The Cowboys Are Going to Be Fine

Ignore it. Ignore (almost) everything that happened in the Cowboys 39-28 loss to the Falcons. Joseph Randle, the team's newly minted starting running back, is not as good as he looked Sunday. He's not going to score three touchdowns a game — he may not score six more this season. Devonta Freeman, the Falcons' backup running back, may not rush for 141 yards in a game again in his life. Scott Linehan, the Cowboys' normally outstanding play caller, is not going to call a game that bad for the rest of the year. Sunday's Cowboys was just a story about settling in, about a team with a muddied identity trying on a new one and struggling with the fit.

The Cowboys started Sunday as well as you could've imagined. Randle, off a disappointing first two games of the season, had 85 yards on his first three carries, highlighted by a juking, tackle-breaking 37-yard touchdown run barely a minute into the game. After Randle added an one-yard touchdown run, the Cowboys were up 14-0 and Brandon Weeden, the Cowboys' new starting quarterback, hadn't really had to do anything.
And that's the thing, Weeden hadn't done anything because the Falcons defense hadn't settled in yet. The Falcons hadn't yet begun to stifle Randle — they'd hold him to just two net yards on his last 11 carries. They hadn't limited the Cowboys offense to a series of basically useless dump-offs to running back Lance Dunbar, as they would in the second half. Weeden's mettle hadn't been tested, because it hadn't needed to be.

When that changed, after the Falcons reeled off 18 consecutive points to take their first lead of the game at 32-28, necessitating that the Cowboys actually do something on offense, Linehan couldn't, or wouldn't, pull the trigger. It could've been Weeden checking down out of high risk situations, but it often seemed like there was no risk for the Oklahoma State product to take and no reward for him to earn.

The series after the Falcons' go-ahead touchdown, the Cowboys went three-and-out on a stuffed run, a short pass and a sack. After another Falcons touchdown, the Cowboys didn't fare much better on what would turn out to be their last possession of the game, collecting a single first down — on, you guessed it, a short pass to Dunbar — before turning the ball over on downs.

Still, despite all the ineptitude and a defense that gave up 39 points to a team that only won six games last year, the Cowboys are going to be fine. Even with Tony Romo missing at least six more games. Even with Dez Bryant missing at least another month. They are going to be fine. Randle's early-game burst was the first flash of the dominant run-blocking offensive line that made the 2014 Cowboys as good as they were. Dunbar, for all of his overuse, continued to emerge as a genuine weapon as a receiver out of the backfield. Weeden at least flashed competence, if nothing else.  

As Linehan settles into not having one of the five best quarterbacks in the league under center, he will find a way to get Weeden in positions where he can successfully throw the ball downfield. He's too good of a coach not to. Terrance Williams will be targeted with chances to make big plays, as will Bryant when he comes back.

If that doesn't happen next week against the Saints, maybe that's when you should start worrying.