1) Canal Street Chronicles: After two fairly pedestrian rushing performances in their first two games (80 yards, 3.3 yards per carry and 109 yards, 3.5 yards per carry respectively), the Cowboys rebounded against the Falcons, averaging 6.0 yards per carry. The offensive line is supposed to be one of the biggest offensive strengths of the Cowboys. How would you assess its play so far this year?
Dave Halprin: I would definitely say the o-line's play has been uneven. Some of the run totals are because of game situations (the Cowboys spent a lot of time chasing the Giants who had a lead) and some of it is tough defenses, like Philadelphia against the run. But there is no doubt the o-line has not managed to run block as well this year as they did last year. They are doing a good job of protecting the QB (even with Tony Romo's injury coming on a sack), but the run game has bogged down at times. Why this is happening is a subject of much debate in Dallas. Some point to the relatively little time they spent together playing in the preseason, other say missing Ron Leary next to Tyron Smith has hurt, while others say they just aren't playing well right now, no excuses. I tend to go with the latter explanation. Individually they are not playing well on a consistent basis. There is no magic fix for this, but maybe they are getting mad enough at themselves to come out and dominate again for the rest of 2015.
2) CSC: Let's not bury the lead any longer: with Tony Romo and Dez Bryant injured and on the sidelines for a while, what do you think the Cowboys can accomplish this year? Does Brandon Weeden have what it takes to keep the Cowboys' boat afloat until the team's two best players return?
DH: I think most Cowboys fans are hoping that Brandon Weeden (or Matt Cassel if it comes to that) can keep the Cowboys in playoff contention until Bryant and Romo return. Last week Weeden was very efficient in his passing, but never really challenged the Falcons deep. This was fine when the run game was working and keeping the offense ahead of the chains, but once that bogged down in the second half, the short passing game just wasn't enough. So Weeden needs to do what he did last week, but he has to add the vertical passing game to the mix. And do it without turning the ball over. But what really needs to happen is the Dallas defense needs to play better than last week. They were burned repeatedly by the run and pass. Everybody focuses on the Romo/Bryant injuries, but we actually have more injuries/suspensions on defense. Getting some of those players back will help tremendously.
3) CSC: If you were Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, how would you attack the Cowboys offense as it is currently constituted? On the other hand, if you were Sean Payton, how would you go about attacking the Cowboys' defense?
DH: I would probably mimic what the Falcons did last week on defense which would be going against Ryan's nature. Atlanta let the Cowboys have the short passes but did not want to give them the deep ball. They didn't blitz a bunch but they were very aggressive in attacking the gaps to disrupt the running game. They were going to make the Cowboys work for whatever they got instead of being blitz-happy and letting the Cowboys hit home runs if the blitz didn't get home. On offense, I would pound the rock in the running game until the Cowboys defense showed they could stop it. Last week Dallas could not stop the run and the Falcons ate up yardage and the clock with Devonta Freeman. Julio Jones was also a problem, but he's a problem for every defense. The Cowboys pass defense has actually done okay despite the lack of pressure on QB's, except for Julio last week.
4) CSC: Could you name one Saints player on defense and one Saints player on offense that you would want to have on the Cowboys right now? And...you don't have to be nice!
DH: If Drew Brees is healthy I would want him. With Tony Romo sidelined for another seven games at least, if I had a healthy Brees I'd be good. Or maybe Brandin Cooks to help with Bryant out. On defense, let me try this Hau'oli Kikaha kid, see if I can pep up the pass rush.
5) CSC: Prediction time: how do you see this game play out? Who wins and why?
DH: Well, it's hard to predict with Drew Brees' status in limbo and even if he does play how healthy is he? Still, I'm going to say that the Cowboys are going to win but not by much. I think Dallas will be able to run the ball and if Weeden can manage to have another efficient game with low or no turnovers, then the Cowboys defense should be able to do enough for a victory. 23-20 Cowboys.
Many thanks to Dave Halprin for taking the time to answer our questions.
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