Before the start of the NFL season many, including myself, projected the Dallas Cowboys to make the Super Bowl. After winning 12 games and the NFC East championship in 2014, hopes were high in Big D.
Although the Cowboys lost Demarco Murray to Philadelphia in free agency, Dallas believed they could replace the league’s leading rusher. Joseph Randle, Darren McFadden, and Lance Dunbar were each capable of running behind the best offensive line in football.
Quarterback Tony Romo also had a bevy of talent to work with in the passing game. Dez Bryant looked primed to become the best receiver in the NFL. Future hall of fame tight end Jason Witten, slot extraordinaire Cole Beasley, and number two receiver (and Baylor alum) Terrance Williams were going to be huge compliments to Bryant in 2015.
Defensively, the Cowboys were set to improve. Sean Lee was coming back from an ACL injury. A potent defensive front added Greg Hardy and Randy Gregory to its ranks. Rolando McClain resigned, although he along with Hardy were suspended for the first four games. The secondary looked sharp, even without Orlando Scandrick. The Boys were back in town.
Heart attacks ensued in a week one contest with the New York Giants. In the second half, Bryant left the game with an apparent leg injury. The Cowboys would eventually win the game 27-26 in thrilling fashion, with Romo and Witten engineering a great comeback.
Bryant was diagnosed with a broken foot, requiring surgery. His recovery time was initially 4-6 weeks, then 6-10 weeks. Reports bounced around everywhere, with no definitive answer being given.
All that Cowboys fans knew was that they would be without their star receiver.
It was a crushing blow, yet fans believed Dallas could brave the storm without Dez. They still had Romo. They still had the best trench warriors in the NFL. They still had a vastly improved defense. They still had hope. The next game was against old friend Demarco Murray and his new team, the Philadelphia Eagles.
With 9:50 left in the third quarter, Dallas’ season hopes for glory were dashed.
Quarterback Tony Romo fumbled the ball as he was escaping the pocket, eventually getting sacked. Romo landed awkwardly on his shoulder, instantly holding it on the ground. A collective gasp could be heard throughout Cowboys’ nation, anticipating the fate of Romo.
A broken collarbone was the diagnosis. Recovery time 6-8 weeks, perhaps even longer depending on how it healed. Although the Cowboys won the game 20-10, they had seemingly lost the war.
The reigns of the offense were passed down to Brandon Weeden who has since led Dallas to an 0-3 record, including a recent 30-6 blow out to the New England Patriots. The four year veteran has not won a game as a started since his rookie season in 2012 and his curse has carried on to Dallas.
However, Weeden has not played that bad. He’s completing almost 70 percent of his passes, while only throwing two picks as well. Weeden has performed maybe a little better than what most expected of him in fact, yet he is just not cutting it.
Weeden, unlike Romo, is playing to not make mistakes. He has none of Romo’s gunslinger mentality and refuses to trust his eyes. On multiple snaps, Weeden has looked down one single receiver, either forcing the ball or simply throwing it away.
While his completion percentage is decently high, it’s because the man lives on the check down throw. Weeden either refuses or simply cannot drive the ball down the field, something Dallas had thrived on with Romo tossing to Bryant and Williams. Instead, short to medium passes have been served up. Swing patterns and screens to running backs are commonplace. The offense is a stagnant shadow of what it once was.
While the defense certainly isn’t helping by giving up yards and points either, they are on the field too much. Dallas is asking their defense to win games when that is something it flat out cannot do. This team was built to outscore people, to keep the ball away from opponents. With Weeden at the helm, three and outs are killing momentum and forcing the Dallas defense back on the field.
Without Dez for perhaps another week, things look bleak in Dallas. As great as Dez is, teams will attempt to take him away more aggressively than ever with Weeden at quarterback. Teams will continue to stack the box to defend against the Dallas run because they know Weeden cannot beat them, Dez or no Dez.
While Bryant’s anticipated return should spell improvement for the Dallas attack, Romo’s absence is too much to overcome. Luckily, the NFC East is in a slump, with the Redskins, Giants, and Eagles all having their own glaring issues. If Bryant can perform at his familiar superstar level, perhaps he can spark a flame in the Cowboys and help capture a few victories. However, the fate of 2015 hangs on the injured shoulder of Romo and his return is the only thing that can save this season.