Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Second Half Domination

As the Cowboys shuffled off the field at halftime I had one thought in my mind. I was thinking that if this team is really a playoff team then they will come out in the second half with a new attitude. Two quarters later I felt a giant sense of relief as the defense completely shut down Carolina during the second half. The offense was a little off all night whether it be penalties, sacks, or just bad play calling. But they scored enough points to give the team the lead and the defense sealed the deal with a touchdown late in the 4th quarter. The Cowboys did not play a great game but they did show that they fight through a slow start. I came away from the game satisfied with the win but there are a lot of problems that need to be corrected with this team.

Reasons to Celebrate: The defense finally showed up this season. Three sacks, three turnovers and a timely return for a touchdown to close out the game. Four straight three and outs to start the second half. It was very impressive to see what the defense can do when they play aggressive football. Say what you want about Terence Newman but the guy knows how to handle Steve Smith. He has done it in the past and he had Steve Smith frustrated again. On offense, the running game continues to dominate. Tony Romo did a good job protecting the ball. The special teams kept the Panthers pinned on their own end of the field all night long.

Reasons to Worry: Felix Jones is starting to earn the name Mr. Glass in my book. I hate that he seems to get up limping after every carry and his injuries always come on plays that don't even involve big hits. Jason Garrett is still making bad play calls at critical times. The opposing defense might be begging you to run the fade route from the one yard line, but sometimes you need to just line up and pound the ball into the end zone. The field goal instead of a touchdown in the fourth quarter could have cost the team the game. Run the ball! And I know a lot of people love Martellus Bennett, but I don't trust that guy with the game on the line. He cut off the route when Romo expected him to run to the corner of the end zone. Martellus needs to worry less about Marty B TV and more about his playbook during the week. And the penalties at the worst possible times have got to stop.

More Reasons to Worry: The secondary has to be the worst tackling secondary in the NFL. Running up and throwing a shoulder into a player may seem like a great way to deliver a big hit, but when you don't hit the guy square then he breaks free for more yards. I don't know if it is Dave Campo teaching that tackling technique or what, but those guys have got to wrap up. And I mean every single guy in the secondary...Hamlin, Newman, Scandrick, Jenkins, and Sensabaugh.

Play of the Game: Terence Newman jumped the slant route for an interception that he returned for a touchdown at a critical moment in the 4th quarter. It was nice to finally see a defensive back up on a receiver at the line and then actually jump a route. I hope it will be a sign of things to come. I know we are all sick of seeing the cornerbacks 8-10 yards off the ball at the snap and then watching the receiver catch the ball underneath.

Two winnable games are ahead on the schedule. Denver might be undefeated, but, on paper, the Cowboys are clearly the better team. Kansas City has nothing to make you worry. So the Cowboys need to take care of business so they can head into the bye week at 4-1. I'm not looking past the Broncos, but I know if the Cowboys play good football they will dominate Denver.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Week 3 Keys to Victory

The Monday night game against Carolina may not be billed as a must win for the Dallas Cowboys but it is about as close to a must win as you can get this early in the season. After going toe to toe with the New York Giants it would seem that the Cowboys have at least proven that they can play with anyone. The problem is that the Cowboys are only 1-1 even if they have the talent to be a good team. The next three games are games that you would expect the Cowboys to win. They are not a good enough to lose games that they should win and expect to stay in the playoff hunt. Here is what I think they need to do to make sure they get things going in the right direction again.

1. Contain Steve Smith. Terence Newman has a pretty good history against Steve Smith so I won't be surprised if Newman shadows Smith all over the field tomorrow. The last thing the Cowboys need to see is Steve Smith running free in the secondary. That first two weeks make me very nervous about the defense's ability to stop any player, let alone Steve Smith.

2. Put Pressure on the Quarterback. Last week Eli Manning had all day to throw the ball. The pass rush has to improve or quarterbacks are going to light up the Cowboys all year long. I'm sure Wade Phillips is going to go for the jugular with his blitz packages this week. That is fine as long as they get to the quarterback. But if the pass rush gets nullified on a blitz then we might see the Panthers break off some big plays. The only way the defense is going to start forcing turnovers is if they force opposing quarterbacks to rush their decisions.

