IRVING, Texas – The jury is still out on the Cowboys, and really all NFL teams after just four weeks of the schedule.
But with the bye week now upon us, it's a good time to step back for a moment and try to put a little perspective on this still relatively young season.
The writers of DallasCowboys.com, Rowan Kavner, Nick Eatman and Bryan Broaddus, give their opinions of what they've seen so far after four games.
Rowan: There haven't been many standouts, but Jason Witten began displaying his old self again last week. Following his spleen injury, Witten never looked the same the first three weeks of the season, gathering drops and penalties. But when receivers began dropping passes against the Bears, Witten once again became the sure-handed, go-to target everyone is accustomed to. He needs to remain that reliable security blanket for Tony Romo.
Nick: The more I thought about this, the harder it was to pick out a guy. Maybe that's why this offense has struggled so much, because in four games, none of them have been consistent. Usually, Witten is an easy choice here, but even he had two of the worst games of his career. My pick will be Miles Austin. Now, he hasn't been lights out, but he does have a touchdown catch in three games this year and the only game he didn't score, he had an 100-yard receiving effort against the Buccaneers.
Bryan: It's been a difficult go for the offense these first four weeks of the season, but Miles Austin is my guy. He looks healthy and is doing an outstanding job of running routes. There are times where he has been open but Romo has gone the other direction with the ball. If head coach Jason Garrett wanted to, in the second half of that Bears game he could have thrown him the ball 15 times and he most likely would have made every catch. He has been the most consistent offensive player.
Rowan: The Cowboys' only interception wasn't hauled in by a defensive back. In addition to leading the league in tackles, linebacker Sean Lee also has the Cowboys' only pick this season. With so many players around him leaving the field injured, Lee has been a stabilizing force on the inside, displaying an instinctual style that always ends with him near the football.
Nick: I hope this branch doesn't break as I step out onto the limb, but give me DeMarcus Ware. He has five sacks in three games, and not only that, some of them have been pretty clutch. He's not just sacking the quarterback, but jarring the ball loose, too. On a pace for 20 sacks this season, Ware has always been the most productive defensive player and I see nothing to dispute that fact this year.
Bryan: It's Sean Lee. Down after down, Lee is around the football. The way he reads and reacts is quite impressive. He doesn't just play the run, but he is a factor in the passing game as well. The other night against the Bears he beat two blockers on a screen to tackle Michael Bush for a loss on the play. He's just a really instinctive football player.
What We Already Know:
Rowan: The offensive line will be a concern for the remainder of the season. Three All-Pro linemen aren't going to walk through the doors at Valley Ranch and start at center or guard. The rushing numbers have gone down every week, which will make life tough on Tony Romo and the passing game. The defense has held up, but it can tire down after the bye week if it stays on the field too long.
Nick: Nothing will come easy. It never seems to for the Cowboys in recent years, and in this season even more, things will be as tough as they need to be. That first game against the Giants, the Cowboys really had no business needing to pick up first downs in the end to win, but yet they couldn't close it out the series before and let the Giants come back. Against Tampa Bay, they had to get an onside kick to clinch it. We think games like Cleveland and maybe Carolina will be the "easy" ones but they might be pretty tough, too. Nothing is easy in this league, the Cowboys being the poster boys for that mantra.
Bryan: Even with DeMarco Murray it's going to be difficult for this team to run the ball on a consistent basis. I don't see Garrett and this offensive staff continuing to bang their heads against the wall trying to run. Look for an adjustment in the way they do things personnel-wise to try and help the run. I'm not talking about changing out players, but who is on the field at certain times in the game to maybe give them an opportunity to pop some runs.
We Still Don't Know:
Rowan: We don't know, but we're going to find out very soon how the additions of injured players after the bye week will impact the team. The Cowboys have been playing defense with four players who aren't accustomed to being full-time starters. Jay Ratliff, Anthony Spencer and Kenyon Coleman should all provide an added boost to the Cowboys defense, while Matt Johnson could make his debut. Ratliff's inside pressure could help the secondary generate its first interception of the year.
Nick: Man, there are so many things we don't know about this team, but for me, you just don't know when this offensive line will click, or if it even can click. There isn't one player across the board that you're sure about. Tyron Smith has been pretty good – when he's not having false starts. Doug Free has been up and down on the right side and both guards have had shaky moments. Center Phil Costa has played only three snaps and backup Ryan Cook has been serviceable, but is still learning this offense on the run.
