IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys believe Matt Cassel is the right quarterback for them right now as they get ready to take on the New York Giants. They don’t wonder. That’s why they made the change from Brandon Weeden.
But we’re wondering a lot of things after their bye week. Five of them to be exact.
Away we go:
** The Cowboys took away any drama at quarterback last week by going ahead and naming Cassel the starter. It was a smart move to end the nonsense that can envelope that position when a team makes a change. Some teams will try to play a game in that scenario, but Jason Garrett didn’t. He also made a change at left guard. I found it interesting that he didn’t make a change at running back. Maybe it means Joseph Randle will still be the “starter.” (Yes, the quotation marks are on purpose.) Or maybe the Cowboys want to keep the Giants guessing as to whether Randle or Christine Michael will be the starting running back. When Garrett has talked about preparing for a team with an injured quarterback, he often talks about preparing for a scheme, not the player. I wonder if there is a difference at running back where runners have different styles. Michael has different strengths than Randle, and those strengths mean different plays. Will Michael start against New York? As the week goes on we’ll get a better idea, but in a week full of changes, Garrett stopped short at running back.
** Coaches hate the term “must-win” in the NFL. I get it. You don’t want to put too much on one game, lose and then not have anywhere to go after that. I realize it’s only mid-October, but I wonder if the Cowboys are in “must-win” mode this week against the Giants, if not for the math involved later in the year in making the playoffs, but for the general mood of the team. The easiest way to make the playoffs is to win the division. With a win against the Giants, the Cowboys would have a season sweep and hold an important tiebreaker. At some point they’ll have to win some games outside the division, but winning Sunday would be a huge boost.
** I wonder if everybody needs to be reminded that the defense gave up 30 points to the New England Patriots. Yes, they sacked Tom Brady five times in the first half, but in the second half Brady missed on one pass and threw two touchdown passes. So whatever worked in the first half didn’t work in the second half. Are their positives to take? Sure, but I felt like too many people glossed over the second half when talking about the improvement. This is still a defense searching for itself, and they need to put together a full game.
** I wonder if the lack of interceptions has something to do with scheme more than personnel. Despite the tag Rod Marinelli has as a Tampa 2 defensive coordinator, the Cowboys have mostly played Cover 1 this season, having corners Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne play man to man. It’s more difficult to get takeaways when your eyes are not on the quarterback. In zone, the corners play with their eyes on the quarterback. In man, they have to chase all over the field. Defending pick routes is nearly impossible, as we’ve seen the last couple of games. The Cowboys are playing to the strengths of their corners by going with more man looks. But it’s just something to keep in mind about the lack of interceptions.
** When the Cowboys drafted James Hanna in the sixth round of the 2012 draft, he was known as a pass-catching threat. He ran a 4.4 40-yard dash that brought promises of mismatches. It’s never really happened for Hanna in the passing game, but I wonder if the Cowboys miss him as a blocker in the run game. He has missed two games with knee and ankle injuries. Gavin Escobar is not as good a blocker as Hanna. Last year in the wide zone scheme, Jason Witten and Hanna played big parts in how well the Cowboys ran the ball. Opposing defenses have had better answers for the Cowboys’ run game this year, but having Hanna back on the field will certainly help.