The NFC East is proving to be the NFC Least in attempting to determine who may wind up with the crown. The Dallas Cowboys were virtually handed an unabated path to run away with the division, but the failure to seize opportunity has once again come knocking at this franchise's door.
Injuries, a sputtering offense, a porous defense and yet another season of finding creative ways to lose has once again doomed this team and allowed every single NFC East foe to remain alive. Yes, even the New York Giants, who started out 0-6, are legitimately aligned at a shot for first place.
It's conceivable that this race comes down to the last weekend of the season again, and the Cowboys will have to find a way to win at least three games. If this team has shown us anything at all this season, it's that nothing, absolutely nothing, comes easy.
Making matters worse for the Cowboys as they head into their bye week is disaster of a performance against Drew Brees and the Saints. Or should I say the total and complete domination of former defensive coordinator Rob Ryan over Jason Garrett.
If you're looking for any positives, you need a huge magnifying glass, and if you're looking for negatives, where do you even start? So, for a team that is so flawed and sitting with a 5-5 record, what exactly needs to be done to win the NFC East?
The answer lies in all three phases of the game and coaching, but at this stage of the season, the reality of being able to fix the Dallas Cowboys has to be met with certain expectations. Once again, the common denominator in all of this team's woes starts with Jerry Jones, but that is a pointless argument.
When your top aides are your family, you don't listen to your scouts and your coach won't challenge you, then you can expect more of what is transpiring this season. Do we even need to dissect the last 17 years? The drafts? The decisions? And the salary cap? Be my guest.
But let's stick to the monumental task at hand for a second. Because if the Cowboys are to emerge from the bye and successfully win the NFC East, they will need to do four things:
Conduct a Players-Only Meeting
The Cowboys have leaders on this team in DeMarcus Ware, Jason Witten, Brandon Carr, Sean Lee and Tony Romo to name a few. Well, it's time for those leaders to set the example, make a bold move and find out if every single player is giving a maximum contribution every single day.
It's also an opportunity to get to the root of any other issues that might be plaguing this team. Anything from feelings of being under utilized to someone voicing an opinion over scheme, this could be a healthy exercise for this team.
If these leaders fail to realize this is a duty they have to this team, then leadership is indeed a problem for the Cowboys. Stop and think for a minute about last year's Baltimore Ravens team. They had lost four out of five heading into the playoffs before they won the championship. Do you think that leadership played a role as they made their run?
Back to Basics Approach on Both Sides of The Ball
The concept of going back to basics is not a cliche by any means. It's not about scrapping all the plans, but it's more about keeping what works and throwing out what doesn't when you are in survival mode. This is also about taking whatever remaining assets this team has and building around that.
At this stage of the season, scheme, equal balance and the statistical game come secondary to finding a way to win. Unfortunately, not being able to beat Detroit, Kansas City or Denver has left little margin for error. The Cowboys must find what has worked then make it work over the remaining six games.
The coaches should be dissecting every second of every frame of footage from the first 10 games. Then rinse, repeat and rinse and repeat again. If they want to fix this situation, that's what it will take.
Cowboys' Playmakers Must Make Plays
The Cowboys, despite all of their injuries, still have a significant amount of talent on this team. Romo, Bryant, Witten, Terrance Williams, Murray, Bruce Carter, Ware, etc. are all healthy, or at least healthy enough, and need to produce. Even while the Cowboys were healthy you must ask yourself if plays were being left on the field.
Well, they were, and they continue to be. The stats don't lie. The Cowboys are horrific on third down, they are 28th in rushing, they give up the most yards in the NFL and if it weren't for takeaways, there is nothing statistically about this defense to scare any opponent.
The playmakers on this team simply have to make plays, and they are being counted on for doing so. Success in this particular area could be contagious.
Expanded Roles For Certain Players
Let's face it, there are very little, if any, free agents that can come in and give this team any sort of lift in the homestretch of this season. The Cowboys have to strap it up with what they have and forge ahead. But seeking contributions from existing roster players is never far away.
So it's time the Cowboys make those contributions mandatory. On offense, this means giving an expanded role to Lance Dunbar, Cole Beasley and Gavin Escobar. Speed, hands and more options are exactly what this team needs offensively right now.
Beasley's role is especially key because of Miles Austin's health and the inability to get Bryant the ball. One play in the Saints game I found interesting was when Dallas lined up Beasley outside and Bryant in the slot.
Dunbar can bring that speed element in both the screen game and runs to the outside in space. Remember that 40-yard scamper he had in the Arizona preseason game? He ultimately fumbled on that play, but think of the burst and what that speed can do right now against blitzes.
With Witten's production taking a little dip this year, what better time than to utilize Escobar in the way he was used in the Rams game. Another big target who can catch the ball between the hashes could open up big plays outside and off of play action.
It's time to take the training wheels off this offense.
Defensively, just getting enough healthy bodies is a weekly event. But playing DeVonte Holloman could provide this team a little spark. He enjoyed a productive preseason, made some plays and applied pressure. Cameron Lawrence could be another player to insert at linebacker with his tackling ability.
Those two scenarios are going to generate that much excitement, but what other options do you have with Lee and Durant out for a month?
But then again, when you're trying to make the kind of move the Cowboys are in the NFC East, any and all options need to be considered. The season is depending on it.