Friday, January 30, 2009

The Super Bowl is a Reminder of Disappointments

Preparing to watch this year's Super Bowl is, once again, very difficult. Last year it was watching the Super Bowl with the feeling that the Giants had stolen the spot the Cowboys should have had in the game. This year it just reminds me that the Cowboys were so close, yet so far away. The Arizona game essentially ruined the season due to the heartbreaking loss and the injuries we suffered in the game. The meltdown in Pittsburg started the turmoil and chaos that the team is still wrapped up in all these weeks later. Those two losses along with the Baltimore loss are what I can't seem to forget about this season.

I want to enjoy the game because there won't be meaningful NFL football for about 7 months after Sunday. I just don't know if I will be able to really get into the game with so many bad thoughts swirling in my head. Every sack of Ben Roethlisberger will be a reminder of the overtime broken pinky sack of Tony Romo. Every time Pittsburg is forced to punt I will be thinking about the Matt McBriar blocked punt. Every Arizona punt will make me think of Santonio Holmes returning a punt 35 yards in crunch time due to a misdirected kick. Every time the Pittsburg defense makes a play I will be thinking about the interception by Deshea Townsend returned for a touchdown. The list goes on and on.

The silver lining in all of this is that the Super Bowl is also a reminder of just how close the Cowboys really were this year. If we can get healthy and learn to eliminate some of the mental errors that plagued us all year long then maybe next year it will be the Cowboys preparing for the Super Bowl. Next year the Cowboys will be in this game if we can just...damn, here we go again with another offseason of ifs again.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Are the Cowboys Cancer-Free Yet?

It seemed that we were off to a good start in curing what ails this team in the locker room. The Cowboys wasted almost no time cutting ties with Adam 'Pacman' Jones and announcing they won't be bringing back Terry 'Tank' Johnson. By removing the members of the "D-Block" from the locker room there has already been a clear shift away from the "Thug Life" attitude that was starting to impart its influence on the team. But the question remains...have the Cowboys done enough to remove the cancer from the roster?

My answer is a definite NO. Keeping with the cancer analogy, cancer surgery usually entails removing excess tissue to ensure that no cancer remains. The fact that there are still questions about whether T.O. can be tamed tells me that he must go before we can declare ourselves cancer-free. We can't take the chance that he will continue to cause problems.

The latest news that T.O. will be starring in a reality show on VH1 over the summer was the tipping point for me. At a time when the Cowboys need to eliminate off-field distractions and put the focus back on football it seems that Terrell Owens just can't get out of the spotlight.

I know part of the blame for the overexposure of T.O. lies with the media, but the fact that he is willfully planning to participate in a spectacle such as a reality television show puts a damper on my defense of him. It is one thing for ESPN and the Dallas media to pile on without provocation, but by choosing to be a part of a reality TV show T.O. is now clearly causing a distraction. The fact that he chose to do this show with the current perception that the Cowboys are saddled with just shows how selfish he really is.

The time has come to finish removing the cancer from this team. Cut T.O. now. We have weapons at every offensive position to fill the void created by the release of T.O. The negative attitude that Owens displays towards Jason Garrett is not going to improve the chemistry on this team. Jason Garrett is here to stay so we need all of the players on this team to buy into his system fully. Maybe without T.O. this collection of great individual talent can finally become a team.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Injuries Deserve Some of the Blame

As soon as Jerry Jones signed up Adam "Pacman" Jones we already knew that the 2008 season was going to be a media circus. Add to that the Hard Knocks camera crew running around at training camp, the media obsession with Terrell Owens, and the rock star status of Tony Romo and you can definitely see how distraction has become a common them for the disappointment of the 2008 Dallas Cowboys. We can't ignore the part that all of the distractions played in the team's meltdown, but I would argue that there is much more to the picture than just the off-field drama.

How many injuries at key positions can one team expect to endure and continue to win? I'm not sure, but the injury report on a week to week basis was one of the worst in recent memory for the Dallas Cowboys. And we are not just talking about injuries to role players. We are talking about injuries to players who were being counted on to be integral parts of the success of this team. Let's take a look at all of the key injuries this team sustained and how they impacted the end result this season.

