Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Looking for Meaning in a Meaningless Game

When the Eagles lost to the Vikings on Tuesday night the season finale between Dallas and Philadelphia essentially became a meaningless game. Philadelphia is locked into the #3 seed in the NFC no matter the outcome of their game with the Cowboys on Sunday. Think back to the season finale a year ago and you can see just how far the Cowboys have fallen in 12 months. So what is left to watch for on Sunday?

First and most importantly in my mind is how the Cowboys approach the game. I'm talking about attitude and focus. The focus should have already started now if Jason Garrett is doing his job. But you can always tell how a team has prepared throughout the week by how they perform on the field. If the Cowboys come out fired up and scratch and claw for four quarters like they have for the last seven games then you know that Jason Garrett found a way to motivate his team for a glorified pre-season game.

Although I still believe that Jerry Jones has already decided to keep Jason Garrett permanently Garrett needs to keep the team playing hard and focused to win over his critics. And there are still a lot of them. It would be hard to argue with a 5-3 finish down the stretch with a team with nothing to play for facing what was probably the most difficult schedule in the NFL.

Stephen McGee will get his shot to prove that the Cardinal game was no fluke. The Cowboys really need to know if McGee can be a long term answer at backup quarterback. I'm sure he will still be given a scaled back game plan but he still needs to play within himself and execute the plays he is given.

Jason Witten has a shot at 100 receptions on the year. I know the old saying is statistics are for losers. Well, the Cowboys are losers this year. So I am worried about statistics. 100 receptions for a tight end is a rare feat. With 10 catches on Sunday Witten will reach that mile stone. I would love to see him add that item to his ever-growing hall of fame resume.

You might be watching several players for the last time in a Cowboys uniform. I mean guys like Marion Barber, Leonard Davis, Roy Williams, Alan Ball, Gerald Sensabaugh, David Beuhler, and several others. I'm not saying that none of these players will be back next year. Many of them will be here in 2011. But you can be sure that at least a few of them won't be on the roster next season.

I would like to say I want to see improvement from the defense but is there really a reason for that at this point in the season? We all know there will be new players and probably a new 3-4 philosophy next season so it is hard to get excited for the defense. But you still have to hope for a solid performance by the defense because the Cowboys have no chance if Vick plays the whole game and the defense lays down.

I really hope DeSean Jackson doesn't sit out the game. I would love to see someone on the defense or the punt coverage team light him up. Jackson's antics have crossed the line on multiple occasions in his short career. Maybe someone can finally put him in his place.

There is a good chance the Eagles will be sitting a lot of their key players or at least limiting the playing time of their starters. I don't expect the Cowboys to follow suit. If the Eagles roll out a team of backups then a loss would be an embarrassment for the Cowboys. But I just can't see the Cowboys laying down now that Jason Garrett is in command.

When all is said and done I expect the Cowboys to win. Not because I believe they are the better team. I think they'll win because the Eagles are going to be shutting it down at some point in the game. The playing time for most of the Eagles key starters will be limited at best. And many of the Cowboys are playing for their spot on the team next season. I predict a 24-14 victory for the Cowboys.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The End of This Miserable Season Is Within Sight

In yet another freakish game this season the Cowboys lost thanks to a missed extra point and another last minute defensive breakdown. It feels like the end can't come quickly enough. While the Cowboys are playing with a lot more heart and intensity under Jason Garrett there are just too many holes in the roster right now to overcome.

There are clearly going to have to be some big roster moves made in the offseason and Jerry Jones has a big decision to make about Jason Garrett. The offensive line is obviously a problem. The free safety position is a joke. The middle linebackers have become old and slow. And Terence Newman's age at cornerback has to be a concern as does the poor play of Mike Jenkins. Do I even need to mention kicker?

I still believe that Jason Garrett is the man for the job as head coach. I realize that the deficit they found themselves in against the Cardinals came with him coaching. But his team fought and clawed their way back into the game even playing with their third string quarterback playing for the first time in his NFL career after Kitna went down. And keep in mind that McGee essentially had no practice reps all season long. Garrett had to adjust the entire offense on the fly to allow McGee to be successful in the game. With a full offseason I believe Jason Garrett could complete the transformation of the Cowboys back into a contender.

Stephen McGee will probably get a shot to earn his spot on the roster next season. And it will be important for the Cowboys to know what they have in McGee because it makes a big impact on their draft plans in the offseason. If McGee can show more promise like he did against the Cardinals then the Cowboys may have their long term solution at backup quarterback. They will still need to find a future starter but they can afford to wait a few more years on that with Romo only 30 right now.

The worst part about this season is how numb I have become to the devastating, last minute losses. The more the Cowboys lose the easier it is to take because my expectations have been lowered so far from where they were at the start of the season. But that doesn't mean I won't expect more from the Cowboys next season. I know Jerry Jones is committed to putting a winner on the field but he obviously needs to re-evaluate many of the roster decisions he has made over the last few years. A lot of guys won't be back next season. There have to be big changes if there will be any hope of being competitive next year. The Cardinal game was just a reminder of how much work the Cowboys will have to do in the offseason.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

No More Romo This Season

It is finally official. Tony Romo won't be coming back for either of the two remaining games on the schedule. It really isn't much of a surprise at this point. When Romo failed to return to practice over the last two weeks the writing was on the wall. At this point there just isn't enough time for him to practice and work himself back into game shape. Tony needs to get himself healthy and come back to offseason workouts in great shape.

I was hoping to see Romo for at least a game or two down the stretch even if the games are meaningless. But if he isn't healthy, he isn't healthy. There is no arguing with that. You can't risk your franchise quarterback in two essentially meaningless games if you aren't certain he is coming back at 100%. I have no doubt he would be out there if these last two games had playoff implications.

What I was happy to hear is that Romo will be traveling with the team. He has been functioning as an extra coach on the sidelines over the last two months. The people who question his leadership qualities need to watch him function on the sidelines during the games. Tony has been helping Kitna, the offensive line, the receivers, the running backs and even some of the defensive players. He may not be out on the field but he has plenty of experience that allows him to see some things that the coaches may not see on the field.

