Writer's Blocks: The Earl-ephant In The Room


FRISCO, Texas – I'm stealing a line from my colleague Nick Eatman today, but I really think it holds true in this situation.

Good NFL teams build momentum when they have the opportunity. You've got to stack wins if you want to have a chance at the tournament in January.

Obviously, there are a lot of ways to do that. If you're going to go on an 11-game win streak at any point during the season, it probably doesn't matter whether you win in Week 3. Actually, forget the miraculous 2016 season and turn it back to 2014. After an 0-1 start, those Cowboys won six games in a row, including an epic road win in Seattle. They also capped off the season with a four-game win streak to capture the NFC East crown.

But what about the other seasons? They feel like ancient history, but think back to Jason Garrett's back-to-back-to-back 8-8 campaigns. Those teams had so many opportunities to stack wins and blew them.

In 2011, they gave it a real go. They won four games in a row in November, jumping out to a 7-4 record. They followed that up by swooning in December to finish out of the playoffs.

The 2012 team was a hot and cold group. They traded wins and losses for the first six weeks of the season. Then, they traded winning streaks and losing streaks all the way to a .500 finish. The 2013 team was similar in that they were either at or below .500 for most of the season. Every time that had a chance to stack a win, it didn't work out.

I don't mean to sound dramatic this early in the season, but this feels like a big opportunity for a playoff-caliber team. The Seattle Seahawks are not quite as talented as they've been in recent years, and they're also dealing with a boatload of injuries. Winning on the road in the NFL is hard, but this is a game that a good team should win.

Whether or not the Cowboys win will tell us a lot about them. If they can win, they return home to play two of their next three games at AT&T Stadium with a chance to make some hay. If they lose, they fall back below .500 and the timeline to stack wins pushes back to October.

It is only one game, and it's only September. Again, I'm not trying to be dramatic. But good team tend to stack wins. Let's see if the Cowboys can.

Aside from that, here's some other stuff on my mind this week:

1. I could give a dissertation on Tuesday's photo of the Cowboys' pass rushers – aka The Hot Boyz.

I have looked at this photo 500 times since DeMarcus Lawrence posted it to his Instagram account on Tuesday morning, and every time I have found something new to laugh at.

There's defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, just chilling in the middle of all his guys, most likely clueless about why he's making those hand signs. There's Lawrence himself, who has the most hilarious grin on his face as the leader of this band of misfits.

On the lowest of keys, it's hilarious how newly-signed defensive tackle Adolphus Washington is hanging in the back. He just got to Dallas on Tuesday morning, and he's taking a team photo with a bunch of guys he doesn't know, who have been building this culture for months. No wonder he's not smiling.

Obviously, though, Sean Lee is the scene-stealer here. As recently as Sunday night, Lee joked that he didn't think it was fair that Jaylon Smith was an honorary member of The Hot Boys and he was not.

"It's an issue. I'm campaigning for myself," Lee said. "I'm trying to get rush clips of myself and send it to the D-Line room."

Clearly, his campaign worked. Off on the right side of the photo, looking very much like he doesn't know what to do with his hands, we've got Sean Lee. That proud smirk of accomplishment just kills me. He made it.

Hopefully, this new aggressive mindset will help Lee as much as it has helped everyone else. You can't deny his nose for the football, not to mention his natural ability for playmaking.

He only has 2.5 sacks in his career, both of them from the 2015 season. If he's a Hot Boy, though, maybe that's about to change.

2. The fun thing about being a reporter is getting to the bottom of important issues like that.

So that's what I did. While he was wrapping up his weekly media session on Wednesday, I asked Taco Charlton how Lee wound up in the Hot Boyz team photo. To hear it from the second-year pass rusher, it sounds like Lee didn't even ask.

To be fair, if you're a first-team All-Pro and a team captain, maybe you don't have to.

"I think he low-key might've just slipped in and we were like, 'Alright, that's cool, that's fine,'" Charlton said. "But that's General Lee right there. He's the captain. He makes everything run smoothly and he helps us out tremendously. We always say he was affiliated with us. He keeps trying to join -- we'll say he's affiliated with us."

I also asked Taco how he, the inventor of the name "Hot Boyz" wound up off to the side of the team photo, while DeMarcus Lawrence took center stage. He just laughed and said Lawrence likes the attention.

3. I might as well keep it with The Hot Boyz for a second.

I wrote last week that Lawrence & Co. had a big opportunity to take over that game against the Giants, and I was right for a change. Yay for me, sometimes I'm not a total moron.

Well, let's carry it forward. Throw on the tape of this Seattle offense, and you've got to love the Cowboys' chances for more disruption. The Seahawks cannot protect Russell Wilson. Their right guard situation is tenuous at best, while left guard Ethan Pocic and right tackle Germain Ifedi have struggled through the first two games of the year.

