IRVING, Texas -- After four days in the Bahamas, I’m back wondering five things as the Cowboys prepare to head to Arizona on Sunday with the NFC East lead.
** Now that Jacksonville has started the ball rolling on the head coaching vacancies by canning Jack Del Rio, we’ll see just how hot a name Rob Ryan will be. The Cowboys defensive coordinator figures to be on the top of a few lists. I don’t see Jacksonville as his destination. For some reason, I wonder about Miami. But that’s not what this wonder is about. I’m wondering about Ryan’s replacement at defensive coordinator if he gets a head coaching job. I wonder if Matt Eberflus, the linebackers coach whom Ryan called the “DeMarcus Ware” of coaches in camp, would remain with the team or go with Ryan. Say he goes to Miami, the name to look for his Dolphins defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. He runs the 3-4. He has an excellent background and I’d say he put on a pretty decent performance on Thanksgiving against the Cowboys. That defense is stout and playing awfully well right now.
** When the Cowboys played at Washington a couple of weeks ago I made reference to all of the wacky things that seem to happen at FedEx Field when they play the Redskins. And the Cowboys’ 27-24 win was another wacky affair. Now they had to University of Phoenix Stadium and their last two trips to the desert have been wacky affairs, leading me to wonder what wacky thing will happen Sunday. Do you remember the 2008 trip there? The Cowboys lose in overtime on a blocked punt that was scooped up for a touchdown. On the play Mat McBriar broke his foot. On the play prior to the punt, Tony Romo fractured his pinky finger. He missed three games and the Cowboys missed the playoffs by a game. That injury led more to the Cowboys missing the playoffs than any talk of poor chemistry, lack of leadership. Last year, David Buehler missed a point after attempt gave Dallas a 26-24 lead after Stephen McGee hit Miles Austin with a late TD pass. The Cards won it on a Jay Feely field goal with five seconds left. A missed PAT?
** Is it too early to wonder about playoff seeding? Probably, but who cares? Let’s concede homefield advantage through the postseason to undefeated Green Bay. Right now the Cowboys are the No. 4 seed behind San Francisco and New Orleans. If that holds and the Cowboys win a wild-card game, then they’d go to Green Bay for the second round of the playoffs with visions of last year’s 45-7 defeat at Lambeau Field in their head. They are a game back of the Saints for the No. 3 seed and you’d rather be the No. 3 seed heading to San Francisco in the divisional round than Green Bay. The Niners would seem to have the inside track on the No. 2 seed with games remaining against St. Louis (two), Arizona, Pittsburgh and Seattle. Maybe they lose to the Steelers. The Saints have Detroit, Tennessee (away), Minnesota (away), Atlanta and Carolina. New Orleans is a different team on the road so let’s say they lose to Minnesota and the Cowboys win out so both teams finish 12-4. That would give the Cowboys the No. 3 seed based on conference record and a return trip to Candlestick.
** I wonder if we saw the plan for Dez Bryant’s involvement in the return game last Thursday. When the Cowboys absolutely, positively needed to have a big punt return late in the fourth quarter against Miami, Bryant picked up 20 yards, which was the third-longest punt return the Cowboys had this year. As a result they started at their 36 instead of being pinned inside the 20 and were able to get into field goal range quickly. He is too valuable on offense to handle the job on a full-time basis, but what happened on Thanksgiving is the perfect happy medium.
** The Cowboys made a play for Kyle Orton and lost out to Kansas City on the waiver bid, but that doesn’t mean their search for a quarterback is over. I wonder if the Cowboys continue to look for a No. 3 quarterback. The dalliance with Orton should tell you Jon Kitna’s back injury is severe, even if coach Jason Garrett has hope in the veteran’s return. If the Cowboys were awarded Orton, Kitna would have been put on injured reserve. Plain and simple. So where do you look for QB help now? You’ve seen some vets like Jake Delhomme, Jeff Garcia and Trent Edwards get some workouts recently. Maybe they go there. But I wouldn’t rule out looking at practice squad quarterbacks either. Provided each team had up-to-date rosters on their Web sites, nine have quarterbacks on their practice squad: Pat Devlin (Miami), Zac Robinson (Cincinnati), Adam Weber (Denver), Drew Willy (San Diego), Ryan Perrilloux (NY Giants), Jonathan Crompton (Washington), Graham Harrell (Green Bay), John Parker Wilson (Atlanta) and Rudy Carpenter (Tampa Bay). Of all the names, Carpenter makes some sense since he was with the Cowboys in training camp in 2009 and spent time on their practice squad before jumping to the Buccaneers.