A lot has been made of the offense's slow starts this season, but is it just a coincidence the Cowboys are 2-4 since Leighton Vander Esch went down? The defense has seemed to particularly struggle getting off the field during this stretch. Are we more vulnerable at linebacker than we thought, and should it be a focal point of the offseason for the team? - ADAM PAGE / DOWNERS GROVE, IL
Nick: I don't think it's ever a coincidence when a team struggles at a spot that loses an All-Pro player. Say what you want about LVE and his production before the injury, but it's still a blow when he has to miss games. As for a focal point next year, I think Vander Esch will be back and healthy again. But if Sean Lee doesn't return, I do see linebacker being a spot where you get some veteran free agent help and try to add to the depth.
Rob: Sean Lee has played his tail off and played well in Vander Esch's absence. I do think Vander Esch's ability to cover is one of his best strengths and would be an asset right now given how opponents have used their tight ends and running backs in the passing game recently. The Cowboys won't have Vander Esch the rest of this season, but he's expected to make a full recovery from this minor neck procedure he will undergo.
It's obvious the Cowboys have the talent on the roster to compete with any team in the NFL, but they're only able to compete at certain times. What do you guys think the reason is for this up and down where the team plays lights out in all three phases of the game one week and then not the following week during parts of the game? - HERBERT JANNSEN / WALNUT CREEK, CA
Nick: I think that happens when you just have an average team. Average teams in any league are good enough to win some games, meaning they're going to be on certain nights. The Cowboys can turn it on and beat the bad teams and even hang in there with the average ones. But they have not proven to have enough talent to beat really good teams and they've never proven to have whatever it takes to win close games. Call it coaching, lack of elite talent or something else that is missing. But the results have been the same and now the Cowboys, who started out 3-0, will not have a winning record. I think it just shows that this only an average team at best.
Rob: I don't have a clear answer for you, because the core of last year's team is back and the results haven't been the same. I'm not sure the club entirely does, either, and that's why this is one of the most puzzling seasons in years. Tangibly, when they haven't run the ball efficiently, haven't scored touchdowns in the red zone and haven't gotten takeaways, they typically haven't won. The players and coaches share in that. Intangibly, they just haven't handled adverse situations in games as well as they did last year, when they won 7 of 9 games decided by a touchdown or less. That's why the consistency has been off, in my opinion.