Tony Romo - The broken finger that he sustained this year is the most obvious of the injuries that he sustained this year. He missed 3 games and the injury clearly hurt his accuracy during the second half of the season. And don't forget the back injury against the Giants and the shot to the chin he sustained in the season opener against Cleveland. Tony battled through pain and injury all year long.

Felix Jones - Before he went down in week six Felix Jones was a home run threat on offense and special teams. The offense missed him, but the special teams never found anyone capable of impacting the game on kick returns like Felix did. He was a rookie of the year candidate prior to his injury and the loss of Felix Jones may have lead to the injury to Marion Barber III.

Roy Williams - He broke his forearm in week 2 versus Philadelphia and came back against St. Louis for one game only to break the same forearm again. The Cowboys struggled all year long to find a run stopping defender like Roy Williams. He may have been a liability in pass coverage, but at least he was decent against the run. Keith Davis did an admirable job towards the end of the season, but he often took bad angles and turned short runs into big plays.

Matt McBriar - He was another casualty of the Arizona game in week 6. His loss was probably never fully appreciated by most observers. The lost yardage in change of possession hurt the team in every game from that point forward. And we can't forget the punt in the Pittsburg game that Sam Paulescu kicked to the wrong side of the field that allowed a huge return by Santonio Holmes. It was one of the keys to the meltdown in that game.

Marion Barber III - The dislocated toe in the Thanksgiving game initially seemed to be a minor issue, but the injury never healed. The offense lost its emotional leader and the one person who was able to create a spark on the field through his intensity.

Jason Witten - How many injuries can one man play through in a season? He played with broken ribs, a sprained ankle, a sprained knee, a bruised sternem, and a separated shoulder. He still played admirably but it is impossible to think that the slew of injuries didn't hamper his play.

Terrance Newman - What initially seemed to be a minor groin strain in training camp ended in surgery. He did return towards the middle of the season and regained his form but his loss hurt the defense.

Kyle Kosier - The stress fracture that he sustained against Green Bay may have been the biggest injury of the season. Cory Proctor was terrible filling in for him and the offensive line struggled in every game that Kosier missed. He returned for a couple of games only to reaggravate the injury and miss the rest of the season.

Are these injuries an excuse for what happened to this team? Absolutely not. Every team suffers injuries throughout an NFL season and a team expected to be a Super Bowl contender should be able to overcome injuries. However, when you combine the injuries with the rest of the drama that surrounded the 2008 Dallas Cowboys it was a recipe for disaster.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Cowboys Bashing Needs to Stop!

Let me start by explaining my disappointment in this team over the last 2 seasons. When the Cowboys lost to the Giants last year I think I took that loss harder than I have ever taken a loss by the Cowboys. It took me weeks to even be able to discuss how disappointed and hurt I was by the loss. This year was a little different. Once Romo got hurt against the Cardinals, the Cowboys never showed enough on the field to make me think that they were real contenders again this season. The Giants game in December got my hopes up, but the Ravens game brought me back to reality. I was disappointed by the way the Cowboys played against the Eagles, but there was almost a sense of relief that the season was over after all of the drama that surrounded the team this year.

With that said, let's tone down the anti-Cowboys talk. There are a lot of so-called fans out there these days runnning around bashing the team every chance they get. I understand the hurt and disappointment the team has caused you but either support the team or find someone else to root for. Maybe you are getting made fun of at work, by your friends, by your family members, or even by everyone you know. You know what? I am too but I won't take that out on my team. I can't even begin to explain how much grief I get about my support of this team. Some people revel in the Cowboys' losses just because they know they can make me mad by bringing them up.

Being a real fan means that you support your team through thick and thin. I was there for the Quincy Carter days. I was there for 1-15. I know how hard it can be. You find yourself wondering why you put yourself through all of this. Sometimes it is hard to remember what makes you support a team when times are tough, but what it makes me realize is how much we need to enjoy the successes of our team. I took the teams of the 90's for granted. I won't take it for granted when the Cowboys do break through for another championship. Sticking through the hard times will make the good times that much more fun and rewarding.

