Dallas Cowboys: Progress Report Headed into Week 16

Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistDecember 19, 2012

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 16:  Tony Romo #9 of the Dallas Cowboys at Cowboys Stadium on December 16, 2012 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Is this sustainable? Can the Dallas Cowboys continue to eke out victory after victory in the fourth quarter and overtime despite the fact their defense has been reduced to something that closely resembles football rubble?

All they have to do now is put together two more victories over two very beatable opponents and they'll be division champions for the third time in six years. But considering the shape they're in and the fact they've been cutting it close, that won't be easy.

Here's our latest state of the union-style look at "America's Team"...


What They Should Be Thinking

Glass Half-Empty

We needed overtime to beat the Steelers at home and fourth-quarter surges to edge the Bengals, Browns and Eagles. We weren't so lucky against the Redskins. Are we due to slip up at least one more time, especially when having to face opposing quarterbacks Drew Brees and Robert Griffin III? 

There's no margin for error here, and we understand that. But that doesn't mean we'll continue to pull games out of our hats. We're down to our fifth inside linebacker now that Ernie Sims has a concussion and the rest of the defense isn't feeling much better with guys like Barry Church, Jay Ratliff, Orlando Scandrick, Kenyon Coleman, Josh Brent and Morris Claiborne unavailable. Only Claiborne has any chance of returning before the season ends.

How do we stop Brees and Griffin under those circumstances? It's not as though we're lighting up the scoreboard on offense. Do we have the ability to win shootouts? Can we bend but not break? We just don't know. It's Week 16 and we're still trying to determine just how we're still actually in this race.

That can't be a good sign.


Glass Half-Full

Whatever doesn't kill you only makes you stronger. That, of course, is crap. But it seems that's been the case with this team. We've been treading water for months but the "next man up" philosophy is working and we have become stronger mentally as a result of our physical battles. 

Take Dez Bryant, who is literally risking limb in order to help us on this playoff push. He scored for the eighth time in six games Sunday against the Steelers, giving him more touchdowns than fingers by a 10-to-9 margin.

The fact is that few teams have more inspiration to draw on than we do. We're doing this for the late Jerry Brown and we're playing hard for the brave Bryant. We still have the offensive firepower and the defensive playmakers to get the job done, even with Sean Lee and Bruce Carter and others out, so if we combine that with the right mentality, the sky remains the limit.


What I'm Thinking

Stock Rising (offense): The entire offensive line

Doug Free included. A line that has taken a ton of actual and proverbial heat this season surrendered only six hurries, no sacks and not a single hit on Tony Romo Sunday against a very good Pittsburgh defense, according to Pro Football Focus.


Stock Rising (defense): Brandon Carr

His season-saving overtime interception against the Steelers alone was worth the $50 million commitment. But even before making that game-changing play, Carr was having a fantastic day against a very good Pittsburgh receiving corps.


Stock Dropping (offense): Kevin Ogletree

A nonfactor again on Sunday despite playing 25 snaps. Remember when this guy was a force in the season opener and a significant contributor for much of the first half of the season?


Stock Dropping (defense): Jason Hatcher

He had such a hot start to the season, but Hatcher has come back to earth of late. He has just six pressures in the last three weeks, per PFF.



This is the first time in quite a while (maybe ever?) that I'm guessing there are actually some neutral football fans who are pulling for the Cowboys. It's hard not to root for this Dallas team, with all it has been through. 

Will that shift in support combine with a positive mentality within the locker room and get the Cowboys back to the playoffs? I've never been accused of being an optimist and I'm not prepared to change that yet, so I'm still predicting that they fall short. 

Yet I'm impressed no matter what. 

View last week's report here.