Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Pro Bowls Are Great, Playoff Wins Are Better

Congratulations to all of the 2009 Dallas Cowboys pro bowlers. I'm happy for all of the guys who made it but I'd like to save the individual celebrations for the offseason. I'm worried about the Eagles game Sunday, playoff matchups, and playoff wins right now.

I hope the players realize how important Sunday is going to be. I know the Cowboys are in the playoffs no matter what at this point but I am hoping for a win Sunday to guarantee at least one home playoff game. The way the top NFC teams are playing right now it looks like a #3 or #4 seed could end up with a home NFC championship game. I think it is vitally important that the Cowboys secure one of those two spots.

But at the same time I'm also hoping that the best cast scenario does not play out to reward the Cowboys the #2 seed. I don't want the Cowboys to have a week to lose the momentum that they have worked so hard to get this December. We all saw what the bye week did to the team in 2007 and I don't want to see that play out again.

So my dream scenario for Sunday is for the Vikings to win to prevent the Cowboys from securing the #2 seed. I'd like to see the Cardinals lose which would give the Cowboys the #3 seed assuming they beat the Eagles. That would mean that the Cowboys could possibly host the NFC championship game assuming they make it that far. There is no guarantee that they'll win any playoff games but the Cowboys have as good a chance as anyone else this year.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Playoffs Baby!

They're in. It wasn't a great game by the offense but the defense pitched a shutout. I think we'll all take it even if the game left a lot to desired. The short yardage offense was terrible and Roy Williams is really starting to run out of chances to prove he isn't a bust. But we can't forget that the Cowboys are in the tournament and have a shot at the ultimate prize. They've won 2 straight December games after hearing about their December record for the last year.

So now a lot of things are on the line next week. Win and the Cowboys will win the NFC East and be guaranteed at least one home playoff game. Lose and they will go in as the #5 or #6 seed and play on the road. And a win would allow them to go into the playoffs on a roll for the first time in almost 15 years. They even still have an outside shot at the #2 seed which would give them a first round bye.

What went right: The offense got off to a great start and scored on their opening drive for the second week in a row. The defense shut the Redskins down and didn't allow a point. Sean Suisham was 2 for 2 on extra points and hit a short field goal. Jason Witten and Miles Austin showed they are extremely dangerous weapons in the passing game. Tony Romo continued to play good football. The Cowboys only had one turnover and that came on a tipped pass.

What went wrong: Roy Williams scored a TD but he dropped an easy ball and tipped another ball that was intercepted. The short yardage running game got stuffed countless times and several of the play calls were questionable. Pulling the guard and allowing Haynesworth a free path into the backfield is not a good idea. Jason Garrett made that mistake at least twice. And the last run play was just stuffed because Marion Barber missed the hole. The short yardage game has to be fixed ASAP.

I doubt that Wade Phillips will need any extra motivation for the game on Sunday but the lackluster showing by the offense will give him something to point to. The Cowboys need to get into playoff mode this week. Even if they have clinched the playoff they need to play like the season is on the line. A home playoff game would be a huge advantage and could be the difference between one and done and a run deep into the playoffs.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Cowboys Have to Beat the Redskins

We finally saw the team we've all been hoping for against the Saints. The Cowboys were everything I believed they could be, minus the kicker, in their biggest win in four seasons. But the win will be meaningless if the Cowboys don't find a way to make the playoffs and win a playoff game.

There is a good chance that the Cowboys will have to win their last two games or the Giants can steal the last playoff spot from them. But two wins will give the Cowboys the NFC East title and a home playoff game. The last thing I want to see is the Cowboys in a position to hope for a loss by the Giants in the final week of the season. The Cowboys control their playoff life right now and they need to keep it that way.

So what do they need to do against the Redskins? It would be easy to say just show up to the game. But history and the game just a few weeks ago tells us otherwise. Wins against the Redskins never come easily. Even though we saw a terrible team play the Giants last week you can bet that the Redskins won't play two stinkers in a row. They'll be at the top of their game and it will be won or lost in the 4th quarter.

The Cowboys will need to continue to roll on offense and pressure the quarterback on defense. The kicker situation is going to be dicey for the rest of the year so the offense needs to put the ball in the endzone. If the Cowboys can knock Jason Campbell down a few times early I think he'll get flustered and make mistakes. The biggest thing the Cowboys need to do is take the wind out of the sails of the Redskins early in the game.

If the Cowboys can build on the momentum that they started with the win against the Saints the offense should be able to move the ball. But for some reason Jason Campbell usually plays very well against Dallas. I expect the game to be close into the 4th quarter until the Cowboys finish them off. I predict a 29-14 win for the Cowboys.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Keep Holding Your Breath on Field Goals

Well, the Cowboys finally made a move at kicker. I loved what Nick Folk did for the Cowboys for a couple of years but you can't ruin your season trying to let your kicker work out of a funk. I would have been fine with dumping him before the Saints game and waiting almost cost the Cowboys their biggest win in a long time.

I know a lot of people aren't too happy with Sean Suisham. I'm not too thrilled either but I have to believe he'll be better than Folk has been for the last six weeks. Suisham is 18 for 21 for the year which isn't bad until you look at the kicks he missed. He missed a kick to close out the game for the Redskins against the Cowboys. And then he missed a kick eerily similar to the kick that Folk missed against the Saints that would have sealed the game for the Redskins. So he seems to struggle when you need him the most.

But if he can at least be consistent on the other kicks it will be an upgrade. I still feel like I won't trust the kicking game for the rest of the season. Even extra points have become a stressful play at this point. If Suisham can come out and make all his kicks under 40 yards then I'll be happy with that. I just hope we don't need him to win the game as time expires this season.

It is sad to think that we all came into the season thinking the Cowboys had a great kicker and now that position is the biggest headache. I've got to believe that the offense will be going for it on forth down a lot more from here on out when they are in position for a long field goal.

Suisham certainly has to be motivated to perform well this week to prove to the Redskins that they made a mistake. But no matter what he does the Redskins made the right move at the time just like getting rid of Folk was the right move for Dallas. Some kickers just get messed up in the head and the only way they can get out of a funk is by having a break and finding a new team. Let's just hope that Suisham has had enough time to fix whatever was causing him to choke on the big kicks.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Best Win in Years

My heart is still racing from the dramatic finish. But the magnitude of that win can't be overstated. That was the best win by the Dallas Cowboys since 2006 when they took down the undefeated Indianapolis Colts. Tony Romo played great. The defense kept one of the best offenses in NFL history to just 17 points. Demarcus Ware went from being carted off the field last week to playing like a defensive MVP this week. And they won when nearly everyone, including me, was expecting a loss.

So is the season saved? Not entirely, but that win gives the Cowboys a great shot to make the playoffs. They still might need to win out to secure a playoff birth depending on what the Giants do over the last three weeks, but they are in a much better spot now then they were a few hours ago. The only way this win really changes anything is if the great play continues for the rest of the season. There is no telling where this win will take them, but it gives them a great chance to get on a roll heading into the playoffs if they make it.

The only really bad moments in the game involved Roy Williams and Nick Folk. The Cowboys were still up by 14 points with the ball in the 4th quarter when Roy Williams dropped a sure first down on a slant route. The win may have been a lot easier if they could have at least milked more time off the clock. The Nick Folk field goal had to seal his fate. I have no confidence in him and I was saying on the last drive it was going to come down to him to seal the game. Sure enough it did. And sure enough he missed a field goal a high school kicker makes 95% of the time. That was ridiculous.

They can't wait for Folk to work through his problems anymore. They need to find a new kicker right now. He nearly lost the game tonight and the Cowboys had to fight to the end because he couldn't do his job.

I said heading into this game that the fans deserved to see their team win a big game. We've all waited a long time and we were overdue for a big win like the game tonight. Let's just hope it isn't another flash of greatness to be followed by a disappointing late season collapse. This year feels different than the last few. I might be drinking the kool-aid but I feel like they finally turned the corner tonight. We'll find out over the next two weeks.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Expecting a Loss, Hoping for a Win

Some have accused me of "drinking the kool-aid" over the last few days because I stated that I think the Cowboys can win the game tomorrow. And I still believe they can. That doesn't necessarily mean that I believe that they will, but I am going to hope that the Cowboys pull off the upset against all odds.

At some point the Cowboys are going to break through this ridiculous December barrier. A lot of fans, including myself, are sick and tired of the same story playing out every year. I think all of us who have stuck by our team through these tough times are due. The Cowboys are due for a big win...they are overdue. And the true fans deserve to see their team succeed after dealing with all of the Cowboy haters and bandwagon jumpers bashing our team.

