FRISCO, Texas – Bye week is over. The bodies have rested. The thoughts are clear.
The Dallas Cowboys’ second half of the season begins now.
For the second season in a row, the Cowboys are 6-2. It’s the first time since 1994-95 that the Cowboys are 6-2 or better after eight games in consecutive seasons. These 1990s Cowboys teams won the Super Bowls after the 1993, 1994, and 1996 seasons.
These Cowboys are still motivated by their wildcard loss to the San Francisco 49ers in January.
“I think the humiliation in the first playoff game really changed a lot of perspectives,” DeMarcus Lawrence said at the end of the defense. “As easy as it comes, it can be as easy as it can go. I feel like we don’t take a day for granted. We always work in here.”
Some saw the trade deadline as a disappointment because the Cowboys hadn’t added a wide receiver, but the club believes defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins can fix a big run defense mistake.
The Cowboys had discussions about acquiring Houston Texans wide receiver Brandin Cooks, according to sources with direct knowledge of the negotiations, but the sides never got past the stumbling blocks of draft pick pay (second- and fourth-round picks, according to Adam Scheter). and Cooks’ $18 million salary guarantee in 2023.
There were brief discussions with the Denver Broncos about Jerry Jeudy, but they went nowhere after the Broncos handled pass rusher Bradley Chubb, according to multiple sources with direct knowledge of the negotiations.
“We really like this team,” said Executive Vice President Stephen Jones. “We like the depth in this team.”
While the Philadelphia Eagles negotiated a deal for pass rusher Robert Quinn, the 49ers added Christian McCaffrey, and the Minnesota Vikings acquired tight end TJ Hockenson, the Cowboys were undeterred by their NFC counterparts.
“We have to take care of our business. We have to take care of our roster,” Jones said. “We have to make the decisions that are best suited to improve our football team, so we keep our eye on the ball on how we can improve our football team as we progress.”
Most likely, the improvement will come in the second half and it could be significant.
Quarterback Dak Prescott has only played two full games after breaking his right thumb in the season opener. He completed 77% of his passes against the Chicago Bears to walk with two touchdowns. The more he plays, the better the Cowboys think they’ll be.
Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith is three to four weeks away from his opening practice window after undergoing surgery to repair a hamstring sustained in training camp. Wide receiver James Washington is close to coming off injured reserve after breaking his foot on Aug. 1.
“I think we made a big step with the offensive side of the ball last week and I think they’ll keep getting better as Dak gets into his rhythm after sitting out almost half of the season and certainly you’ I’m starting to see what he can do for that offense, the guns we have here,” Jones said.
That doesn’t take into account the health of running back Ezekiel Elliott (knee), safety Malik Hooker (hamstring), wide receiver Noah Brown (foot) and defensive end Sam Williams (knee), neither of whom have played against the Bears. Jones said all should be available this week against the Green Bay Packers.
This brings another story arc to the second half of the season. The Cowboys’ first game after the bye will be an emotional return to Lambeau Field from coach Mike McCarthy. After defeating the Bears on Oct. 30, McCarthy fended off questions about his former team’s play. He repeated this the next day, concentrating on bye week.
On Monday, he will discuss his 12-plus year run as Packers head coach, which has seen him become the second-most winning coach of all time in team history, behind Curly Lambeau, and the Super Bowl champion.
“When I say we never once discussed the game at Green Bay, we haven’t,” said passing game coordinator Joe Whitt Jr., who was with McCarthy for 11 seasons. “Anything I’m going to tell you about his feelings for this game, I’m just making it up.”
The final nine games of the regular season are filled with seven teams that have at least playoff opportunities. The Cowboys begin with three games in 12 days: with the Packers, with the Vikings (Nov. 19) and against the New York Giants on Thanksgiving. They will also have a Saturday-Thursday stretch when they have a rematch against the Eagles (December 24) and travel to Nashville on December 29 to face the Tennessee Titans.
McCarthy will shorten training sessions in the second half of the season to give players more rest. He knows what to expect.
“November is a huge month,” McCarthy said. “I mean, this is where teams start to really develop as you go into the third quarter of the season, so I mean that’s how we work.”