It appears to me after watching most of the games this season that the Cowboys seem to lack having a "heart" for the game, especially the defense. This is basically the same defense as last year, except last year they were 11th in scoring defense and had promise. It just appears the heart to play the game is not there. Your thoughts? – JEFFREY WILLIAMS / ABILENE, TX
David: Considering that Mike McCarthy said something similar Wednesday after watching the tape, I'd say you're on to something. It's a tough thing to evaluate, because you don't get into the NFL without working extremely hard. I respect the work these guys have done to get to this level. But at the same time, all you have to do is watch the games to see something is missing. Maybe they don't feel confident and therefore aren't playing fast, or maybe they're weighed down by mental factor like the pandemic or the 3-9 record. I don't know for sure. But this is a defense that does not play fast or physical – not nearly often enough, at least.
Rob: I'm always hesitant to go down this road about "heart" and stuff because I don't think you can play this game, with the physical risks involved, if you lack heart or toughness. Now, that doesn't mean there can't be lapses at times, and Mike McCarthy did address the finish of that Ravens loss with the players. As Jaylon Smith put it, the head coach shouldn't ever have to talk to the team about effort and finishing a game strong, regardless of the score. Looking at the overall season, the defense just hasn't adapted to the new scheme on a consistent basis. By November it seemed like the group was playing faster and more confidently with more time in the system. But that momentum has fallen off now. Some of it is obviously basic execution, and some of it is probably scheme-related, too – putting players in the best spots to be successful. For some reason there's just been a disconnect in carrying solid practice preparation into game day.
I get playing the vets when in playoff contention. And don't give me the old "they are still not mathematically out." But Dorance Armstrong, Tyrone Crawford, Darian Thompson, Sean Lean -- when was the last time any of them made a positive play (minus Thompson's interception, which I could have made - he caught a batted ball). Let's find out if Bradlee Anae, Ron'Dell Carter, Reggie Robinson and Francis Bernard have anything. If not we are doing this all over again next year and if they are back to square one. Connor McGovern got a shot and it seems to be working ok. –CRAIG SHANKS / LINDSAY, AB
Rob: Craig, you just listed literally the only young players who haven't gotten a chance to play. Young guys who have gotten opportunities include Trevon Diggs, Tyler Biadasz, Ben DiNucci, Tony Pollard, CeeDee Lamb, Cedrick Wilson, Connor McGovern, Brandon Knight, Terence Steele, Justin Hamilton, Eli Ankou, Neville Gallimore, Donovan Wilson, Steven Parker, Saivion Smith. That's why the whole "should they tank?" discussion on social media is pretty laughable to me. Based on injuries and production issues, they've already had to dig deeper into their roster than I can remember in 15-plus years covering this franchise.
David: I'm not telling you that you have to like it, but you pretty much answered your own question. Coaches are always going to side with the players they trust, and they still mathematically have something to play for. That said, keep an eye peeled here over the next three weeks. If the division is out of reach in Week 16 and Week 17, I think you'll get your wish. It's too early to start pulling veterans for the heck of it, but if the playoffs are no longer a possibility I think some of these young guys will get an audition or two.