FRISCO, Texas – Shame on me for thinking I'd struggle for conversation this week.
It seemed like a reasonable guess that there might be nothing to write about. The Cowboys enjoyed a quiet weekend off, and nothing terribly crazy happened while they weren't playing. Of course, this week's game against the Philadelphia Eagles is humongous – but how often do NFL players actually say anything interesting in the buildup to a big game?
What I wasn't counting on was the sight of Tony Romo taking the field for practice, complete with a helmet and some shoulder pads. It seemed as though the ship had sailed on Romo taking any part in practice for at least another week or so – so I'll admit my surprise when I saw No. 9 take the field on Thursday.
None of this is to say that Romo is ready to play in a game. But to see him throwing passes – in uniform, no less – is a perfect place to start this column off.
1.I think it'd be a mistake to expect to see Romo in uniform this weekend against the Eagles – I really hope you're not jumping to that conclusion. Throwing pat-and-go and preparing to play in a football game are two completely different things.
That said, I wonder what this means for the big picture. I said on Wednesday evening that this wasn't a conversation worth having until Romo put on a uniform. Well, he might have been seriously limited, but he put on a uniform this very week.
It's understood that Dak Prescott is going to start against Philadelphia. But would this week and next week be enough time to get Romo ready for Cleveland on Nov. 6? I kind of doubt that, too, to be honest. The guy is coming off a broken vertebrae. This seems like it's going to take some time – especially since the Cowboys have the added benefit of being four games over. 500.
These next two weeks are going to be interesting to watch. I'm stepping out on a minor limb right here, but I'm guessing that Nov. 13 against Pittsburgh is the first realistic date for a potential return to game day action. The next week, Nov. 20 against Baltimore, might be even more realistic than that.
It's pretty hard to predict, and I'm sure that will prevent people from speculating too wildly – right?
2.This is purely my opinion, but I don't think you'll see Romo in uniform for a game unless he's going to start at quarterback.
The Cowboys are in a good position in the sense that Romo has been on the active roster this whole time. They don't have to make any roster moves to get him ready to play. But they do have to make some decisions if he's going to make the 46-man roster for game day.
It seems highly unlikely that the Cowboys would use three of their 46 game day spots on quarterbacks, and Mark Sanchez has been perfectly fine in the backup role to this point.
Maybe I'm wrong, but it just feels unnecessarily problematic to put Romo in uniform behind Prescott – while keeping Prescott as the starter. I've said two dozen times that I don't think anything can affect Prescott mentally, as he's been unflappable to this point. But having a four-time Pro Bowl quarterback standing on the sideline, waiting to come in after any mistake, doesn't seem good for anyone.
If you want to start Romo, do so by all means. Work him back to full health and put him in the starting lineup. If you want Prescott to play, that's fine too. Keep Romo focused on his rehab and off the game day roster.
I don't mind the thought of Romo looking over his shoulder at Dak. I don't think I like the thought of Dak looking over his shoulder at Romo.
3.Anyway, back to my regularly scheduled thoughts, before all this quarterback stuff threw me off.
I've been thinking back to the 2016 NFL Draft a lot recently, especially as it pertains to Ezekiel Elliott. Go back to April, and I think it's fair to say that the vast majority of people were on board with the Cowboys' mindset – a dynamic runner behind this offensive line, with these weapons in place, could only mean good things.
So far that's proven to be true. But I can't help but remember the critics who pointed out that, with this collection of talent in place, this team shouldn't have needed a No. 4 overall pick to find production at running back.
"After all," they'd say, "Darren McFadden ran for 1,089 yards behind this line last year."
Honestly, I think there's a point there. Elliott has been fantastic, but I have no problem believing the run game would be productive with McFadden, or Alfred Morris, toting the rock.
But I do think you're probably selling Zeke short with that fact. And I did some research to prove my point.
4.Darren McFadden took over as the starting running back in Week 7 of last year. He finished the season with 239 carries for 1,089 yards. If you take out his first five games as a backup, he ran for 960 yards in 11 weeks – an average of 87 yards per game.
The veteran back was adequate-to-good during this stretch. He ran for 152 yards in a loss to the Giants, and he went for 100 yards or more five times on the year. If you adjust his stats for a full season, you're likely talking about a 1,396-yard campaign.
You can clearly get the job done with that type of production. But then, take a look at Elliott's rookie season. He's averaging a healthy 4.7 yards per carry, and he's on pace for 1,874 yards – which would be a new rookie record.
Adjust the stats for just the past four games, and the jump is crazy. Zeke is currently averaging 143 yards per game for an absurd average of 5.9 yards per carry. He's got five touchdowns in six games, which is more than McFadden scored in all of 2015.
