IRVING, Texas -If the Cowboys win both of their next two games, they'll be above .500 for the first time since they defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers back on Sept. 23rd.
They might also be tied for the division lead, depending on how the New York Giants fare against the Green Bay Packers.
In these next two games the Cowboys will have the luxury of facing two teams that start a rookie quarterback and a rookie running back. Well, at least that used to be a luxury. But the way these four players are playing, that may present a challenge.
The Browns used the 2012 NFL Draft to develop an identity. They traded one spot up to No. 3 to ensure that they could take Alabama running back Trent Richardson in the first round. They then used the 22nd pick in the draft (from a trade the year before) to select Brandon Weeden out of Oklahoma State to lead their team at quarterback.
In the NFL, Richardson has been as advertised. In nine games, Richardson has rushed for 575 yards and five touchdowns. More impressive than that is Richardson's ability to prove he is a tough, hard-nosed runner who can help control the tempo of a game. Only 10 players in the league have received more carries than Richardson.
At 29 years old, Weeden is a unique rookie who played Minor League Baseball before going to Oklahoma State to break records as their quarterback, but he's struggled in the NFL leading a team with few receiving options. He's thrown 12 interceptions compared to just nine touchdowns, though he's been able to move the ball well with more than 2000 passing yards on the season.
The Browns also start a rookie wide receiver in Josh Gordon out of Baylor. They used a second round pick in the supplemental draft to attain Gordon who is currently averaging a league high 21 yards per carry.
Despite a 2-7 record, this young Browns team is rarely blown out. With the exception of 41-27 loss to the New York Giants, Weeden, Richardson and company have kept Cleveland within striking distance in just about every one of their losses this season.
Next week, on Thanksgiving Day, the Cowboys will run into a much more heralded rookie quarterback. I'll save you Robert Griffin III's complete resume because you have probably already heard it. But I will say that with 14 total touchdowns and nearly 2,500 total yards already, he is much more than just hype.
Far less talked about than Griffin, though, is the man that he has been handing the ball of to all season, fellow rookie Alfred Morris. With 793 yards, Morris is the leading rusher in the division and the fourth leading rusher in the entire NFC. Throw in his five touchdowns and I think it's safe to say that the Redskins got great value in their sixth round pick. The player Dallas selected 21 picks before Morris, Danny Coale, is still residing on the Cowboys' practice squad.
These dynamic rookies for the Browns and Redskins have brought hope to their struggling franchises. They are young, talented and too naïve to realize that they are supposed to struggle before they reach real success in the NFL. For those reasons, the Browns and Redskins are much more dangerous than they've been in years past.
But the fact of the matter is that the two teams are a combined 5-13 on the season. It's great to have rookie cornerstones, but that's exactly what they are – cornerstones for the future. Their franchise players are only going to get better and if their teams can manage to surround them with the right talent, they may very well have long term success in the future.
The Cowboys don't exactly have the same luxury. Their franchise players, Tony Romo, Jason Witten and DeMarcus Ware, are all closer to the end of their career than they are the beginning. On top of that, their two young stars on offense and defense, DeMarco Murray and Sean Lee, are both currently sidelined. Lee will miss the rest of the season and has been replaced in the lineup by veterans Dan Connor and Ernie Sims. Murray is doubtful to play against Cleveland and his status will be up in the air against Washington. Veteran Felix Jones will continue to replace him in the lineup.
But what may be a disadvantage in the future is should be an advantage in the present. The Browns and Redskins may have offensive players that are young and talented, but the Cowboys have key players who are not only talented, but also experienced and accomplished.
Romo, Witten and Ware have been through enough battles to qualify as proven leaders still in their prime. One year ago, Richardson, Weeden, Griffin and Morris were all in college taking classes. Their time will likely come.
The Cowboys can't afford to think about the future. They need to win now. A below .500 record will sit a little bit easier for a fan base that has rookies eager to grow and lead the charge.
In Dallas, the chances to win are slipping away. The Cowboys can't let their opportunity be taken from them by two teams with their focus on the future.