IRVING, Texas – If the Cowboys make a quarterback change for Week 7 against the New York Giants, with the division lead possibly at stake and a four-game losing streak a grim prospect, fine.
If they decide Matt Cassel's veteran experience can spark their flagging offense, cool.
This early bye week is a turning point in an embattled season. Something must change, or by the time Tony Romo gets back – the earliest is four games from now, Nov. 22 at the Miami Dolphins – the NFC East race might be miles up the road.
Since Brandon Weeden's 7-for-7 bullpen duty in Week 2 at Philadelphia, the Cowboys have lost competitive games to the Falcons and Saints, and on Sunday, the defending champion New England Patriots did what most expected: They dissected a depleted Dallas roster. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have been doing that sort of thing for 15 years.
Sorry, no one feels sorry for America's Team. Fans want solutions, adjustments, and the organization is evaluating closely this week.
If there's a new guy under center in two weeks at the Meadowlands, so be it. The three-game losing streak is certainly not all about Weeden, but going forward they absolutely must score more than six points, the franchise's lowest single-game total since that miserable 44-6 loss at Philadelphia in the 2008 season finale. The last time a Cowboys team scored fewer was a 26-3 defeat at Cincinnati in 2004 with 40-year-old Vinny Testaverde quarterbacking.
No matter who replaces Tony Romo for the next few weeks, he'll need this from the defense:
Last year the Cowboys had 31, second-most in the league. Through five games, they're tied with Miami, San Francisco and Jacksonville for the league's second-fewest (3) -- all against the Eagles. Only Houston (2) has fewer. The combined records of these five teams? 6-18.
That's no coincidence, friends.
Turnover ratio is the biggest, and simplest, win/loss factor in the National Football League. You force more turnovers than you commit, you generally succeed. You commit more turnovers than you force, you generally fail.
The 12-4 Cowboys tied for ninth last year with a plus-6 ratio. This year, their minus-5 ratio is tied for third-worst.
Seventeen teams have more giveaways than takeaways: Dallas, Seattle, Tennessee, San Diego, Tampa Bay, Chicago, Cleveland, Kansas City, Miami, Washington, Jacksonville, Baltimore, San Francisco, New Orleans, Detroit, Indianapolis, Houston. Not a single one has a winning record. The Chargers are 2-2.
The combined record of those teams: 25-57.
The combined record of the other 15 teams with a plus-turnover ratio: 51-19. All but three teams have winning records. Six are undefeated.
Look, the Cowboys' defense played outstanding for large stretches on Sunday. Rookie Byron Jones played his tail off against Rob Gronkowski, helping limit the star tight end to a season-low 67 yards on four catches. Back from suspension, Greg Hardy and Rolando McClain were balling. The unit's five sacks in the first half nearly matched its total through the first four games and exceeded its single-game total in any game from last season. They didn't tackle well enough, as Jason Garrett said, but they gave the team a chance early.
In the end, though, here was the difference:
The Cowboys got 11 true possessions. The Patriots got 11, too.
If you don't have Tony Romo, Dez Bryant and Lance Dunbar, your offense can't have the ball the same amount of times as Tom Brady. The odds are you won't win. Period.
The Cowboys need an extra possession or two or three for Weeden, or for Cassel. They need a short field every now and then. The offense's average starting position was its own 18-yard line against the Pats. That's too much green in front of paydirt.
This is a challenge for the offense, too. They're tied for the fifth-most turnovers with eight (winless Detroit leads the league with 15). They had two more Sunday – a Weeden interception and a Jason Witten fumble – and no takeaways for the third straight game.
They've got to take care of the ball, the ball, the ball. His interception aside, Weeden is extremely conscious of this, perhaps at the expense of letting the football go in tight quarters at times.
But the defense believes takeaways is their identity. They've had chances – dropped interceptions, penalties, and on Sunday, Julian Edelman recovered Greg Hardy's sack/forced fumble against Brady.
Conversely, the Patriots started two drives off takeaways at midfield and on the Dallas 36. To the defense's credit, they only allowed three points.
They're close. They're probably due.
But until the takeaways come, the undermanned offense will continue staring at long, difficult drives.