3. Limit Turnovers. Tony Romo has to play better and protect the ball and I believe he will. This is one of those games where the Cowboys have the superior talent so they need to play clean football to force the Panthers to beat them. I don't think the Panthers can beat the Cowboys without help from turnovers. The Cowboys lost a game they could have won last week in large part due to horrible turnovers. We don't need to see a repeat performance.

4. Run a Balanced Offense. It was great to see the running game dominate last week. But I am still waiting for the Cowboys to show that they can run a balanced attack to keep the defense guessing from play to play. Week 1 was all passing and week 2 was all running. I want to see a mixture of both. I understand that you have to take what the defense gives you but it doesn't have to be all or nothing.

5. Stop the Run. Last week was much better for the run defense. Carolina can really get rolling by running the ball so they need to continue to focus on containing the run. They don't have to shut down the Panther running game but they need to keep it under control.

There is no reason for me to believe that the Cowboys won't bounce back from last week's tough loss. Jake Delhomme is the type of quarterback this defense has been waiting for. They need to get the ball rolling on the turnover front and Delhomme gives them over in bunches. If they can't force a turnover this week then we can probably conclude that the defense has a major problem. I predict the pass rush to unleash the beast this week and the Cowboys to dominate. My prediction is a 31-13 victory for the Cowboys.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Time to Move On

The Cowboys started moving on from Sunday's game Monday morning. For most of us fans, however, it isn't always that simple. The players and coaches have the luxury of being forced to start preparation for the next game while the fans get stuck wallowing in misery and frustration after a tough loss.

The important thing to remember heading into this week is that we are only two weeks into the season. There are 14 games to go and there will be plenty of opportunities for Tony Romo and the rest of the team to get on a roll. I tend to be a glass half full type of guy so I'm looking at Sunday's loss as an example of how close this team is to being what we hope it can be. We all saw that the Giants needed 4 gimmie turnovers and 3 lucky bounces to pull out a last second win. A break here or there for the Cowboys and things would have been totally different.

I have come to realization that I am going to have to learn how to live with the occasional horrific game from Tony Romo. He needs to limit turnovers more when he is having a bad Tony day. Good Tony is a top 5 NFL quarterback. Bad Tony is hard to live with. He might get better protecting the ball and he might not, but he is still the best quarterback the Cowboys have had in a decade and he gives the team a shot to win against any opponent. I still believe the one of these days he is going to break through in a big moment and put all of his critics to rest.

I think Wade Phillips will find a way to get the defense going again. It appears that the new formula to stop the pass rush is to max protect and wait for the receivers to work themselves open. Wade has been around for a long time so I'm sure he has some tricks in his bag to exploit that type of offense. Now that it is clear that teams are going to employ the max protect passing attack I'm sure the defense will be working on new tactics in practice. Demarcus Ware is too talented to be kept bottled up for much longer. The turnovers have to be coming soon. Even terrible defenses get lucky once in a while with a turnover here or there. Dallas will start forcing turnovers...I'm sure they will start this week.

A 1-1 record really hurts when 2-0 was one defensive play away. But there are a lot of talented teams off to a slow start. Do you believe the Patriots are terrible because they are 1-1? Is Pittsburg a bad team? Are the Titans suddenly horrible because they are 0-2? The fact that so many good teams are off to a slow start gives me hope that the Cowboys are one of the good teams off to a slow start. I believe we will see improvement from Tony Romo and the defense this week. They have to win this game and they will win this game.

Monday, September 21, 2009

What Just Happened?

I really hate games like the one last night. Not only did the Cowboys shoot themselves in the foot time after time after time, but they still had the lead with the clock running down only to finish the game on the wrong end of the score. I had a hard time sleeping last night after watching that debacle unfold. The hardest pill to swallow is that not only did the Cowboys just hand the ball over to the Giants 4 times but every tipped ball seemed to magically float into the arms of the Giants players. The Cowboys played terrible and had absolutely no luck at all.

The number one rule in football is don't turn the ball over. Well, the Cowboys turned it over four times and didn't force any turnovers of their own. One of Romo's three interceptions was returned for a touchdown and another came late in the half at the Cowboys end of the field. They were basically free points for the Giants. The Felix Jones fumble was awful and should never happen. The last Romo interception was a key turning point in the game.

