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."