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Writer's Blocks: Reasoning With Football Season


FRISCO, Texas – It's a lot easier to write a long, meandering column when you're not on a short week.

Apologies for missing Week 10. The Cowboys played on Monday night, and by the time I had regained my wits, they were kicking off against Minnesota. My bad.

I have my doubts anyone actually missed this, but I mainly do it for me anyway. So I'm just going to hop right into it. Here's a handful of stuff that's on my mind as I try – mainly in vain – to figure out how I feel about this very confusing team we've all been watching.

1. The fun thing about writing a weekly column on Thursday is that all the obvious storylines from the previous week have been beaten to death already.

If you clicked this link to read about the red zone play calling against the Vikings or the punt return that wasn't, I'm sorry to disappoint you. By Thursday morning, I just can't bring myself to do it anymore.

Teams lose games for countless different reasons, and every loss has scapegoat. Sometimes it's obvious and sometimes it's not, sometimes it's fair and sometimes it's not.

For my money, of the Cowboys' four losses to this point in the season, this latest one to the Vikings falls most squarely on the coaching staff. Whether you want to point to some of the early calls, like the missed 57-yard field goal, or the late-game miscues, the decision-making from the Dallas sideline simply wasn't good enough.

That's about as much as I can muster up the energy to say.

2. Having just said that the coaching staff had a bad game, please spare me the outrage about the coaching staff.

I'm well aware that the vast majority of Cowboys fans are fed up with Jason Garrett. My Twitter mentions are a dumpster fire after every loss, but especially so after this latest one.

Here's the thing: it sounds like abject insanity to pull the plug on a coach or a coaching staff that, despite the shortcomings, has the Cowboys on top of the division with seven games to play.

The Cowboys have yet to truly play to their potential, but the season is only half over. We learned just a year ago what they're capable of when they do it.

Do I know for sure that's going to happen? Nope. This Cowboys team has been maddeningly inconsistent.

But I'm patient enough to see what happens. There's seven weeks left in the season, and I can see it going a bunch of different ways. I can't see the value in knee-jerk decisions born out of frustration.

The next seven weeks are going to fly by. And when that's done with, we'll have a way better idea of how to feel. I promise.

3. As long as I'm being Davey Sunshine over here, I'd be happy to share with you my biggest impression from Sunday's loss – other than the gigantic difference between 6-3 and 5-4.

If I'm looking for a silver lining from the Vikings game, it's that Dak Prescott went absolutely bonkers on a night where nothing else was working.

Sunday night was only the fourth time in Ezekiel Elliott's career that he failed to rush for 50 yards. Not surprisingly, the Cowboys are 0-4 in those games.

But you know what else has happened in those games? Dak, for the most part, has not been himself. In the three other games prior to Sunday, he averaged 245 yards per outing with a passer rating of just 80. He threw three touchdowns and three interceptions across the three outings.

Sunday night, despite the lack of running game, he bombed away for 397 yards and three touchdowns. His lone interception was a Hail Mary ball, which I'm more than willing to overlook. He finished with a passer rating of 101.

And it was more than just the lack of Zeke. Dak was only sacked once by the Vikings, but he was constantly running for his life behind an offensive line that had trouble blocking Minnesota's front. Despite that, he escaped pressure after pressure and converted third down after third down. Next Gen Stats claimed after the game that he managed five of his 10 most improbable completions in the same game.

It was a loss. But you could make the argument that it was Dak's finest performance to date. It was the type of game where the quarterback elevates the play of the guys around him.

Again, it was a loss. But it should have the Cowboys feeling pretty good about the guy they having playing quarterback.

4. I can respect the narrative that's coming out this week in the wake of this loss.

There's no way to classify this Cowboys season – to this point, at least – as anything other than a disappointment. This is a team that had Super Bowl aspirations in September, and they've spent the last six weeks middling around in no man's land. It's not my intention to convince anyone they should be pumped about where the team is right now.

And yet, this quote from Zeke Elliott carries some weight to it.

"I'm not surprised. Should I be surprised? I don't know, it's the NFL. You're not going to be 12-4 every year, you're not going to be 13-3, you're not going to be 10-6 every year," he said Wednesday. "But what matters is you give yourself a chance at the end of the year in the playoffs. We're not 9-0, we're not 8-1, but we still are in the race for being in the playoffs."

It's a fair point. The Cowboys lead the division, and they probably only need three or four wins to win it – thereby guaranteeing themselves a home playoff game.

Dak doubled down on Zeke's thought process on Thursday, repeating his confidence that things will begin to click sooner or later.

"You don't want to peak too early. This is a confident group that knows we're going to peak at the right time," Prescott said. "We have all the faith and trust that we're going to get there. We're going to be accountable in doing that and handle the things we need to handle."

5. It's fair. We see it all the time in the NFL. This very team was sitting at 4-5 at this time last year. The 2011 New York Giants dabbled in mediocrity for months, with embarrassing losses dropping them to 6-5 and 7-7 at different points during the stretch run, before ultimately turning it on.

It's doable. But we have yet to see much from this Cowboys team that they're capable of it. Fortunately, there's no time like the present. None of the next six teams on the schedule look likely to hand them a victory – not even the Matthew Stafford-less Lions, who have been scrappy in every game they've played this season. If the Cowboys are going to stack wins in this stretch, they're going to have to earn it.

For their part, the Cowboys are confident they can flip that switch.

"They're going to flip, and when we get them flipped in this team – these players, the character of these men – there's no doubt it's going to go the right way," Prescott said.

Forgive me if I'm skeptical, but I'm definitely rooting for it. It'd be a heck of a story to write.