I really want to keep believing that Tony Romo can get it done but I don't think he has ever played worse than he did last night. The interception at the end of the third quarter was another one of those inexcusable plays that Romo was supposed to be working to eliminate. The Cowboys were driving for a score that could put them up by 7 or even 11 points and Romo pulled a Romo. It was basically a pop fly to the center fielder who was waiting for the deep ball. He was off target more times in that game than I have ever seen him. I don't know what was going on but he never pulled out of his funk. He has started games poorly before but he usually breaks out of it at some point during the game. Not last night. How did he not see that the Giants audibled out of their defense on his pick 6 play? I think everyone saw the Giants change their coverage except the one guy that needed to see it.

Can Orlando Scandrick play any worse? He was so bad tackling that I was embarrassed for him. It was like he made a few bad plays and then things snowballed on him to the point that he lost confidence in every facet of his game. I think the debate is over as far as the starting cornerbacks are concerned. Newman, Jenkins and Scandrick all had their bad plays but Scandrick was without a doubt the worst of the three. Newman started off badly but he at least played better as the game went on. Jenkins was hit and miss but at least he looked ok in some spots. I don't understand how three guys that are supposed to be so good can get beaten so badly by the Giants receivers. The Giants were max protecting so there were basically three or four routes to be covered each play by 6-7 defenders but the receivers looked like they were running free on every play.

I am now officially concerened about the pass rush. Wade Phillips can use the max protection by the Giants as his excuse, but Demarcus Ware has to beat the double team once in a while if he is truly our defensive MVP. Anthony Spencer only put pressure on Manning a couple of times from his side. It really frustrates me to no end when the opposing quarterback is standing in the pocket with no pressure play after play. The scary part about the pass rush is how the guys were so tired at the end of the game because there is basically no one to come in to give Ware or Spencer a breather during the game. The defense did shut down the run which appeared to be the key going into the game. I don't think anyone would have thought they would lose that game if they could keep Brandon Jacobs bottled up the way that they did.

Why are the Cowboys so bad at tackling? They may actually be worse this year than they were last year. That better change.

On the bright side, the running game for the Cowboys was phenomenal. It was almost as if the Giants made the choice to allow the Cowboys to run at will as long as they didn't get beaten by the pass. I guess the strategy worked because Romo could never get anything going to save his life. Felix Jones and Marion Barber both looked great and the offensive line deserves most of the credit. I hope Barber is ok after he went down on his big run in the 4th quarter. I wish Jason Garrett would have continued to run the ball when the Cowboys finally got the lead back in the 3rd quarter instead of calling the play action pass that Romo threw up for grabs.

The season is not a lost cause by any stretch. The doom and gloomers will be running rampant over the next week so it is going to be tough to get myself back in the right frame of mind but I'm sure I'll be ready by Monday. And imagine if the Cowboys can get it together and string together 3 straight wins going into the bye week. That is entirely possible with the upcoming schedule. I would have told you before the season started that I would take 4-1 going into the bye week. I am praying that Romo has his bad play out of his system because the Cowboys are only going as far as he takes them. If he doesn't step up and the defense doesn't improve we are going to be in for a long season. The Cowboys need to start winning the close games in the 4th quarter because they are developing a very bad habit of folding at the worst of times. I hope it isn't too late to break that habit.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Week 2 Keys to Victory

We've been hearing all week long how the big, bad Giants are going to come into the new stadium and embarrass Jerry Jones and the Cowboys. I know the Giants won the Superbowl a couple of years ago but this is a much different team coming to town than the one who won it all a couple of years ago. Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer are gone. And their defense is hurting badly right now from various injuries to key players.

So why do so many people seem to think the Giants are going to win? I wish I could answer that question because I'm sick of hearing about Eli Manning, Brandon Jacobs and Osi Umenyiora. Winning the Superbowl buys you a lot of respect but I think people aren't seeing reality with the current version of the team. Sure the defensive line is still tough to deal with, but the offense has a very different feel to it without Plaxico there to beat the double team for big plays. The secondary is depleted by injuries. Chris Canty is out so the defensive line rotation is down a man.

I certainly don't think the game is a cakewalk but I do think it is a game the Cowboys can and should win given the circumstances. The still have a lot to prove to everyone after last season's meltdown. I do worry about the offensive line protecting Tony Romo. But I am actually even more concerned that the grand opening festivities surrounding the game may cause the team to be distracted early in the game. The team claims to be all business this year and this game will certainly test that claim.

