It's an old story, one we hear every year.

The Dallas Cowboys play big early in the year, then shoot themselves in the foot against a playoff caliber teams.

This is the year that needs to change, and it has to start this week.

The Cowboys are playing the Bears this week, another playoff contender.  Next week's bye precedes four road games in five weeks, including trips to Baltimore and Atlanta, who will be sure to take advantage of any mistakes.  

The secondary is greatly improved, and the defense is working as a cohesive unit.  In fact, the defense has been the reason the Cowboys have won (or had a chance to win, if you take away the ten points the Cowboys gave up against the Seahawks because of turnovers).

DeMarco Murray has revitalized the run game, providing the balance that Felix Jones never could.

Miles Austin has continued to make big plays in the passing game, and Kevin Ogletree is more than filling the shoes of Laurent Robinson.

Almost everything is clicking, and the Cowboys should have won easily against the Buccaneers, and should have had a much closer call against the Seahawks.

Jason Witten is dropping passes, but that will return over the bye week, once his spleen finishes healing and he gets more practices in.

There have been a couple of issues with fumbles, but they have appeared to be mostly corrected.

The Cowboys did lose their punter to another blocking mistake, and very nearly allowed another blocked punt.  There have also been issues with not getting the right personnel in the field, usually on special teams. 

That is unacceptable in the NFL.  The coaches need to work with the players and correct this quickly.  The Chicago Bears aren't the greatest team in the NFL, but they are certainly a playoff caliber team, and can easily take advantage of such issues.

The biggest problem is the penalties, which have largely come from the offensive line.  Doug Free and Tyron Smith are twitchy, jumping off the line too soon, and there have been some issues with holding.

The holding calls should be more consistent now and easy to correct, with the return of the real refs, but the false starts have to stop.  I expect Bill Callahan will be able to fix this, but he needs to do it in a hurry.  Hopefully he can remind his tackles that they are among the best at the position, and don't need to get jumpy to win their matchups.

It's important for the Cowboys to prove that they can play mistake free football, both to themselves and to their fans.  This is the last chance for them to do so in a game situation before going to Baltimore, which could be the biggest test of the season.

Otherwise, it's going to be a long and frustrating year for Cowboys fans (again).

The author has once again typed out an article from his phone, although this time for very different reasons.  He also thinks the Vikings will win the NFC North, although he wouldn't be trumpeting this thought if his Bears fan friend wasn't talking so much smack this week.

You can join in the smack talk on Facebook (RGDSports@yahoo.com) or Twitter (@RGDSports), or just take a guess at the team on his hat.