Let the Ed Werders of the world find ways to bring this team down. There are endless members of the media who seem to live for the downfall of the Cowboys. Don't let their constant negativity affect how you feel about this team.

There is nothing wrong with reviewing the season and trying to find ways that the team could improve. I constantly think about what we can do differently or what this team needs. But Tony Romo has about $65 million reasons why he won't be leaving any time soon. Jerry Jones is never going to hire a general manager. And we are, unfortunately, stuck with Wade Phillips as our head coach. Deal with it. If you can't, then maybe you need to find a new team to follow.

Anyone can be a fan when the team is winning and times are good. The real fans are the ones who are there when times get tough. I am still here. Go Cowboys!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Who Should Stay, Who Should Go?

I don't know about the rest of the fans, but after a few weeks off I am already starting to feel recharged and I am really looking forward to next year. I needed a break after the endless drama this season, but looking at our roster it is hard not to get excited for the potential (again) next year. Of course we have coaching issues at this point, but I want to look at our roster and decide who we need to bring back and who we can do without. I am not listing every player, but what I see as the major decisions that need to be made this offseason.

Chris Canty: He is an extremely underrated player. He will never produce big stats in this defense but his size and athleticism would be very hard to replace. The big question is whether we can afford to bring him back. He seems to have very high contract demands.

Roy Williams (the safety): Since he is now a part time player he is going to have to renegotiate his contract and become a special teams monster or we can't justify keeping him. We have got to find another starting safety.

Tank Johnson: He can take his bad attitude to a new team. Have fun being a free agent, Tank. We all know how excited you are to be out of Dallas.

Miles Austin: We have to bring him back. If he can stay healthy next year he looks like he could be a breakout star...especially if T.O. is not here next year.

Adam Pacman Jones: Please go away! I am praying that Jerry Jones has learned his lesson on this thug.

Kevin Burnett: He always seems to make plays when he is on the field. Let's bring him back and let him start at the weak side LB next to Brady James. He deserves a shot.

Zach Thomas: He sure missed a lot of tackles this year. Maybe his age has caught up with him. He is a progress stopper. Let a younger guy (Burnett) have a chance.

Bobby Carpenter: Another player who needs to get a real chance to play. He has never had extensive playing time so it is hard to tell what we have. A few years ago he spied Michael Vick for an entire game and did a great job.

Greg Ellis: Bring him back only if he can stop whining and accept a role as a part time player. He really took a step back this year. Maybe age is catching up with him. Let Spencer start and Ellis come in to help rush on passing downs.

Brad Johnson: Give me a break. Brad, please retire.

Brooks Bollinger: After he settled down in the Giants game he was ok, just barely ok. We can keep him as one of our 3 QB's if we can't find someone better in free agency. Hopefully the third QB will be a mid to late round draft pick.

Terrell Owens: I will be happy either way on the T.O. decision. If he comes back then he needs to shut up and play. He needs to realize that he not the player he was 5 years ago and that the ball will be spread around the entire offense. He is no longer the number 1 option. The number 1 option should change depending on the play and situation since we have so many playmakers. I'm not sure if he can live with that.

Keith Davis: We have to bring this guy back to anchor the special teams. He is one of the few vocal leader we have.

Sam Hurd: He is a solid player. We need him back after all the time we have spent developing him. I don't see how we don't bring him back.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Are There Leaders on this Team?

One of the biggest themes throughout this season was that there is a lack of leadership on this team. I don't know how you can argue that Wade Phillips is a good leader. There was a moment in the last game of the season when I finally knew that Wade Phillips no longer had the respect of his team or his coaching staff.

The Cowboys were faced with 4th and less than a yard on their own 42. They were still down 27-3 but there was still a very faint glimmer of hope that they could mount a comeback. Wade Phillips immediately called for a punt. Tony Romo gestured toward him that he wanted to go for it and Wade Phillips said "punt" again to Tony but this time he said it more forcefully. Tony waived him off and then proceeded to look towards Jason Garrett for a play call. They lined up and made the first down on a quick snap quarterback sneak, but the damage had been done. Wade Phillips had been exposed as a coach who had lost his team.

