IRVING, Texas – Now there are byes, and then there are byes.
And for the Dallas Cowboys, this is one heckuva bye.
That they don't have to play a game this Sunday benefits these bruised and reeling Cowboys in so many ways, so let's count them up in totality.
First, this is a game-free weekend during quarterback Tony Romo's mandatory eight-week stay on injured reserve/designated to return, meaning instead of missing eight games convalescing from a fractured collarbone, he'll miss only seven, meaning just four more.
Second, they don't have to play a fifth consecutive game without wide receiver Dez Bryant this Sunday, and possibly no more than even one more since his projected six-week absence after having his right foot's fractured fifth metatarsal surgically repaired expires by next Sunday's game against the New York Giants.
Third, by time the Cowboys next meet the Giants on Oct. 25 at MetLife Stadium, rookie defensive end Randy Gregory almost assuredly will be back from his high ankle sprain, a return that might have been iffy if the Cowboys were playing this Sunday. Plus, this gives returning veterans Greg Hardy and Rolando McClain two weeks to prepare for their second games back from suspensions and furthers the possibility of James Hanna returning in time, too, since he's been held out of practice these past two weeks.
Fourth, not only did the non-game week give the Cowboys time to recalibrate their own selves instead of rushing into preparation for another game this week following Sunday's third consecutive defeat, but also gives them time to say, "You know what, we need to do something to jumpstart a struggling offense" by making some personnel changes.
And fifth, just plain rest. Take a deep breath physically and a much-needed break mentally after plowing through nine consecutive weeks of playing games, four preseason and five regular season. Possibly even sit back this Sunday and Monday to watch others struggle on through this 16-game NFL season.
It's become vogue to claim any bye week is a good time for a bye, but this particular one is heaven-sent, not only for the players who will not return to The Ranch until Tuesday since the CBA mandates four consecutive days off during the bye week, but the coaches and the personnel department, too.
"Coaches get away," Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said. "You got to get away and recharge. This has been a good week for us; we only had the players here for half-days the last two days. We've had a lot of time to look at what we've done and prepare for what we want to do going forward."
Maybe partially thanks to the bye, the 2-3 Cowboys, spinning off their previously centered axis by losing the past three games without the services primarily of Romo and Bryant after winning the opening two games, have gotten a head start on preparing for what they want to do going forward.
Matt Cassel is in at quarterback. Brandon Weeden is out.
Rookie La'el Collins is in at left guard. Veteran Ron Leary is out.
Newcomer Christine Michael is in the running back mix, with the out TBD.
Brice Butler (hamstring) is back in the wide receiver mix. Rookie Vince Mayle's one-week stay on the 53-man roster concluded, opening a spot on the 53 for the Cowboys to take a flier on rookie running back Rod Smith, claimed Wednesday off Seattle's waiver list and in practice by Thursday thanks to the existence of those West Coast redeye flights.
"When you're not winning football games you have to look at some options," Cowboys COO Stephen Jones said emphatically, knowing the Dallas offense has scored just two touchdowns over the past eight quarters without the services of Romo, Bryant and Lance Dunbar, and nary a touchdown for the first time in the past 67 games in the last four against New England.
Bifocals are not needed to stare down the quarterback position. Fair or not, and a microscopic look at the past three games suggests somewhat not, the Cowboys decided if they err on Romo's replacement they will do so on the side of experience. Weeden's past three starts gives him 25 for his career. Cassel will be starting his 72nd NFL game next Sunday against the Giants if we don't count his first and only play in Buffalo's 2015 season opener when the Bills lined up in a Wildcat formation.
"Obviously, Matt Cassel has had some success in the league," Jones said.
He has. He went 10-5 replacing Tom Brady in New England back in 2008. He went 10-5 starting for Kansas City in the playoff-laced 2010 season.
But in his other 41 starts between Kansas City and Minnesota? Well, 13-28. Still, that adds up to 71 starts over 11 NFL seasons, and by the way, 71 more than he had at USC while spending his college career backing up Carson Palmer and Mark Sanchez.
The Cowboys are banking on Cassel seeing things better and faster than Weeden, now the backup. Maybe they will trust him to handle a more aggressive game plan since many of Weeden's short passes were by design or necessity, although Cassel's career yards-per-attempt average is 6.6, not to be confused with Romo's near 8.0 or career-high of 8.5 of last year.
Jones the other day was quick to point out "extenuating circumstances" for the Cowboys offensive struggles. Needless to say, no Romo or Bryant are at the top of the list. Next, and you can believe this or not, outside receivers struggling to beat suffocating man coverage. Next, an offensive line at times overwhelmed by defenses, as they say, disrespecting the Cowboys ability to throw the ball on the perimeter or over the top, thus crowding the line of scrimmage to stop the run and pressure the quarterback.
Cassel inherits these, especially if there still is no Dez next Sunday. There is hope for the wide receiver since at least a minimal amount was created on Thursday when witnessing Dez working in full practice dress (helmet, too, the newly established on-field rehab mandate), though very, very conservatively on the resistance cords with associate trainer Britt Brown. Most was retraining himself to sidestep and backpedal, normal procedure returning from a broken bone with your foot in a protective boot for a lengthy period of time. We'll see if he's actually running – hard – by next week. Cutting is another matter. Jumping, too.
So receivers winning on the outside still could be problematic if Cassel can't throw to them open. And running the ball consistently then likely will continue to be a problem, too.
Now, the Cowboys did make a change there. First, Collins going in for Leary, who struggled badly against the Patriots, as if he was trying to play through that strained groin he suffered nearly four weeks ago that caused him to miss two games. But he wasn't the only offensive lineman to struggle in that game, and not always because of an overabundance of Patriots crowding the line of scrimmage. This unit must play better.
And then there is the vow to bump C-Mike (Christine Michael) into the running back rotation, maybe powerful enough to plow through some of those tiny creases. Although, if you recall his 8-yard, third-and-1 run against the Patriots, had he plowed up the middle as seemingly designed, he would have been dropped for a 3-yard loss. At least he had the foresight to bounce the play outside where it was well-blocked.
Cowboys running backs coach Gary Brown says, "I think he's where he needs to be, and we want to take the reins off him and let him rock."
Let's label this a check-with-me on the evening of the Oct. 25 if he indeed rolls, and consequently if the Cowboys can extinguish this other offensive extenuating circumstance against a team they opened the season against with a season-low 80 yards rushing.[embeddedad0]
Yep, we'll see.
But in the meantime, this bye weekend, you guys go ahead, chill, too. You also probably need a break from the anxiety of this injury-induced grind so far this season. And while you're kicking back, remember, if the Eagles happen to beat the Giants Monday night, both would be 3-3, and so would the Redskins if they beat the Jets, with the Cowboys, even on this three-game losing streak, just a half game back of the pack.
With still an 11-game eternity to go.