It is depressing to think that we will have to wait until next season to see Romo out there leading the offense again. I can only hope that absence will make the heart grow fonder for all of the Romo haters out there. Like I've said before, Kitna has done an admirable job filling in for Romo. But the offense has lost much of its explosiveness without Romo running the show. I have no doubt Romo will be at the top of his game to start the season next year. The Cowboys need him if they have any hope of getting back to the playoffs next season.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Another Crazy Game in the Cowboys-Redskins Rivalry

It looked for the first two and a half quarters that the Redskins were completely over matched against the Cowboys. The Cowboys took a 27-7 lead and I think everyone expected the Redskins to roll over and give up. But they obviously did not. The Cowboys defense went soft and allowed the Redskins to slowly work their way back into the game and tie it up at 30-30 with about 6 minutes to play. Fortunately the Cowboys pulled out the victory on the second game winner in the last two weeks for David Buehler.

The game had a lot of ups and downs for the Cowboys. On the one hand the running game was actually pretty good. I say that but then in the next breath I have to mention that the running game was stuffed repeatedly on the goal line in yet another game. The passing game was good (Kitna threw for over 300 yards) but the offense disappeared for about a quarter while the Redskins played their way back into the game. Jason Witten was a beast once again and proved why he is the best tight end in the game right now.

The defense came up with two turnovers and kept the Redskins in check for the first two and a half quarters. But then they reverted to their typical form and allowed the Redskins to go up and down the field at will...with Rex Grossman at quarterback! Then, when all seemed lost, they came up with back to back sacks to give the ball back to the offense with the game tied at 30-30. Like I said, it was an up and down day.

The special teams did a very good job for the most part. David Beuhler was 4 for 5 on field goals and hit the game winner with 50 seconds on the clock from 39 yards out. And his kickoffs were pretty good for the most part. But he shanked a field goal at the end of the half that would have given the Cowboys a 23-7 halftime lead. Again, and up and down kind of day.

The good news is that the Cowboys managed to finish on an up in all three phases of the game. The defense stepped up and made plays when it was needed the most. Matt McBriar pinned the Redskins near their own goal line with the game tied. The offense put the ball in position for Beuhler to hit the game winner. And Buehler came through on the field goal with the game on the line. Terence Newman even made a nice play to end the game with an interception.

Let's not fool ourselves here. It was nice that the Cowboys came away with the win. I can guarantee that the Cowboys would have lost that game early in the season. But there are major problems with the offensive line and the secondary. Losing a 20 point lead is nothing to be proud of. But at least the players were resilient enough to overcome the momentum of a 20 point comeback by the Redskins.

A reporter asked Jason Garrett if his head coaching future with the Dallas Cowboys flashed before his eyes as the Redskins erased the 20 point deficit. He hesitated, smiled, and said he lives in the present. But you have to believe that he could have easily lost his shot at the head coaching job if the team had collapsed and lost that game.

On the positive side the Cowboys overcame a lot in this game. They won with their backup quarterback. They were missing two of their top three receivers. They lost their starting strong safety during the game. Sean Lee was out for most of the game with a concussion. And the list goes on and on. But they still prevailed. It is important to remember how important it is that the Cowboys start finding a way to win close games. No one wants to hear about their excuses. We all just want to see a win at the end of the day. And that happened so you have to be happy on some level with the outcome.

Jason Garrett has a lot of work to do after this game. Penalties were a problem. The defense was horrible for a quarter and a half. Some of the offensive play calling was questionable at best. Their were several coverage breakdowns in the secondary. And the run defense was soft up the middle again.

But I liked his Garrett's response to adversity. I have to believe he had a few choice words for his team at half time due to the sloppy play of the Cowboys. And I liked how he showed some emotion when Beuhler hit the game winner and tried to fire up Demarcus Ware to shut down the Redskins on their last ditch drive. At the end of the day he is 4-2 as a head coach of a team playing with its backup quarterback. The head coaching job is Garrett's to lose now.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Prediction: The Cowboys Will Win Out

The positive vibes that have been around Valley Ranch since Jason Garrett took over have taken a bit of a hit after the loss to the Eagles. The early success that Garrett had as the head coach has raised the level of expectations for the team again. Putting up a good fight was acceptable for a short time after the embarrassment of losing 45-7 against Green Bay. But now that Garrett has the team showing signs that they can be a winning team again, close losses are no longer good enough. I think the Cowboys are on the verge of not only winning, but dominating inferior opponents like they should have all season long.

I know Jon Kitna is handcuffing the offense in some ways. I know the defense is still terrible. But the Cowboys have eliminated a lot of the problems that plagued them in the first half of the season. Penalties and turnovers are down. Forced turnovers have increased dramatically. But the Cowboys still haven't turned the corner when it comes to winning close games down the stretch. The New Orleans game should have been a win. And the Philadelphia game was tied in the 4th quarter. This team needs to start winning close games consistently if they are going to be able to win on a regular basis.

With the Redskins up next on the schedule it sure seems like this is a game the Cowboys can and should win. The Redskins are on the verge of completely collapsing. Donovan McNabb might not even start this week and, if he does, he could be benched at any moment during the game. Albert Haynesworth has been sent home for the season after one of the biggest free agent signing mistakes of all time. I am certain the Cowboys will come out on top this week.

Up next after the Redskins are the Cardinals on Christmas Day. The Cardinals are also a mess right now. They are scrambling to find someone, anyone to play a decent game at quarterback for them. And their defense has lost nearly all of the great players that sparked their improbable Super Bowl run two years ago. The Cowboys will win in convincing fashion and head into the season finale against the Eagles on a hot streak.

There is a chance that the Cowboys could have an opportunity to delivery the kill shot to the playoff hopes of the Eagles depending on how the next two weeks play out. But either way the Cowboys have to believe that the coverage mistakes they made on a handful of plays in the first game can be corrected. If Jenkins doesn't try to jump the route on the 91 yard touchdown by DeSean Jackson there is a very good chance that the Cowboys would have won. And I think they will make the necessary adjustments to insure that we won't see another sickening touchdown "celebration" by DeSean Jackson. I believe the Cowboys will win the game with or without Tony Romo this time around.

