than the same old predictable Cowboys. Welp, here you go. In keeping with wild-ass 2020, this year’s version of the Dallas Cowboys is anything but. No choice but to buckle up and (try to) enjoy the ride.