The Dallas Cowboys went into Week 13 with what appeared to be a great opportunity to make up some ground in the NFC East. But after losing to the Ravens last night and seeing the Giants and the Washington Football Team prevail in road upsets, the gap in the division is now looking a lot wider. It's probably time for the Cowboys to use the rest of 2020 to focus on the future.
Things were looking up before Sunday. New York and Washington had tough road matchups against the Seahawks and Steelers and the Cowboys were going to have 12 days to rest and prepare for Baltimore. Even if Dallas didn't get the win, the week at least seemed set up for them maintain their 1-2 game margins with the Giants and the Football Team.
But of course, it's 2020. So naturally both New York and Washington got upset victories and the Cowboys got humiliated on national television.
Now at 3-9 the Cowboys will need a miracle to catch up with the current NFC East leaders. The Giants and the Football Team are both 5-7 and Washington had a head-to-head tiebreaker over Dallas.
The Cowboys would have to go 3-1 over their last four games, with Washington going no better than 1-3, to overtake them now in the division.
While the mathematical possibility still exists for Dallas to claim the NFC East there's little hope for it given how the Cowboys have been performing. Last night's loss made it abundantly clear just how inept our defense is.
Sure, the Ravens were the best team left on Dallas' 2020 schedule. Even with everything we've seen from the Cowboys this year, the potential for three wins in the last four games (@ Bengals, vs 49ers, vs Eagles, @ Giants) isn't out of the question.
But Washington's slate is similarly winnable. They've got the 49ers this week followed by Seattle, Carolina and Philadelphia. Now on a three-game win streak and having just knocked off the undefeated Steelers, Ron Rivera's team seems to be getting hot at the right time.
To be clear, I'm not proposing that we “tank” the rest of the way. I have never been a fan of that mentality, and especially with a brand new coaching staff that has zero credibility.
But there are definitely some decision that the Cowboys could make going forward which would help prepare the team for the future instead of clinging to a false hope in the present.
For one, it's time to give some of our rookies and unknown players more opportunity. Last night was Reggie Robinson's first game being active this year and even then it didn't seem like he was used much. With all of the issues at cornerback and safety right now, why not put the 4th-round pick out there and just see what happens?
The same goes for 5th-round pick Bradlee Anae. He's only been used on six total defensive snaps all year and hasn't been active at all since Week 8.
Week 8 against the Eagles was our one glimpse of rookie QB Ben DiNucci and, obviously, it wasn't that good. But we know who Andy Dalton is and he's not even under contract beyond this year. Perhaps some more playing time for The Nooch would be beneficial going into the offseason.
If you're worried about killing DiNucci then why not give Garrett Gilbert another look? Or how about even calling up Cooper Rush from the practice squad? That poor guy's never had a chance to play a real game in his Cowboys uniform.
Along with investing in youth and assessing options the Cowboys should focus on protecting its proven assets. Zack Martin may be able to return before Week 17 but he shouldn't unless Dallas is somehow back in the division race. The same goes for Trevon Diggs, Tyler Biadasz, and anyone else that the team may have been trying to rush back from injury.
These two mentalities go hand-in-hand; keeping Martin out allows you to better assess what Connor McGovern and Terence Steele (yes, I know) offer going forward. While Diggs could certainly use some playing time himself, we already know he's going to be a stud and could better use those reps assessing Reggie Robinson and other defensive backs.
Remember that Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, and Xavier Woods are all free agents after this year. The Cowboys have had four years to assess these guys and probably already know if they want to retain any of them. If offseason salary cap space is going to be limited then Dallas needs some confidence in its in-house replacement options.
Some of you have been on “Team Tank” long before now and others will scoff at the notion of giving up on the season while there's still a chance. But while there are still slim hopes for 2020 there's a 100% chance that the Cowboys will be back in 2021 and in a better position to compete.
Assuming Mike McCarthy is still going to be the head coach next year, he should start making decisions now that improve the long-term health and competitiveness of the Dallas Cowboys.