FRISCO, Texas – A long time ago, seemingly in another lifetime, Cowboys initial president and general manager Tex Schramm gave me this perspective on running a team.
"This would be the greatest job in the world if we didn't have to play games," Tex said profoundly, in fact, lending that fair warning to the new owner, Jerry Jones, when handing off to him in 1989.
Boy, he's exactly right. How different the atmosphere out here at The Star has been this week after the Cowboys' 27-20 victory over the Eagles for their first road win of the season. And even though they are no more than 4-5, upbeat would be an understatement, a 180 after a bunch of red-eyed, long faces following the 28-14 drubbing at home at the hands of the Tennessee Titans the previous Monday night.
But this is no time to breathe a sigh of relief because on Sunday's horizon awaits the Falcons (4-5) in Atlanta, they of Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and now Calvin Ridley. Plus, what took place last year at Mercedes-Benz Stadium is still pretty raw for the Cowboys, losing 27-7, the beginning of a three-game losing streak, taking the Cowboys from 5-3 at the halfway point to 5-6, the stretch that essentially knocked them out of a playoff berth.
So that time of the week to shoot a little breeze.
· We Want 6: As in the six points a touchdown brings. Good gosh, the Cowboys scored three touchdowns in the win over Philadelphia, representing only the second time all year they have tallied more than two touchdowns in a game. Obviously, the only other time was the four in the 40-7 victory over Detroit. And here is the deal: The Cowboys have only scored 18 touchdowns so far this season. Just 18! How does that compare to the league? Only six teams have scored fewer touchdowns than the Cowboys heading into Week 11, but seven have scored at least 30, with the Cowboys next opponent, Atlanta, checking in at 29. The NFL average at this point is 25.5. And to think Kansas City leads the NFL with 44 TDs in 10 games (9-1), followed by New Orleans with 39 in nine games (8-1) and then the L.A. Rams 38 in 10 games (9-1). I mean, those teams have scored twice as many touchdowns as the Cowboys, and you guys still want to tell me defense wins championships?
· Record Pace: By now you're well aware Cowboys rookie linebacker Leighton Vander Esch has been selected NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his 19-tackle, one-interception performance against Philly, racking up 15 solo tackles and four assists according to the coaching staff's scoreboard. But get this: Those 19 tackles pushed his nine game-total to 96, and with seven games to go he is bearing down on Dexter Coakley's single-season rookie record of 136 set in 1997. That's 21 years ago. He needs 41 tackles in seven games, like average six a game, to reset the record.
· Wide Receiver U: Well, at least for Sunday's game between the Cowboys and Falcons. Yep, the University of Alabama has produced Julio Jones, Amari Cooper and Calvin Ridley, all three first-round draft choices. And the Cowboys certainly will have their hands full with two of these guys, Jones and Ridley. Jones leads the Falcons with 67 catches for 1,040 yards and curiously just two touchdowns, both in the past two games. The rookie Ridley is next with 500 yards receiving on 36 catches, but get this, a team leading seven touchdowns. Interesting look back, though: In the Cowboys 27-7 loss to the Falcons last year, Jones had six catches for 57 yards, no TDs. You'd take that right now on Sunday if I guaranteed those would be his numbers, wouldn't you?
· Age Conscious: There were a lot of folks wanting the Cowboys to draft Ridley with the 19th pick in the first round this year instead of LVE. Ridley ended up going 26th to Atlanta. Oakland selected Amari Cooper with the fourth pick in the 2015 draft, the year the Cowboys took Byron Jones with the 27th pick. Now this: Ridley was born Dec. 20, 1994, so turns 24 this year. Cooper was born June 17, 1994, meaning the fourth-year player is just like six months older than the rookie.
· Taco Wednesday: Defensive end Taco Charlton, who missed this past Sunday's game in Philly with a shoulder injury, did not practice on Wednesday, basically working on the resistance cords off to the side with trainers. Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett didn't sound overly hopeful Taco would be ready to play Sunday, basically saying they were hoping he could "do something." Taco, too, kind of shrugged his shoulders, saying he is "day-to-day." But his absence sorely effects the Cowboys defensive line. Without him against the Eagles, Tyrone Crawford moved from the 3-technique defensive tackle to starting right defensive end, with Randy Gregory coming in on passing downs. But when Maliek Collins went down early in the game – he did return – and Daniel Ross in warmups, Crawford moved back inside and Gregory basically became the every-down right defensive end, ending up playing 40 of 62 snaps, matching his season high. In turn, then DeMarcus Lawrence, normally averaging around 70 percent of the snaps on the left side, played 56 of 62 snaps, or 90 percent of the snaps. Need Taco Sunday.
· Bottoms Up: Cowboys must beware of Atlanta tight end Austin Hooper. Last year it was Hooper catching six passes for 49 yards, one for a touchdown, the one breaking open a 17-7 game early in the fourth quarter. He's already caught 46 passes for 418 yards and three touchdowns … If you were conscientiously voting for the Pro Bowl heading into Week 11, and you have four weeks to make up your mind, which Cowboys players would you select: Ezekiel Elliott, Zack Martin, Byron Jones and if he keeps up this torrid pace of late, maybe LVE. Just remember, sacks, interceptions and touchdowns highly influence voters … For his efforts on Sunday, LVE not only was the NFC Defensive POW, but he also received a T-shirt and a game ball from the team, a material Atta-boy … Need my advice on how to deal with Jones, Ridley, Sanu and Hooper? Go get Matt Ryan.
And with that, the bucket has only been half emptied.