Here is what I think the team needs to do to win the game.

1. Play better run defense. The Giants offense is only going to be successful if they are able to set up the pass with the run. The Cowboys need to shut down Brandon Jacobs early on and force the Giants to put the ball in the air. Eli Manning is susceptible to turnovers if they can put pressure on him. But the key is shutting down the running game so the pass rush can get going. Eli won't survive the game if he takes hits like the Cowboys delivered to Byron Leftwich last week. The Giants don't have the firepower to go score for score with the Cowboys. But if the Giants run successfully they can play keep away from the Cowboys.

2. Limit turnovers. This is going to sound like a broken record by the end of the season. I know that fumbles are sometimes unavoidable as is the occasional interception, but Tony Romo can not give the Giants any cheap turnovers. My worst fear is a bad start to the game that forces the Cowboys to play from behind. You don't want to have to deal with that Giants defensive line if they can feel free to rush the passer every play.

3. Expose the inexperienced Giants secondary. Jason Garrett revealed some interesting new wrinkles in the offense last week. With the reserve players being forced into action for the Giants he can probably create some great matchups with new formations and schemes. I expect to see at least a few opportunities for big plays in the passing game as a result of the offensive game plan. The only thing that will prevent the Cowboys from passing effectively in this game would be poor play by the offensive line.

4. Continue the solid play on special teams. The Cowboys played the best game of special teams that we have seen in a couple of years from the team. If they can continue to win the special teams battle it will give them a field position advantage in every game. That will help the defense force more punts and give the offense more opportunities to score. I hope to see a lot of kickoffs booming into the endzone because that would mean that the Cowboys are racking up points.

5. Force a turnover! One interception that was called back was all we saw in terms of turnovers last week. The best way to break a game open is to not only get a turnover but get several of them. I want to see at least an interception or two and a forced fumble or two. I saw the team working on forcing fumbles and recovering fumbles in training camp so I know they have put in the work. I'm ready for the Cowboys to finally get some takeaways.

This is a winnable game. Last week I had no doubt in my mind that the Cowboys would win as long as they didn't lay an egg. This week is a little different. The Giants are a proud and confident team. They won't go down without a fight. The Cowboys have to play a good game to win but I believe they are up to the task. It is way too early in the season for them to start sleepwalking into games...especially one against a hated rival. I think there will be a lot of points scored in this game. My prediction is a 37-20 victory for the Cowboys.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Win This Week Will Put the Cowboys Back on the Map

Things have been relatively quiet for the Cowboys since early in the offseason. Training camp was uneventful and the preseason was the same. It seems like the Cowboys are flying under the radar. Most "experts" are writing them off and even the win against Tampa Bay did little to earn back much respect from the national media. I love the silence, but it might be ending very soon.

While some people may relish the attention the Cowboys usually receive I think the newfound team focus is partially due to the fact that the team has been able to only worry about football. Unfortunately, a win this week would probably change all that. For whatever reasons that I can't completely understand, the Giants have been picked as the frontrunners to represent the NFC in the Superbowl this season. If the Cowboys can go out and slay the "mighty" Giants then people are going to take notice of the Cowboys again.

I wouldn't go so far to call it a statement game since we are only entering week 2, but it certainly could help the Cowboys regain their confidence which is still shaky after last season's December fade. This game is important because it is a division game, its the first game in the new stadium, and it can get the Cowboys off to a 2-0 start. It really isn't a must win game but it really could be a game we look back on in December and realize that it was very important in the overall playoff picture...assuming the Cowboys are in the picture at that point. I believe they will be. You need to win these home division games if you expect to be in the playoff picture.

If the Cowboys can shut Brandon Jacobs' mouth, and, more importantly, shut down his running game they will have a great chance to win the game. They will have to play better than they did against the Bucs but it is a winnable game. If they find a way to win the national media will surely change their tune and tab the Cowboys as playoff contenders. I hope the Cowboys can maintain the same workmanlike approach if and when the national expectations are raised again.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

One Win, Many Questions Answered

The Cowboys looked a little out of sync and unprepared in the first half of the game against the Bucs today. They looked like a new team in the second half. A lot of the struggles in the first half probably came from the Cowboys being unable to do a good job preparing for the Bucs offensive and defensive schemes since they are under a coaching regime. The second half was another story. The offense was clicking and the defense became much tougher. I applaud the coaches for making the necessary adjustments at halftime.

