Sullivan: Even Without Romo, These Cowboys Can Still Make Playoffs

The author of *America's Team: The Official History of the Dallas Cowboys, Sullivan also writes a new column in each issue of Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine. For subscription information, please click here.*

Some of the thoughts that run through an oversized, bald head:

• So not a big believer in jinxes (although The Jinx *on HBO was riveting television), but still, this should be out there for all to know. In last week's *Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine, in the first page of my column, which is written during the week, before the game, I wrote the following the sentence: "Now, if Romo breaks a collarbone, this team isn't making the playoffs."

• First off, I was wrong. Alas, not about the collarbone. This team can absolutely, positively make the playoffs, for several reasons of which I, like most, were not entirely aware before the kickoff in Philadelphia. The defense isn't just improved; it's drastically improved. Like flirting with top-five in the league even before Greg Hardy and Randy Gregory return.

• Trivia Time: Name the seven quarterbacks besides Troy Aikman to throw Michael Irvin a touchdown pass.

• The decision to move Sean Lee to the weak-side, thus eliminating the majority of blocks he would have seen in the middle, appears brilliant. Never mind the 14 tackles, he was around where the tackle took place on another 15 occasions. He could honestly have a 25-tackle game this season.

• Another reason I was wrong is Philly isn't what we thought it would be. Now, teams have started 0-2 and gone to the playoffs – 24 since 1990 to be exact. Three have even won the Super Bowl, including the 1993 Dallas Cowboys. But let's be honest, there appears to be trouble in Club Chip. They aren't missing anyone, either. This isn't Emmitt Smith holding out or waiting on a quarterback to return from an injury. They cannot move the football, and their two every-down backs have 15 yards on 25 carries.

• And while Washington can certainly run the ball, and play more defense than we thought, hard to imagine them or the Giants finishing better than 8-8. So my point is, 9-7 could very well win the NFC East. And if Romo misses just seven games, even eight, there's no reason the Cowboys can't finish strong with an easier schedule down the stretch and win 10 games.

• Yeah, it stinks that the dream season was ruined less than six quarters in with injuries to Dez Bryant and Romo. Football, like life, is unfair and frustrating. This team is still pretty solid, though. Sure, the running game doesn't resemble last season, at least not yet, but they are moving the ball. And Terrance Williams was open on double-digit routes as the No. 1 wideout against the Eagles.

• Most impressively for me wasn't Brandon Weeden completing each of his seven attempts. It was him not trying to force the ball when it wasn't there. The key for a team with a strong defense capable of running the football is limiting turnovers. Everyone knows that. These next two months, that's the game plan.

• Weeden probably has a stronger arm than Romo, which makes sense considering he was throwing 95 mph as a high school pitcher his senior year. His offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State, Gunter Brewer, told me earlier this week that Weeden has thrown the football more like a baseball, with little arc, but that he always finds a way to deliver the ball where it needs to be.

• Also, it's worth noting that Matt Cassel wasn't acquired to be the starter. The team is comfortable with him starting if Weeden goes down, but with a two-year head start in this offense, the job is clearly and without question Weeden's.

• We're all guessing because injuries heal differently, there are setbacks. That's what makes this reporting of 8-10 weeks and such so ridiculous. That said, my guesses for returns: Gregory in Week 5 against the Patriots, Dez in Week 8 against the Seahawks and Romo in Week 13 at Washington, meaning Weeden and company would have the next nine games.

• Have to wonder whether Anthony Hitchens remains the middle linebacker in two weeks when Rolando McClain returns from his suspension. To take it a step further, I'd be surprised if Hitchens wasn't starting against the Patriots in Week 5, at the least. There is no reason to make a change with how Hitchens is playing, both individually and within the scheme. Hitchens also seems to be improving by the week, there's so much upside.

• That's another draft pick the Cowboys were crucified for that has worked out brilliantly, much like Travis Frederick.  

• Have to think we're going to see more and more of rookie offensive lineman La'el Collins going forward. He played about half the snaps against the Eagles, and looked OK. Watching the game a second time, he by no means was dominant like, say, Zack Martin a season ago, but then again, there are two non-centers in franchise history who were Pro Bowl-caliber up front as rookies: Ralph Neely and Martin.

• This is a big week for the running game. Have to establish the ability to run, especially on first down and third-and-short. Going to be different looks defensively with having a full week to prepare for Weeden. The two primary backs, Joseph Randle and Darren McFadden, have rushed for 163 yards on 50 carries, which is an average of 3.26 yards per carry. Both have been solid in the passing game and picking up the blitz, but neither has separated himself from the other.

• Know what's unique about this situation? The Cowboys went from Super Bowl aspirations to underdog inside of a week. Philly was a six-point favorite a week ago, and now the Falcons are a pick 'em at AT&T Stadium. Kind of taking on that same mentality of a season ago. Not saying it's ideal by any means. Just not sure I've seen that significant of a change more or less overnight.

• The Cowboys are 14-3 in their last 17 regular-season games. That's the second-best run of the last 20-plus years. The 2007 and 2008 squads went 16-3, while before that, the 1993 and 1994 clubs went 20-3.

• Then there's this: Since Romo became the starter in 2006, he's 77-48. In games started by other quarterbacks over that stretch, the Cowboys are 6-9.

• Trivia answer: Steve Pelluer, Steve Beuerlein, Rodney Peete, Jason Garrett, Steve Walsh, Wade Wilson and Kevin Sweeney

Follow Jeff Sullivan on Twitter, @SullyBaldHead, or email him at jsullivan@dallascowboys.net.

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