Dallas Cowboys: Progress Report Headed into Week 15

Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistDecember 11, 2012

CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 09:  Michael Johnson #93 of the Cincinnati Bengals sacks Tony Romo #9 of the Dallas Cowboys during their game at Paul Brown Stadium on December 9, 2012 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  The Cowboys defeated the Bengals 20-19.  (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)
John Grieshop/Getty Images

This is only the second time in three years that the Dallas Cowboys have been able to string together more than three wins in a five-game span. In other words, the frustratingly inconsistent Cowboys have finally found a semblance of consistency. 

Unfortunately, it might be too little too late for America's Team, especially considering how badly they've been ravaged by injuries and how difficult the schedule becomes over the final three weeks of the season. 

Here's our latest state of the union-style look at the 'Boys.


What They Should Be Thinking

Glass Half-Empty

Add Dez Bryant's name to the depressingly long list of injuries that has made it nearly impossible for us to compete on a consistent basis. It's a miracle we're 7-6 and riding a bit of a hot streak despite not having guys like Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, Barry Church, Kenyon Coleman, Jay Ratliff and Orlando Scandrick. But now our hottest offensive player and most lethal weapon has an injured finger. Bryant might play through it and delay surgery, but it's unclear how effective he'll be. 

It is encouraging that we survived in Cincinnati despite being shorthanded on the road, but the schedule doesn't get any easier. We host a desperate Steelers team this week. Pittsburgh fell last week to San Diego, but that's a team that hasn't lost back-to-back games with Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback since 2009.

Getting a little deeper, the offense was actually quite sluggish in Cincy, scoring only 10 points over the first three quarters. Our banged-up D gave up only 19 points but we were lucky because the Bengals weren't at their best. Plus, our particularly depleted front seven still let BenJarvus Green-Ellis average 7.4 yards per carry.

The reality is that we can't afford to play that way over the final three weeks of the year. And considering that we're now without a 100-percent-healthy Bryant, we're in trouble. 


Glass Half-Full

Bryant is one of the toughest receivers in the league, is red hot and insists he'll play Sunday against the Steelers. We've overcome injuries all year, so we should be able to continue to push forward despite that damaged phalange of his. 

We're playing more efficiently. We have just five turnovers in six games and have lost the turnover battle only once during that span. We took nearly nine penalties per game over the first 10 weeks of the season but have been flagged fewer than seven times per game over the last three. Nothing earth-shattering, but progress—and is thus fit for a progress report.

Anthony Spencer's one of the hottest defensive players in the league. He had two of our five sacks Sunday against one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. Our secondary isn't healthy either, but it continues to perform well. Brandon Carr played great against the Bengals, while the recently signed Sterling Moore was a pleasant surprise in coverage. 

It's been a tough week at Valley Ranch, but we're playing to honor Jerry Brown now. Regardless of what happens over the final three weeks, we're going to be proud of our effort.


What I'm Thinking

Stock Rising (offense): Jason Witten

Hard for this stock to go much higher at this point, but nobody on the offense was better than Witten in Week 14. He caught all four of the passes thrown his way and led the team with 62 receiving yards in the victory. He also had a huge third-down catch on the game-winning drive in Cincy.


Stock Rising (defense): Anthony Spencer

Spencer was again fantastic against the Bengals. Save for Von Miller, I can't imagine there's a better linebacker in the game of football right now. He already has a career-high 8.5 sacks and should hit double digits before earning a big payday this offseason.


Stock Dropping (offense): Dez Bryant

It's not his fault, but Bryant is hurt and that obviously affects his stock negatively. I do believe he'll tough it out and suit up this week against Pittsburgh, but I'm not sure he'll be as effective as he was the last few weeks. 



Stock Dropping (defense): Morris Claiborne

The rookie corner had a rough day at the office in Cincinnati, busting up his lip and leaving the game. But before that, he was beat on four of five targets for 54 yards. Not good for only half a game.



Of the three teams in the the NFC East playoff race, Dallas is in the worst shape from almost every standpoint. But considering that this team is still 7-6 despite the circumstances, it wouldn't surprise me to see them at least stay alive long enough to have a fighting chance in that season finale in Washington

I'm giving them an 8-8 record for the second year in a row, which means three straight years without a playoff appearance. With that in mind, 2013 will be make or break. 

View last week's report here.