One story that can die down for a little while is the question of how the Cowboys will replace the production of Terrell Owens. The Cowboys have been saying all along that they will make up for his production by spreading the ball around. True to their word they did exactly that. Tony Romo threw for a career high 353 yards and had big plays to Miles Austin, Patrick Crayton and Roy Williams. How's that for spreading it around? He completed passes to 6 different players and he was actually a little of today but still had a career high in yardage. It was impressive even if the Bucs defense didn't exactly look all world.

On defense, the pass rush was non-existent until the Cowboys took a big 4th quarter lead and were able to rush freely. They put several good shots on Leftwich but never recorded a sack. I'm concerned but I know Demarcus Ware was not operating at 100% after coming back from a big hit early in the game. The middle of the defense was very soft early in the game against the run but seemed to make the necessary adjustments at halftime. Sensabaugh did a good job keeping the tight ends out of the game but Leftwich was able to find open receivers all day long. The cornerbacks need to play better in the upcoming weeks and months and I'm sure they would agree.

Special teams was so much better than I expected. They had a blocked field goal by Gerald Sensabaugh, several touchbacks on kickoffs by Buehler, and great coverage by the punt team. Terence Newman did muff a punt but Patrick Crayton made a heads up play to kick the ball out of bounds to prevent a turnover. I can't believe he didn't get more credit for making that play. Sure it was a penalty, but those Bucs players were bearing down on him and there is no guarantee he could have dove on the ball to recover it in time.

Best Play: To me it was the Patrick Crayton touchdown. The play appeared to be designed to go underneath to Witten but Romo pumped short and Crayton broke deep behind the defense. The safety was so sure that the pass was going to Witten underneath that he allowed Crayton to get 5 yards behind him. That is what we were all hoping to see from Tony Romo. He didn't force the ball into coverage...he found the open man.

Reasons to Worry: The defense didn't dominate the Bucs like I expected them to. We mind find out that the Bucs are better than we thought they were as the season goes on but I doubt it. The defense has to play better in every way.

Injuries: Gerald Sensabaugh left the game after a big hit with bruised ribs, but it appears right now that the Cowboys escaped without any serious injuries. Tony Romo was a little gimpy after getting his ankle rolled and Demarcus Ware is going to have a headache tonight. So far, so good on the injuries.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Week 1 Keys To Victory

The time has finally arrived. All of the talking and speculating that has gone on since the end of last season is finally going to give way to the new season. What can we expect out of the Dallas Cowboys this season? No one knows for sure but I do know that they need to win games like the game on Sunday if they want to be in the playoff picture. We all saw last season what happens when you lose games you should win. It can cost you your season.

It is very important for this version of the Dallas Cowboys to get off to a good start to build confidence in a still developing team. The players can talk all they want about how confident they are about the upcoming season but there has to be some lingering doubt after the way 2008 ended. The defense has gone through a significant transformation in terms of starters and no one really knows what they can do yet.

So what do the Cowboys need to do to win the game against the Bucs? Here is what I think will get it done.

1. Play tough defense from start to finish. The Bucs running game could be dangerous if the Cowboys let the Bucs get it going. If they can stay tough against the run it will force the Bucs to resort to their passing game. That should play into what should be the strength of the defense...rushing the passer. Byron Leftwich has a notoriously slow delivery. If the Cowboys can put the Bucs in obvious passing situations then they can get after Leftwich and dominate by sacking the quarterback and forcing turnovers. Turnovers will come if they can force Leftwich to get rid of the ball before he is ready or strip the ball while he is being sacked. I think the Bucs are going to have a tough time moving the ball against the Cowboy defense with any consistency. Gerald Sensabaugh needs to stick with Kellen Winslow because I can see Leftwich being forced into quick throws to his backs and tight end by the pass rush.

2. Run the ball effectively. I'm not talking about a three yards and a cloud of dust attack. I mean make it count when they do run the ball. It is imperative that the running game get off to a good start. They were so bad early in several games last year that it gave Jason Garrett every reason to essentially abandon the running game. The running game needs to be respected by the defense this season because more of the passing game is going to rely on the defense overplaying the run. If the Bucs start to overcommit to the run then we might see some big plays in the passing game.

