IRVING, Texas – Four months ago, before the Cowboys even left for training camp, the staff of DallasCowboys.com set out to ask – and then answer – some of the biggest questions facing this year's team.
From late June until the start of training camp in mid-July, the staff gave their thoughts on some of 2014's biggest issues. Some of them were big-picture problems, while others had a smaller scope. They were all important to the Cowboys' fortunes this season.
With the team on its bye week, it's time to take a look back at those predictions. What did we get right, what did we get wrong and what did we not see coming?
The first part of this series ran Thursday, and Part 2 continued on Friday. Before the Cowboys begin preparations for their Week 12 game against the Giants.
Let's take a look back with Part 3.
David Helman:The answer to this is both yes and no. In some instances, the Cowboys' depth has shined – I'm looking at the beleaguered linebacker position, which has overcome multiple season-ending injuries and is still functioning. The cornerbacks have also compensated well for the loss of Claiborne. The offensive line also handled itself adequately without both Doug Free and Ronald Leary. That said, we got a glimpse at what this team would look like if Tony Romo went down, and it was not good. This team has the depth to deal with some injuries, but it has also been lucky in that the injury problems haven't been worse.
Bryan Broaddus: Jerry and Stephen Jones were not going to go through what happened to them last season with all the problems with injuries so trusting Will McClay and these scouts was a very smart thing. I never got the sense during training camp and now through these first ten games that they were fully settled with their roster. They have survived injuries along the offensive and defensive lines, linebackers and secondary that would have derailed most seasons but through those additions in free agency and draft they have been able to overcome them and at times been even more productive with the backup that they have put in the lineup which is a credit to the job they have done in protecting this team.
Nick Eatman:The Cowboys certainly tried to make some splashes in the offseason in acquiring depth. They signed four former high draft picks and some of them have panned out, others not so much. While Weeden struggled in his only start, he was facing the NFL's best team right now with two starters missing from the O-line. Weeden is probably a little better than what he showed in that game and if he has to play again, the Cowboys can at least function offensively. Rolando McClain was a big addition for Sean Lee, and Hitchens provides another good backup. Overall, the depth has been good when guys like Free went down and Orlando Scandrick was on suspension. Injuries haven't been major but the Cowboys have managed the ones they've endured so far.
David Helman:Take a bow, Coach. Against seemingly insurmountable odds, this defense is playing like a respectable unit. Plenty of credit goes to the players, but a lot of these players were also on the 2013 defense that finished last in the league. Marinelli deserves a lot of recognition for that. The secondary is improved from the group that gave up so many passing yards. The pass rush isn't great, but Marinelli has coaxed some production out of it despite the loss of DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher. This isn't the best defense in the NFL, but it also hasn't been the reason for any of the Cowboys' losses. That's downright impressive.
Bryan Broaddus:Marinelli is doing exactly what I thought he would do for this defense. He has provided a plan along with stability and the players have responded to it. He is putting these players in positions to have success and it is paying off. As a defense they have been more assignment sound and they have become a much more physical defense. Marinelli has been relentless in the way he has driven this defense and made them accountable for the way in which they play. His willingness to play to his players' strengths is one of the main reasons they are in the position they are in record wise.
Nick Eatman:Considering the Cowboys lost so many big-name players from last year and haven't really replaced them with Pro-Bowl caliber players, this has been a remarkable job. So you have to give a lot of credit to Marinelli for making a big difference. What has been helpful up front is not having the injuries on the defensive line that occurred last year. The continuity at that position has been evident. But this year, it's been linebacker that has seen a ton of changes and yet somehow, the Cowboys have patched it together just about each week. All signs point to the defensive coordinator here so the answer to the question has to be 'a significant difference' when asking how Marinelli will affect the defense.
David Helman: I said before the season that we had to focus on the three-technique spot, and that has been the case – the pass rush as a whole just hasn't been as productive as last year. Henry Melton is leading the charge with five sacks, and he might set a career high. Tyrone Crawford also might be the best pass rusher in the league who has yet to notch a sack. It seems like whoever the Cowboys plug into that under-tackle spot, he manages to come up with pressure – Jack Crawford did it in London last week. If the defensive ends can step up their game down the stretch, it could make a huge difference.
