Five Wonders: The Cowboys at the bye

IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys welcome the bye week this week, but Five Wonders never sleeps.

At 5-5, the Cowboys find themselves in a familiar position. This week we wonder why.

On to the wonders:

• I wonder if the Cowboys are gassed. They had been going at it since July 21 when they reported to training camp without a multi-day break. They started before everybody because of the Hall of Fame Game and the only teams with their bye week after the Cowboys are Buffalo, Cincinnati, Philadelphia and Seattle. If you’re looking for a bright spot, they will have the benefit of a quasi-bye after the Thanksgiving game against Oakland. That 11-day break could help boost the reserve on top of the bye week this week. They are about to play three games in 16-day span, but if they can manage to get through this stretch in decent fashion -- and 2-1 may be better than decent -- then they would stand to benefit with two of their last three games at home. But it sure does seem like they’ll be fighting for the division in Week 17 for a third straight year with the Eagles coming to AT&T Stadium on Dec. 29. They lost the last two to the New York Giants and Washington Redskins but would at least get this game at home. Of course, the Eagles are 5-1 away from home this year.

• I wonder how the Cowboys figure out how to slow down opposing offenses over the final six games. The Saints took the ball the long way against the Cowboys with three scoring drives of at least 80 yards. Two other scoring drives were 75 and 78 yards. They took the ball the short way with four scoring drives that lasted 2:30 or less. The Cowboys could not make them pick a poison. And they have had a hard time making anybody pick a poison. They have given up 16 scoring drives of at least 80 yards and 15 scoring drives that have lasted 2:30 or less. Whatever the Cowboys have tried, it has not worked. They have proven they can die a slow death, so to speak, and a quick death. With the bye week here Monte Kiffin will have to figure out something.

• I wonder how the Cowboys figure out how to move the ball against opposing defenses over the final six games. They just are not efficient enough to do what the Saints did. They make mistakes at the wrong times. James Hanna’s false start in the third quarter turned a third and 1 into a third and 6, which led to a Dan Bailey field goal. Tony Romo was late on a third-and-2 throw to Cole Beasley that allowed for a pass breakup late in the second quarter. The Saints drove 75 yards in 48 seconds to put the game away with a touchdown and 28-10 lead. With a sliver of hope (what’s smaller than a sliver?) after Terrance Williams’ touchdown made it 35-17 and a recovery of an on-side kick, Romo was forced into an intentional grounding to set up a third-and-21 situation. There aren’t a lot of plays for third and 21. The Cowboys right now don’t have much to hang their hat on offensively. They can’t get the ball deep because the protection doesn’t hold up. They’re not creative enough to get Dez Bryant or Jason Witten free based on scheme. They can’t run the ball consistently enough. I’m not sure a bye week is enough time to solve the issues.

• I wonder how Jason Garrett approaches his team. He has been nothing but consistent since taking over. He truly believes in “being great today,” and “stacking good days together,” which is part of the “process.” But I wonder if it runs the risk of players rolling their eyes if they hear about continuing to work hard and pounding the rock, so to speak. He seems to loathe global views of things during the season, but this seems to be the perfect time to take a global view. At 5-5, the Cowboys are at a crossroads with a ton of injuries and some serious doubts about what they can do on offense and defense. Garrett can stick to his core beliefs, but also understand that what he has done is not working. Ultimately he will be the one to pay the price if Jerry Jones makes a coaching move after the season. Is he willing to be bold? He was a member of the Giants when Jim Fassel guaranteed his team would make the playoffs. “If this is a poker game, I’m shoving my chips to the middle of the table,” Fassel said in 2000. “I’m raising the ante. Anybody wants in, get in. Anybody wants out, get out, OK? This team is going to the playoffs.” Would Garrett ever consider doing something like that publicly?

• Since this is Five Wonders, I have to wonder if the Cowboys are paying for the sins of bad drafts. OK, I know this, but I’m sticking with the theme of the post. The Cowboys have one player left from the 2008 draft (Orlando Scandrick), nobody left from the 2009 draft and two players left from the 2010 draft (Dez Bryant, Sean Lee). Lee will be missing for the next 3-4 weeks because of a hamstring injury. The only members of the 2012 draft class to play against New Orleans were Kyle Wilber and Hanna. Morris Claiborne missed the game with an injury. Tyrone Crawford and Matt Johnson are out for the year with injuries. The list is skewed because players from the 2008-09 drafts would have played out their rookie contracts, but of the 18 picks they found only one worthy of keeping long-term. As a result the depth of the roster is depleted and they have to go with fill-ins (Ernie Sims, the cast of characters off the street on the defensive line) and untested young players (Jeff Heath, B.W. Webb, Micah Pellerin). That’s the way of the NFL. Every team is confined by the salary cap, but it’s also why drafting is so important.