3. Limit turnovers on offense. This is going to be a weekly key to victory but it is always important. Tony Romo has made a commitment privately and publicly to change his ways. We've seen throughout the preseason that he is keeping two hands on the ball while scrambling and he is trying to limit his forced throws. I expect to see the fumbles drastically reduced this season, but the one or two boneheaded throws per game that we are accustomed to seeing from Romo are what concerns me. If he can eliminate those bad throws in this game then the Bucs will have a tough time finding ways to score points. This seems like the type of game that the Cowboys have to give to the Bucs and turning the ball over is a good way to lose a game.

4. Tackle on special teams. I think the Cowboys are clearly better on offense and defense than the Bucs, but it only takes a couple of big special teams plays to change the outcome of a game. I don't have much faith they can do it consistently but they need to tackle the returners. It sounds easy enough but I didn't see anything in the preseason to give me much confidence that there has been improvement. Nothing changes momentum of a game faster than a big return.

5. Don't try to win the game on one play. If the Cowboys are patient and play their game then their superior talent will win out. If both teams play a clean game meaning no turnovers or busted plays then I believe the Cowboys are clearly the superior team. There is no reason to force the action on offense if they can't find their rhythm early...especially in the passing game. The defense will get to Leftwich at some point if they keep their noses to the grindstone.

6. Get Felix Jones involved in the offense. This seems like a no-brainer but Jason Garrett seemed to struggle with the idea in the few games he had the services of Felix last season. He will open everything up for the entire offense just by being on the field.

In my mind the Cowboys are just a much better team than the Bucs. I don't see the Cowboys laying an egg in this game after waiting so long to redeem themselves. My prediction is a 27-10 victory for the Cowboys.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Ogletree Changes Everything with Receiver Depth

I have to admit that I was extremely concerned all summer long about the depth at wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys. Then something completely unexpected and wonderful happened this preseason. Undrafted Kevin Ogletree arrived on the scene. He is a relatively no-name guy who signed as an undrafted free agent. He slowly and methodically worked his way up the depth chart throughout training camp and the preseason.

When he finally got his big chance to play with the starters in the San Francisco preseason game he exceeded the expectations of almost everyone. He beat man coverage on a regular basis and showed that he had earned the trust of Tony Romo. With every play he made in the game it became more and more apparent that the Cowboys had found a diamond in the rough.

Is he going to be the lead receiver a few years from now? Maybe, maybe not. But at least we are talking about the possibility of it happening. He runs great routes and gets excellent separation from defenders. On top of that he is capable of making tough catches in traffic. Don't discount the fact that he is on his second year off of ACL surgery. It usually takes guys two years to get back to pre-surgery form and it might be a case of the Cowboys finding Ogletree at the perfect moment in his recovery process.

We'll have to wait to find out how good he can be but I am sure he is an upgrade over Isaiah Stanback. I became convinced about Ogletree over the last week when the concern about the hamstring of Miles Austin became a hot issue. Where I would have usually been worried about what they would do without Austin in the past, my new response was...no problem, Ogletree can get it done.

I know it is premature to label this guy as the next great thing. But we do know Ogletree can play receiver and we know that Tony Romo has faith in the guy. The fact that Romo is willing to get him the ball speaks volumes about his ability as a receiver. Somehow there are guys on the field who rarely get a look from Romo and I know part of it is that Romo has to trust that a receiver is going to be in the right place.

Ogletree might not play a lot this season but I know that he can get it done if his services are required. I'm not convinced he won't leapfrog Miles Austin and/or Sam Hurd on the depth chart. He is bound to be called upon at some point because it is very unlikely the receivers will finish the season injury free. The track record of Hurd and Austin tells us that Ogletree will get his shot. I'm excited that we finally have a young receiver who looks like he has a chance to be a special player. The Cowboys may or may not have a true #1 receiver...time will tell. But the Cowboys do have five receivers who are all capable of making plays this season thanks to the addition of Kevin Ogletree.

Monday, September 7, 2009

What Should We Expect from the 2009 Dallas Cowboys?

So the million dollar question heading into the season is whether we should expect a "special" season from our Dallas Cowboys. I have mixed emotions about the team heading into the season. I can see this team going anywhere from 8-8 to 12-4 depending on several variables.

