IRVING, Texas – Three down, and at least four to play.
That's how it stands for the Cowboys regarding quarterback Tony Romo, who isn't even eligible to return from his injured-reserve list for four more games.
So far, it hasn't been pretty for the Cowboys, who saw their 2-0 record drop to 2-3 with Brandon Weeden as the starter. Now, the team is turning to veteran Matt Cassel for relief, giving him plenty of time to prepare as the Cowboys enjoy a needed week off.
The writers of DallasCowboys.com share their thoughts on the next four games as the team desperately tries to hang on until their quarterback returns.
Bryan Broaddus: What started off as a promising beginning is now what it is - a test of survival. Coaches and players will not admit that but deep down inside they know without key pieces of their roster on the field that's exactly what it is. For any club to lose their quarterback for one or two games is a huge set back but to lose him for eight - well that's likely the end of the season. For this team that's not the case. With the return of Dez Bryant, Greg Hardy, Rolando McClain and Randy Gregory - this team can survive but more importantly it has a chance to thrive. These next five weeks present some unique challenges with two of those weeks lining up against division opponents. Find ways to win those and it sets you up for the others. For Dallas to do this it's going to come down playing defense, creating opportunities and finding ways to get this rushing attack going - all things they are capable of doing.
Rob Phillips: Well, there's no other way to say it: Oct. 25 at the Giants is about as important as the sixth game of a season can be. Not only is the opponent the current division leader, the Cowboys need to end a very frustrating three-game losing streak, and to some degree, validate their personnel changes after taking a long, hard look at themselves during the bye. The microscope will be on Matt Cassel at quarterback, and they need him to take command of the offense. But, as I wrote about earlier in the week, takeaways can be the great equalizer for a team no matter how many injuries they've got. Brandon Weeden could have used a few short fields to work with, as well as having a healthy Dez Bryant on the field. Those are two keys for the Cowboys' success with Cassel until Tony Romo gets back. I'm assuming we'll have a better idea about Bryant's status against New York as next week goes on. When he does return at full strength, he'll have a positive effect on the entire offense. As for the record over these next four games, I think you'll see a very motivated team that finds a way to hang around the NFC East race by late November, when presumably Romo returns. Whether that's his first eligible game (Nov. 22 at Miami) remains to be seen, but if his injured collarbone is fully healed by then, I would imagine the team would be optimistic about his availability for the Dolphins game. All of that is so far down the road, though – they have to focus on the Giants. The season's not officially on the line at the Meadowlands, but it could set the tone for the remaining few games without Romo.
David Helman:During the past three weeks, we learned that the number of wins Brandon Weeden could deliver for Dallas was zero. All I'm asking of Matt Cassel is to improve that number to two. The Cowboys have to play four more games before Tony Romo is eligible to return to the roster, and I think a .500 record from Cassel and Co. would set them up to compete. Only one of those four opponents – New York, Philadelphia, Seattle and Tampa Bay – has a winning record as the Cowboys prepare for their bye week. The fifth opponent, Miami, has a 1-3 record and an interim head coach after firing Joe Philbin. These are all hard games, when you consider that Romo won't be a part of them. After the last three weeks, it'd be insanity to pencil in any wins for this team. But Cassel has the experience to improve the offense, particularly if Dez Bryant returns in the next two weeks. He'll need to be good, because the next three opponents boast top 10 rushing defenses – which is exactly the problem the Cowboys haven't been able to cope with during their losing streak. It's manageable, though. Dallas can hang with both of its divisional foes, and the 2-3 Seahawks look as vulnerable as they have in several years. The Buccaneers boast a stout defense but are starting a rookie quarterback. If the Cowboys, limited as they are, can squeak out two wins in their next four attempts, they'll be sitting at 4-5 when Romo is eligible to return. If that happens, it'll be an interesting holiday season in Dallas.
Nick Eatman:While three-game losing streaks are never fun, hope is not lost here with the Cowboys. No, they haven't won a game yet without Romo, but no one in the division has really done much to put them in a hole. That's why those first two wins were critical, just like this next month is as well. I think Cassel will be an upgrade, but it won't be just him, it'll be the fact Dez Bryant is expected to return soon, if not this next game. I think that will be a nice start to improvement across the offense. I can see Christine Michael getting more touches and this offense becoming more of a grinding-unit. On defense, Randy Gregory and Greg Hardy on opposite sides looks lethal. Just having a group of five rushers, including Tyrone Crawford, DeMarcus Lawrence and Jeremy Mincey should make this one of the more attacking defenses in the league. Just like that, I think the identity of this team can and will change when they take the field next week against the Giants. Somehow, someway, the Cowboys need to get a split and they should be in good shape. Personally, I think the Cowboys will go 3-1 in the next four games and Romo returns with the Cowboys sitting at 5-4, setting up quite a rollercoaster ride in the second half of the season.[embeddedad0]