If this scenario plays out we are looking at the Cowboys finishing the season at 7-9. Shameful, but after starting 1-7 and playing without Tony Romo for most of the season you would have to admit that 7-9 was a good outcome after a bad start. I really hope we see Romo on the field for the last two games but it is starting to look less likely as he is making a slow recovery from his broken collarbone. A 6-2 finish would prove that we don't need to completely blow up the team in the offseason and start over. And it would give hope that the Cowboys can return to the playoffs next season.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Observations from the Sunday Night Game

- Michael Vick is very tough to defend. But I think the Cowboys did a decent job containing him. Unfortunately the secondary had three big break downs in coverage against DeSean Jackson and it cost them the game. But I loved the way the pass rushers were getting after Vick and delivering some punishment to him when they got there.

- Jon Kitna has performed excellent for a backup quarterback but the offense really needed Romo last night. I have been noticing for several weeks that Kitna has several holes in his game that are now starting to get exposed. He was allowing the Philadelphia defense to dictate the plays last night by checking down to the safety valve nearly every time they sent the blitz. You have to give your guys a shot down the field when they are one on one or the defense will feel safe to crowd the line and send extra rushers all game long. And as soon as Kitna is on the move you know it is pretty much a dead play if he throws on the run. Romo makes his biggest plays when he is on the move.

- I don't know why it keeps happening but Kitna must get 3 or 4 passes batted down every game. Either he isn't finding the windows to throw through like he should be or he is the unluckiest guy in the world.

- Kitna has to be one of the worst quarterbacks I have ever seen running the two minute offense. The poor clock management in the two minute drill has cost the Cowboys in the last two games. It seems as though part of the reason they are working so slow is due to the game plan of Jason Garrett. Maybe he doesn't trust Kitna to run the two minute offense like he does Romo.

- I don't want to sound like I am blaming the whole game on Kitna. I am not. He has been better than you could ever hope for your backup quarterback to play. But the people who are actually making the comments about Kitna being better than Romo need a reality check.

- I know I am biased, but Jason Witten is by far the best tight end in the NFL. Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates are great receivers but Witten is a leader, is a very good blocker and is also a great receiver. It has gone largely unnoticed, but Witten has really become a vocal leader on the sidelines this season.

- I like the way the team fights but close losses are no longer good enough. I know the Cowboys are playing without their best two offensive players but you have to win the game when you are close in the 4th quarter if you want to be a good team. The defense and the offense both broke down last night at a crucial point in the game. DeSean Jackson had the 91 yard touchdown and Kitna followed that up with an interception on a bad read on his part.

- David Buehler might actually be improving. He still ranks near the bottom of the league in field goal percentage, but the last two games have been very good. Maybe the game winner he hit in overtime against the Colts will be the spark he needed to gain confidence and consistency.

- The Cowboys still have major problems on the offensive line. The running game was awful last night which resulted in a lot of third and long situations. I don't know why the line has so much trouble opening up running lanes but the line clearly needs to be fixed in the offseason.

- DeSean Jackson is a complete idiot. The falling backwards into the endzone was completely classless but I really expect it from him at this point. What was more ridiculous was his behavior during the post game interview on NBC. And I thought Martellus Bennett was bad. DeSean Jackson redefines the word immature for me.

- The whole Tashard Choice getting Michael Vick's autograph is being completely overblown. I don't know why anyone would want to get the autograph of a guy like Vick. We're talking about a guy who flipped off his home crowd in Atlanta, got caught with marijuana at the airport, was involved in dogfighting and brutally killing dogs, and was such a class act after getting out of prison that he was in the middle of a shooting investigation because he can't stop hanging around the crowd that got him in trouble to begin with. And now we are all supposed to forgive and forget and move on? Sorry but I can't. I can't for the life of me understand how Tashard Choice would want his nephew to use Michael Vick as a role model. Get the kid Demarcus Ware's autograph. Get him Jason Witten's autograph. But a guy like Vick? I will never understand that one. But asking the guy for an autograph is fine if you really think that on the field after the game is the time and place to get it.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

How the Cowboys Can Stop Vick

With the Eagles coming to town Sunday night the Cowboys will have their work cut out for them this week. Last year the Cowboys dominated the Eagles and were able to shut down the Eagle offensive attack with ease. But it will be much more difficult this year now that Vick has reverted to his pre-prison form. The task on Sunday night will be to contain Michael Vick.

So the big puzzle the Cowboys will have to solve is how to deal with the unique skill set that Vick brings to the quarterback position. They can't sit back in their zone coverage like they have been regularly over the last few weeks or Vick is going to beat them running or throwing the ball deep because he'll have time to wait for his speedy receivers to get behind the defense. They can't blitz every down or Vick will kill them with his legs if the blitzers don't come up with the sack. And blitzing typically leaves your secondary at a disadvantage if you can't get to the quarterback and disrupt his passes.

So what should the Cowboys do to stop Vick? I think defenses have started to show the Cowboys a winning game plan over the last few weeks. There are several things that have to be done on defense to slow down the Eagle attack.

1. Get pressure on the quarterback without sending extra defenders. I'm not just talking about Demarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer here either. It is important to get pressure on the quarterback from all angles with Vick so he doesn't have room to escape and run wild. So Jay Ratliff, Jason Hatcher, Igor Olshansky and Stephen Bowen all need to put pressure on Vick on a regular basis.

2. Force Vick to scramble to his right. When Vick rolls to his left he can still throw with great accuracy. But when he has to move to the right he is forced to throw across his body and his poor fundamentals get exposed. That means it is vitally important that Demarcus Ware does not lose contain on his rush.

3. Don't let Jeremy Maclin or DeSean Jackson get open deep. Vick has a tendency to wait for the big play to develop even when there are receivers open underneath. As long as the secondary can protect against the deep ball it will keep Vick waiting in the pocket and give the pass rush a better shot at a sack.

4. Don't let the Eagle running game become a factor. You can successfully stop Vick if the entire defense is able to focus on just Vick. But if the Eagles run the ball successfully the defensive line and outside linebackers suddenly have to worry about the run first so Vick will have more time to slice up the defense.

5. Allow Sean Lee to spy Vick in some situations. I don't think you can use a defender on every play to focus only on Vick. But in situations where you know Vick is likely to run it would be a wise move to devote a defender to spying Vick. When the Cowboys beat the Falcons in 2006 with Vick at quarterback Bobby Carpenter was able to contain Vick's running because he was able to just focus on Vick. I believe Sean Lee is faster and more athletic than Carpenter so he could be successful in the same role on the defense. Carpenter came up with one and a half sacks in the spy role and we all know that Lee is a far superior player to what Carpenter will ever be.