When you look at the starting lineup on both sides of the ball it is hard to find many things to complain about. Some people might point to wide receiver as a weakness but I'm not sure I agree on that one because I believe Patrick Crayton is an underrated player. Remember I am talking about the starters at this point, so I really don't see any glaring weaknesses. So I guess wide receiver is debatable but on the surface the team looks very good on both sides of the ball. The starting lineup give me hope that there is potential for an 11-5 or 12-4 type of season.

The problems start popping up when you take a look at depth at some of the key positions on the roster. It would appear that an injury at several positions could cause the team to sink fast. The positions where I fear an injury the most are outside linebacker, quarterback, inside linebacker, defensive tackle, and offensive line. I'm primarily talking about Demarcus Ware, Tony Romo, Bradie James, Keith Brooking, and Jay Ratliff. All of those guys I listed are capable of putting up pro bowl level seasons but the backups leave a lot to be desired. The Cowboys at least have a decent backup quarterback this year so all is not lost if Romo is forced out of a game or two. If the injuries start to mount like they did last year then I could see the team sinking as low as 8-8.

The bottom line is that every team has key players that they cannot afford to lose. It would be nice to have starting caliber players backing up every key position but that is just not realistic. So like just about any team in the league the Cowboys have to hope they can make it through the season relatively healthy. If things go well on the injury front like in 2007 then the team will be very good. If we have a rerun of last season's endless injuries then it will be another long season.

The most reasonable expectation is probably something in the middle. 2007 was incredibly injury free for the most part and 2008 was the polar opposite. Put the number of injuries somewhere in the middle and that is probably what we can expect. To me that means we are looking at an 11-5 or 10-6 season. If no key players are hurt things could get really interesting in the playoffs and I think the team could make a deep playoff run. If Romo, Ware, Felix Jones or another irreplaceable player goes down then we might be waiting another year for a playoff victory.

And we can't forget how special teams hurt the team last season. I still believe Joe DeCamillis is getting this unit heading in the right direction. I'm still seeing a lot of missed tackles but at least guys are starting to get into position on kickoff and punt coverage. Any improvement is going to make a huge difference in Cowboys' overall record.

My personal feeling is 11-5 with at least one playoff win. I am usually very optimistic but the last few years have forced me to take a more realistic approach to my expectations. 11-5 seems reasonable and I believe the injuries have a way of balancing themselves out from year to year. To me that means there will be fewer injuries which will lead to a stronger finish down the stretch. I'm feeling that the playoff drought is about to end but only time will tell.

Friday, September 4, 2009

What the Last Preseason Game Told Us

The preseason is finally over. There weren't many players on the field who are going to make significant contributions this season unless there is an injury or two. But we did get a final look at a few of the guys on the bubble in terms of roster spots. This was a hard game to watch. I found myself wondering during the first half if Wade Phillips told his players there was a game tonight. The second half was much more enjoyable. Here is how I thought the "bubble" guys fared.

Kevin Ogletree - There is no way the Cowboys don't keep this guy. Another TD and several impressive plays. I even noticed him getting down the field on kickoffs. It looked like he got hit just over his eye pretty hard on punt coverage but appears to be ok.

Isaiah Stanback - Things started badly. A mediocre kick return to start the game followed by a muffed ball on the next return attempt. Throw in the Ogletree touchdown on the opposite side of the field from him and it just was not good. I feel bad saying this but I don't even know if another team will pick him up if he is cut because he hasn't shown anything this preseason.

Cory Proctor - I have to admit that I am not a fan of this guy at all. I know they Cowboys love the fact that he can play backup at two positions, but he isn't a good backup at either spot so what is the point of keeping him? I will be disgusted if the Cowboys end up relying on him again this year.

Steve Octavien - All this guy does is put pressure on the quarterback...and return interceptions for touchdowns. I know he is undersized but he has a knack for getting to the quarterback. With the lack of depth at outside linebacker he has a real shot to make the team after he continued to play well in the last preseason game.

Victor Butler - He is going to make the final roster but I had to mention that he played pretty well. He put pressure on the quarterback and seemed to defend the run pretty well too.

Pat McQuistan - He has had more time to get it together than Stanback but he still isn't showing us much. He was beaten for a sack and was called for holding to negate a big run by Tashard Choice. The problem is that he might be the best available guy to keep to back up Marc Columbo.

