By Matthew Postins
Last week doesn’t matter anymore. To be honest, last week didn’t matter before last week. Sure, the Dallas Cowboys proved they could play with anyone in the NFL. Sure the Dallas defense leaked like a sieve once again. Sure Tony Romo made another soul-crushing mistake.
But last week didn’t matter then and it doesn’t matter now. In fact, this week, and the week after, mattered more than last week before last week even started.
That’s because once again the Dallas Cowboys face an opportunity to separate themselves from the rest of the NFC East. The question is whether or not they will take advantage of that opportunity this weekend when they play the Washington Redskins.
Throughout the early part of 2013 season the NFC East has been borderline pathetic. Up until last weekend, when the Cowboys lost to Denver, the Cowboys were the only NFC East team at .500 or better. Now, every NFC East team is under .500 and the Cowboys are in a first-place tie with Philadelphia at 2-3.
Yes, hindsight does kick you in the head when you look back. Imagine where the Cowboys might be right now had they beaten Kansas City. Or beaten San Diego. Or beaten Denver. They lost those games by a combined 13 points.
They might be 3-2 or 4-1 or even, perish the thought, undefeated. At any rate had they won at least one of those three AFC West games the Cowboys would be above .500 and would have at least a game lead on the Eagles in the NFC East.
OK, so maybe they mattered just a little. But the Cowboys cannot afford to lose either of the next two games. It’s a matter of the playoffs and it’s a matter of growing as a team.
The Cowboys have been a mediocre team since Jason Garrett took over as head coach. In fact Garrett’s record as a head coach is just one game over .500. For them to rise above this mediocre tone and become the playoff team that their owner and general manager, Jerry Jones, believes they can become, they must start to take advantage of these opportunities to separate themselves from the rest of the division.
And that begins Sunday night against the Redskins who come to town with problems of their own.
Robert Griffin III doesn’t quite look like himself. Even though the Redskins are considered a Top 10 offense Griffin is not running the way he ran last year. Remember last year when Griffin ran all over the Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day? Well that Griffin doesn’t exist right now in the Redskins’ read option offense. Griffin has less than 100 yards rushing in the Redskins’ first four games of the season. And while he still throwing the ball effectively, the value added that is his ability to run the football is lacking in this offense.
The question is whether that helps or hurts the Cowboys Sunday night. I mean, they seem to be stopping the run. But teams are torching the Cowboys through the air. The fact that Griffin looks a little more one-dimensional right now could play into the hands of Cowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin — if Kiffin finds a way to stop the big plays that have plagued the Cowboys defense the past two weeks. Unfortunately most of those big plays have come through the air and Griffin has a solid arm and the ability to beat teams deep with wide receivers like Pierre Garçon and Santana Moss.
The Cowboys have all the weapons they need on offense, and that includes an improving offensive line, to stay in the hunt in the NFC East. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves and say the Cowboys are anything more than that right now. But they could certainly win the division, and winning the division is the easiest path to the postseason.
And the right set of circumstances exist right now for Dallas to get a leg up on everyone. The NFC East is terrible. The Cowboys, oddly enough, seem to be the team with the fewest questions in this division, and that’s saying something. The Eagles are still feeling their way through Chip Kelly’s new offense and are without Michael Vick. The Redskins are waiting for RGIII to be start playing like, well, RGIII. The Giants are, well, perhaps the worst team in football right now that has a Super Bowl championship quarterback.
Sunday’s game, plus the game after that in Philadelphia, represents a chance for this team to show they can grow into the consistent football team Garrett has wanted them to be for the past two-plus years. Wins in those two games allow the Cowboys to regain the driver’s seat in the NFC East near the season’s midway point.
Anything less represents a failure for a team that appears hard-pressed to accept good luck when it comes its way.