This is going to be a tough game for the Cowboys even if they can minimize the damage that Vick does in the game. Losing Dez Bryant changes a lot of things on the offensive side of the ball because defenses were committing extra defenders to Dez. The offense will need to run the ball consistently and score some points because the Eagles will score even if the defense plays well throughout the game.

I don't have the best feeling about this game based on the way the defense has been struggling this year. But the Cowboys are rolling now so I can't pick against them. I think the game will be a hard fought battle but I am picking the Cowboys to win 28-24.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

How the Cowboys Have Changed Under Garrett

We have seen the new version of the Cowboys for a full four games now and it is pretty apparent that a lot of things have changed with the team. Some of the changes have been about attitude. Some have been scheme. There have been changes to practice habits. And some have involved playing time for young players. The common denominator in all of this has been Jason Garrett.

While I realize that there are still a lot of doubters out there, Jason Garrett is clearly on a path to become the permanent head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. You can't totally blame the people still questioning Garrett since he was the offensive coordinator that helped lead the Cowboys to a 1-7 start. But since he has taken over control of the team there have been a lot of obvious changes for the better.

Let's start with the overall attitude of the team. There has been a positive vibe coming from the team from the moment Garrett took over. He speaks with confidence and he demands results from his players. The message that he consistently preaches of "be great today" sets a tone and it really is what Garrett is all about. The lazy, half-hearted practices and meetings are no longer being tolerated. There is a constant reminder to be great throughout the week and, if the Cowboys can put together a good week of practice, you should see good results on game day. So far the message has proven to be true. The defensive players that didn't know what to make of Garrett at the beginning have bought in because they can see that the message proves true game after game.

From a scheme standpoint a lot of things have changed in all three phases of the game. On offense, there has been clear change to emphasize the running game since the debacle against the Packers. Some delusional people have suggested the changes in the offensive game plan came because Garrett was trying to get Wade Phillips fired. That is so ridiculous it really isn't worth addressing but my answer to that is the thing that got Wade fired was the embarrassing play of the defense and it had very little to do with the offense. Garrett surely saw as we all did that the passing game with Kitna had to be scaled back because he was struggling to make all of the reads and throws required with the game plan due to poor offensive line play and, frankly, inferior talent to Romo.

On defense it is obvious that Paul Pasqualoni has switched the scheme from a blitz heavy, man coverage scheme to a base 3-4, zone coverage scheme. The defense hasn't improved much statistically in terms of yards allowed and points allowed but there has been a huge shift in the defense's ability to force turnovers. With the defense now coming up with interceptions on a regular basis the offense hasn't been forced to go 80 yards to score every time they get the ball. And the defense is even putting points on the board to make a big impact in the outcome of the games. The defense still needs a lot of work, but again, when you lose 45-7 it is time to re-evaluate how you are playing and make some changes.

Special teams has been consistently inconsistent all year long. But it seems like Joe DeCamillis has finally decided to let David Buehler start booming kickoffs as far as he can like last year. And the result has been a vastly improved kickoff coverage team because they aren't forced to stop a returner nearly as often. Matt McBriar should be a pro bowler with his superior play and his 65 yard overtime punt against the Colts was a bigger play than most people noticed. The return game is still very inconsistent, but Bryan McCann and Dez Bryant have give both return units big plays. Buehler's field goal percentage is near the bottom of the entire NFL, but the sad part is that he actually has hit a better percentage than they guy he replaced, Nick Folk.

The change to full pad practice on Wednesdays seems to have sparked the running game on offense. The offensive line seems to be improving week by week and it is exciting to think how the Cowboys will be running the ball by the time we get to the last game of the season. Along with the offensive line I think the full pads practice has helped the defense improve their tackling and aggressiveness.

Getting some of the young players on the field has happened partially by choice and some have been forced on the field due to injuries. Bryan McCann, Sean Lee, and Tashard Choice have all made major impacts in the last four games. And the coaches should stick with these guys down the stretch since they have proven they deserve a shot. I am really excited by what Sean Lee is turning into now that he has a good grasp of the defense and the speed of the game at the NFL level. It will be hard to keep him off the field if he keeps making big plays. And I'll bet Marion Barber is very nervous about his playing time. If Choice keeps playing like he did against the Colts it would appear that Barber's days in Dallas are numbered.

If you think about the roster a big part of the problem this season has been work ethic. Players who were on the team when Parcells was around developed some great work habits that survived even through the laid back approach of Wade Phillips. I'm talking about guys like Jason Witten, Miles Austin, Terence Newman, Demarcus Ware, Tony Romo and Bradie James. I never had a doubt about whether they would be ready to play even with Phillips running the team. But players like Mike Jenkins, Orlando Scandrick, Martellus Bennett, and Anthony Spencer have never had a head coach demand the best they have every day since they entered the NFL. I think they are all benefiting from the new approach that Garrett has brought to the team.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Cowboys Are Rolling Now

After watching the Cowboys stumble to a 1-7 start it sure is fun to watch them put things together and start winning again. They beat Peyton Manning and the Colts Sunday night on an overtime field goal by David Buehler. And what made the win really impressive is that the game was on the road and the Colts were in desperation mode. Sure, Peyton Manning was the best player the Cowboys had but the Cowboys made the big plays in the big moments to win the game.

If you aren't sold on Jason Garrett as the head coach I'm not quite sure what it is going to take to convince you that he is the real deal. We just saw the team that lost to Green Bay 45-7 just four weeks ago beat the Colts on the road without Tony Romo running the offense. And they have now won three out of four games since Garrett took over with two of those wins coming against probable playoff teams. And it isn't like the Saints beat them by much either in Garrett's only loss as a head coach.

The most impressive part of the game to me was the play of Sean Lee. His two interceptions were game changers and he was all over the field making tackles. His development has been a little slow but he stepped up when the defense needed him the most with Brooking hobbled by a sprained foot. Now that Lee has finally established himself on defense he needs to stay healthy a put a few good games together to prove to the team that he can be counted on as a long term answer on defense.