So the big question is whether there are enough leaders on the team to make up for a lack of leadership at the top of the team. We all know Jerry Jones is the ultimate decider for the franchise but I am talking about the people who will step up on the field when the chips are down and the pressure is on.

I would argue that the leaders are in place but they have to assert themselves in the key moments of the game. Two of the teams still playing have two of the best leaders in the NFL. Ray Lewis has no problem getting the Ravens fired up when the time comes. Brian Dawkins foams at the mouth with emotion for the Eagles. We need someone to lead like these guys do.

Jason Witten is a leader by example. Who in the NFL played through more injuries than Jason this year? You can't help but follow someone who plays the game like he does. It is time for Jason to assert himself as a vocal leader of this team.

Tony Romo is the quarterback. That means he is the team leader by default. Whether it comes naturally to him or not he needs to be the guy who gets the team going when they are struggling. He appears to sit passively on the bench during many of the key moments during the game. He has to step up and get the offense fired up when things aren't clicking.

Marion Barber is the emotional leader of the offense. It was obvious that we missed his spark after his injury this year. He needs to get healthy and pick up where he left off before the injury.

DeMarcus Ware is the playmaker of the defense. He is an all-around nice guy off the field and almost seems soft-spoken, but he has to step up and lead the defense on the field. He is the best player on the defense so he commands the respect of the players. He needs to take advantage of the position his talent puts him in and be a vocal leader.

Brady James is another leader by default. He already gets the attention of the defense in the huddle since he makes the calls. He needs to get the defense fired up for the big plays in the game.

Keith Davis is the leader of the special teams. He is great at what he does. Hopefully he can go back to focusing on leading the special teams after we find someone who can play safety for us.

Jason Garrett needs to step up and lead the team from a coaching perspective. He is the assistant head coach and the head coach is not getting it done. He seemed to know how to get guys going on Hard Knocks during training camp last year. If he comes back next year then he needs to take a bigger role in leading the team.

If Wade Phillips is not going to lead this team then someone else is going to have to step up and do it. We have the people in place who can, but the big question is will they do it?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Pros and Cons of T.O.

With all of the talk about what to do with Terrell Owens this offseason I decided to list out the positives and negatives that he brings to the team to decide what I think Jerry should do with him. I know Ed Werder and ESPN would love to see him run out of Dallas, but his salary cap number makes that a very difficult decision. Here are the categories and my thoughts on each one.

Speed: Once he gets going there might not be a faster player in the NFL. The problem is that over the last few years he has lost his ability to beat press coverage at the line so that he can turn on the burners. Overall: Pro

Quickness: Once known as a west coast offense receiver it was frustrating this year to see T.O.'s inability to run the simple short slant routes. He doesn't seem to have the quick first step he once had to get open for the short 5 yard gain. Overall: Con

Hands: Obviously T.O.'s hands are highly suspect. He is the only marquee receiver that I can remember in all of my years of watching football that makes you hold your breath on every pass thrown his way. Overall: Con

RAC (run after catch): T.O. can be amazing when he gets the ball with a little room to run. He is a beast with the ball in his hands and can turn a 2 yard crossing route into a TD on any given play. However, sometimes his desire to turn every play into a TD causes him to miss out on the 2 or 3 yards needed to get a first down. I can think of several plays this year off the top of my head where he could have simply dove forward for a first down rather than trying to make a big gain and getting tackled short of the first down. Overall: Pro

Route Running: This is where I see the biggest drop in his performance. There were several times this year that T.O. seemed to simply give up on a route or cut a route short and cause an incompletion or interception. It seemed as though Tony Romo lost confidence in T.O. being where he was supposed to be on some plays so checked down to Witten or the back out of the backfield. Overall: Con

Separation from DB's: This is probably a result of several items already listed. Owens has lost quickness, the ability to beat press coverage and his route running has slipped so he doesn't seem to come open as often as he did even as recently as last year. Overall: Con