Bryan Broaddus: As soon as Rod Marinelli took over as the defensive coordinator the mission was about trying to find ways to create pressure not with one player but several like they do in Seattle. The word that was coming from the front office and coaching staff was "Waves" which through the first ten weeks of the season I believe they have done. The sack numbers have picked up the last two weeks which is a positive. They are getting nice work from several players and I expect that will continue but keep an eye on DeMarcus Lawrence. It took Henry Melton a little time to get going after his injury and Lawrence is in that same boat in my opinion. He is due for a break out game here soon.
Nick Eatman:I thought it would come from Lawrence and obviously his injury was a big setback. He could still come on strong down the stretch. But somehow, the Cowboys have done a good job with the pass-rush. Now getting to the quarterback and collecting sacks has been a different story. Still, Mincey has been better than we thought and the inside push of Melton and Crawford has started to emerge. But this team still has problems creating a push with just four rushers and that could be huge later in the season when facing guys like Eli Manning, Cutler, Luck and whoever is starting for the Eagles.
David Helman: It's probably fair to say the back hasn't 100 percent held up, since a back injury forced Romo out of half of one game and all of another. However, it wasn't the same injury that ended his 2013 season, and as we've gone through the bye week, Romo appears to be fine. To some extent, you can say he's had to cope with the injury in the way that he practices and recuperates, but Romo is on pace for one of his finest seasons and as of right now it doesn't look like it will bother him too much down the stretch.
Bryan Broaddus: I did my research before answering this question in the preseason and the majority of the answers came back to be that the injury will not affect him at all and through the first seven games of the season he was playing at an elite level. What I will say is that the injury he suffered against the Redskins will present a whole new set of challenges for him going forward but the trainers have come up with ways to help him going forward.
Nick Eatman:Well, there's no doubt Romo's back has affected him. Maybe it's the same injury and maybe it's unrelated. Either way, his back has been an issue each week of the season. Either he didn't play well because of it against the 49ers, or it's caused him to miss a Wednesday of practice. Or then he gets hurt again vs. Washington. Either way, the back has been a topic of discussion. Romo has done a nice job of playing through it but I think we will continue to talk about his back this year and maybe the rest of his career.
David Helman:Time for me to eat my words again. I said before the season this looked like a six-win team, and they have seven wins at the bye week. Yes, the back half of the schedule is tough, but it's hard to imagine the Cowboys going just 1-5 down the stretch – which is what they'd have to do to wind up with a .500 record. It will be interesting to see how this team handles the expectations, though. Because as we prepare to enter the home stretch, this 7-3 record means that anything short of a winning record, preferably double-digit wins, would be a huge disappointment. I wonder if that will weigh on this team at all.
Bryan Broaddus: I did have them getting off the 8 – 8 train but I had them going in the opposite direction. I based my prediction on the questions that I had about this defense and their ability to consistently make stops. So far this defense has been able to step up and hold up their end of the bargain which has put them in position to make a serious playoff run in these final six weeks of the season. Give Rod Marinelli and these players a great deal of credit for putting all those outside voices aside and getting the job done.
Nick Eatman: Well, I did have them improving on an 8-8 record, but not by much. I had a 9-7 mark and if this team can split the final three games of the schedule, that will put them at 10-6. Then again, I don't see any easy games on the schedule, not that they really exist in this league. Even if the teams they face aren't that great record-wise, the Cowboys will have some cold, night games and those are always hard to win on the road. But this is a much-improved team from last year and you'd like to think the things that have led them to this point in this season will continue down the stretch. The one difference the Cowboys have this year as opposed to recent seasons, is their ability to run the ball. A running team in cold-weather games seems to have an advantage over the passing teams. So yes, I still think the Cowboys get off the 8-8 train. How far they're removed from it will undoubtedly tell us where they stand in the playoff race.