This probably isn't the week for the breakthrough but it will be awfully sweet if the Cowboys knock the Saints from their pedestal. I'm predicting a loss this week. 34-21 for the Saints. This doesn't mean I won't be hoping for the best, but I am prepared for the worst. I hope my next blog entry is about how dumb I was to doubt my team.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Are the Saints Unbeatable?

A lot of people seem to believe that the Cowboys have no chance on Saturday. I'm not saying that the Cowboys will win the game, but I am saying that they have as good of a chance as anyone else to beat the Saints. The Saints have struggled to beat the Rams, the Redskins and the Falcons in recent games. Say what you want about the Cowboys, but they are better than all three of those teams.

So will the Cowboys win the game on Saturday? Time will tell. I'm not going into the game expecting a win but I'm hoping that the Cowboys will find a way to finally fire on all cylinders. A great game in all three phases will be necessary for the Cowboys to win.

The offense needs to go on long, time-consuming drives that end in touchdowns. The Saints are going to score points no matter how well the defense plays. So the Cowboys will need to put points on the scoreboard or they won't stand a chance. The offense has to score and they have to score touchdowns not field goals. The best defense in the game will be long drives to keep the ball away from the Saints offense as much as possible.

The defense needs to limit the big plays from the Saints offense. They Saints will score but the defense needs to make them earn every score they get. If they can go on long drives consistently throughout the game then it will be tough for the Cowboys to win. I don't think the Saints can put long drives together consistently from what I have seen from them. A lot of their scores come on big plays. Eliminate the big plays and the Saints can be beaten.

The special teams will have to play a good game if the Cowboys are going to win. They can't allow any big returns from the Saints. If the special teams can give the Saints bad field position regularly during the game then they will help limit the scoring for the Saints. I'm especially concerned about Reggie Bush on punt returns. He is a dynamic returner and the punt coverage team will have to stay disciplined when he has the ball. If the Cowboys are forced to kick a field goal then we all need to keep our fingers crossed that Nick Folk finds his groove.

And most importantly, the Cowboys can't turn the ball over. Tony Romo needs to play at the top of his game. If Romo has a bad game then you can count on a loss. Romo needs to protect the ball while still finding a way to make big plays down the field to keep the defense honest. The running backs need to hold onto the ball. The Saints' defense creates a lot of turnovers and often returns them for scores. The Cowboys can't afford to give the Saints any cheap points.

I look at the game like this. Are the Saints the best team of all time? To me they aren't even close. So the thought of them running the table is a little ridiculous to me. The Saints will lose at some point this year. Sure they are 13-0 but their defense is average so the Cowboys should be able to move the ball against them. But the Cowboys will have to solve their scoring problems or they won't stand much of a chance. I just hope the game doesn't come down to a field goal since it looks like Nick Folk will still be the kicker this week.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Everything Is Still There for the Taking

I know the loss last night was extremely disheartening. I was at the game and I can tell you how demoralizing that loss felt first hand. The stadium cleared out with about 4 minutes to go as the Chargers methodically drove down the field, grinded the clock down and then hit the game clinching field goal. It was horrible to be there and feel completely helpless watching your team get dominated.

As I drove home for the next four hours I kept trying to find something positive to take from the game. Unfortunately it just seems like they were beaten by a better team. Nick Folk is now horrible, they can't gain a yard with three cracks from the one yard line for a touchdown, and the defense can't come up with the big play in the big moment (to be fair, Demarcus Ware was hurt right before the big 3rd and 14 conversion play on the Chargers 4th quarter TD drive).

So there really isn't much there to make anyone believe that the Cowboys can compete with the big boys of the NFL this season. But there is still hope. We've seen teams get hot late in the season for the last two seasons and ride the momentum all the way to the Super Bowl. I'm not saying it is going to happen, but it is still possible. The Cowboys could be the 2009 version of the 2007 Giants and the 2008 Cardinals.

The Cowboys will still win the NFC East if they can find a way to win out. That is an awfully tall order with the New Orleans Saints waiting for them on Saturday. But if they can some how find a way to pull off the upset it just might give them the confidence to get on a roll to close the season.

There isn't a great chance that it will go the Cowboys way on Saturday, but it is possible. The Saints have pulled out some close games over the last few weeks. They seem ripe for a loss, but you know they'll be ready to go in the national spotlight on Saturday night.

If the Cowboys play their best game of the season and lose then we know they just aren't good enough this year. But if they manage to shock the NFL world, then maybe it could be the start of something special. I think we all need something to hope for at this point in the season. It isn't very likely, but there is hope. Don't give up on the team too early because you just might miss something special from this team.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The End or Just the Beginning?

The game this week is either going to be the game that starts another December slide or it could be the game that springboards the Cowboys to a special season. I've thought long and hard about this game and I have no idea what to expect. I think the teams are pretty even but the Chargers have proven they can win big games in the late season and in the playoffs over the last few seasons. The Cowboys are going to have to defeat a seasoned team.

I will be at the game and I am going to do my best to help give the Cowboys the upper hand tomorrow. I wrote a few days ago that the crowd is the biggest asset for the Cowboys this week. I just hope the crowd comes to the game ready to make a difference.

I'm going into this game with a very odd feeling. I don't feel optimistic but I'm not pessimistic either. I could see either team winning this game. But I'm going to hope for the best a pick the Cowboys to win the game by a final score of 27-21 because they are the more desperate team this week.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Cowboys Need Their Fans on Sunday

This is it. The moment we all have been waiting for. It is the biggest game of the season. Win and anything is still possible. Lose and it would take a minor miracle for the Cowboys to win a playoff spot.

The Chargers aren't planning to come into Cowboys Stadium and roll over for the Cowboys. They have won 15 straight December games as I'm sure everyone has heard at this point and they've won 7 consecutive games coming into this game. They know how to win big games in December. And the Chargers are clinging to a one game division lead so it isn't like they are feeling like they can afford to lose on Sunday.

The Chargers have a +9 turnover ratio to Dallas' -2. The Chargers score 28.5 points per game compared to 23.2 for Dallas. The Chargers have the 12th rated defense to the Cowboys 14th rated defense based on yards allowed. Nate Kaeding has made 89% of his field goals compared to just 67% for Nick Folk.

Not all of the statistics favor the Chargers but a lot of them do. But if you look at the personnel for both teams it would appear to be a very even match up on paper.

So what big factor do the Cowboys have working for them? Home field advantage.

Unfortunately, that usually doesn't mean a whole lot when it comes to the Dallas Cowboys. The fans tend to sit down during the entire game and only really get into the action when the offense is piling up points. That isn't going to cut it this week.

The fans need to be rabid. They need to be loud from opening kickoff until the final whistle. Of course they need to stay quiet for the offense, but the defense and special teams need their energy. The crowd can force false starts. The crowd can get the players motivated. And the crowd can be the biggest advantage for the home team on Sunday.

The Cowboys need their fans this week more than ever. To the fans going to the game on Sunday...if you are like me and you are dying to see the Cowboys finally break their playoff drought then you need to pour your heart and soul into the game this week. Your team needs you and this is your chance to actually make a difference in what happens on the field. Don't sit on your hands. Let the team hear you and do anything you can to send the Chargers home with a loss.

Don't be afraid to make noise. People around you might look at you like you are an idiot but the real fans will appreciate your enthusiasm. That enthusiasm tends to be contagious. Maybe by getting loud and crazy you'll get the people next to you more excited. And they, in turn, will get the people next to them going and on and on. Before you know it Cowboys Stadium will be roaring like never before. We can make a difference this week. Don't let the opportunity to go waste!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Now It Is a Tough Road to the Playoffs

I had to let the game yesterday marinate a little while before I posted anything because I didn't want to overreact to what happened. I'm very worried about the playoff hopes of the Cowboys. The game yesterday was eerily similar to the playoff game in 2007 against the Giants. It seemed like the Cowboys were the better team but somehow the final score says otherwise. The Giants flat out beat the Cowboys. There are no excuses, no fluke plays to blame it on, just a loss to a decent team.

The good news is that Tony Romo played great. You can blame that loss on a lot of things but the play of the quarterback is certainly not one of them. The running game was terrible but the offense moved the ball up and down the field with relative ease most of the game. Career days by Romo and Witten were wasted due to the big plays the Giants made.

The defense had been so good over the last two months that I think we all were expecting them to continue their stellar play. They did not play well at all and they allowed several backbreaking plays at key moments in the game. The 74-yard catch and run by Brandon Jacobs was just inexcusable.