It might get even worse this week, as starting center Justin Britt may be out with a shoulder injury. If he can't go, his likely replacement is third-year veteran Joey Hunt, who has one career start to his name.

No pressure, Hot Boys, but for the third-straight week, you are the Cowboys' best advantage in trying to get a win. Russell Wilson is going to be tougher to sack than Eli Manning, but it can be done.

4. It's strange to think that we're finally putting a face on this entire, bizarre Earl Thomas situation.

What I mean by that is simply that this whole thing has felt so removed and vague. From the time Thomas left Dallas last Christmas, after he famously told Jason Garrett "Come get me," he's been basically invisible – as far as the Cowboys are concerned.

Dallas and Seattle are 2,100 miles apart. And on top of that, Thomas hasn't even been present with the Seahawks until the last two weeks, choosing instead to hold out while searching for a new contract. The only visibility we've seen from the guy are his consistent, cryptic Instagram posts.

It's not a coincidence that I started calling Earl Thomas "He Who Must Not Be Named" back during the spring. Yeah, call me a Harry Potter dork if you want to. I don't care.

But that's what it reminds me of. Much like his Harry Potter counterpart, Thomas has kind of loomed over this entire offseason without ever actually playing a role.

And now he's here. He'll be playing against the Cowboys on Sunday, and he'll assuredly have words with Garrett, with his former coach Kris Richard and with plenty of Cowboys players.

Thomas kicked this whole thing off with some off-the-cuff comments outside the Cowboys' locker room. I wonder if he's got anything planned for an encore?

5. I feel a couple types of ways about Pete Carroll's comments on the Earl Thomas situation this week.

To some extent, I get it. Carroll was bound to get asked about that incident with his star safety this week, and it's not exactly an easy position to be in. I sympathize with the fact that you can't exactly speak your mind on the issue.

That doesn't mean I'm buying his explanation for Thomas' comments to Garrett last December.

"It was kind of innocently done," Carroll said. "I sat with him right as he came back out of there. He didn't realize that it was going to have a big impact. He was having fun with the win and all that."

Part of me agrees. I'd be willing to bet that Thomas didn't realize there was a hoard of reporters recording his interaction with Jason Garrett. I'd also be willing to bet that players and coaches say stuff like this to each other all the time when there aren't cameras around.

Think about it logically. There's a lot at stake in the NFL and these guys care deeply about winning – but this is still a job for them. All over this country, people meet up with their friends after work and say stuff like: "Man, y'all sound like you've got it figured out. Maybe I need to try to get a job over there."

But that's why I can't completely accept Carroll's explanation, either. The comment could have been a joke between two competitors that wasn't supposed to be overheard. But it never would've been said at all if everything in Seattle was peachy. And with Thomas holding out for the entire offseason, clearly that's not the case.

6. Special thanks to the Pittsburgh Steelers for handling all the drama in the early going of this 2018 season.

Between Le'Veon Bell's holdout, his teammates' anger with him, the Steelers' frustration at starting 0-1-1 and now Antonio Brown's mysterious Monday disappearance, I can't keep track of it all. Even watching the news cycle from across the country is exhausting.

Trust me, though, as someone who covers the Cowboys, I can relate. It doesn't feel like so long ago that we were talking about everything but football with this team – and that's because it was only 12 months ago. I think 2017 is the least amount of fun I've ever had being around a football team, whether it was the drama surrounding Ezekiel Elliott's long-lingering suspension or the dozen other storylines that followed the Cowboys around.

Drama is going to come in some form or fashion. I remember 2014, when Morris Claiborne left the practice facility because he was upset about getting benched. I remember when Dez Bryant no-showed on his MRI.

Isolated incidents are one thing. But it's a special kind of exhausting when seemingly everything is falling apart at once. I have nothing against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but for once I'm happy it's someone else besides the Cowboys.

7. Just like the Cowboys' offense, I'm slowly improving.

I was horrendous in Week 1. I was better, but certainly not good in Week 2. Hopefully things are trending in the right direction.

BROWNS (-3) over New York Jets

FALCONS (-3) over Saints

CHIEFS (-6.5) over 49ers

DOLPHINS (-3) over Raiders

VIKINGS (-16.5) over Bills

Colts (+6.5) over EAGLES

Packers (-3) over REDSKINS

PANTHERS (-3) over Bengals


Broncos (+5.5) over RAVENS

TEXANS (-6) over Giants

Chargers (+7) over RAMS

Bears (-6) over CARDINALS

Patriots (-7) over LIONS

Steelers (-1) over BUCCANEERS


SEASON: 10-21-1