FRISCO, Texas – And after 91 days, from the start of training camp on July 20 through Monday, Oct. 18, and after 10 games, counting four preseason games and the first six of the 2021 season, things out here have come to a rest.
Quiet on this Wednesday. No practice. No press conferences. Not a soul on this field this afternoon.
A well-earned bye.
And darn good timing, too, with Dak Prescott in a walking boot for his strained right calf muscle, especially after Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said this week of the injury his NFC Offensive Player of the Week sustained on the final play of the 35-29 overtime victory over New England, a 25-yard touchdown pass to CeeDee Lamb:
"The fact the bye is there my feeling is that ought to take care of it in terms of enough time for (the injury) to get to where he can really compete normally. I would be probably a little concerned if we were playing this week."
And so the 5-1 Cowboys, first place in the NFC East and tied for the next-best record in the NFC, a game behind the Arizona Cardinals, owning the No. 1 offense in the NFL, the No. 2 rushing offense and the No. 1 scoring offense, certainly are hoping when it comes to Dak that the old adage of _time heals all_ certainly applies to what seems to be a minor injury.
But on the other hand, this is the time of year when coaches fear unstructured time, turning their players loose for a full week. Sort of the way parents fear turning their kids loose for a week of Spring Break. They fear that late-night phone call.
And even after Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy told his players during the final team meeting on Monday this about the free time:
"Yeah, we talked about it last week when I told them what the schedule was going to be. Talked about the distractions and what we don't want. We have an outstanding season, 5-1, where we are. Make sure that everybody is taking care of themselves and spend as much time as they can with family and friends.
"They deserve it. They deserve this break, the length of it. I have a lot of confidence and a lot of trust in those guys."
Well, he couldn't make it one good night of sleep laying his head down on the pillow before the phone call came on Tuesday. His six-game starting safety, Demontae Kazee, had been booked for an alleged DWI violation at 3 a.m., having failed a field sobriety test.
Makes me think back to those Bill Parcells days when the Cowboys would hit the bye. Before there were any CBA rules on mandating players receive at least four consecutive days off during the bye, three of those having to include the weekend. So, Bill would give the guys a few days off to start the bye week, then schedule practices for like Thursday and Friday, with TBD on Saturday and Sunday.
That way players couldn't make plans to fly out of town on Friday. And inevitably, he'd let them know at the last minute he'd call off practices on Friday and Saturday, thus causing anyone flying out of town to buy those more expensive and possibly deterrent last-minute full airfares.
But hey, we're here working, so never fear, shots are coming your way.
- Twilight Zone: That's what the Red Zone has turned into for the Cowboys offense, scoring touchdowns on just 56 percent of their possessions inside the 20-yard line, going 14 for 25 on TDs, with six field goals and five empty possessions. Weird ones, too. Start with Greg Zuerlein missing a chip-shot field goal attempt from the 13-yard line against Tampa Bay. Then the Cowboys turning the ball over on downs from the Philadelphia 1-yard line when Dak's QB sneak was ruled a touchdown, the TV broadcast agreed he scored, but upon further review the touchdown was overturned when it appeared half of Dak's body was in the end zone. More weirdness continued. Next in the Giants game, from the 5-yard line, Dak takes his eye off the shotgun snap, losing the fumble. And in this past game, a tipped pass in the end zone is then intercepted by the Patriots and once again after Dak appeared to score on a QB sneak on third down only for the sideline official telling McCarthy he couldn't see the ball that was over the goal line upon peeling off bodies, Dak loses the ball on his fourth-down dive over the top for a fumble. Nevertheless, Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore says of the lack of Red Zone TDs, and knowing they've also kicked those six field goals, "It's not good, give it that. It's an awesome opportunity during the bye week to just reflect on it, see where we're at, see opportunities where we can go. Think we're really close, just not where we want to be."
- No Free Pass: This is one of the disturbing stats on this Cowboys defense. They rank 30th against the pass, and this will give you some perspective. The Cowboys, a fine passing offense, have thrown for 1,835 yards, 22 of those belonging to Wilson on his only attempt. But opponents have passed for 1,867 yards, 32 more. Not good. And it's the big plays still haunting the Cowboys, 27 of them for at least 20 yards, averaging 31.8 a play. And secondary coach Joe Whitt Jr. doesn't mince words when talking about those passes totaling 859 yards. "We've given up way too many (big) plays," Whitt says. "They really haven't been communication errors. Three of them from the Tampa game were … if you look at the film, a lot of them had been catch-run elements where they caught the ball under 20 yards and they've gone, which is sort of confusing to me because we're playing so fast on defense." Says communication and assignment errors have been very, very low. "We have to do a better job of making sure when the ball is caught in front of us, we tackle it and get it down," Whitt says. That's a start.
- Longtime Connection: How about this coincidence: Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has known Trevon Diggs for like nearly 10 years. That's right, back when Trevon was around 12 or 13 years old, and Quinn was coaching at the University of Florida for head coach Will Muschamp. Let Quinn tell the story. "I met the head coach, Will Muschamp, at Steph's house," Quinn says of Florida recruiting Trevon's older brother, wide receiver Stephon Diggs. "So, who was there but young Tre, as a 13-year-old, while I was coaching at Florida. … So I thought it was only fitting that he and I would end up together many years later on different paths, but that was destined to be. I said (to him), 'You didn't know that I was really there recruiting you.'"
- Bye Shots: Speaking of Quinn, the Cowboys assistant took part Tuesday in the Merging Vets and Players (MVP) free community workout held on the practice field at The Star. Quinn began his association while in Atlanta with the organization that empowers combat veterans and former professional players by connecting them after their uniforms come off … Did you realize no player with at least 100 carries so far this season has a better per-carry average than Zeke's 5.1, while his 531 yards rushing ranks third in the NFL and his five rushing touchdowns is tied for second, behind Derrick Henry's 10 … Randy Gregory's four sacks in six games is just two short of his single-season high of six recorded in 2018 while starting just one of 14 games played that year. He is on pace for an 11-sack season. Since former defensive end Tony Tolbert had 12 sacks in 1996, only two players not named DeMarcus Ware have finished with more than 11 sacks: DeMarcus Lawrence with 14.5 in 2017 and Robert Quinn totaling 11.5 in 2019.
And the last word goes to Cowboys special teams coach John Fassel, when asked how caught up does he get in games like this past Sunday's Cowboys-Pats encounter, needing a last-minute field goal to tie the game and winning it in overtime.
"Hopefully everyone knows we're coaches, we're players, but we're also fans," Fassel said. "To be a part of all football games, but especially last night is pretty good, an honor."