The special teams had its first bad game of the season. Nick Folk is clearly struggling and if his problems are really being caused by bad holds then its time to find a new holder. If it is the kicker then its time to find a new kicker. The punt return for a touchdown essentially sealed the win for the Giants. The coverage unit picked a terrible time to allow a big play like that one.

And the Marion Barber fumble may have been the turning point in the game. The Cowboys were up 10-7 and driving late in the first half when Barber fumbled. The Giants scored quickly to make the score 14-10 at the half after the Cowboys had dominated for the first 27 minutes.

So where do they go from here? I'm not sure but I know that the San Diego game has turned into an absolute must-win. The Cowboys need to win three of their last four to guarantee a playoff spot. They might be in first place but they are in trouble in terms of a wild card spot because the Packers and the Giants hold the tiebreaker against them. So the best path to the playoffs would be a division championship. (Keep your fingers crossed that the Ravens can beat the Packers tonight.)

The way the Eagles are going right now it is probably going to take eleven wins to clinch the division. We all know the Saints are still on the schedule and that would be a major upset if the Cowboys beat them. So that means the Cowboys have got to beat the Chargers, the Redskins and the Eagles to secure the division crown. The biggest game of the season is Sunday and the Cowboys better come out with their "A" game or I fear we might be in for a disappointing finish. I'll be at the game and I'll do my best to help give the Cowboys a home field advantage. I hope all the other fans at the game do the same.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Time to Finish the Giants

No mercy! It is time to put the Giants out of their misery.

Now I'm not saying the game Sunday is going to be a cake walk. The Giants are going to come out fighting with everything they have left. But the Cowboys have a golden opportunity to not only essentially end the playoff hopes of the Giants, but they can also build some momentum heading into a brutal December stretch run. The Cowboys can get it done and I believe they will.

The Giants are dealing with injuries at several key positions. No injury is bigger than the foot injury that Eli Manning is dealing with. He is trying to downplay the injury but any quarterback will tell you that it is your footwork and using your legs that determines the quality of a pass more than anything else. Eli isn't going to be back at full strength until he gets a chance to rest his foot during the offseason. The defense needs to put pressure on him and force him to move around on his bad foot. Antonio Pierce is out for the season so maybe the Giants won't do as good of a job audibling the defense right before the snap every play this time around. And the running backs aren't operating at full strength. Apply some punishment to Jacobs early and he will shut it down.

The offense needs to keep the momentum from the Raider game going. I love the big plays but I'd like to see some consistency and a sustained drive early in the game that ends in a touchdown instead of a long, missed field goal. The Cowboys need to get out of the gates fast to keep the crowd from becoming a major factor in the game.

The defense will need to weather an early storm. The Giants are going to come out full of emotion. If they can get to Manning early and shut down the running game early on I think the Giants will struggle all game long. If the Giants get out fast we might have a shootout on our hands.

No matter the record or injury situation with either team it is still going to be an NFC East battle. A blowout victory is unlikely because the two teams are so familiar with each other. As much as I'd like to see a 20 point win the odds are that the game will be won or lost in the 4th quarter. That means that players in all phases of the game will need to step up and make plays at key moments in the game.

Tony Romo has to play at least a decent game to secure a win. In the first game he played terrible but still gave the chance to win. When he plays well the Cowboys win. It would do him a world of good to play well and win a road December game in front of what is sure to be a frenzied crowd. I think Tony is playing with confidence but it would help him play well down the stretch if he can get on a roll. It is time for Tony to take the next step as an NFL quarterback and this game will move him in that direction.

I know the game will be a battle. But the Cowboys have to win games like this one if they expect to make the playoffs and end their playoff drought. The vibe from the players feels good this week. I predict a 27-17 game but the game will be much closer than that sounds.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Is This a Big Game?

The reason I ask the question is because I believe the Cowboys will win on Sunday against the Giants. Something tells me that even if the Cowboys win the game it will be downplayed because the Giants have struggled over the last two months. But if the Cowboys happen to lose the game you can bet that the panic surrounding the team will be at an all-time high.

So why the double standard? Well, part of the problem is the performance of the team in some of the biggest games over the last few years. They didn't get the job done when the moment came for the team to take the next step. But I don't believe that recent history will dictate what will happen with the team this season. No matter how many December games the Cowboys win, even if they go 5 for 5, you can be sure that the doubters will still be everywhere until the Cowboys manage to win a playoff game.

The good news is that the Cowboys are certainly aware of how the last two seasons have ended. But that history should serve as all the motivation the team needs to make things different this time around. Tony Romo is a different quarterback this season. He is protecting the ball while still finding a way to make big plays. The defense has been making big plays in the 4th quarter of games to close teams out. And, more than anything else, they are healthy this season.

So, with all that said, is the game Sunday a big game? Yes it is. And so is the San Diego game. And so are New Orleans, Washington and Philadelphia (the Philly game is actually in January). They are all big games in December. And the Cowboys probably won't win all of the games, but I'm sure they will win at least a couple of them. Any win in December is a big win. The media will downplay any win and over-react to any loss. We all know its coming. But I think the difference this year will be what happens in January. Winning a playoff game is the only way everyone will be convinced the Cowboys can win a "big game."

Monday, November 30, 2009

Cowboys Need to Prove They Learned from Packers Loss

The script for the game Sunday seems very familiar. The Giants are on the ropes. The New York media is blasting them for their play, Eli Manning is injured, Antonio Pierce is out for the season, Brandon Jacobs is soft, the defense is a mess, and on and on. All signs point to the Giants rolling over for the Cowboys.

But we all know that isn't what happens when teams play the Cowboys. The Giants are playing to save their season. And they are playing the Cowboys so you know they will be on an emotional high for the game. They are going to give everything they have and probably play their best game of the season.

So the Cowboys need to prove they are a better team than the Giants. The Cowboys have a tall order this week. Not only are they trying to deliver the death blow to the Giant's season but they are also trying to do it on the road. Just like the Green Bay game a few weeks ago.

I don't know if anyone can really predict how the Cowboys will perform this week but I do think the Cowboys will be mentally prepared for what they are going to face. They know this time they are walking into a hornet's nest. And the Cowboys don't need any extra motivation to get up for the Giants.

The bottom line is that the Cowboys need to win games like this one if they have any hope to win a playoff game. You have to be able to beat a team that will do anything to win. I'm hoping that the Green Bay taught the Cowboys a lesson. Teams don't go quietly, especially a recent Super Bowl champion. I keep thinking of the Karate Kid this week. Sweep the leg.

Friday, November 27, 2009

8-3 and Now the Real Fun Starts

We've heard the same story in every way, shape and form for the last four years. The Cowboys are good early in the season but they can't get it done in December. Well, here we are for the fourth year in a row. The Cowboys have had a strong November to put themselves in position for a playoff run and a possible NFC East championship. But still no one really knows if this year is going to be any different.

The Raider game was a relief because the offense seemed to finally find its stride once again. The defense continued its impressive play but it is hard to judge how they really played since it was a terrible Raiders team they beat. But this is the same Raider team that beat Cincinnati the week before and embarrassed the Eagles earlier in the season. So it wasn't like the game was a foregone conclusion as much as we all wanted to believe it was.

So will things be different this year? There really is no way to answer that question. But we do have some indicators that might shed some light on what to expect. The Cowboys probably need to win 3 of their last 5 games to win the NFC East and just 2 of the last 5 to make the playoffs. Not a tall order until you look at the list of upcoming opponents.

On defense the Cowboys have played very good since early in the season. If they continue to limit opposition scores the way they have then you have to believe that things will be different this December. Keep the opposition below 17 points and they will win the majority of their games. The Cowboys defense is third in the NFL in points allowed and that is a recipe for success.

On offense it would appear that the Cowboys went through their slump at the best possible time. As long as the Green Bay and Washington games were an aberration then the offense should be just fine. They still commit too many penalties when the get in scoring position, but they are moving the ball. The offense is third in the NFL in yards per game. And Tony Romo, Felix Jones, and Marion Barber are all healthy this year. That is going to make a big difference.

Special teams is improved over last year. I still think back to how the special teams lost the Steeler game last season by allowing a big punt return late in the game. That hasn't been an issue this season. What does concern me on special teams is the inconsistency of Nick Folk. Kickers seem to operate on confidence and I'm not sure he believes in himself right now. The offense needs to keep the field goals short or score touchdowns to prevent the momentum swings that have happened recently due to missed field goals.

Most of the indicators point to a strong finish. The injury situation is completely different than last season and that makes a bigger difference to the Cowboys than anyone on ESPN will admit to you. Tony Romo was not healthy down the stretch last year and Felix Jones was out for the season. This year Romo is nearly 100% and Felix Jones is just rounding back into form for the key December stretch. Hopefully Ken Hamlin will be back which would put the entire starting defense on the field to start December.