Junior Siavii - I don't know about this guy. He made one nice stop, but the defense was very soft in the middle while he was in there for the most part. I won't be surprised if the Cowboys go for a cheap free agent pick up after roster cuts.

Mike Mickens - He won't and shouldn't make the team based on what we've seen from him. He might be a practice squad candidate but he is not ready to help the team this season. He has be burned more time than I can count this preseason.

Patrick Watkins - He was the player of the game. A blocked field goal, an interception returned for a touchdown, and several nice tackles including a big one on 4th and goal. He looked like a superstar out there. He earned his roster spot without a doubt.

Jesse Holley - He has no chance to make the team but at least he got to shine for one play. He picked up a punt off of a bad bounce and ran it back for a touchdown. I am happy for him and I hope he gets a chance either on the practice squad or on another team.

On a side note...I really like the new Wade Phillips. On a terrible pass interference penalty in the 3rd quarter Wade got very animated once again. He clearly screamed "what the hell?" and then muttered "you son of a bitch" towards the official. I can't believe he is actually showing some emotion. I like it a lot.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Is Kevin Ogletree a Lock to Make the Final Roster?

On the surface the answer is easy based on his recent preseason performances. Based on his play at receiver the answer is an easy and resounding yes. But if you dig deeper you have to take other things into account when determining the final 53 man roster. When you really think about it, it seems that Isaiah Stanback still has a chance even if his play at the receiver position has not been at all impressive because he does a good job on special teams.

While Kevin Ogletree has looked very good at receiver, the 5th receiver is going to have to be someone who can perform on special teams to make the active roster on game day. Ogletree has returned a few kicks and actually looked pretty good doing it, but he has to do more to be a factor on game day. Special teams coverage units are where bottom of the roster guys have to make their living. Ogletree has not done a good job in the few opportunities he has had to cover punts.

Stanback, on the other hand, tends to fly down the field with his tremendous speed and make an impact covering kickoffs. I know his receiver play has not been good, but he is always a threat on kickoff returns and actually looks explosive when he gets a crease to run through. The problem, as always, with Stanback is deciding whether you can rely on him to be healthy. I don't see how you can honestly believe that he will do anything but get hurt again, but the coaches just really seem to like the guy.

What makes me nervous is that Kevin Ogletree has looked so good over the last two preseason games that there is absolutely no way he can clear waivers to be signed to the practice squad. So the question becomes whether you can afford to keep him on the roster given his subpar coverage abilities on special teams. He would probably have to be inactive on game day unless another receiver is injured. Depending on how the final roster shakes out there is a slight chance that the Cowboys will keep six receivers. If you cut Ogletree you have to assume that he is gone for good.

I don't see the Cowboys cutting Ogletree under any circumstances at this point, but you never can tell what the coaches are thinking. I don't even think it is Ogletree vs. Stanback anymore. It is now do they keep a 6th receiver on the roster if they want Stanback? My best guess is that Ogletree stays and Stanback goes. My #2 option would be keeping both guys but the numbers don't work out very well when you try to keep six receivers on the final roster. I have a slight fear that Stanback will be cut and finally show he can play receiver in this league somewhere else, but, really, what are the odds Stanback even makes it through the season?

At some point the Cowboys have to pull the plug on the Stanback experiment and I think this is the year it happens. I would still love to see Stanback break out as a player this season but the preseason games have given me no indication that anything is different with him this year. I don't think you can give up a talented receiver like Ogletree to keep the unfulfilled potential of Stanback...especially when you have to be under the assumption that Stanback won't be available for all 16 games this season.

When the final roster is announced in the near future I won't be surprised if Stanback makes it based on his special teams play. I will be extremely disappointed if Ogletree doesn't make the team because he looks like a guy who could be a player on this team for a long time if he continues to work hard. Ogletree will probably have to be inactive on game day as long as the four receivers ahead of him are healthy, but he'll be a great fill in if any of those guys get hurt. Isaiah Stanback better pray that the coaches find a way to keep six receivers on the final roster. I believe the coaches have seen enough from Ogletree to know that he can play receiver at the NFL level...that should be enough to allow him to make the final roster. With Stanback we're still talking about potential after three years of waiting.