Five Wonders: D with plenty left to prove

October, 22, 2013
10/22/13
8:00
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IRVING, Texas -- For the first time this season Five Wonders comes with the Dallas Cowboys on a winning streak.

I wonder if they can make it three in a row Sunday against the Detroit Lions. They have not won three in a row since Weeks 13-15 last season.

On to the Wonders:

[+] EnlargeBarry Church and Morris Claiborne
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsThe Cowboys had three picks off of backup quarterback Matt Barkley.
• The Cowboys defense deserves a ton of credit for limiting Philadelphia to just 278 yards, but I wonder how much Nick Foles and Matt Barkley played into the result. When the Cowboys have faced upper echelon throwers, they have struggled. Philip Rivers lit them up. So did Peyton Manning. And Eli Manning threw for 450 yards against them in the opener. Sam Bradford was bad. Alex Smith was economical but hardly impressive. Robert Griffin III was erratic. And this week the Cowboys get Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. He can spin it as well as any quarterback in the NFL and has some guy named Calvin Johnson to throw it to. The change in the Dallas defense the last two games -- at least against the pass -- has been more man coverage. It’s time for the Cowboys defense to show they can handle a top-flight passer and not just the average quarterbacks. There are more top-flight quarterbacks on the schedule the rest of the way in Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler (provided he’s healthy). And there are also the rematches with Eli Manning and Griffin. The defense has performed better, but it’s not like it has arrived yet either.

• Right guard Brian Waters has helped cement the interior of the offensive line this season. It has not always been perfect, but it’s been solid and that’s not always been the case for the Cowboys the last few seasons. Waters is 36. I wonder if he wants to play again as a 37 year old. The Cowboys signed Waters to a one-year deal before the season started and allowed him to work in slowly before taking over the starting spot. If Waters wants to play again -- and it’s a question I’ll try to ask him this week -- I would bet the Cowboys would want him. There will have to be some assurances that he will take part in the offseason or training camp for sure. The proximity to his home should make a difference if he wants to play. I don’t know how big that “if” is, but the younger players have learned a lot from Waters and so have the more veteran guys. He helps with the shotgun snap by tapping rookie Travis Frederick. He has the strength to hold up at the point of attack. He doesn’t move as well as he once did, but he’s not just a phone booth guy either.

• Entering the game against the Philadelphia Eagles, DeMarco Murray had the highest percentage of rushing yards of a team in the league with 428 of the Cowboys’ 509 rushing yards. That percentage went down since he missed the Eagles’ game, and I wonder if the Cowboys will continue to use Joseph Randle in a role once Murray comes back from the knee injury. Murray has had a good 2013 season, but if Randle can lessen the burden, then the fresher Murray will be. We don’t know how Murray will handle a large amount of carries. He has never had more than 164 in a season because of injuries. Randle showed some decent vision against the Eagles and he was secure with the ball. He has more make-you-miss than Murray as well. Murray will still be the Cowboys’ bell cow in the running game, but if Randle can offer more than just a change of pace it makes sense to keep him involved in the game plan.

• I wonder if Dwayne Harris' punt return opportunities will be limited for the rest of the season. It would be the ultimate sign of respect from the opposition. Philadelphia’s Donnie Jones made sure Harris would not be a factor. His punts were high and outside the numbers, limiting where Harris could go if he chose to return a punt. As a result Harris averaged just 4.6 yards per punt return and had to use a fair catch signal twice. If this continues -- and if teams are smart it will -- then Harris will have to remain patient. Jason Garrett loves Harris’ decision making, but he knows there could come a time where Harris might try to make something out of nothing. That can only lead to trouble. Harris is a major weapon and the Eagles made sure he would not beat them the way he beat the Washington Redskins the previous week.

• I wonder if Edgar Jones knows just how much people will be paying attention to his recovery from sports hernia surgery. The Cowboys put him on the short-term injured reserve list, meaning he is out for eight weeks and can return Dec. 15 against the Green Bay Packers. Last December, the Cowboys chose not to place Jay Ratliff on injured reserve after he had sports hernia surgery because they hoped he would be able to return for a possible playoff run. Ratliff’s agent contended the surgery was more severe than the typical sports hernia, but I contend that if the Cowboys believed it would be a 12-month recovery they would have put him on injured reserve immediately last year. All surgeries are different. All rehab times are different. Terence Newman was back in five weeks from a sports hernia surgery a few years ago. Jones’ surgery was performed by the same doctor as Ratliff as well. If you’re wondering why the Cowboys used the one-time IR designation on Jones, then remember that the team was running out of time to use it and hope a player can be back in the regular season.

Todd Archer

ESPN Dallas Cowboys reporter

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