If the Cowboys can play the same kind of football they have in all three phases of the game for the last five games then we should be talking about a playoff game five weeks from now. All we can do on the injury front is hope that the good luck continues.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Time to Gobble Up the Raiders

After the close call last week there is no telling what type of game we can expect this week.  But there is no doubt that this is a must-win game if the Cowboys expect to make the playoffs and/or win the division.  The Raiders have shown the ability to beat some of the better teams in the league but also the ability to lose to some of the bad teams as well.  They are definitely due for a let down after their huge upset of the Bengals last week, but you could also argue that they will be playing with a new confidence after winning last week.

Bruce Gradkowski is certainly not anyone to fear, but he is an infinitely better quarterback than Jamarcus Russell.  I was hoping Russell would survive as the starter through the Thanksgiving game, but he was so bad the Raiders finally pulled the plug last week.  That makes things a little tougher for the defense because the Raider quarterback can actually hit a wide open receiver down the field.  He wasn't great last week but he was able to make enough plays in the passing game to pull out a victory for the Raiders.

So the defense is actually going to have to show up this week once again although you would hope that this will be the week that the offense gets back on track.  I fully expect the offense to put up more than 20 points in this game, so that should ensure a victory since the Raiders have not scored over 20 points in any game this season.  The Cowboys defense is now the 5th rated defense in the NFL in terms of points allowed so they should be able to shut down the Raider attack.

Injuries are going to play into the gameplan for the Cowboys in a big way.  Jason Witten is a game time decision with a sprained foot and Tony Romo will be playing with a sore back.  Doug Free hasn't played enough to be fully trusted yet in place of Marc Columbo.  And Alan Ball will have his hands full with the vertical threat that the Raider offense poses.

The wild card in the game is the big play threat that many of the Raiders players pose.  Darren McFadden hasn't been great this year but he can score on any play when he gets the ball.  Darrius Heyward-Bey has terrible hands but he can get behind the defense with his speed.  And Johnnie Lee Higgens has big play potential as well.

The Raider defense has been pretty good all year long.  But it is a base 4-3 which Tony Romo usually handles pretty well.  They have allowed 365 yards per game on defense which ranks 24th in the NFL and they have allowed 23.4 points per game which ranks 22nd in the NFL.  While that doesn't sound great you have to look at how many close games the Raiders have lost.  Most of the games they have lost were by less than 10 points, so they usually have stayed close in every game.  There are some exceptions (New York Giants, New York Jets, and Houston Texans), but those big losses were all week 7 or earlier.  They seem to be an improved team over the last 3 games.  And Nnamdi Asomugha is probably the best cornerback in the league.

As long as the Cowboys don't lay an egg they will make it a happy Thanksgiving for all of the Dallas Cowboys fans.  Tony Romo usually shines on Thanksgiving and I expect the same thing this year.  I predict a 27-9 victory for the Cowboys.

Tony Romo Getting a New Image?

Tony Romo has always been the lovable, goofy, guy next door.  His new campaign with Starter looks like it might be trying to change that image.  I am excited to see a tougher side of Romo being displayed to the public because I don't think most people recognize the toughness he displays on a weekly basis during the season.  I know a commercial won't do anything without winning some playoff games first, but I have to believe it will help the public perception of him.  Check out the video.  This is going to play during the game tomorrow.  Maybe somewhere down the road Starter can showcase the toughness Tony Romo has displayed so far in his NFL career.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Wow, I almost ate my words. I was absolutely convinced the Cowboys were not only going to win, but that they would dominate yesterday. I was right about the win but very wrong about they way it happened. There were some positives to be taken away from the game regardless of what you hear from ESPN or the Dallas media. Here is what I took away from the game.

The Good: I saw a team that found a way to win when it seemed they were destined to lose. The Cowboys had no business winning that game. I know the team last year would have lost. This team seems to have learned what it takes to make the play when the game is on the line. Whatever plays weren't made at the end of the Denver game were made with the game on the line. The defense was great all day long even though they were under tremendous pressure all game long due to the offensive struggles. The Cowboys found a way to win when Tony Romo had a bad game. I don't know if I've ever seen them win when he plays so bad. And the defense stepped up and finished the game off when the Redskins got the ball back after the Cowboys touchdown. Like I've said before, winning is a habit.

The Bad: The offense struggled to put points on the board for the second game in a row. It seemed as though Jason Garrett over-corrected the lack of running game. It was great that they ran the ball so well but you have to make a big play here or there to put points on the board. Tony Romo is still struggling to connect with Roy Williams. Nick Folk is not making the big kicks like he used to do with regularity. It seems like the kicks he has missed have been in moments that could have made a big difference in the game.

The Ugly: Tony Romo did not look good. I am more concerned about his mechanics than anything else. Troy Aikman didn't point out what was obvious to me during the game. Tony Romo is not setting his feet and squaring his shoulders before he throws. It kind of reminds me of how his mechanics fell apart at the end of last season. I hope it was just due to injured back, but bad mechanics are going to lead to a lot of high, off-target passes. I wonder if he has lost trust in his offensive line. It is a correctable problem, but we all know that sometimes the coaching staff seems to let things go that should be addressed. Even worse than that is the play calling by Jason Garrett. He seems to have a real problem finding a balance between the passing game and the running game. One game it is all passing and the next is all running. That would be fine if points were being scored but when the offense is struggling you have to change things on the fly. I hope he finds a balance soon.

I'm going to look at the glass as half full after that win. And let's not forget it was a win against a division opponent which is big no matter how you get the W. Last time the Cowboys barely beat a team they were supposed to dominate they went on a four game winning streak. Let's hope this win propels them on another tear. Another three or four game streak would nearly clinch a playoff appearance. They have to get the streak going with a win against the Raiders.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Cowboys Will Win This Week

I don't normally deal in absolutes when it comes to the Dallas Cowboys. But they will win this week. Had they won against the Packers last week I might feel differently. But the Cowboys can't afford to drop another game. The Redskins may have pulled off an upset last week but, let's be honest, their season is essentially over. The desperate team usually wins in the NFL. The Cowboys have more to play for and more motivation after what happened last week.

At the beginning of the week I thought this might be one of those last-minute/last play of the game type of wins, but I'm getting a different vibe this week. I know they players are saying that last week is over and they have moved on. But we all know they were embarrassed by the way they played and they are determined to prove it was just a hiccup and not an indication of what type of team that they really are. I'm not saying the Cowboys are going to win by 30 but I do think it will be very obvious that the Cowboys are the better team on Sunday.

Jason Campbell is in for a long day. Clinton Portis is out, Chris Cooley is out and Albert Haynesworth is highly questionable with an ankle injury. All signs point to a big win by Dallas and I think we will see exactly that. I predict a final score of 27-13 and the game won't seem as close as that score sounds.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

An Interview with Daryl "Moose" Johnston

I was lucky enough to get some time to talk with three time Super Bowl champion Daryl Johnston today. It was quite an honor for a lowly fan like me to have 15 minutes of his time to discuss the Dallas Cowboys. Daryl played for the Dallas Cowboys from 1989-1999. He was the lead blocker for the majority of Emmitt Smith's all time NFL record rushing yards. Daryl currently works for FOX as a color analyst for NFL broadcasts. Any long time fan knows that "Moose" was a fan favorite no matter where the Cowboys were playing.

Daryl talked to me in conjunction with his promotion of Bank of America's Cowboys Banking. The program allows you to personalize your debit Mastercard and provides tons of incentives for Dallas Cowboys fans. Be sure to check it out to thank Daryl for giving his fans some of his time.

Here is the interview posted in question and answer format:

What is your best memory from your games with the Redskins?
"Its kind of a mixed bag for me. My initial neck injury came against the Redskins at FedEx Field and then my career ended against the Redskins at FedEx Field. So, not a lot of good memories for me in the rivalry. We did win the only game of 1989 when we went 1-15 that was a victory over the Redskins at RFK. And then one of the other ones that I really enjoyed was probably my favorite game was the opening game of the 1991 season on Monday Night Football. We had Hank Williams, Jr. down in Texas Stadium to sing the song. It was the first time that Texas Stadium was really electric with the atmosphere inside. Even though we lost the game 31-30 I think that gave us a lot of confidence at the start of the season that we could compete with the better teams in the NFL. We went on to have an 11-5 season that year."

How about the game in 1999 when you guys came back from 21 points down to win the game?
"Yeah, that was a good one. I had forgotten about that one. Yeah 21 points down in the 4th quarter too? That was pretty amazing. It was a situation too because we were really having trouble throwing the football. We actually got back into the game even down 21 by running it. So that was one of the more emotional games we had down the stretch. Things for me were starting to wind down. That's a good game to have in your memory banks at that stage of your career."