Peyton Manning did throw for 365 yards but the secondary did a pretty good job throughout the game considering that Manning threw the ball 48 times. You can take a guy throwing for 365 yards if you can get four interceptions and return two for touchdowns against him. Mike Jenkins did get beat for a touchdown but he played pretty well overall. He contested most of the throws to Reggie Wayne and he made the biggest play of the game when he tipped the pass to Sean Lee in overtime. Reggie Wayne did pile up some pretty impressive stats against Jenkins, but it wasn't like Jenkins was getting burned all over the field. Orlando Scandrick made a great play to intercept a pass and return it for a touchdown early in the game but he missed the second half of the game after suffering a concussion. Even Alan Ball did a nice job intercepting a deep pass intended for Reggie Wayne.

The run defense was very good but I think part of that was due to the poor offensive line play of the Colts offense. Holding an offense to under 50 rushing yards impressive regardless of the circumstances though. You have to give them credit for stuffing the run enough that the Colts gave up on it.

On offense the Cowboys were inconsistent just as they have been with Kitna running the offense. But you have to give Kitna credit for making the plays that had to be made to win the game. The touchdown pass to Witten late in the game appeared to be his third read on the play and he made a great throw to keep the ball away from the defender trailing Witten. The pass to Roy Williams for the two point conversion was huge as well.

The running game was great during the first quarter and on the drive for the lead in the fourth quarter. You have to be impressed by the play of Tashard Choice now that he finally got his shot to play this year. But keep in mind he does have fresh legs compared to the rest of the guys out there so hopefully this game isn't a mirage like Julius Jones' second half of his rookie season. You have to wonder if Marion Barber has played his last down as a Dallas Cowboy after watching Choice rack up over 100 yards.

The special teams won the game but almost lost it at the same time. The Colts blocked a punt a recovered it for a touchdown in the 4th quarter. Four weeks ago this team would have folded. But Buehler made the big kick to win the game in overtime. He was 3 for 4 for the day. And you have to give Buehler credit for hitting the pressure kick with the game on the line. He has a long way to go if he wants to come back as the kicker next season but he is improving.

A win is always nice but it was bittersweet on many levels. Dez Bryant is out for the year after breaking his ankle on a kick return. And even winning 3 out of the last 4 games has only improved the Cowboys record to a less embarrassing 4-8. And really 4-8 is still horrible but a huge improvement after a 1-7 start. But even with a 4-8 record the world just seems like a better place when the Cowboys win.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The 10 Keys to Beating the Colts

Coming off of a strong performance against the Saints on Thanksgiving day the Dallas Cowboys are actually being given a good shot to pull off the upset this week against the Colts. We've seen this team beat the Peyton Manning led Colts before but it seems like a lifetime ago that the Cowboys beat the undefeated Colts 21-14 in 2006. The Cowboys won't have Romo to run the offense this time around but the roster still has many of the same key components in place.

So what will it take to beat the Colts? The Colts aren't 9-0 like they were the last time the Cowboys faced them in 2006. But they still have Peyton Manning even if their record has slipped to 6-5. And the Colts have backed themselves into a corner by dropping two straight games to fall into a first place tie with the Jacksonville Jaguars. It is hard to imaging Manning having a third straight poor performance. The Cowboys will have to find a way to limit Manning's impact on the game. Here is what I think the Cowboys will need to do to beat the Colts.

1. Get off to a good start. Last week might have been a moral victory because the Cowboys refused to give up after quickly falling behind 17-0 against the Saints. Coming from behind is never easy and the Cowboys don't need to get in the habit of starting off slow.

2. Run the ball effectively. It looks like Marion Barber will be out with a calf injury so Tashard Choice should finally see the playing time he has been hoping for. And getting Choice on the field might help the running game considering how ineffective Barber has been all season. Felix Jones and Tashard Choice need to grind out first downs so the Cowboys can control the clock and keep Manning off the field.

3. Pressure Peyton Manning. The struggles that Manning has had over the last few games have primarily been due to pass rushers getting in his face early and often. Just like last week Anthony Spencer could be the difference maker in the game if he can finally break out of his season long slump.

4. Don't turn the ball over. It is cliche to say it but just look back to last week for evidence of what happens when you turn the ball over. Jon Kitna's early interception put the Cowboys in a hole that they had to spend nearly the entire game digging out of. And do I really need to mention how costly Roy Williams' fumble was?

5. Keep Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis away from Kitna. Part of this can be accomplished by keeping the defense honest with an effective run game. But Doug Free and Marc Colombo need to be at the top of their game this week to neutralize the pass rush of Freeney and Mathis.

6. Exploit the Colts cover 2 defense. This should be a big game for Jason Witten since the middle of the field is usually open against the cover 2. Kitna needs to work the middle of the field to force the Colts' safeties to come closer to the line of scrimmage to help stop Witten. That would open up the offense by freeing up Dez Bryant or Miles Austin on a deep route.

7. Be patient and consistent on offense. The Colts will force the Cowboys to march down the field on short and intermediate length plays. The Cowboys need to avoid penalties and negative plays to move the ball. If the Cowboys can move the ball early the Colts will be forced to adjust their defensive game plan which, again, will open up the field for the big play.

8. Don't allow Manning to beat you on big plays. The Cowboys did a good job for the most part last week against Drew Brees by forcing him to keep his throws underneath. But they gave up a huge play late in the game which turned out to be the difference in the game. Alan Ball and Gerald Sensabaugh need to be aggressive but smart against the pass. They can't let Reggie Wayne run free on the deep ball.

9. Stifle the Colts' running game. If the Cowboys can stuff the run early in the game the Indy offense will become one-dimensional. The Colts don't mind passing on every down if the run isn't working. If Ware and Spencer are free to get after Manning on every play they are sure to make some game changing plays during the game.

10. Make plays on special teams. The fumble that Reggie Bush gave up last week against the Saints was nearly the game winner for the Cowboys. The Cowboys need a big turnover or a big return at some point in the game to help out the offense.

If the Cowboys can achieve even half of these goals I believe they can win the game and actually win the game comfortably. I think Jason Garrett is just getting the momentum started and his resume will continue to grow with this game. I predict a 30-20 victory for the Cowboys.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Playing for Pride

The Cowboys managed to take the Saints down to the wire but the end result was still another loss. And it was a big one in terms of any playoff hopes. The Cowboys didn't have much of a chance before losing to the Saints but there was still a slim chance. But with this loss the best the Cowboys can hope to finish is 8-8. The only realistic shot the Cowboys had was to win the NFC East. But now they are sitting four games back with five games to play. For all practical purposes the playoff hopes are toast.