Bryan: We still don't really know how Morris Claiborne is going to hold up at cornerback. We are beginning to get an understanding of what Brandon Carr is, but teams haven't attacked Claiborne like I thought they would. These next five weeks against Baltimore, Carolina, the New York Giants, Atlanta and Philadelphia will tell us a lot about Claiborne because I do feel like teams are seeing on tape that there might be plays to his side and not against Carr. Claiborne will either rise to the challenge or you will see a lot more of Mike Jenkins.
Rowan: DeMarco Murray's 48-yard run against the Giants. He bounced off tackles, cut inside, ran into Lawrence Vickers then bounced outside for the long run. He probably could have scored had he kept trucking down the sideline behind Dez Bryant. The run was especially spectacular given the Cowboys' recent rushing woes. He hasn't recorded a rush of more than 11 yards since.
Nick: Give me the touchdown catch to Miles Austin against the Giants where he goes up over two guys on first-and-30. Not only was it an acrobatic catch by Austin, but it just signified the type of night the Cowboys had against the defending champs. It was like, no matter the adversity, the Cowboys weren't going to be denied. Great play in any game, but a huge play in that one.
Bryan: The third down slant that Kevin Ogletree caught against the Giants on opening day with the game on the line. The Cowboys couldn't give the ball back to them in that situation and expect to win the game. Gutsy call by Garrett, confident throw by Romo and a dependable catch by Ogletree kills the game.
Rowan: The miscommunication between Bryant and Romo that led to Chicago cornerback Charles Tillman's interception return for a touchdown. The Cowboys are at minus-seven in turnover ratio this season, which is one of the reasons they're the second-worst team in scoring this year. The picked off pass – one of five Romo interceptions – shifted the momentum in a defensive battle against the Bears.
Nick: Blocked punts have such a negative impact on a game and the one in Seattle was no exception. The Cowboys were already in a 3-0 hole because of a fumbled kickoff, but things just went from bad to worse with the blocked punt that ensued. It opened the floodgates and the Cowboys never could come back, getting physically whipped in all areas against the Seahawks.
Bryan: The special teams problems this year with the blocked punt and the nearly blocked punt, along with the fumbled kickoff return, have just been terrible. As hard as this team works on special teams on a daily basis those are situations that just can't happen. To spot the Seahawks 10 points with a rookie quarterback was truly a gift.
Rowan: Romo is passing behind a line that's forced him to move around the pocket most of the season. Through four weeks, Cowboys fans have seen every side of Romo. He was masterful against the Giants, but that performance hasn't been seen since. While he was a battering ram against Tampa Bay, the line can't be blamed for his performance against the Bears. Romo will need to find more consistency for the Cowboys to succeed.
Nick: He had 10 interceptions in 16 games last year. Through four this year, Romo already has eight. The five-pick outing against the Bears will be remembered for a while. It doesn't really matter if the first three were questionable bad plays by others, they all count the same. He was phenomenal against the Giants and he's looked pretty good at times this year. He's not perfect by any means and never will be. It's pretty easy to say this team will go as far as Romo takes them. He won't take them far if he keeps playing like he did Monday night.
Bryan: The start of this 2012 season hasn't been an easy one for Tony Romo. As brilliant as he was in the Giants game, we saw the struggles against the Seahawks and Bears. We always talk about how too much of the blame or the praise of the team's play falls in the lap of the quarterback. It's just the nature of the position. We have seen Romo buy time with his feet to make a throw that should have been caught and we have seen him turn the ball over at the worst possible time. Could Romo play better? Yes, we have seen that before but for this team to really have a chance, he is going to need his teammates to do their job as well, not just the receivers but the line, tight ends and backs. If he gets that, this offense will go in the right direction.
Rowan: The matchup against Baltimore will be indicative of how the upcoming stretch will go. The Cowboys are in an offensive funk, and if they can figure it out after a bye week against one of the better defensive teams, it will go a long way in an arduous five-game stretch with four on the road. With Atlanta's hot start and Philadelphia's recent success against the Cowboys, the matchup in Carolina is almost a must-win.
Nick: This is why Dallas simply had to be 3-1. The first four games were pretty challenging. These next five are horrendous. But at 2-2, the Cowboys would be in incredible shape if they could manage to go 3-2. Even 2-3 is doable because the schedule should, let's stress should, get easier. I don't see any team in these next five games whom the Cowboys simply can't beat. I don't see a team on here that couldn't beat the Cowboys by double digits. That's how the NFL seems to go these days.
Bryan: When the schedule came out in April, I thought these next five weeks would tell you all you needed to know about this football team. Four of the five are also against NFC opponents, which in the big picture is who you are battling for playoff spots. The Cowboys need to find a way to win three of the next five and that could be a problem with four of those coming on the road. You never know week to week how injuries will play a factor in these games, but the Cowboys can't go 1-4 and feel like they're a playoff team.