When you are calling the Cowboys games for FOX do you ever find yourself having trouble pulling for the Cowboys and having to keep yourself level or do you have yourself pretty well separated at this point where that's not an issue anymore?
"No, its kind of easy for me. I like to see good football. So, if the teams are playing good football it doesn't matter whether its Dallas, Philadelphia, Washington, Carolina, San Francisco. I like to watch well executed, well coached football. What is frustrating for me is when you see sloppy play, when a team is out of sync. We've had Dallas on a number of occasions where they have not played well. We had Dallas-St. Louis last year. That was a difficult game to be a part of. They went right down the field on the first series and then didn't do much of anything right the rest of the game. You can't tell the viewer something that's not happening on the broadcast. So if Dallas is not playing well it is just me trying to explain why its not happening or what the other team is doing to take advantage of the fact that they are playing well. And that's about all I can do. They either make my job a little bit easier when they are playing well or a little bit more difficult when they don't play well."

When you aren't calling the games do you still consider yourself part of the team or the organization?
"Part of the family. Part of the Cowboys family. You're not part of the organization. Your not a part of the team. Not from a business sense or from a participation sense but you are always a part of the family. And the Jones family has done a great job of kind of perpetuating that. So you have a lot of great people that you can call part of the family. And a lot of those guys have made the Dallas/Ft. Worth area their home. I get to see Walt Garrison and Roger Staubach and Preston Pearson and Drew Pearson and Randy White and Lee Roy Jordan and all of the guys that came before us. So that's the cool part. You're not part of the organization but you are always part of the family."

What do you think about this year's version of the Dallas Cowboys?
"Lacking consistency right now. I thought that if they would have won the Green Bay game in convincing fashion then all of a sudden now I think that the New Orleans Saints are the team they have to be concerned about. And they are going to play each other down the stretch in the month of December. The loss to Green Bay just brings everything back after that great victory in Philadelphia. I'd seen Philadelphia the week before against the Giants and I really thought that was one of the best performances I had seen all season, personally. I just was so impressed with Dallas going up there the following week and playing as well as they did that the game in Green Bay should have been a lock. Green Bay had lost to Tampa Bay, they had a players only meeting. Those are signs of a team in desperate straits. Dallas should have been able to come out and finish those guys off."

Do you think the team has enough talent to compete for a Super Bowl or do you think there is a talent issue and that is part of the problem?
"No, I don't think there is a talent issue. I really don't. You look at the key components you have to have to be successful. The NFL is a quarterback driven league. They have a quarterback who admits that he has some things that he has to improve on with his game. I think he has been a lot better with his decision making this year. You need big playmakers. They've got Roy Williams, Miles Austin, Jason Witten, Felix Jones, Marion Barber. You need a defensive presence that can get to the quarterback. They have Demarcus Ware. They have Anthony Spencer. Bradie James is good from the inside. They've got some good tackles to hold down that foundation. To me they've got all the components. I don't think there's any lock down corners in the NFL. But when you look at Dallas with Mike Jenkins, Orlando Scandrick and Terence Newman that's a pretty good trio of corners that you throw out there. I don't really see a glaring weakness anywhere with Dallas and that is why the Green Bay game so frustrating."

What do you think they need to do to get over that hump to achieve the consistency that everybody is wanting to see out of them?
"Understand that they have to match the intensity every week of the opponent that they are going to play. It can't just be when it is a division rival on the road. You wonder what their mindset was taking the field that day. Was that game more important to Green Bay then it was to Dallas? Being able to put your emotions in check and live in a week to week and game to game scenario as opposed to thinking hey, we're pretty good we've played well over the last four weeks. That means nothing once that game's over. That means nothing and that is one of the things that fans don't realize. When you play in the NFL you don't get to enjoy your victories very much but the losses tear your heart out. So its a tough business to be around. We were motivated in my era mainly by not wanting to win as much as it was you were trying to avoid that sickening feeling when you lost was our key motivation."

A lot of people believe that Jason Garrett is the head coach in waiting for the Cowboys. You know him better than a lot of people who comment about him. Do you see him as the next coach of the Dallas Cowboys?
"I definitely see him as a head coach in the NFL in the future whether he has that opportunity with Dallas or not I'm not sure. Everything that was done a couple of years ago with his contract you would think that was something that would be possible. He is the highest paid coordinator and Jerry made it very, very easy to make the decision to stay in Dallas. I think it would be a natural progression if there were a change that Jason would be your guy. But what happens if all of a sudden that Dallas is playing very, very well and there is no reason to make that change and there is another opportunity that comes along that Jason Garrett thinks is too good to turn down? When he went to Baltimore, when he visited Atlanta I think that those were probably scenarios that weren't as appealing being in Dallas at that time was. Jason made the comment that he felt that there was unfinished business here with the Cowboys. They haven't done anything comparable to what they did after they had that loss to the Giants in the playoffs that year so I still think you would still hear Jason Garrett say there is unfinished business here with Dallas."

I think maybe Jason Garrett gets a little bit of a bad rap and the Dallas media is notoriously hard on the entire organization when they aren't winning Super Bowls.
"Yeah, they tend to ride that emotional roller coaster quite a bit. The big thing is things weren't as great as they were in their minds after the Philadelphia win and things aren't as bad now after the Green Bay loss. It lies somewhere in between. Players and coaches try to keep it as consistent as they can. Not get too high with the highs and not get too low with the lows. But the media and the fans they swing back and forth on that pendulum all the time."

What are your impressions of the new stadium?
"I think it is fantastic, I really do. The architecture from the outside when you walk up is very cool. I love the big plazas at the ends. The uniqueness of the monitors, the roof, the panels. Jerry did the best of or the biggest at this time on a couple of occasions inside. Once you get in the building the finish out is phenomenal. The Jones family put a lot of thought into that facility and I don't think they left a stone unturned. When you're talking about a three million square foot facility and you can walk through it and see the finish out and the quality that exists on that size of a building it is absolutely incredible. I'm completely blown away by it."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Things Are Never Easy Against the Redskins

On paper the game on Sunday looks like an easy win for the Cowboys. The Cowboys tend to dominate bad teams. Washington comes to town with a 3-6 record and a head coach who is nothing more than a glorified cheerleader. But they did pull off an impressive upset of the Denver Broncos last weekend so they are a little better than it seemed a few weeks ago. Still, without any rivalry implications this would seem to be an easy game.

Unfortunately, history tells us otherwise when it comes to division games and especially division games against the Redskins. The best example to me is the 1989 season. Dallas was only 1-15 but the one game they managed to win was against the Washington Redskins who were 10-6 that season. That game essentially cost the Redskins a trip to the playoffs.

Looking back at the history between the two teams there are examples where both teams have pulled off unexpected upsets or won in dramatic fashion. The past tells us that something crazy is bound to happen in one or both of the games between the two teams this year.

One of my favorite games of all time was the season opening comeback victory for the Cowboys in 1999. The Cowboys overcame a 21 point 4th quarter deficit to win on a 76 yard pass from Troy Aikman to Rocket Ismail in overtime. The Cowboys actually swept the season series that year but it took an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime type of comeback to win that first game. Check out the video if you need a reminder of the game.

On the other side of things, in 2005 the Cowboys dominated the Redskins for nearly the entire game and had a 13-0 lead late in the game. Santana Moss burned the Cowboys for two long touchdowns to steal the game from the Cowboys in the last few minutes of the game. It was a heart breaker and it still hurts to think about even now.

You can go back and look at the games in every season and you'll find that there is usually some sort of wacky outcome in one of the two games during the season. Do yourself a favor and check out the Wikipedia page on the Cowboys-Redskins rivalry. There are a lot of good memories and a lot of painful ones too.

The point here is that we can't assume that just because the Cowboys are 6-3 and clearly the better team on paper that Sunday is going to be a cakewalk. Sure, the Cowboys might just go out and dominate the Redskins. But there is a good chance that something crazy will happen during the game. As long as the Cowboys come out on top I'll take any win they can get.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Bad Loss, But the Sky is Not Falling

It was an ugly game. The Cowboys played a stinker in what could have been a defining moment in the season. With the Eagles losing to the Chargers it could have been a two game lead in the NFC East. That didn't happen. We all need to get over it.

Sure, it was terrible. Just when they had us all believing they had turned the corner they gave us a reminder of why everyone is always skeptical about the Cowboys. For some reason they just can't seem to handle prosperity. I don't know what it is, but it is almost like you can feel it coming with this team every now and then. I have to believe part of it is that Wade Phillips isn't knocking these guys down to size when times are good. When you are winning you have to continue to work just as hard if not harder to succeed because you get a target on your back.