So now the team is playing for pride. There are a lot of guys playing for their jobs right now. Several players along the offensive line may not be back next season. Marc Colombo, Kyle Kosier and Leonard Davis could realistically be sent packing in the offseason. I'm sure not all of them will be gone but I don't think all of them will return.

Alan Ball may not be playing for a roster spot but he is playing for a starting job. He has most likely lost any hope of starting next season but if the light suddenly turns on and he starts making plays over the last five games you never know. And Gerald Sensabaugh's contract is up after the season. He has a chance to return since he has played decently but the Cowboys will definitely upgrade at both safety spots if they get the chance this offseason.

And David Buehler will be given every opportunity to prove that he is the long term answer at kicker. I have not been impressed but I'm sure the coaches would love to see him find his confidence and start nailing his field goals down the stretch. He seems to have solved his kickoff distance issues so now the field goal accuracy has to improve. Buehler's job is definitely on the line in the last five weeks.

And there are more players than I have listed playing for their jobs. But a lot of the veterans will be back next season regardless of their performances over the last five games. So what are they going to play for now?

The most important answer to that question is pride. A true competitor gives everything they have each game regardless of what is on the line. You don't have to worry about guys like Keith Brooking or Jason Witten packing it in.

What I think is vitally important to play for over the next five games is continuing to establish the changes that Jason Garrett has demanded from the team. Attention to detail and playing with heart and desire will help take the Cowboys into the offseason with some momentum and hope for next season. The offseason is going to be very, very long after a wasted season but a strong finish could give the team a glimmer of hope for next year.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory

For a few brief seconds it appeared that the Cowboys had delivered the knockout blow to the New Orleans Saints. Roy Williams was racing down the field after catching a slant pass from Jon Kitna. Not only was it a first down conversion, but Roy was racing for a gain of 47 yards all the way to the Saints 11 yard line. But then there was suddenly a scrum for the ball after the play. The Saints had stripped the ball from Roy Williams as they tackled him and recovered the ball.

Against most quarterbacks that would have been ok. But Drew Brees went into all-pro mode and proceeded to throw three picture perfect passes to quickly take the Saints 89 yards to the game clinching touchdown. The worst play on the drive was a 55 yards pass to Robert Meachem on 3rd and 10. Terence Newman bit on a double move trying to prevent a first down and Meachem raced all the way to the Cowboys 12 yard line.

On the one hand you have to be proud of the Dallas Cowboys in this game. They quickly got themselves in a 17-0 hole in the first quarter. Only a few weeks ago this team would have folded and the game would have been an embarrassing blowout. But things have changed under Jason Garrett. Not only did the team battle to keep withing striking distance but they came out on fire in the second half. And the Cowboys really had the game won late in the 4th quarter but the Saints made a play that a Super Bowl winning team makes to win a game. They even had a shot to force overtime although asking David Buehler to hit a 59-yarder was too much to ask of an inconsistent kicker.

I'm usually not into moral victories but I have to admit I am still proud of the way my team played. The Cowboys nearly took down the Super Bowl champions without Tony Romo, arguably the best player on the team. And the Cowboys battled back from 17 points down. I am now absolutely convinced that the Cowboys have found their head coach. Jason Garrett found a way at halftime to make adjustments and motivate his players to get back into the game. I seriously doubt we would have seen a comeback like that with Wade Phillips running the show.

On offense the Cowboys weren't great against the Saints. Jon Kitna was very inconsistent throughout the game. He had some nice throws but he also missed some easy passes. A lot of people of jumped on the Kitna bandwagon, and he has performed admirably, but the offense misses Tony Romo. I have no doubt that the Cowboys would have won the game on the last drive with Romo at quarterback. For some reason Kitna can't throw the wide receiver screen without getting it batted down or intercepted. Considering that the wide receiver screen is one of the best plays in the Cowboys playbook that is a big problem. And Kitna sometimes checks out of his plays too early allowing the defense to audible to counteract the play change. Don't get me wrong, I'm not blaming Kitna for the loss. I'm just pointing out that the Cowboys do miss Romo more than the box score indicates.

The running game still needs a lot of work. The offensive line is not consistently opening running lanes in the middle of the field. I know part of the problem is that defenses don't respect Kitna they way they do Romo so they often crowd eight men in the box, but the Cowboys should be able to run better than they are right now. Felix Jones averaged just 3.4 yards per carry and Marion Barber averaged a pathetic 1.9 yards.

I think we need to come to grips with the fact that defense has some major problems. Although they did stop the Saints for a few series in the second half, Drew Brees basically passed at will against the secondary. The pass rush was inconsistent. And when the team needed a big play from the defense after the Roy Williams fumble the defense gave up a touchdown nearly before you could blink. It would have been nice if it would have felt like the Saints at least had to battle down the field to get the game clinching touchdown, but they went 89 yards on just five plays for the score.

And even with major flaws on offense, defense and special teams showing up in the game the Cowboys still found themselves with the lead late in the game and with a shot to tie as the clock was winding down. That can only happen if your team is battling for four quarters and doing the little things right.
In the end it was still a loss, but you can at least hold your head up high if you wear your Dallas Cowboys gear out in public this weekend. The Cowboys are playing with pride and they are playing with heart.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Cowboys Need Spencer to Show Up

We all remember last year's game between the Cowboys and the Saints. The Cowboys were coming off a two game losing streak and it appeared heading into the game that they wouldn't have Demarcus Ware after he was carted off the field the week before with a neck injury. The Saints were undefeated. No one gave the Cowboys a chance. And all the Cowboys did was dominate the game for three and a half quarters before holding on as the Saints mounted a furious late comeback attempt. In the end the Cowboys won the game 24-17 thanks to a ball control offense and a dominant pass rush.

So here were are this season. The Cowboys somehow find themselves with a ridiculous 3-7 record. The Saints aren't undefeated but they are heading into the game on a three game winning streak. The Saints have beaten the Steelers 20-10 and followed that up with dominating wins against Carolina and Seattle by a combined 68-22. The Saints seem to have found their mojo on offense but this time the Cowboys are coming in hot as well.

