Dallas Cowboys: Adjusting expectations at the bye week

ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 01: The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders perform as the Dallas Cowboys take on the Los Angeles Rams at AT
ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 01: The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders perform as the Dallas Cowboys take on the Los Angeles Rams at AT /

Standing 2-3 and, once again, facing a six-game suspension for Ezekiel Elliott, expectations have undoubtedly changed for the Dallas Cowboys

Before the season began, a 2-3 record before the bye week would have seemed a worst-case scenario for the Dallas Cowboys. Such a record would indicate Ezekiel Elliott missed the start of the season and the team struggled mightily to replace him.

To face the harsh reality that the 2-3 record was achieved WITH Zeke, and the next six games will need to be done WITHOUT Zeke, is nothing short of soul-sucking.

Not only must the Dallas Cowboys find a way to replace Zeke, but they must find their identity on offense altogether. Even without last season’s rushing champ, it’s likely teams will continue to stack the box and dare Dak Prescott to beat them through the air. As we’ve seen in the past, Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris have struggled overcoming such a strategy…

Other Obstacles

It’s not just the suspension the Cowboys must overcome but it’s the defensive turmoil  they must address as well. Two players, Nolan Carroll and Stephen Paea, are no longer with the team. The former was because of poor performance and the later because of a medically-based retirement.

Even if the Dallas Cowboys can positively upgrade at those respective positions, it’s going to perpetuate the turmoil already running rampant. Churn is good for the long-term health of a team but too much churn and not enough stability, invite mistakes. Some degree of boneheaded mistakes must be expected these next few weeks.

While the pass-rush is performing better than expected, it came at a cost. Allowing 4.6 yards per attempt, Dallas is 26th in the NFL. That can’t continue and the burden falls on the defensive line as well as the linebackers. Everyone can’t play with reckless abandoned and crash the pocket. Someone needs to stay home and maintain gap discipline.

Speaking of linebackers, the Cowboys went from one of the best looking units to one of the worst in a just a few short weeks. Damien Wilson has yet to live up to his preseason hype. Jaylon Smith has faded so significantly he’s become a target for opposing offenses. And Sean Lee is battling back from injury and already missed more than two games this season.

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With so many changes afoot, the Dallas Cowboys welcome their early bye week with open arms. But what’s on the horizon?

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Upcoming Games

The next six weeks the Cowboys play the 49ers, Redskins, Chiefs, Falcons, and Eagles. Only the 49ers and Chargers look like a sure-fire wins. The Chiefs and Falcons both look like losses. While the divisional games will probably be a split.

If things play out simply by the odds, the Cowboys will go 3-3 bringing their season total to 5-6.

The final five games are against the Redskins, Giants, Raiders, Seahawks, and Eagles. The first two look like wins and the last the last three (two of which are on the road) look like losses. Again, just going by odds here.

Revised Expectations

After going 2-3 on the last leg, that would leave the Cowboys’ final record at 7-9. That’s a far cry from the Super Bowl contender many of us predicted before the season began.

This has been a disappointing season for the Dallas Cowboys and with that disappointment comes adjusted expectations. There is still enough time to turn things around, especially since they play the Eagles twice. But even before they lost Zeke, it was clear the schedule would get tougher after the bye. If Dallas thought that first portion was tough, they ain’t seen nothing yet.

Next: It's time for the Cowboys to make a change on defense

So let’s re-adjust expectations and place the over/under this season at 7-9. Will the Cowboys finish over or under that record? Will Zeke ever be the man he was last season or will the Cowboys need to wait until 2018 for a distraction-free performer? The answer to both questions are likely linked.