I don't want to go into too many specifics and do too much finger pointing because you can point to just about every player and point out mistakes. The Miles Austin/Tony Romo near touchdown on the opening drive would have completely changed the game. Roy Williams had a terrible fumble and a dropped pass on a perfectly thrown ball. The offensive line let free rushers get after Tony Romo all day long. Jason Garrett abandoned the run. Nick Folk missed a field goal. Jason Witten missed a block to cause a sack. Orlando Scandrick was penalized several times. The officiating was terrible. And on and on and on.

The Cowboys have to correct the mistakes in the game and move on. If they let a game like this sink in for too long they might doubt themselves. I might be naive, but I think it was just one of those days. Nothing ever came together for endless reasons. As Tony Romo has been preaching, they need to learn from the game and get better. I just hope they can find a way to prevent a clunker like this happening again this season. I'll give them one horrible game, but they can't afford any more like that game.

The worst news from the game to me were the injuries. Marc Columbo is out for at least the regular season and probably until next year. Ken Hamlin is out 3-4 weeks with a sprained ankle. Mike Jenkins has a severely bruised biceps but should be ok. Kyle Kosier and Flozell Adams both have minor ankle sprains. David Beuhler has a bruised and possible broken pinkie toe on his kicking foot. The only positive is that most of the injuries appear to be relatively minor, but the injury bug finally hit. I knew the day was coming that guys would get hurt but it just seemed to be an endless parade of guys laying on the turf getting tended to by the trainers.

With all of that bad news I think it is important to remember where the Cowboys stand. They are 6-3 and leading the NFC East. Two very winnable games coming up should allow them to push the record to 8-3 heading into the final stretch of the season. Even with the injuries on Sunday the Cowboys are still in better shape than most teams in the league. Tony Romo is still healthy and I'll take my chances with him at QB any day. Don't forget how important it is to have your franchise quarterback at 100%. All the preseason goals are still possible, but no one will give them any breaks. The Cowboys have to go out and earn it on the field starting with the Redskins on Sunday.

Friday, November 13, 2009

How to Beat the Packers

When the week started all signs pointed to a victory for Dallas this week. Over the course of the last few days there has been nonstop news and controversy coming out of Green Bay. The Packers held a players meeting to get themselves back on track. The coach has been accused of having a stadium employee fired. The fan base has become restless about the performance of the Packers. It feels like the Packers are backed into a corner. This has turned into the biggest game of the season for the Packers. Beat the Cowboys and they can turn things around. Lose and it would appear that they will fold up shop for the season as they fade into obscurity.

I initially had a great feeling after the great road victory against the Eagles. Now I have an uneasy feeling the if the Cowboys don't bring their "A game" they will be in for a tough fight. Road games are never easy. The home field advantage the Packers usually have is the cold weather. While it will be cold compared to Dallas, the forecast is for a high of 47 on Sunday and a low of 31. Cold but not anything that should impact either team. So my uneasy feeling is purely based on the vibes coming out of Green Bay that this is the defining point of the season.

The Cowboys will have to come out quickly to keep the Packers from getting too much confidence early in the game. I've said this before, but the key when you are the better team is to show them early so they don't start believing that they can win. Start out quickly and the crowd might just turn on their beloved Packers. Who knows, the Packers might implode before our eyes if the Cowboys jump out early.

Turnovers are always a big deal and the Cowboys will obviously need to limit them again. But more importantly, I think they need to force some turnovers. Aaron Rodgers is expected to throw more quick passes this week to limit the number of sacks he has been taking. If the Cowboys can pick one or two off early in the game then it will force the Packers back to the deep ball approach. That puts the advantage back in the corner of the Cowboys because they'll be able to get to Rodgers if he holds the ball.

I think this is the week that the running game gets back on track. The Cowboys have been doing a good job taking what the opposing defenses are giving up. The Cowboys have been heavy on the pass over the last few weeks and I have to believe that the Packers are going to try to prevent the big pass plays. That means leaving safeties deep which opens up the running game. I expect a heavy dose of Marion Barber, Felix Jones, and Tashard Choice. Of course the Packers may believe that Charles Woodson and Al Harris can shut down the outside receivers with their tough bump-and-run (aka defensive holding) so the Cowboys may have to hit a few passes to loosen them up for the run. I just hope we don't have the type of officials who let Al Harris hold all game long without throwing a flag.

One of the biggest helps to the defense has been the ability of the special teams units to make the opposition drive the length of the field. That will need to continue this week. If the Packers are forced to drive the length of the field then the Cowboys can afford to give up some quick passes without surrendering points.

For some reason it feels like this is going to be a close game. I expect the Cowboys to win but not like most people seem to believe. My pick is a 27-24 victory for the Cowboys in a tight, hard fought game.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Cowboys Need to Keep Adding to the Win Column

So here the Cowboys sit at the halfway point at 6-2. Not only that but they are also 5-1 in NFC games and they have the tiebreaker over Atlanta and a road win at Philadelphia in their pockets. Not bad for half a season's work. But there is still half a season to go.

The Cowboys have been relatively injury free so far this season. Sure, Marion Barber and Felix Jones are fighting through minor injuries. Gerald Sensabaugh missed a game with a broken thumb and is still playing with a cast. Andre Gurode and Ken Hamlin are nicked up after the Philly game. But compared to the injury disaster that was the 2008 season there is really nothing to complain about. My worry is that it only takes one game or, in some cases, one play to change everything. That is why they need to keep winning the games they are supposed to while they still have all hands on deck.

The December schedule has been dissected to no end by nearly everyone and we all can see that things are going to get much tougher down the stretch. If the Cowboys can piece together 3 more wins over the next few weeks they can head into the brutal stretch at 9-2. Even going 2-1 over the next 3 games would be ok since they would sit at 8-3 and in no worse than a tie for first in the NFC East. It is probably going to take 10 wins to clinch a playoff birth and at least 11 to win the division. If the Cowboys can bank a few more wins now then they can afford to drop a few late season games without destroying the season.

Winning breeds more winning. We can all see that the team that takes the field these days for the Cowboys is very different from the team that walked on the field in week 1. I think part of that is due to the added confidence that comes with putting together a winning streak. The more times they win the more they are going to believe in themselves. I think the Philadelphia win is going to put a swagger back in their step that we haven't seen since the 13-3 season in 2007. I think they are a more mature team this time around who will handle the media attention better. Romo is a seasoned veteran and he seems to understand that he is going to have to continue to "grind" every day to make sure things stay on the right path. It seems like the whole team gets it right now.

I hope we aren't being set up for a disappointment again but I don't think we are. Things feel different this time. Sure, injuries could knock the wind out of their sails faster than anything else, but I don't think complacency is going to be the downfall. Keith Brooking won't allow it. Jay Ratliff won't let it happen. Tony Romo has worked his tail off and isn't going to fade into the abyss without a fight.

With the great start to the season all that the Cowboys need to do to make sure they are in the tournament is win the games they are favored to win. I see 4 very winnable games remaining and 4 tough games. If they win the 4 winnable games that is 10 wins. Split the other two and we are looking at a 12 win season. All of the preseason goals are there for the taking. The Cowboys need to just keep doing what they are doing right now.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Sweet Revenge

The players and coaches can say this game didn't have anything to do with last season all they want. We all know that when something like the 44-6 season finale happens to you it is a big deal. I guarantee part of the reason there was so much excitement after the win last night was because the team felt like they finally got past the disaster last season. I know it felt better than any win they have had in a long time to me. I'm going to enjoy this one just a little bit more this week because it came against the Eagles and it shut up their obnoxious fans for at least a few weeks.

It was a hard fought game by both teams. Romo finally got things going with Roy Williams so that storyline can die down for a while and hopefully forever. Miles Austin made the big play to win the game again on a perfectly thrown ball in crunch time in the 4th quarter. The defense contained the big playmakers of the Eagles all night with the exception of a long gain on a screen pass to LeRon McCoy. Special teams never let DeSean Jackson get anything going on punt returns and kick returns were minimal with the exception of a return for a touchdown called back thanks to a holding penalty.

What went right: The defense was in McNabb's face for the majority of the game and definitely had a hand in his subpar play. The two interceptions were huge and they lead to 10 points for the Cowboys. Tony Romo did a great job choosing his moments and he took the sack a few times rather than risk a turnover. He threw for over 300 yards and made a perfect throw on a double move to Miles Austin late in the game for a touchdown. Roy Williams looked good for the first time since the season opener against Tampa Bay. Jay Ratliff was a beast in the middle stopping the run in the second half and coming up with 2 sacks. Don't discount the job that Matt McBriar did preventing DeSean Jackson from getting any big punt returns.

