Each weekend I provide 10 quick hits on the Dallas Cowboys. Does Dan Bailey’s back problem puts the Cowboys in the uncomfortable position of perhaps not having one of the best kickers all-time? The plan on Tony Romo hasn’t changed, despite some fans’ beliefs. And how good will Tank Lawrence really be as he returns? We explore all of this and more in this edition of First and 10.
1. There is no reason to believe at this point that Dan Bailey’s back injury is nothing more than a short-term issue. But the whole idea that Bailey might not have played on Sunday was concerning if you appreciate steadiness in your kicking game. And you should. Bailey has missed two field goals so far this season and it’s like a seismic event. This is a guy that has made 89.9 percent of his field goals and has never missed an extra point. It’s something you don’t realize is valuable until you no longer have it.
It’s a nice story that Jeff Heath can kick a football.
But the Cowboys did the right thing and looked at a backup, just in case Bailey can’t go.
For my money, it could've been Robbie Gould for a one-week fill-in ... and you can’t do much better. Gould has made 85 percent of his field goals lifetime and knows how to kick under pressure. The Bears didn’t cut him for skill. They cut him because he made too much money for their taste. The Bears’ current kicker, Connor Barth, has already missed as many field goals as Bailey this season.
But on Friday night, this seem settled. And on Saturday, too. The 'Boys dodged a Bailey Back Bullet.
2. If Tony Romo does come back for the Oct. 30 game with the Philadelphia Eagles, as it appears he might, the next two weeks are pretty critical. The Cowboys are 3-1 right now. But their next two games — at home against Cincinnati and on the road at Green Bay — are going to be their two toughest games of the season to this point. After that, the Cowboys get a bye week. If you’re Romo, would you rather inherit a 4-2 team or a 3-3 team? There could be a difference as the season goes on.
And for those of you that seem prepared to throw Romo out with the bath water, just remember this — the guy has the fourth-highest quarterback rating of all-time, leads the Cowboys in most all-time statistical categories and always seems to come back well from injury. Now, I’m not saying he will this time. It’s basically his fourth back ailment in four years. But he has, at the least, more than earned the right to prove you wrong. And, at the worst, he comes back less than his former self and Dak Prescott is waiting in the wings. This “situation” is a win-win for the Cowboys, and I’m not sure people are grasping that.
3. The CHQ gang brings up something to watch as DeMarcus Lawrence returns from his four-game suspension. Was Lawrence’s success last year — when he led the Cowboys with eight sacks — a product of burgeoning talent or a product of a player that commanded more attention on the opposite side? That “player,” of course, was Greg Hardy. Offensive lines had to account for Hardy. That’s the way the world works when a highly-productive pass rusher is on your defense. That usually opens up opportunities for others to put up numbers. And Lawrence did last year.
This isn’t to say that Lawrence is untalented, of course. It’s only to say that, for better or for worse, he’s the “man” on this defensive line now. I’m not sure that he has done enough to command double-teams, which I think bodes well for him as he works himself back into the lineup. Still, there is no one — and I mean NO ONE — on this Cowboys defensive line that inspires fear in any offense.
So we’re going to find out together if Lawrence has the goods to do it, because if any of Dallas’ current edge rushers has the talent, it’s him.
4. I think the Cowboys could get away with sitting Orlando Scandrick until after the bye. Look, the guy has injuries to both hamstrings. He needs to sit for a bit. It’s unfortunate, but three weeks of rest would surely have him ready for the second half of the season. When you consider how this secondary group has played, it’s not hard to see them being able to handle things until he returns. You must admit — Morris Claiborne, Brandon Carr, Anthony Brown, Byron Jones, J.J. Wilcox and Barry Church have been a solid unit the first quarter of this season.
5. Getting ready for Sunday’s game with the Bengals? Let us help. It's a 3:25 start ... and it's a SunSpot game at AT&T Stadium! Here are all of our stories previewing this week’s game through Friday night:
6. My three keys to Sunday’s game with the Bengals?
It’s the run game. The Cowboys are among the best run offenses in the NFL. The Bengals are among the best run defenses in the NFL. The Bengals haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher and the past two weeks they’ve shut down their opponent’s lead back. The Cowboys are riding a wave of their run-first formula working. The yards will be much harder to come by for Ezekiel Elliott and company, but he has to find success or else this game becomes much more one-dimensional than they want.
Tyron Smith (back) plans to play. That helps.
Control A.J. Green. The Bengals have some solid offensive weapons. But none is more dangerous than Green, the talented wide receiver. Let’s make this real simple. In the Bengals’ two victories Green has 22 receptions, 353 yards and 2 touchdowns. In the Bengals’ two losses Green has 10 receptions, 115 yards and no touchdowns. It the perfect test for a Cowboys secondary that, let’s face it, has played pretty well so far this year.
Remember, the Cowboys generally don't have their corners travel. So AJ can line up against Brandon Carr if that's what Cincy wants. Cross your fingers here.
Get something out of the pass rush. In case you’re unaware, Bengals QB Andy Dalton has been sacked 13 times this year. Of course, seven of those came in a Jets game the Bengals managed to win. But he’s clearly under more duress and Dalton has thrown for less than 300 yards each of the past two weeks. If the Cowboys want a chance to win they have to keep the pressure on Dalton, get something out of the pass rush and keep Dalton’s passing numbers reasonable.
Maybe this is where Tank -- as a situational pass-rusher and maybe more -- comes in handy.
7. It’s our Tweet of the Week:
He won’t be by Sunday. But, at least for a day, Jeff Heath was in two places on the depth chart.
8. This week’s great moments in headline porn: “DeAndre Jordan: Odell Beckham Would Have a 'Better Time' Playing for Cowboys” from bleacherreport.com
Geez, dude, you already tried destroying one Dallas-based pro sports franchise. That wasn’t enough?
9. All this talk about Odell Beckham Jr.’s “Positive Passion” got me thinking. Just how penalized is Odell? Well, Profootballreference.com helped me out. OBJ has been called for 10 penalties in his two-plus seasons in the NFL (we’re eliminating ones that were either declined or offset). Of those 10 penalties, half have been what one would call “personal fouls” — unnecessary roughness, unsportmanlike conduct, taunting and the like. If you include penalties that were either declined or offset, that number goes up to six. So roughly half of OBJ’s penalties are personal fouls.
Now, Dez Bryant (not expected to play on Sunday with the knee, by the way) stood up for Beckham’s passion this week, and we all know that Bryant is a passionate guy. But does his passion cost the Cowboys? Well not nearly as much as Odell’s costs the Giants. Bryant has been called for 15 penalties. Of those 15, four were personal fouls. Throw in any declined or offsetting penalties and the number goes up to five.
So in three fewer seasons OBJ has one more personal foul than Bryant? That’s not positive passion. That’s a problem. And it makes you appreciate the level of restraint Bryant has developed all the more -- yes, even counting the MRI ClusterFest.
10. My prediction for Sunday’s game? I’m taking the Bengals. This is the best team the Cowboys have faced this season, in my opinion. Cincinnati has a balanced offense and a Top-10 defense overall and the yards and points will be hard to come by for the Cowboys. The lack of sustained drives will hurt Dallas’ defense and they’ll end up giving up a couple of key plays late in this one. Bengals 31, Cowboys 23.