Statistically speaking, Dallas' offense finds itself in a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.
No team has run more plays than the Cowboys, who lead the NFL with a whopping 810 offensive snaps.
No team controls the ball better than the Cowboys, who lead the NFL with a plump 33:05 time-of-possession average.
No team avoids shooting itself in the foot better than the Cowboys, at least in the area of offensive penalties, as Dallas has committed just 70 of them.
And yet somehow, when it comes to yards-per-play, the Cowboys are right down at the bottom, along with the dregs of the NFL.
By averaging just 4.8 yards per play -- more than a full yard less than the league leaders -- Dallas is more comparable to the Jets and the Texans (each at 4.1 yards per play) than to the Seahawks and the Colts (each at 5.9 yards per play).
Under coach Bill Parcells, this team rarely implodes, and that's a good thing.
But it rarely explodes, either, and my belief is that while Defenses Win Championships (blah-blah-blah), what will separate the NFC champ from the rest of the contenders is an ability to balance a quality defense with an offense that is capable of scoring 24, 28, 30 points per game.
Capable. ... and willing.
I think it is worthy of noting that Parcells summarized the 17-10 loss in New York by saying that without the fumbled exchange that resulted in a New York recovery and return for a TD, "the game would've been tied (at the end).''
It's probably true. Correct one error, committed upfront by center Andre Gurode when he failed to alter assignments against the Giants' look and allowed the Giants' penetration, and "the game would've been tied at the end.''
Yes. Tied, after four quarters, tied 10-10.
Coach, was that the goal?
Somebody around here needs to demonstrate an ability to run for 10-yard gains. Somebody around here needs to demonstrate an ability to catch passes for 20-yard gains. Heck, a kickoff return in excess of 20 yards would even be a treat! Instead, the way Dallas is forcing itself to survive is by playing error-free football, percent football, football that requires an offense to move the length of the field in meticulous fashion.
This hasn't become "three yards and a cloud of dust''; this is 16 plays and a cloud of dust and a 0-0 tie at halftime.
Remember the Cowboys' first possession on Sunday? They snapped the ball 16 times. They ate up almost six minutes of clock. And they did it by: getting penalized once themselves; benefitting from four penalities on the Giants; rushing seven times for 17 yards; passing five times and completing none; and snapping the ball twice to the punter.
Do the math: Dallas moved 46 yards on 16 snaps. That's 3.7 yards per snap. Not counting the 34 yards worth of penalties, Dallas moved just 12 yards on its own.
It's hard to be that inept if you're trying to be. ... and I believe in a sense, Bill Parcells' Cowboys ARE trying to be.
The Cowboys, when they've wanted to or needed to, have during this season mustered up offensive output. They had to score 28 to beat the Chargers, so they did. They had to score 34 to beat the 'Niners, so they did. They thought they needed to score 33 against the Eagles, so they did. They thought they needed to score 34 against the Cardinals, so they did.
I know I'm oversimplifying things here; every time I get in this mood, I remind myself of something Troy Aikman told me a decade-and-a-half ago: "I hate when media people predict wins and losses, because it's hard to win a game in the NFL. Heck, it's hard to win a quarter. Hard to win a possession. It's hard to out-execute the other guy so you can win a single play.''
Defensively, in the NFC, the Bears are out-playing the other guy. So are the Panthers, the Bucs, the Giants, the Redskins and the Cowboys. The Seahawks, Falcons and Vikings are attempting to get there, and if they do, that's nine defensively capable teams vying for six playoff slots.
So what can separate your Cowboys from the rest of the pack?
A willingess to extract themselves from the riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. ... and a sense of urgency that might push the offense toward a goal more lofty than 10-10 ties.