FRISCO, Texas – The neverending chase for consistency continues.
Such is the case when you’re trading wins and losses for two months, but this seriously is the fourth of fifth time we’ve narrated this storyline. The Cowboys looked solid in a must-have win last week, and now we hold our breath and wait to see if they can do it again.
Since September, the answer has been a disappointing “no.” The followed the win against New York with an ugly outing in Seattle, and they followed the home last-second win against Detroit with a last-second win at Houston. The 40-7 win against Jacksonville might have been the best of the season – and it didn’t translate to Washington whatsoever.
And yet, there’s reason to believe that maybe this one will be different. The changes from the Cowboys’ bye week continue to pay dividends, as Amari Cooper looks like the real deal, while the Cowboys’ offensive line finally looked like the Cowboys’ Offensive Line for the first time all year.
So that’s where I’m going to start this week. Looking at the changes that helped the Cowboys win in Philly, and how they can (maybe?) maintain that going forward.
1. I am a big Connor Williams fan. Maybe I’m overly defensive because I covered Williams’ draft process on “The Draft Show,” but I genuinely think the criticism of the guy has been unfair.
If you listened to the podcast, you’re aware that the primary concern with Williams coming into the NFL was his strength. He played tackle during his college career, and his lean frame was probably going to struggle to hold up on the interior of an NFL offensive line.
Williams was probably a bit of a victim of the Cowboys’ own success, given that all of his linemates excelled immediately once plugged into the lineup. Though it’s worth remembering that Williams was pick No. 60, while Tyron Smith was pick No. 9, Travis Frederick was pick No. 31 and Zack Martin was pick No. 16.
I have very little doubt that Connor Williams is going to grow into a successful NFL offensive lineman. His tape to this point in the season has been far more good than bad, and starting in 2019 he’ll have a full offseason to get to work in an NFL weight program. He’s going to be fine.
2. Now that I’ve said that, there’s nothing wrong with admitting the obvious. With veteran Xavier Su’a-Filo taking Williams’ place last week, we saw the dominant type of Cowboys rushing attack we haven’t seen many times this season.
It’s important to note that Su’a-Filo isn’t exactly a nobody. The Houston Texans drafted him No. 33 overall in 2014 – almost a full round higher than Williams. He never achieved the level of success you’d prefer from the first pick of the second round, but he is clearly talented and has 41 starts under his belt.
Now, it’s fair to say that one game does not make a trend. It’s totally plausible the Cowboys could struggle again with another tough road trip on the docket this weekend.
But given how dominant they looked last Sunday, Su’a-Filo deserves the opportunity to prove himself, right? Not only that, but Williams is still coming back from a knee scope. Even if he could play this weekend, why rush him back if his replacement helped nullify Fletcher Cox
It’s not an indictment of Williams or his potential for the future. But perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that a highly-drafted, veteran player is finding success on such a talented line. He wouldn’t be the first one.
Regardless, let’s find out if Su’a-Filo can turn this into a bonafide trend.
3. Let’s assume for a second that Su’a-Filo can maintain a high level of play. It creates an awfully nice scenario for a Dallas offensive line that has dealt with some setbacks this year.
When the Cowboys signed Su’a-Filo after initial roster cuts in September, they signed him to a two-year deal. So regardless of how this lineup shuffling plays out, they’ll have him on hand in 2019.
That gives this team a lot of pieces to play with heading into next season. At the very worst, Su’a-Filo is an above average backup to have available. Or if the Cowboys become convinced he needs to be starting long-term, his presence could allow you to be flexible with Williams.
Plenty of people have suggested Connor Williams needs to try his hand at tackle. I have no idea if the Cowboys will be interested in trying that this offseason, but Su’a-Filo could give them the flexibility.
That also might give them some peace of mind with Travis Frederick’s situation. Obviously, everyone is hoping for the best for Frederick and his continued recovery from Guillian-Barre Syndrome. But perhaps – if you need to – you could also give Williams a look at center.
It’s way too soon to say about any of that. The Cowboys are still trying to get through seven more games. But it’s nice to know you have depth in the big picture, at the very least.
4. I can’t get over how wild the stuff coming out of Pittsburgh has been.
Listen: dispel yourself of the myth that all teammates love each other. This is a job like any other. You’re going to love some of your coworkers, you’re going to dislike but tolerate others because they’re good at their job.
Even still, it’s pretty staggering to see Le’Veon Bell’s teammates remove the nameplate from his locker, empty it out and divvy up the belongings between themselves. It was surprising to hear the dismissive comments from team captains, knowing full well that Bell can no longer be part of their playoff push.
And for the record: I don’t begrudge the Steelers their aggravation anymore than I begrudge Bell for looking out for his best interests. Bell has every right to look out for himself – but his teammates have every right to be pissed off that he basically abandoned them.
