By Dan Graziano
Claiborne was flagged twice for being offsides, which is as ridiculous a call as a cornerback can get. There's no excuse for lining up offsides at that position, and it's completely avoidable by simply looking at the nearest official and asking, before the ball is snapped, whether you're over the line or not. You see high school players do this.
But Claiborne's miscues speak to the issue of what this Cowboys team is -- a work in progress. Sure, they're in contention thanks to the struggles the Giants have had against the AFC North and the fact that their division might once again be won with a not-so-spectacular record. And sure, the remainder of the schedule, with its five home games and only one opponent that currently sports a winning record, looks inviting. But these Cowboys are 4-5, and there's ample reason to wonder whether they're a good enough team to take advantage of a favorable schedule the rest of the way.
Claiborne stands as the example because he's a vitally important player for the Cowboys but not a reliable one. And if you look across their lineup, on both sides of the ball, you see a lot of that. Claiborne, Dez Bryant
and basically all of the offensive linemen are a few examples of players on whom the Cowboys have no choice but to rely heavily but whose performance can waver from week to week, quarter to quarter or even play to play. Some would add quarterback Tony Romo
to that list. And when you throw in guys like DeMarco Murray
and Miles Austin
, incredibly important players on whose health the Cowboys cannot rely, the list starts to grow very long.
There is some talent on this roster, but a lot of it is underdeveloped. And a player like Claiborne, who's likely to be an excellent cornerback in the NFL before long, is still learning on the job. The Cowboys' defense is built largely around the idea of him and Brandon Carr
as shutdown corners, and Sunday was just the latest reminder that they can't be certain what they're going to get with him in a given game. He may lock in and play great over the final seven games. He may look lost every week. He may have three great games and four lousy ones. There's just no way to know at this point in his career.
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