We've heard the same story in every way, shape and form for the last four years. The Cowboys are good early in the season but they can't get it done in December. Well, here we are for the fourth year in a row. The Cowboys have had a strong November to put themselves in position for a playoff run and a possible NFC East championship. But still no one really knows if this year is going to be any different.
The Raider game was a relief because the offense seemed to finally find its stride once again. The defense continued its impressive play but it is hard to judge how they really played since it was a terrible Raiders team they beat. But this is the same Raider team that beat Cincinnati the week before and embarrassed the Eagles earlier in the season. So it wasn't like the game was a foregone conclusion as much as we all wanted to believe it was.
So will things be different this year? There really is no way to answer that question. But we do have some indicators that might shed some light on what to expect. The Cowboys probably need to win 3 of their last 5 games to win the NFC East and just 2 of the last 5 to make the playoffs. Not a tall order until you look at the list of upcoming opponents.
On defense the Cowboys have played very good since early in the season. If they continue to limit opposition scores the way they have then you have to believe that things will be different this December. Keep the opposition below 17 points and they will win the majority of their games. The Cowboys defense is third in the NFL in points allowed and that is a recipe for success.
On offense it would appear that the Cowboys went through their slump at the best possible time. As long as the Green Bay and Washington games were an aberration then the offense should be just fine. They still commit too many penalties when the get in scoring position, but they are moving the ball. The offense is third in the NFL in yards per game. And Tony Romo, Felix Jones, and Marion Barber are all healthy this year. That is going to make a big difference.
Special teams is improved over last year. I still think back to how the special teams lost the Steeler game last season by allowing a big punt return late in the game. That hasn't been an issue this season. What does concern me on special teams is the inconsistency of Nick Folk. Kickers seem to operate on confidence and I'm not sure he believes in himself right now. The offense needs to keep the field goals short or score touchdowns to prevent the momentum swings that have happened recently due to missed field goals.
Most of the indicators point to a strong finish. The injury situation is completely different than last season and that makes a bigger difference to the Cowboys than anyone on ESPN will admit to you. Tony Romo was not healthy down the stretch last year and Felix Jones was out for the season. This year Romo is nearly 100% and Felix Jones is just rounding back into form for the key December stretch. Hopefully Ken Hamlin will be back which would put the entire starting defense on the field to start December.
If the Cowboys can play the same kind of football they have in all three phases of the game for the last five games then we should be talking about a playoff game five weeks from now. All we can do on the injury front is hope that the good luck continues.