It’s just crazy to think about it from the vantage point of this Cowboys locker room.
Say what you will about Jason Garrett, but he has always done a fantastic job of keeping his players on message and limiting the discord in his locker room. Obviously, Bell’s holdout is a bit of an unprecedented situation, but you’ve just never seen much evidence of the Cowboys’ private matters leak out into the public eye.
Case in point: the Dez Bryant situation. Bryant was clearly unhappy with the Cowboys’ decision to release him, and he made the displeasure known publicly – in interviews and on Twitter. He created a firestorm during training camp when he took shots at Sean Lee, literally during a Cowboys practice.
It was a big enough situation that Lee addressed the comments publicly, admitting that he and Dez butted heads because he wanted Dez to be more accountable to the team.
But then, that makes you think: if Lee and others felt that way, the Cowboys did a really admirable job of keeping it in-house. This just hasn’t been a team that airs its dirty laundry during the Jason Garrett era.
5. That makes me wonder something else, though. Could that situation possibly be on the horizon for the Cowboys?
We have lauded DeMarcus Lawrence time and time again for the way he has handled the franchise tag – and rightfully so. The guy signed his tender immediately, he never complained, he showed up for offseason workouts and he has been the consummate teammate throughout this process. Going all the way back April, Lawrence said he knew if he took care of his end of the bargain, the money would come.
Halfway through the season, D-Law is doing just that. He’s not fighting for the league lead in sacks like he was last year, but he’s at a respectable 6.5 to go along with 27 tackles and 10 tackles for loss. He’s been the Cowboys’ best pass rusher and a fantastic run defender, and he’s done all of that while being a reliable defensive leader.
Now, what happens if he finishes the season strong and the Cowboys still want to play hardball? NFL rules allow them to use the tag on Lawrence again if they want to. At the very least, they can do it as a negotiating tactic to keep him from testing the free agent market, the same way they did with Dez Bryant.
Bryant’s own negotiations never got as contentious as Bell’s, but it definitely wasn’t completely clean. The All-Pro receiver wasn’t part of the team’s offseason, and he threatened a holdout into the season before he finally got his deal done at the deadline.
Lawrence has been a picture-perfect teammate this year, and he deserves to be rewarded. If he isn’t, I wonder how it will affect the harmony in the Cowboys’ locker room in 2019.
6. Let’s cut right to the chase: this tweet is making the rounds right now. I don’t have a ton of time to follow the Kansas City Chiefs’ superstar quarterback, given my job as a Cowboys beat writer, but apparently this is the natural evolution of an earlier story, which is that Patrick Mahomes puts ketchup on his steak.
I don’t even know where to begin – wait, yes I do. Please, never put ketchup on a steak. Honestly, you’re doing it wrong if you’re even using steak sauce. A quality, properly-cooked piece of beef needs no sauce. You’re only masking the flavor. I’m honestly getting angry even just typing it.
The same can be sad for macaroni. And eggs. And any other kind of pasta. And hashbrowns.
All of these things have unique and fantastic flavors, and you’re literally just dousing them in fruity sugar sauce. Ketchup is such an overpowering taste, how can you even taste anything else? Ugh.
Honestly, not even cheeseburgers and French fries need ketchup – but I’ll allow it in those two instances. Anything else, not so much.
7. Now, ranch, on the other hand? Ranch can go with everything. Except steak. Seriously, don’t put stuff on steak.
8. The pride cometh before the fall, or something like that.
Just as soon as I think I’m getting the hang of this thing, I crash down to Earth with a truly humbling weekend. It’s not even that I lost a lot of games this weekend – I wasn’t even close. I picked the Bengals to cover a 5.5 spread against the Saints, only to watch them lose by 37. I picked the Dolphins to upset Green Bay, only to see them get humiliated at Lambeau Field. I picked the Patriots to comfortably beat Tennessee, only to watch the Titans put one of the worst regular season beatdowns on New England in recent memory. And of course I even got the Cowboys game wrong, dropping my season record to 4-5.
So yeah, I’m bad at this. If you’ve been following along all season, though, you’re aware that this isn’t news. I suck, but I’m still gonna get these picks off
Packers (+3) over SEAHAWKS
Panthers (-4.5) over LIONS
Titans (+1.5) over COLTS
GIANTS (-1.5) over Buccaneers
REDSKINS (+3) over Texans
Steelers (-5.5) over JAGUARS
Bengals (PK) over RAVENS
Raiders (+5.5) over CARDINALS
CHARGERS (-7) over Broncos
SAINTS (-8) over Eagles
Vikings (+2.5) over BEARS
Chiefs (+3.5) over RAMS
LAST WEEK: 3-10-1
THIS SEASON: 52-74-6