[embeddedad0]5.Advanced stats paint a fun portrait, as well. According to Pro Football Focus, McFadden had just 34 carries last season where he managed three or more yards after contact.
In his most recent outing against the Packers' No. 1 rush defense, PFF said Elliott picked up 98 of his 157 yards after contact – which is pretty staggering, given the Packers' success to that point.
There's also the matter of Zeke's big-play ability, as his 60-yard touchdown against Cincinnati went 10 yards farther than any McFadden run of 2015.
Bottom-line: This offense would be fine with a lesser running back at the helm. It's humming this nicely because Zeke is a special talent.
I would almost never advocate for a team to take a running back with a top five pick. In this circumstance, it looks like a pretty smart call.
6.Speaking of McFadden, I know you're all very curious about whether the Cowboys could use him as trade bait to upgrade their playoff-contending team.
No disrespect to Run DMC, but I just don't see it. McFadden is 29 years old and has a decade worth of NFL mileage on him. He also hasn't practiced since June, when he broke his elbow and wound up in the predicament he's currently in.
I honestly don't think the Cowboys would get much for him – if anything at all.
With that in mind, I think the smarter strategy is to hold on to him. He's not costing them a roster spot, and they have a three-week window to decide what to do with him once he starts practicing. As Ronald Leary showed us earlier this season, you never know when your depth will be tested.
7.I don't need to tell you any more about how big this game is. Cowboys-Eagles, NFC East rivalry, Dak vs. Wentz, division lead on the line, Sunday Night Football.
But that last bit stands out to me the most. I don't remember when it happened, but I feel like it's a relatively new phenomenon for Sunday night to stand alone above the rest of the NFL.
Do you know what the Monday Night Football game is? It's 5-1 Minnesota vs. 1-6 Chicago. That's just gross, man.
I used to feel like Monday night was *the *night in professional football. ESPN's tagline even says it: "No other night is Monday night."
It sure doesn't feel like it.
Want to know what next week's Sunday night matchup is? Another clash of divisional leaders – a historical grudge match with huge implications: Broncos-Raiders.
What's the Monday night game? Bill-Seahawks. Meh.
I don't know if it's a conscientious decision by the NFL or just circumstances, but it's the truth – Sunday night is king, and it's not even close.
8.Past results are not an indicator of future success, but I sure am interested to see how Dez Bryant performs against his old friends, the Eagles.
Did you know that in nine career games against Philadelphia, Bryant has averaged five catches for 86 yards and a touchdown? The raw math on that is 49 total catches for 775 yards and eight scores in nine career games against the Birds.
Everybody should remember the six-catch, 114-yard, three-touchdown night against the Eagles in 2014, when the Cowboys essentially clinched the division. Even in an abysmal 2015 season, Dez still managed one of the best touchdowns of his career with his leaping, Hail Mary effort in the end zone.
How about this: the last time Dez was held below 50 yards in a game against Philly was Oct. 30, 2011 – the first time he ever played them.
9.I'm going to temporarily retire the Myles Jack Watch for a quick sec, until something a bit more interesting happens.
Instead, I'm just going to focus on the quirkiness of the draft. If you followed our draft coverage on DallasCowboys.com, you should have known the name Jay Ajayi long before he broke out with back-to-back 200-yard games for Miami.
Ajayi was a draft nerd favorite to replace DeMarco Murray in the Cowboys' backfield, as he was widely considered one of the next-best running backs in the 2015 class after the duo of Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon.
I vividly remember thinking that the No. 27 pick was too high to take Ajayi, but that it was unlikely he'd fall all the way to the Cowboys' second-round pick at No. 60.
Unfortunately for Ajayi, an issue in his knee terrified a wide variety of NFL teams, including the Cowboys. He fell from being a potential first-round pick to the fifth round, finally going to the Dolphins at pick No. 149.
Obviously, things worked out well for the Cowboys, since they currently employee perhaps the only running back in the league who's rolling harder than Ajayi. But it's interesting to think about what might have been – especially given that the Cowboys currently practice just seven miles from Ajayi's old high school.
10.My picks have been going especially well this month, which can only mean the big letdown is coming.
Can't stop, won't stop:
TENNESSEE over Jacksonville
Cincinnati over Washington (London)
INDIANAPOLIS over Kansas City
Oakland over TAMPA BAY
Seattle over NEW ORLEANS
Detroit over HOUSTON
CLEVELAND over New York Jets
New England over BUFFALO
CAROLINA over Arizona
DENVER over San Diego
Green Bay over ATLANTA
Minnesota over CHICAGO