Most people don't give the Cowboys much of a chance to win this game. And they shouldn't based purely on the records of the two teams and the fact that the Cowboys are playing with their backup quarterback. But when the Cowboys pass rushers are on their game they have the perfect antidote for the explosive Saints offense. And Jon Kitna has been surprisingly effective over the last two weeks for the Cowboys on offense.

Obviously the Cowboys will need to score a lot of points on offense to win the game. But time of possession will be just as important against the Saints. The best thing, besides score points, that the offense can do is grind out first down after first down to keep the ball out of Drew Brees' hands. Drew Brees is a rhythm player and if the Cowboys can keep the ball away from him it will prevent him from getting in a groove.

With that said, I think the pass rush is the key to the game. I know Demarcus Ware will show up. He knows how to find another level for big games. My concern is Anthony Spencer. His pass rush has been nearly non-existant this season. He did have a sack wiped out by an accepted holding penalty last week but he only has three sacks for the entire season. And what makes that worse is the fact that he is seeing one-on-one match ups almost exclusively because the focus is on Demarcus Ware and Jay Ratliff.

Anthony Spencer needs to get pressure on the quarterback early and often. If he can establish himself as a pass rushing threat it is going to force the Saints to take their focus off of Demarcus Ware on the other side of the field. That makes the pass rush more effective because Drew Brees won't know where the pressure with come from. It is easy when the quarterback knows that all his has to do is avoid Demarcus Ware. But with pressure from Spencer Brees has no where to turn when Demarcus comes free.

The short week leading up to the Thanksgiving game gives the Cowboys an advantage. With only three days of preparation for the game it really hurts the visiting to team to lose time traveling to Dallas. The Saints have a short trip but it still takes valuable hours away from their game preparation time. Any little advantage the Cowboys can get is definitely a good thing.

There is really no reason for me to pick the Cowboys to win outside of feeling like they have momentum heading into the game thanks to the leadership of Jason Garrett. I would feel much more confident about the Cowboys winning if Tony Romo were going to be under center. Kitna has played well the last two games but I can't his Jacksonville and Green Bay performances out of my head. Hopefully those games were just a result of him getting the cobwebs worked out after sitting on the bench for so long.

My heart wants to pick the Cowboys. But logic tells me to pick the Saints. I'm going to go with my heart for no reason other than the fact that it just feels better to pick the Cowboys to win. I predict a 27-17 win for the Cowboys. Hopefully Anthony Spencer and the rest of the pass rushers will get enough pressure on Drew Brees to help make that happen.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

McCann Sparks Turnaround Against Lions

The game started for the Cowboys about as well as you could hope. The Cowboys drove right down the field on a 13 play, 98 yard drive for a touchdown to take the lead 7-0 on another great Dez Bryant catch. But then the offense went to sleep. While that was happening the Lions kept grinding out first downs and eventually took the lead while the offense sputtered and handed them the ball in scoring range right before the half. And then the offense even scored for the Lions when Leonard Davis held in the end zone resulting in a safety early in the second half.

But then Bryan McCann changed the game. The Lions were forced to punt on their next possession. Dez Bryant was the returner but the punter nailed a great punt that bounced inside the 5 and was batted away from the end zone by a Lions player. McCann smartly scooped up the ball and began racing up field. The Lions seemed stunned as he raced down the sideline and scored giving the Cowboys a 14-12 lead.

From that point on it was a new Cowboys team. The Cowboys got the ball back on a fumble recovery after the kickoff and quickly scored again. Although the Lions did score again to pull within 21-19, the Cowboys dominated the rest of the game to win 35-19. It was an amazing turnaround.

And I give all the credit to McCann and his blockers on the punt return. Jon Kitna played horribly for about 2 quarters after the great opening drive. Even his screen passes were off target. The offensive line was horrible during the same stretch of the game. The Cowboys were back to getting tackled for a loss on first down running plays.

But after the return by McCann the offense was incredible. The line started blocking much better and Kitna started finding open receivers down the field. When the line blocks the Cowboys offense is tough to stop even without Romo at quarterback. There are simply too many weapons to defend.

The defensive line did a much better job today getting pressure up the middle. The Cowboys got pressure on Shaun Hill consistently and forced several errant throws in addition to their three sacks. And even though Calvin Johnson did score a touchdown, most of his receptions were for short gains. The defense played much better than last week after they allowed nearly 500 yards of offense against the Giants.

So now the talk will start to center around whether the Cowboys can run the table to make it to 9-7. Well, let's see what happens against the Saints and Colts in the next two games before we get carried away. There is certainly momentum building and Jason Garrett has obviously re-energized the the team. I'm just going to enjoy the ride after the awful first half of the season.

It has become clear to me that Jason Garrett is the man for the job at head coach. I can't believe this is the same team who lost 45-7 against the Packers just a few weeks ago. They are battling back from adversity and making big plays in key situations. I never thought a head coach could make such a difference but clearly the coaching change has sparked the Cowboys. Maybe the national media will finally wake up this week and realize the head coaching job is Jason Garrett's to lose.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Intensity and Focus Are the Keys to Starting a Winning Streak

Last week was the easy game for the Dallas Cowboys. Maybe not in terms of the opponent but definitely in terms of the motivation to play. The Cowboys had a new coach to play for. They had the world against them. And they had to find a way to show they had a little pride after being humiliated by the Green Bay Packers in a prime time game.

This week is different. The Lions are coming to town with their 2-7 record. For some reason the Cowboys are suddenly seen as overwhelming favorites in the game. And the players have a renewed sense of confidence about them.

We saw this same scenario play out earlier in the season when the Cowboys pulled themselves together long enough to go embarrass the Houston Texans in their home stadium. But that was the beginning of the end of the Wade Phillips era. After that game the Cowboys proceeded to lose 5 straight games and get progressively worse with each passing week.

Can Jason Garrett keep the Cowboys grounded and focused heading into this game? That is probably the most important question about the game. Forget about the X's and O's for a second. If the players are confident, intense and focused the X's and O's will be taken care of. How does Jason Garrett prevent his players from walking into this game overconfident?

You would hope that the Cowboys aren't overconfident since they really have no reason to be. They have the same record as the Detroit Lions, 2-7. And they should be reminded of that. And the Lions are 2-7 but they have played nearly every game down to the wire. And the Lions have a lot of individual talent on their roster. Calvin Johnson, Jahvid Best, Ndamukong Suh, and Kyle Vanden Bosch are all top tier players.

