FRISCO, Texas – My oh my, what a difference four weeks makes.
On Nov. 11, Veterans Day, the Dallas Cowboys were 3-5 and the 2018 season on the brink. Why, they were just beaten by the Tennessee Titans, and you'd have thought the Cowboys would not win another game this season.
Now, four weeks later, on Dec. 4, three weeks before Christmas to the day, the Cowboys are 7-5, winners of four consecutive games and now seemingly everyone's favorites to win the NFC East, and you'd think they will never lose another game.
Yet still the fourth quarter of the season to go, and when it comes to quarters this season, the Cowboys have been 2-2, 1-3 and 4-0, and probably need to go 3-1 the rest of the way to have a good chance of winning the NFC East, as long as two of those wins come against Philadelphia (6-6) this Sunday at AT&T Stadium and against the New York Giants the final game of the season.
So, what's happened? Why the sudden turnaround? Why sub-.500, to two games over .500, the Cowboys at 7-5 with the fourth best record in the NFC, behind of course the 11-1 Rams and the 10-2 Saints they've just beaten, and the only other teams with a better record in the NFC are the Chicago Bears at 8-4, just one game better, and the once thought uncatchable Vikings, now 6-5-1, just a half-game better after losing two of their past three games.
Carolina, too has backed up, now 6-6. Green Bay faded so fast to 4-7-1, losing three straight, that the Packers already have fired head coach Mike McCarthy.
Well, I've belabored the Amari Effect, right, along with the Cowboys replacing offensive line coach Paul Alexander with his OL assistant Marc Colombo. Those are real.
But let's take a look at the rising numbers of three guys during this four-game winning streak: Ezekiel Elliott, Dak Prescott and Cooper, then you decide.
First Zeke. During this winning streak, Zeke has rushed 91 times for 470 yards and three touchdowns. If you happen to factor those numbers over a 16-game season, he would be on pace to finish with 1,880 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns. Not only that, as a receiver in these four games he's caught 24 passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns, and that would be a 16-game pace of 96 catches for 788 yards receiving and eight touchdowns.
Seriously? That would give him a pace of 460 touches for 2,668 yards from scrimmage and 20 touchdowns.
That's seriously serious.
Now Dak. Here are Dak's passing numbers during the four-game winning streak: 94 of 127 (74 completion percentage) for 1,015 yards, four touchdowns and 0 interceptions. That's a 107.6 QB rating. Factor that pace over a 16-game season, and the numbers come to 376 of 508 for 4,060 yards and 16 TDs. Of course, the 0 interceptions probably wouldn't become a reality.
And look what this four-game performance has done to his 12-game numbers: Dak's completion percentage has gone up from 62.9 over eight games to the current 66.8. His quarterback rating has risen from 88.9 at the halfway point to a much more respectable 95.4, just 1.4 less than Tom Brady, and with a better completion percentage.
Now for all the faults most want to pin on the quarterback having played just 44 NFL games, you darn well would take his four-game pace over the entire season.
And then there is Coop, and remember he's only been here for five games, the Cowboys 4-1 since his arrival. But for symmetry purposes, his four-game numbers are 25 catches for 366 yards and two touchdowns. Factored over a 16-game season those would compute to 100 catches for 1,464 yards and eight touchdowns. Produce those numbers, man, pay the guy.
These are serious offensive numbers, and if these three guys can maintain this pace over the final four games of the season, this team averaging 23 points a game during the past four games will improve that average for sure. And with the defense playing the way it's been playing, getting to 10 wins would be reasonable. Then who knows after that.
These numbers are fun, right? But, unfortunately, you have to actually play out the string of games, just as former president and GM Tex Schramm told Jerry Jones when he had just brought the team, saying, "This is a great job if you didn't have to play the games."
There is some truth there.
That is why I've be hesitant to believe all these Next Gen Stats floating around pertaining to the Cowboys. These win-loss percentages, the percentages to make the playoffs that are so fleeting. They have more to do with odds than the eyeball test. They have little to do with talent.
Computers can judge tendencies but not human performance.
But if a four-game sample is even remotely realistic of what these Cowboys are capable of going forward, then the Cowboys just might be able to ride these three guys to the finish line.
Maybe the impetus to what Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said following the victory over the Saints:
"This team will never be the same again. I'm serious. You win something like this against a team that is well coached and against those kinds of layer and a caliber of team like that, everyone that has done it knows you change.
"These guys are different cats now as they go forward."