The Dallas Cowboys face the New York Giants again Sunday, just seven weeks after shocking the world by dominating the defending champions on their home turf in their primetime opener. But since then, the Giants have lost only one game (by two points), while the Cowboys have won only twice and haven't put forth a single effort to be proud of.
If Dallas can't find a way to put together another complete performance against New York, the Cowboys will find themselves buried in the playoff race before midseason has even arrived.
We'll spend quite a lot of time looking at Dallas-New York 2.0 as the week wears on. But first, here's a breakdown of where the 'Boys stand seven weeks into the season.
What They Should be Thinking
We were outgained by a pretty weak Carolina team last week and have now been held to fewer than 20 points in four of our last five games. That happened to us only four times in our first 14 games last season.
And now we're being ravaged by injuries. Our running game was terrible without DeMarco Murray Sunday, and now we might be without Felix Jones and Phil Costa, too. Defense hasn't been our problem, but that could change if Sean Lee is forced to miss time. He's been the best player on this team so far in 2012, and by a wide margin.
Under those circumstances, we'll now have to go up against two of the league's highest-powered attacks with the Giants and the Falcons on the schedule the next two weeks.
We've barely survived against bad teams like Carolina and Tampa Bay, and we've been dominated by good teams like Chicago and Seattle. If that's any indication of what's to come, we're destined to drop to 3-5, giving us little chance of getting back to the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
The Giants were actually outplayed at home by a mistake-prone and depleted Redskins team, which indicates they still aren't consistently rolling over teams. They've beaten us three straight years here in Dallas, but that just means we're due.
And none of those injuries appear to be too serious. In fact, Murray, Costa, Jones and Lee all will have a chance to play Sunday. Every team is dealing with injuries right now, and we're lucky ours aren't of the long-term variety.
We weren't really expected to go 2-0 on that tough two-game road swing through Baltimore and Charlotte, but we outplayed both teams in their respective stadiums and nearly pulled off the two-game sweep.
The best part is that we've already gotten four road games out of the way, which means six of the final 10 games on our slate come at Cowboys Stadium. We haven't been particularly good there recently, but it sure beats traveling.
Our advantage is that we know this offense can explode. It's been lethal before and it can be lethal again. In the meantime, we've survived because we have a defense that's giving up only 5.2 yards per play and 22.2 points per game. Philadelphia and us are the only two NFC teams with turnover ratios that are worse than minus-1 while still possessing .500 records. That has to mean something, right?
What I'm Thinking
Stock Rising (offense): Mackenzy Bernadeau
He played his best game of the season against the Panthers—which isn't necessarily saying a lot considering how comically bad he was to start the year, but it's still encouraging. Nate Livings continues to shine, and Costa and Ryan Cook have done a decent job at center. If Bernadeau can start to gain momentum, the interior of the offensive line will no longer be our glaring weak spot.
Stock Rising (defense): Anthony Spencer
That was one hell of a return to the lineup for Spencer, who had a sack, three hurries and two defensive stops against the Panthers, according to Pro Football Focus. The Dallas pass rush hadn't been the same without him, but they had an extra jolt in Carolina. That'll be key this week against the Giants, especially if they don't have Lee in run defense.
Stock Dropping (offense): Tyron Smith
It would be easy to go with Dez Bryant again, but Smith had a bad game against Carolina as his inconsistent debut season at left tackle continues. He gave up a team-high five hurries, moving his season total to 17. That ranks bottom-10 in the league, per PFF.
Stock Dropping (defense): Mike Jenkins
Morris Claiborne is playing well and they're too stubborn to give Brandon Carr a break. As a result, Jenkins' snap count has dropped dramatically in four consecutive weeks. It seems as though the Cowboys would like to phase him out of the defense as he heads toward free agency.
Despite all of their recent problems, all they need is one win this weekend at home and they'll trail the Giants by only one game with eight to play while also controlling the tiebreaker. It's quite possible that this is the week the Giants fall on their faces for the first time since Week 1, or that this is the game in which the Dallas offense finally wakes up.
I'm not betting that'll happen, because there are too many problems plaguing the offense right now and they sure are taking a beating from the injury bug at a bad time. But this team does have the talent and ability to pull it off.
View last week's report here