What went wrong: I'm sure Tony Romo would like to have the ball back that was intended for Jason Witten that got intercepted. It was a bad read and a bad pass. The penalties were still a challenge for the offense to overcome. They had to overcome a lot of their own mistakes. The officials stunk all night long. They made bad calls against both teams but a few really stood out for me. The Eagle's touchdown pass came after Brent Celek clearly pushed off from Gerald Sensabaugh to get open in the back of the endzone but there was no call. Jason Witten was called for offensive pass interference for doing basically nothing. And the kicker was the Asante Samuel play in the end zone at the end of the half when he held the arm of Roy Williams on a sure touchdown pass. I think the calls evened out overall with the exception of the Asante Samuel play. David Beuhler didn't have his best night on kickoffs as he struggled to get the depth on his kicks we have come to expect.

Overall, going on the road against a division opponent and getting a win in a high pressure game was huge for the team going forward. This year's version of the team has found the formula for making the plays when it counts. They struggled early in the season in the big moments but they have now won a couple of games when the chips were down in the fourth quarter. 6-2 is a great record at the halfway point, but it is only the halfway point. But the Cowboys are in a great position heading into the second half of the season to not only make the playoffs but compete for a division title.

Next up is Green Bay on Sunday. They are only 4-4 but their offense is dangerous. I hope the players aren't going to buy into the media hype that is sure to build this week now that the team has proven that it is a force to be reckoned with. I don't want to look too far ahead, but a seven game streak is a real possibility if the Cowboys can take care of business this week.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

How to Beat the Eagles

We've all seen the games between the Cowboys over the last few years. They are usually close and there are usually big plays for both teams throughout the game. Last year's season finale was the obvious exception. But with the Eagles adding another play maker in Jeremy Maclin this season and the Cowboys discovering the talent of Miles Austin it seems like both teams are primed for a shootout. While that would be entertaining for fans who like scoring I think the Cowboys would be making a mistake by playing that type of game.

I don't mean the Cowboys shouldn't run their offense. I think what they have been doing over the last month is exactly what they need to do in this game. Mix the pass and run, play safe at times and go for the big play in the right moments. The main thing is that the game has to remain relatively close or the Cowboys will be forced to open things up which could mean a shootout or it could mean disaster if Tony Romo isn't having one of his good games.

So how do they keep the game from turning into a shootout? I believe the key to stopping the Eagles is to contain DeSean Jackson. I know Westbrook, Maclin and McNabb all present their own challenges, but the Eagles have lived by the big play this season. They don't have a single scoring drive that has lasted over 5 minutes. That means that when the score the drive usually involves one or more big plays.

There are two places I worry about Jackson. Punt returns are a big concern just because, at some point, the Cowboys are going to have to punt the ball to him. It is going to be vitally important that the punt coverage gets down the field quickly and bottle him up before he gets in the open. If he gets in the open field he is gone. The other concern is the big pass play. That is where the pass rush becomes the key to the game. The only way McNabb can throw 50 yard bombs to Jackson is if the Cowboys give him time to let the play develop. Demarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer need to be in McNabb's face all night long. I'm sure Wade Phillips will be dialing up blitzes to prevent the deep balls, but the best plan is to get your pass rushers to beat their blockers one-on-one without blitzing.

If the Cowboys can prevent the big plays in the Eagles passing game and continue their improved special teams play I believe they will win. Donovan McNabb is not an accurate passer and he will make mistakes if the Cowboys pressure him. And not only get to him but bring him down once they get there. McNabb is a big guy and he is hard to bring down so the defense needs to wrap up when they get to the quarterback.

I believe Tony Romo has turned the corner and he will continue to play good football this week. That means that the Cowboys will score enough points to win provided that the Eagles don't hang a big number on the scoreboard. I predict a 31-20 victory for the Cowboys.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Win This Week Would Mean...

A lot, but not as much as some would have you believe. Sure, a win would put the Cowboys in first place in the NFC East and in the driver's seat for a playoff push in the second half of the season. Not only that, but the Cowboys would have a four game winning streak and confidence in themselves heading into the tougher part of their schedule.

But beating the Eagles Sunday night doesn't guarantee anything except a 6-2 record at the halfway point. Six wins would be great but no team is going to qualify for the playoffs with only six wins. The Cowboys will probably still need at least four more wins in the last eight games even if they do beat the Eagles.

I'm trying not to treat this game as the Superbowl because the bottom line is that even a loss doesn't mean that the season is over. A loss would put the Cowboys at 5-3 which isn't terrible, but it would make a playoff trip difficult because they would probably have to go at least 5-3 over a much tougher second half schedule.

If the Cowboys really are as good as I am starting to believe then they should be able to go to Philadelphia and win. Are the Eagles really that good? Are the Cowboys really that good? This game will help answer both of those questions but things could be totally different by the time the two teams meet again in the season finale. Just ask the Giants...they were 5-0 a few weeks ago and everyone had them in the Superbowl. A few weeks later they are trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

I will definitely enjoy the game if the Cowboys beat the Eagles and shut up their obnoxious fans. But the last few years have taught me that they don't crown the NFL champions in November.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Now We're Rolling!

A few weeks back I was hoping that the last second win against the Chiefs might be the spark the Dallas Cowboys needed to get a winning streak going. Well, here we are about three and a half weeks later and things seem a lot more settled in the world of the Cowboys. Tony Romo is on the longest interception free streak of his career, three games. Miles Austin has now performed as a top receiver for three games in a row. The defense is creating turnovers and getting pressure on the quarterback. And the special teams is making it a habit of making big plays and preventing big returns by the opposition.

I was at the game Sunday so I had a different perspective than usual for the game this week. Obviously it was complete domination, but I saw a team that just might be a real contender this year. Sure, it was the Seahawks, but there was no doubt that the Cowboys were in a different class than the Seahawks. Now the real test will begin as the Cowboys will travel over the next two weeks to Philadelphia and Green Bay. If they come out of those games with at least a split then I think we can start talking about the Cowboys being a playoff team. I want to look back one last time at the Seattle game and enjoy the win before shifting my focus to the Eagles...even though I am already pretty well focused on the upcoming game.

What went right: Well, pretty much everything. The passing game was very good once again. The Seahawks sent blitz after blitz at Tony Romo and the offensive line, tight ends, and running backs stonewalled them for almost the entire game. Romo had ample time to find his receivers all over the field. He completed passes to 10 different receivers and had three touchdowns and no interceptions. The running game wasn't great but it was certainly good enough to keep the Seahawks honest. Marion Barber looked almost full strength and Felix Jones is starting to seem a little more durable (by that I mean I'm not holding my breath every time he gets hit because I fear an injury). The defense pretty well dominated the Seahawks. They did give up a few big pass plays but Matt Hasslebeck is a very good quarterback and the big plays he made were near perfect passes. The secondary broke up several passes and the running game of Seattle was basically non-existent after the first quarter. And Patrick Crayton returned another punt for a touchdown. I'm going to have to admit that I was wrong about him as a returner. With adequate blocking he can make a big return because he knows how to read the blocks ahead of him.

What went wrong: From my perspective in the stadium I could see exactly what was happening between Tony Romo and Roy Williams. It appeared that most of the incompletions between the pair were a result of different reads by the two players on option routes. The fact that Roy is the only one having a problem with Tony tells me that the problem lies with Roy Williams. There was one pass in the second half where Tony correctly read that the safety was jumping the short route so he expected Roy to break deep. Tony threw what would have been a touchdown but Roy cut off his route and ran straight into the coverage instead of away from it. The "cute" playcalling of Jason Garrett made one appearance late in the game. With a 28 point lead and about 9 minutes to go, Garret called for a play action pass that resulted in a fumble by Tony Romo. It was a completely unneccesary play at that point in the game and, in the stadium, they showed the displeasure of Wade Phillips on the sideline. After the Seahawks scored, Wade went over to Jason Garrett and appeared to tell him something with the words run the ball in the phrase.

What needs to improve: The running game hasn't been the same since the Cowboys had Felix Jones and Marion Barber go down with injuries. They both seem to be getting close to full strength, but you can see that they both don't quite have their usual burst back yet. The Cowboys will need to be able to control the ball against the Eagles so both backs need to be ready to go this week. Obviously, Tony Romo and Roy Williams need to start clicking. I know it will happen at some point, but this is starting to get ridiculous. I think Roy needs to realize that Tony always looks for the big play first so he should always take that option on his routes when in doubt. The Cowboys can't afford any wasted plays against the Eagles so Jason Garrett needs to be smart with the playcalling especially late in the game with a lead.

