IRVING, Texas – It’s on to the next one, and the next one being Cincinnati. Plenty of things to wonder about as we get ready to see old friends like Terence Newman, Mike Zimmer and Adam Jones this Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.
** Jerry Jones said he was hopeful but realistic when addressing the Cowboys’ playoff chances the rest of the way. I wonder if he will be realistic and honest about the composition of the roster at the end of the season. If the Cowboys fail to make the playoffs -- or even if they do qualify by a whisker -- he cannot look at a handful of plays and say, “We’re close.” He did that last offseason and has been convinced for far too long this team is close. Close to what? My belief is that every team is 8-8 at the start of the season and with good breaks you go 10-6 and bad breaks you go 6-10. Jones can’t live on the what ifs of Dan Bailey’s missed field goal at Baltimore and Dez Bryant’s fingertips hitting out of bounds as a reason for optimism. There are too many people inside the building at Valley Ranch willing to tell the truth about a roster that could be blown up to a large degree this offseason. Can Jones, who is now 70, bear himself to make difficult decisions on players he likes and believes can win?
** I asked defensive coordinator Rob Ryan last Friday about why he just doesn’t use cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne in press coverage almost on every snap. I saw Miami do that with corners Patrick Surtain and Sam Madison in the early 2000s and eat up receivers. Ryan mentioned the league rules favoring offensive players as a reason why they don’t do it more. OK, makes sense. But I wonder why the Cowboys invested $50 million in Carr and moved up to the No. 6 overall pick in Claiborne? The rules didn’t change in the offseason. The Cowboys should live with aggressive mistakes on the outside with illegal contact and holding penalties because the way it is going right now is not working. Maybe Carr is banged up, but he’s not on the injury report. Maybe the Cowboys worry about Claiborne’s confidence, but they say that’s not a problem for him. It’s not too late. By playing off and soft as much as they are, the Cowboys are not helping the pass rush. Force the receivers to make a move off the line and then the pass rush is better. The way Ryan is playing his corners is further proof that a pass rush makes a secondary and not the other way around.
** Kevin Ogletree is about to enter the final four games as a Cowboy. Barring something unforeseen, I can’t see the Cowboys signing him to a new deal as an unrestricted free agent, even if he remains a favorite of Jason Garrett and John Garrett, his college coach. I wonder why he remains the No. 3 receiver when there is no future. Ogletree returned Sunday from a concussion suffered against Cleveland and resumed his normal role with Dwayne Harris and Cole Beasley mixing in. Ogletree has taken too much heat for the offense’s woes. As the No. 3 receiver, he is the fifth option at times in the passing game, but wouldn’t it serve the Cowboys more to develop Harris and Beasley or mix in newcomer Anthony Armstrong in the final month? Harris is showing he can be counted on as a playmaker. Beasley has a niche role in the slot. The Cowboys like Armstrong’s speed, which they could use to stretch things more outside in three-wide packages.
** While I’m wondering about the future, I wonder about Jay Ratliff’s with the team. He’s missed as many games as he has played this season because of ankle and groin injuries. He turns 32 in August and barring a major change in the final four games his sack total will go down for the fifth straight season. This is one of the difficult decisions potentially for Jones. Ratliff has been to four straight Pro Bowls but that streak will end this year. He has been one of the best late-round picks in team history. But this team has real cap issues and it is hard to justify a $7 million cap figure. The Cowboys would save $1 million against the cap with a straight release or $5 million with a June 1 release and carry over four million in dead money in 2014. With the way Josh Brent has played (at a much, much cheaper price) I wonder if the Cowboys head down this direction and look in the draft for a bigger nose tackle or go to a stop-gap measure in free agency.
** I wonder if the replacement refs will end up hurting the Cowboys by the time the season ends. The Hail Mary touchdown pass from Seattle’s Russell Wilson to Golden Tate against Green Bay looms large in the Cowboys’ wild-card hopes. That’s why the Seahawks’ win in Chicago on Sunday was hurtful to Dallas. They need Seattle to lose games, especially with the head-to-head loss in Week 2. In effect 7-5 Seattle has a two-game lead on the Cowboys with four to play. Had the replacement refs, which Jones showed much love to during their work, gotten the call right, then the Seahawks would not be in such a good postseason position in the final month. If cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner end up suspended, that will help the Cowboys as well. Of course, it’s all moot if the Cowboys don’t win their remaining games.