On the Fly Adjustments: This category is in reference to the plays where Romo scrambles and the play breaks down. Owens has a tendency to go deep as soon as any play breaks down and this has often resulted in big plays throughout the years and even a few times this year. That may be what Jason Garrett has instructed him to do but with Romo's injury this year it became difficult for him to throw the ball deep. I think the scramble adjustments should have been changed but I can't blame this one on T.O. Overall: Pro

Blocking: This is one area where T.O. really excels but the media doesn't want to give him credit for it. He is an excellent run blocker and often gets the play 5-10 extra yards by blocking down the field. He even does a good job blocking for other receivers after the catch. Overall: Pro

Overall Effort: Up until this year I have never questioned the effort of T.O. But there were several times this year where a bad ball was thrown and he didn't make an attempt to break up the pass. There were also several plays this year where he gave up on his route on plays as well. Even with what I just mentioned, T.O. plays hard and seems to have a great desire to perform well and help the team win. Overall: Pro

Attitude: This is probably the biggest flaw in his game. I appreciate that he wants the ball and wants to help the team win, but whining and making public comments about it doesn't help anyone. He seems to undermine the ability of Jason Witten, Tony Romo and several others to lead this team. Overall: Con

Salary: The big question here is whether his performance on the field justifies large piece of the salary cap he eats up. Up until this year my answer would be yes. This year has given me second thoughts, but the attention the defense gives him and the adjustments they make just for him probably justifies the payment he receives. Overall: Pro

Off Field Behavior: Outside of the accidental pain killer overdose there has never been one off field issue with T.O. I don't count his feud with Ed Werder to be a problem because I think Ed Werder is using T.O. as his meal ticket. Say what you want, but he doesn't get into trouble with the police. A lot of high profile receivers can't say that. Overall: Pro

I wasn't sure where I stood until I listed all of the categories out. Overall I count 7 categories in his favor. His value strictly as a player is undeniable. I don't think we would have the same offense without him. I think the biggest issue this offseason has to be convincing T.O. that he needs to let people step up and lead the team. If he wants to be one of the leaders that is fine, but he also needs to have the backs of the other leaders on the team. Can he ever do that? I don't know, but I think he needs to find a way to do it or he will be gone before he knows it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Why All the Romo Bashing?

I will be the first to admit that I think Tony Romo regressed this season and sometimes seemed lathargic and disinterested on the sidelines. However, I think some "fans" are losing perspective if they really believe that Romo needs to be replaced.
Don't forget that he played injured for the last 7 games. He won't be 100% until next season. There were several key injuries that hurt this team than the mainstream media will ever discuss because it won't get headlines. Losing Matt McBriar and Felix Jones were major losses and Marion Barber never recovered from his dislocated toe. Throw in the fact that we were stuck with starting our 3rd team safety and 3rd team left guard and you can start to see that the holes were too big for one player to fill. Romo is a very good player. Not great, but very good. He may show us that he is great one day by winning a Super Bowl.
The truth is that Tony makes the offensive line better because he can avoid unblocked defenders. He makes the receivers better because he can buy time for receivers to get open. He makes the running backs better because he makes the defense respect the pass. He even makes our defense better because they get time to rest and they aren't constantly put in bad field position.
Does he turn the ball over too often? Yes. But part of what makes him great is what makes you shake your head. He can turn an awful play into a touchdown or he can make an awful play worse by trying to make every play a touchdown. You have to take the good with the bad when it comes to a player like that.
Hopefully Tony can find the spark that everyone loves to see from him during the offseason. We all want to see him making plays and having fun while doing it. Sometimes a season like this one can remind players to focus on what is important.
Let's look at things through a rational and fair scope before we throw him out with the trash. Or have too many "fans" already forgotten the days of Quincy Carter, Chad Hutchinson, Drew Henson, Ryan Leaf, Anthony Wright, Drew Bledsoe, Vinny Testaverde, and Clint Stoerner? Now those were some quarterbacks to complain about.