The spin doctor himself
The 2012 NFL season is a quarter over and the Dallas Cowboys are not sitting pretty with a 2-2 record. The Cowboys are also set to embark on a tough five-game stretch that includes a road game this weekend against the Baltimore Ravens, followed by a visit to Carolina, before returning home to face a New York Giants team looking to serve a cold dish of revenge.
The season started out in grand, optimistic fashion with a victory over the Giants, but suddenly it's hard to connect the Cowboys with any sense of optimism. The growing sentiment amongst the fanbase is that the next five games could be the beginning of the proverbial wheels falling off the bus.
Is it panic time? Have the Cowboys been exposed for what their true identity really is? The answer to both of those questions is quite possibly yes. Mediocrity has been a terminal illness that has clouded this franchise for over 15 years, but there seems to be no end in sight.
The offensive line can't block, the running game is stuck in park, the passing game has been marked with inconsistency and the Cowboys are at the bottom of the pack, collectively, as an offensive unit. The defense has held their own and, at times, is the only reason why the Cowboys are even 2-2.
This team is riddled with disappointment after such a promising start to this season. From the debacle in Seattle, to the comedy of mental errors against Tampa Bay, to single-handedly getting owned by Jay Cutler, the Cowboys are left to pick up the pieces and do some soul-searching.
But let's recap a few of these disappointments before we move forward. The next phase of this season is paramount to any chance the Cowboys have of making the playoffs and maybe in a few weeks, these disappointments will be the reason for renewed optimism.
Romo enters the Baltimore game with 1,148 yards passing, five touchdowns, eight interceptions and a 78.5 quarterback rating. It's a little unfair to place all the blame on his shoulders, but is this a sign of a little regression? If it is, then this team is in some serious trouble.
Tony Romo is usually his harshest critic and he is ultra-competitive, but sometimes it just looks like he is pressing and trying to do too much.
But in his defense, the lack of a running game is clearly making this offense one-dimensional. The poor offensive line play has him running for his life and not able to have a clean pocket, but he simply needs to improve his play.
I'm all for letting Tony Romo be Tony Romo but at 2-2, this team has officially run out of wiggle room.
The upside to Romo is that he's never short on effort, he battles hard and you can't take that away from him. He needs to take a breath and just do his job. If the offense can start functioning more efficiently as a unit, it will take some much-needed pressure off his shoulders.
Coming out of training camp and even before it started, this season was supposed to be Bryant's coming-out party. How has he responded? By catching 21 passes for 269 yards and zero touchdowns through four games.
Against Chicago, he had a major miscommunication with Tony Romo that resulted in a pick-six, and his multiple drops didn't exactly make anyone feel warm and fuzzy.
At times, his talent is undeniable and you ask yourself, why isn't he dominating the game? He has size, speed, athleticism and that aura that often surrounds a special athlete, but he just can't put it all together on a consistent basis.
The time is now for Bryant to really help this offense with the type of impact that he's capable of providing.
Whether it's helping to establish good field position in the return game or just hanging onto a slant route on a crucial third down, it doesn't always have to be about the home run; it just has to be about efficiency and doing the little things.
His future as a Cowboy greatly hinges on this season.
So far through four games, Butler has five tackles and a fumble recovery. With DeMarcus Ware at less than 100 percent and this defensive front in need of providing pressure, Butler has still been unable to make his presence felt.
He had a golden opportunity against Chicago in the absence of Anthony Spencer, but he was held sackless and failed to get after Jay Cutler.
When you watch that game over and over, the overall lack of pressure from complementary players like Butler leads me to believe that, yet again, Jerry Jones and his ability to address certain positions, have failed miserably again.
A solid performance in that game, as well as the other three, could have started some serious momentum in his bid to replace Spencer next season.
Instead, we're left to wonder if he will ever have that breakout performance and be a disruptive force for this defense.
By far the most disappointing through four games, and you just can't single out one performer. Even Tyron Smith has struggled, and that is particularly surprising.
From the false starts, to the poor protection, to the inability to establish any sort of running game since opening night, this unit needs to play better immediately. We knew Bill Callahan had his work cut out for himself, but I'm starting to think that there is a lack of talent in this area.
Certainly, this unit is capable of playing better, but how long will it take? You can preach about fixing things and correcting things, but the tangible results need to be there. And with the schedule only getting increasingly difficult, so do the matchups as well.
That starts with the Ravens this weekend. Something tells me that Callahan isn't sleeping much these days.
Yes, the secondary. Through four games, not one cornerback from a group of Morris Claiborne, Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick or Mike Jenkins has one interception. Sean Lee leads this team with a single interception and it's unacceptable.
Conversely, Tim Jennings, Charles Tillman and D.J. Moore of the Bears look like the second coming of Deion Sanders cloned three times. It's a joke!
It's time for this unit to start producing some takeaways. I'm not down on the unit for getting burned or poor play because that happens even to the best cornerbacks in this league, but zero interceptions through four games is a red flag.
It's time for this unit to start living up to its billing and start hitting some people in the mouth.
Another member of the breakout crew that has not lived up to expectations so far, Lissemore still has 19 tackles but has yet to make Marcus Spears or Kenyon Coleman expendable.
It would have been nice to see him make more plays inside with the injury to Jay Ratliff, but it just didn't show up through four games. I love his motor and he's a high-energy guy with a bright future in Dallas, but this defensive front needs more out of him.
In Rob Ryan's scheme, Lissemore's versatility should be utilized to its maximum capacity. He has the ability and as a young player, that versatility needs to become a strength for this defense.
It's time to unleash him in the same way the Houston Texans use J.J. Watt. The Cowboys still need a force along the defensive front to help Ware, and Lissemore will be counted on to do so.
For the Cowboys, having a 2-2 record is disappointing enough. You could easily spread the disappointment around even more, but doing so is pointless. It's time for an all-hands-on-deck approach from every player, coach and member of this organization. It's the only way.