My stadium impressions: I'm posting a view from my seats along with this entry. Although my seats were pretty high up (section 433), I had a great view of the field and I didn't feel like I was too far from the action like I had feared. The video boards obviously are amazing and I noticed a lot of fans were watching the board rather than the action on the field. I prefer the field view at the stadium because you can see so much more of the offensive and defensive strategy play out when you can see the entire field in front of you. The stadium itself is an absolute palace. The concessions and bathrooms are easily accessible. I don't leave my seat during the game so I don't know about wait times during half time or between quarters, but before the game there were no lines for the bathrooms or at the concession stands.

My biggest gripe about the stadium is the sound system. I don't know if it was where I was sitting, but I could hardly make out the stadium announcer calls after the plays and the music sounded atrocious due to the different speakers hitting me with the same sounds at different times. Things might be better down in the high dollar seats, but, up high, the sound system is flat out terrible.

The coolest thing I saw at the stadium was the opening of the giant glass doors in the endzone before the game. At 10 am when fans were allowed to enter, security lined up in front of the doors. Dramatic music fired up and then the doors slowly opened to unveil the center of my football universe. It was the neatest pre-game moment I can ever remember at a stadium. It took a few minutes for the doors to open and then the fans streamed into the stadium when the line of security gave the ok.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Game 8 Keys to Victory

This is another one of those games that can easily become a dogfight if the Cowboys allow it to happen. On the flip side, if the Cowboys play up to the level of their ability it should be a blowout. There is really no telling at this point which version of the 2009 Dallas Cowboys will show up this week. We've seen the impressive, dominant version in one game and a pretty disorganized, sloppy team in the rest of the games. If the Cowboys really expect to be a team who can make a run deep into the playoffs then games like the one on Sunday should be no trouble. It would be nice to see them dominate a clearly inferior team from start to finish for once. Here is what I think the Cowboys need to do to win the game:

1. Show up. I mean that literally and figuratively. Just stepping on the field gives them the edge in this game. But the Cowboys need to be there mentally as well. If they can come out focused and energized they should be able to jump out early and extend the lead from that point on.

2. Improve this week. In games like this it is important to come out with a purpose. Although the Seahawks do have enough talent to pull off the upset I think everyone realizes that the Cowboys will win if they play decent football. So the goals need to be higher than just winning. The team should be focusing on playing better football every week. This game should be no exception.

3. Take advantage of the weak offensive line of the Seahawks. The Cowboys should have a field day getting after Matt Hasslebeck, but they will have to force the Seahawks into obvious passing situations to expose the weakness. That means that they need to keep Julius Jones and the rest of the backs for Seattle bottled up. We have all seen first hand that Julius is capable of a big day, so they need to stop him early before he gets into a rhythm. If the Cowboys shut down the run they should put up an impressive sack total for the game.

4. Get the lead early and then grind it out. I would like to see the Dallas offense come out firing and establish a big lead before settling down to grind out the clock with the running game. It has been a few games since the running game has looked dominant and this is just the type of game they need to work out the kinks.

I have a great feeling going into this game. The players seem focused and I haven't heard mention from any coach or player about anything beyond the game Sunday. That is a good sign. The Cowboys should dominate and get the crowd heading home early. I predict a 34-13 victory for the Cowboys.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Cowboys Need to Keep the Ball Rolling

Now that the Cowboys seem to be finally getting a little bit of momentum it is imperative that they continue to win games against inferior opponents. A couple of weeks ago the Cowboys were staring disaster in the face as they tried to overcome the Kansas City Chiefs. The dramatic overtime victory may have finally given the Cowboys the shot in the arm they needed. After winning back to back games they Cowboys have a real shot to re-establish themselves as a real contender in the NFC.

The last thing any of us want to see is the Cowboys playing down to the level of the competition. It has been a long time since they went out and completely dominated an opponent from start to finish. The game Sunday against the Seahawks is a golden opportunity for the Cowboys to show that they can impose their will. I don't want to see the Cowboys bumbling around turning the ball over and making dumb penalties.

The Cowboys can't look past Seattle or they will find themselves in a dogfight. I'm not sure what the vibe is in the locker room this week but I hope they are going to keep "grinding" as Tony Romo keeps saying this year. Maybe the Falcons game was the start of something special, but time will tell. The only way the Cowboys are going to establish some real momentum heading into the tough part of the schedule is by dominating the Seahawks.

I'm a little worried because everything heading into the game seems to favor the Cowboys. The Cowboys have home field advantage. The Seahawks offensive line is a mess thanks to injuries. The Seahawks #1 cornerback is iffy heading into the game. The Cowboys are essentially at full health. All of those advantages don't mean anything if the Cowboys don't come out with the fire they did in the Falcons game. I hope they keep themselves motivated because I don't have any faith that Wade Phillips will force them to keep grinding during practice. Keith Brooking, Jason Witten, Tony Romo and the rest of the leaders need to make sure the team is working hard heading into the game. If they focus this week then I have no doubt that the Cowboys will win handily on Sunday.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Over Two Weeks of Good Vibes Continue

As if the game yesterday wasn't enough to get you feeling really good about the Dallas Cowboys for the first time all year, Demarcus Ware's deal today capped off what has been an enjoyable 15 days. I know I have to remind myself once in a while to enjoy the good moments because there will be bad times down the road and I take the losses harder than I enjoy the wins. I'm sure a lot of the fans have the same problem that I do. Don't forget to relish the big victories like the one yesterday. Those are the moments that make it fun to be a fan. Here is a brief recap of what has transpired over the last 15 days.

1. It started with a breakout performance by Miles Austin in a dramatic overtime victory that may have saved the season. Miles Austin only got the start because Roy Williams couldn't play with his rib injury. All Austin did was put up 10 receptions for 250 yards and 2 touchdowns including the dramatic game winner in overtime.

2. The Cowboys played an awful game but managed to pull out a victory against the hapless Chiefs thanks to great play by Miles Austin, a good performance by Tony Romo, and a timely special teams play (blocked field goal).

3. During the bye week the Cowboys got to watch the entire NFC East come back to them as the Giants, Eagles and Redskins all lost.

4. During practice in the week leading up to the Falcons game, the Cowboys got Roy Williams, Felix Jones, and Gerald Sensabaugh all back on the practice field.

5. Leading up to the game most of the "experts" believed that the Cowboys wouldn't be able to defeat a team of the caliber of the Falcons. We got to hear how good the Falcons were and what a mess the Cowboys were. That seemed to just add fuel to the fire of the Cowboys.

6. The Cowboys started slow but overwhelmed the Falcons in every phase of the game from the second quarter until the end of the game. Miles Austin put up another great performance and Tony Romo played very good for the second game in a row. The defense was flat out dominating for the majority of the game. They sacked Matt Ryan 4 times after he had only been sacked 2 times all year coming into the game. The defense tackled very well and put some tremendous hits on the Falcons receivers and even forced three turnovers. Tony Romo had all day to survey the field thanks to great play by the offensive line. I loved how Patrick Crayton redeemed himself with a touchdown reception and a punt return for a score.

7. In what may have been the play of the year so far, Tony Romo pulled a Houdini act and escaped two defenders to throw a touchdown pass just before the half to give the Cowboys some separation from the Falcons. It was the type of play that makes you love Romo. Not many guys in the NFL could have made that play.

8. Last night the Arizona Cardinals pulled off an upset of the Giants to put the Cowboys right back in the thick of the NFC East race. It is probably going to be a tough fight between the Eagles, Giants and Cowboys down the stretch for the NFC East title.

9. And now we get the news today that Demarcus Ware finally got his long term deal ironed out with Jerry Jones and the Cowboys. He is signed through 2015 so we are guaranteed to have one of the top defensive players in the NFL for many years to come. Ware is the type of guy who deserves to make big money because he is a not only a great player, but an even better person. It makes me happy to see guys like that on my team.

Isn't it crazy that the Cowboys have possibly discovered a franchise receiver in Miles Austin after unearthing Tony Romo as an undrafted free agent? Say what you want about Jerry Jones and his meddling, but the Cowboys are continuing to discover and develop talent through the draft and rookie free agency.

So where do the Cowboys go from here? We have to hope the team stays focused and doesn't take the Seahawks lightly. A good outing could give the Cowboys a three game winning streak and some real momentum heading into a big Sunday night matchup with the Eagles. The penalties still need to be reduced. But if the Cowboys can play good offense, defense and special teams then they can beat any team in the league.