Spagnola: This Must Change And Not Merely For Change Sake

IRVING, Texas – Why, in less than two weeks the Cowboys have:

         Changed starting quarterbacks, going from Brandon Weeden to a more experienced Matt Cassel.

         Changed the starting left guard, going from a somewhat ailing Ron Leary to raw rookie La'el Collins.

Changed the running back rotation, insisting newcomer Christine Michael finally will play a larger role.

Changed the defensive line rotation, adding back the previously injured rookie Randy Gregory to those in charge of siccing the quarterback.

Changed the wide receiver rotation, adding back the hamstrung Brice Butler to a group struggling to beat press coverage on the outside.

Changed the travel routine, too, leaving for New Jersey and Sunday's game at MetLife Stadium against the New York Football Giants on Friday afternoon instead of the normal Saturday afternoon for a little team bonding while touring the World Trade Center Memorial in lower Manhattan and then a dinner atop the One World Observatory.

Heck, even changed the common perception of what a pet is, Dez Bryant showing off on social media his newly-acquired monkey.

Now, can the Cowboys change the results ... from an L to a W?

Goodness knows they need to, wallowing in a three-game losing streak for the first time since 2010, maybe with Dez returning next week but not this week, and Tony Romo not even a remote possibility of returning until the Nov. 22 game against Miami.[embeddedad0]

And the Giants (3-3) sure seem ripe for the pickin', even at MetLife, if their past Monday night's performance in a 27-7 loss to the Eagles is a true indication, a loss loaded with more turnovers, sacks, grounding penalties, poor blocking, poor tackling, less than 250 total yards of offense and a dozen penalties than one of those fancy restaurant-bought baked potato meals. And believe me, the Eagles weren't any great ball of fire that night themselves.

But are the short-handed Cowboys (2-3) capable?

By the way, next July, in case I forget, just remind me when it comes time to pick the team's Mr. Indispensable for 2016 to quit messin' around. Quit trying to be cute, picking this guy or that guy to avoid repeating the same player every year or logically choosing the quarterback each time. Because let's face it, and we have three games of evidence to prove so, what are the Cowboys without Tony and Dez – Co-Indispensables, right?

No sense foolin' ourselves because the Cowboys have yet to figure out for more than a half how to win without both guys. Not sure if you guys remember the movie Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf? (Richard Burton and Liz Taylor), but when it's comes to the Cowboys offense, who you afraid of? Come on, who?

         So Matt Cassel, hey, see what you can milk out of this unit, big guy, the league's 25th-ranked scoring offense, averaging 20.2 points a game.

Much is expected out of Cassel, the newly-minted father since his wife so considerately gave birth to their fourth child during the bye weekend. Keep hearing how he'll sling it around, get the ball down field. And look, maybe I'm being too anal looking at numbers, but his career-average-per-attempt number is 6.6 yards, not exactly slingin' proof.

Of course, don't know all the variables, but his highest average-yards-per-attempt season came during his 10-5 campaign with New England in 2008 taking over the 2007 undefeated Patriots teams for the injured Tom Brady at 7.16. After that, starting six of nine games played in 2013 with Minnesota he checked in at 7.1. And if you are wondering, the 10-5 season with Kansas City in 2010 came to 6.9.

All a far cry from Romo's career-high of 8.5 last year, and even the 7.5 average Weeden has posted during his three-and-a-half game sample so far this year.

Maybe getting the ball down field back then was not being asked of him, but seems as though it's being asked now. Yet look, since Romo fractured his collarbone, the Cowboys have just seven pass plays of at least 20 yards, only one a touchdown and just two more than 29 yards – Weeden's 42-yard scoring strike to Terrance Williams and his 67-yard bomb to Butler, who strained his hamstring in the process.

Conversely, from the second half of the Philadelphia game on, opponents have 14 pass plays of at least 20 yards, three of those touchdowns. This certainly is an offense in need of help.

Maybe the defense can lend a helping hand. Ah yes, the defense, likely back to full strength, assuming the illness keeping Greg Hardy out of Thursday's practice is not prolonged. They've shown signs of dominance, if only for that first half against the Patriots, a 57-yard field goal away from holding Brady to just 10 points in the first two quarters. They sacked him five times, nearly as many sacks in one half as they previously had in the other four games (six).

When presenting Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett with options for keys to beating the Giants, like more productive wide receivers, more productive running game, upgraded pressure on Eli Manning or increased take-aways from the measly three the Cowboys have managed in five games, leaving them tied with Jacksonville for 31st in the NFL, which one would be the must?

"Well it's interesting you use the word must because we talk about the must every week leading up to a ball game," said Garrett. "I don't want to go into all the specifics, but typically one of the musts every week is the ball – our ability to secure the football on offense and our ability to take the ball away. And that's the statistic in football going back a lot of years that is the decider in the outcome of a ball games.

"So it's really important for us to understand that. At times we've done a good job of that this year and at other times we haven't, and we simply have to do a better job. We have to go get some opportunities from them by taking the ball away. We have to preserve our opportunities and take full advantage of them by securing the football. So it all starts there, and I think being physical, being a great tackling defense, all those things are critical. Running the ball consistently throughout the ball game will open up a lot of opportunities for everybody throughout the game for us on that side of the ball.

"So those are some of the things that are important this week, and if you think about it, they're important every week. But certainly they need to show up Sunday against the Giants."

 Ah ha, the ball, the ball, the ball, and when it comes to the ball, the Cowboys are a minus-5 in turnover differential, leaving them in a three-way tie for 27th in the NFL, and meaning only three teams are worse (Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Detroit), they're combined record now 5-13. The Cowboys haven't recorded a take-away in the last three games and have given the ball away three times in those same three outings. Hmmm, mere coincidence they have lost all three? Me thinks not in this symmetry of threes.

There you have it, the formula to, uh, 3-3, and who knows, maybe to vault into first place in the NFC East if Philadelphia (3-3) happens to lose Sunday night at Carolina (5-0). Now wouldn't that all be something after what the Cowboys have gone through these first five games.

So come on, it's a must, take that ball away.

For a change.

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