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What is up with them Cowboys?

Dallas is in chaos again but does Washington have the game plan to beat them?

Their probably-past-his-prime franchise quarterback can’t stay healthy. They’ve gone more than a year without a victory at home. And they’re in one of the worst and unluckiest and well-deserved stretches of ineptitude in recent team history.

How ’bout them Cowboys!

Things appear to be so thoroughly bleak for Dallas these days; it’s easy to forget the season is only one week old. Despite an offensive line that’s the envy of the league and a top-five wide receiver in Dez Bryant, owner Jerry Jones’ team just keeps on losing. The Cowboys’ biggest problem (as always) is how to save the season without the injured Tony Romo, who has spent much more time counseling his replacements than actually quarterbacking the team. It would be complete hyperbole to suggest that the Cowboys face a must-win situation on the road Sunday against the Washington Redskins; they’ve been down for so long now, it’s reasonable to wonder whether they’ll rise up again anytime soon.

At AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, last week, the New York Giants rallied in the fourth quarter for a 20-19 victory. For Dallas, a disturbing trend continued. Consider:

  • The Cowboys last won at “Jerry World” when they defeated the Giants – in the 2015 season opener.
  • After starting 2-0 last fall with Romo under center, Dallas has dropped 13 of 15.
  • The last 15 games while Romo has chilled on the sidelines in workout gear, the Cowboys are 1-14.
  • Dallas hasn’t had such a rough time since its 2-26 run from October 1988 through the 1989 season. Not good. Not good at all.

There is some positive news for the Cowboys, though. For the 10th consecutive year, they top Forbes’ NFL Valuations. According to Forbes, you’d have to come up with around $4.2 billion to purchase the Cowboys. No professional sports team on the planet is worth more.

Of course, the fact that Jones’ gold mine is in great shape likely won’t be comforting for frustrated fans deep in the heart of Texas. It has been 22 years since the Cowboys’ last Super Bowl championship. And their current window seems to close a little more each time Romo meets with team physicians.

However, constantly checking out the rearview mirror won’t help, head coach Jason Garrett said. His motto is simple: Onward!

“You come to work every day,” said Garrett, whose team also has dropped four of five NFC East games with another division rival up next.

“You come back in [after a loss] and you clean it up and you address what the issues are and try to get better at ’em. Certainly, you try to build on the good things that you’re doing. … You learn from it and you move on.”

You can only move so far until you win consistently. Without Romo, Dallas has operated at a snail’s pace.

A year ago, the Cowboys were riding high. Then Romo suffered a broken collarbone while being sacked in a week two victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. He was sidelined eight weeks. Back in the lineup in week 11, Romo struggled at times (he had three interceptions) but led Dallas to a victory that ended its losing streak at seven games. Despite being 3-7, the Cowboys, a legitimate Super Bowl contender before Romo went down, had visions of running the table and winning the division. A week later, that dream was crushed in a loss to the Carolina Panthers: Romo reinjured his left shoulder while being sacked and sat out the remainder of the season. This year, it was supposed to be different.

With Romo fully recovered and rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott expected to reinvigorate the running game – after DeMarco Murray left in free agency, Cowboys decision-makers finally appreciated him – Dallas seemed set to roll again like it did en route to the 2014 NFC East title. Ah, not so fast.

In a preseason game last month, Romo sustained a broken bone in his back. The Cowboys say there’s no timetable for the return of the 36-year-old Pro Bowler, who previously broke bones in his back in the 2014 season. The defense also has had to shuffle things without three key players – linebacker Rolando McClain and ends Demarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory – suspended for part of the season for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.

At least the guy filling in for Romo this time has the Cowboys excited. Rookie Dak Prescott was a preseason sensation. Against the Giants last week, Prescott continued to display poise beyond his experience in a 227-yard, turnover-free performance. The Cowboys are down to ride with the impressive young fella. Still, the sooner Romo can return, the better.

“It’s different because, man, Tony … he’s so smart, he’s so ahead of the game and puts you in the right positions to be successful,” said new Cowboys running back Alfred Morris, who spent his first four seasons with the Redskins. “He’s very, very talented and very, very smart. So just losing a guy like that, for however long this takes, is definitely a blow.

“But having a guy like Dak, man, this kid is very, very impressive. He’s very composed in the pocket. He stands in there and delivers strikes, even with hands and pressure coming at him. … He’s very, very confident, which is something that you want in a quarterback. He’s a natural leader. When you have a guy like that stepping in and filling some big shoes, it makes it easier for us.”

Dallas will need more from Prescott. Getting it going with Bryant would be a great place to start. In the loss to the Giants, Bryant had only five targets. He finished with only one catch for eight yards (after review, officials waved off what appeared to be a 24-yard touchdown pass from Prescott to Bryant). Superstar wide receiver Antonio Brown torched Washington for 126 yards and two touchdowns in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 38-16 opening win. Inexplicably, Redskins coaches rarely had Josh Norman – the self-described “best cornerback on Earth” – cover Brown, who torched No. 2 corner Bashaud Breeland while Norman watched from across the field.

Across the league, the Redskins have been criticized for their shaky opening game plan. They had better come correct with something for Bryant, ESPN analyst Ryan Clark said.

“If you’re not going to let Josh follow [the other team’s best receiver], then you’ve got to build your game plan around that guy,” said Clark, who played safety in the NFL for 13 years. “What I mean by that is, you’re not going to let Josh Norman follow, but you’re going to call a lot of [man-to-man coverage] … with Antonio Brown and Ben Roethlisberger knowing you’re in man and being able to find Breeland on any play they want? You should ask Josh to line up [on the best receiver’s side], but still build defenses” around the positioning of great receivers.

Washington’s run defense was equally ineffective. DeAngelo Williams rushed for 143 yards (he had an impressive 5.5-yard average) and two touchdowns. That could be good news for Dallas. Elliott, the Cowboys’ other high-profile rookie, had a game-high 20 carries and scored his first NFL touchdown. But a 2.5-yard average while running behind a line that’s the best in the business (tackle Tyron Smith, guard Zack Martin and center Travis Frederick are all All-Pros) isn’t good enough.

And the Cowboys have to score touchdowns. In the red zone three times, they scored only one touchdown. The Giants? Perfect on their three trips. For the Cowboys, there’s clearly plenty of work to do while they wait on Romo. “We’ve got real professional guys who handle things the right way,” Garrett said.

Amid ongoing problems, the Cowboys are sticking with their process. Their fans would like some proof that it’s actually working.

Jason Reid is the senior NFL writer at Andscape. He enjoys watching sports, especially any games involving his son and daughter.