I believe the embarrassment of this season combined with the renewed focus that Jason Garrett is demanding from his team is going to make the difference. I have been burned so many times by the Cowboys this year it is hard to pick them to win a game with any conviction. But the irrational fan in me wants to believe in Jason Garrett. I am picking the Cowboys to win the game easily 28-13.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Week 2 of the Garrett Era Only Gets Tougher

Last week was the easy week for Jason Garrett. Sure, there was absolute chaos around Valley Ranch for a few days after Wade Phillips was fired and Garrett was named interim head coach. But the players were all ready for a change and they were dying to embrace the renewed accountability and structure that Jason Garrett gave to them.

But now that the Cowboys have beaten the "mighty" New York Giants in convincing fashion it has become apparent once again that the Cowboys are actually a talented team. They can beat any team in the NFL when they play good football. But if the team falls back into the trap of relying solely on talent to win games we are going to see the team revert back to the struggles of the first eight games.

Jason Garrett has to make sure that the players don't start believing that all of their problems have magically been solved. Watching film of the Giants game should include endless corrections by the coaches. In all honesty, the Giants did not play a good game and they made a lot of careless errors. The Cowboys got away with another sub-par defensive game and an inconsistent offensive performance. And I really don't even need to mention the play of the kicker.

Before the Giants game the players all knew there were big problems that needed to be corrected. But the team history this year shows that once the Cowboys win a game they take their foot off the gas pedal and fall back into their relaxed mode. It is up to Jason Garrett to not only keep the pedal to the metal but to actually work the team even harder this week in preparation for the Detroit Lions.

The good news is that if Jason Garrett can keep the team moving back in the right direction there is a great opportunity to really establish some momentum with a win against the Lions. But, like Jason Garrett keeps saying, that is only going to happen if they can have a great day of preparation on Wednesday followed by a great Thursday and then a great Friday. I'm becoming a big believer in Jason Garrett but this week will tell us if last week was a mirage or a sign of good things to come.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

What A Difference A Week Makes

I guess I underestimated Jason Garrett's impact on the team. While I have been impressed by him all week and I was already sold on him as the permanent head coach I didn't think he could do enough to turn the team completely around in one week. I don't know if I've ever been happier to be wrong.

It amazes me that the team playing against the Giants was the same team we saw against the Packers last week. The Cowboys played better in every way possible this week. And you could feel the difference in their energy and attitude from the opening kickoff to the last play of the game.

It is a shame that it took a wasted season for the team and the owner to realize that things needed to change. But if that gives the team a better shot at a legitimate title run next season then I guess that is what had to happen. Jerry Jones never would have fired Wade Phillips unless the team totally went in the tank. And they did.

This week on offense the Cowboys were hitting big play after big play. Dez Bryant is amazing. Every time a deep ball is heading his way I feel confident that he is going to come down with it. He has amazing natural talent. The offensive line was better than they have been all season. The running game was actually pretty decent for a change. And Jon Kitna had time to hit several big passes down the field. And Felix Jones finally looked like the guy from last season again.

The defense was still pretty dicey. The Giants moved the ball at will for the most part. But the McCann interception returned 101 yards for a touchdown was huge. And Alan Ball jumping a route to close out the game was awesome. But Alan Ball was still terrible and one play doesn't fool me into believing he should be on the field. The biggest defensive improvement was the run defense. While the run defense wasn't great it was the best it has been all season.

On special teams it is becoming obvious that David Buehler just can't get it done as a kicker. He seems to make about 2 out of every 3 kicks but the misses always come at big moments. Hopefully the Cowboys will address that problem in the offseason. Dez Bryant's impact on the return game is huge. The Giants punter was so scared of him he was kicking the ball out of bounds 20 yards short to prevent a return. And Dez nearly broke a kickoff return for a touchdown as well.

I hope this is the start of the turnaround we have all been waiting for since the season started. This game only means something if the Cowboys build on their success and start stringing together some wins. Detroit won't be a cake walk next week but they do give the Cowboys a good chance to start a winning streak.

Jason Garrett may not have convinced everyone that he should be given the permanent job yet, but I'm sure people are going to start taking him seriously now. And the best part about the win is that is validates the changes he has made. The players that were on the fence about him have to see now that the methods have resulted in success they haven't seen in a long time.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A New Era Begins on Sunday

I think everyone needs to get their expectations set to a reasonable level heading into the game against the Giants on Sunday. Obviously the Cowboys can win the game if things go their way but I don't think we should expect them to win. It is sad to say but success in this game won't be measured in my eyes by a win or loss. I'll be looking for signs that the Cowboys are turning things around.

What does that look like? I think it starts with seeing the players give everything they have for 60 minutes. While I don't think the entire team gave up last week I do think it is safe to say that the players definitely checked out early mentally when things went downhill. Jason Garrett has introduced a fresh approach to the practice week and hopefully it will show up in terms of the mental preparation that seems to have been lacking since Romo went down in the first Giants game.

Turning things around also involves the defense breaking out of its funk. It has seemed to me that a lot of the players of gotten away from the game plan and tried to make plays on their own in the last few games. Demarcus Ware has been beaten outside on runs because he has been overpursuing. Anthony Spencer has had similar problems on his side because he keeps jumping to the outside of the tackle at the snap. I think if the players just get back to playing within the system we will see a huge improvement in the performance of the defense.

I hope to see the offensive line remember how to run block. How often has the running back been hit behind the line of scrimmage over the last few games? It is completely ridiculous that the offensive line can't consistently block the run better than they have so far. The Cowboys can forget about getting the offense rolling until they get back to running the ball better.

What I'll be watching the most is how Jason Garrett runs the team from the sidelines. I was so sick of seeing Wade Phillips stand on the sidelines dumbfounded as the team crumbled around him I was literally sick to my stomach watching him. I hope Garrett is a more commanding leader out there. Little things like throwing the challenge flag with a little conviction or yelling at a guy who makes a stupid mistake set a tone for the team. I want to see him bring some excitement back to the players. He doesn't have to be a cheerleader but I think showing some emotion would help set a better tone for the players.

I think the coaching change is at least going to make the last eight games of the season watchable again. I honestly expect Jason Garrett to have the team heading in the right direction by the time the season ends. Who knows, maybe the Cowboys can win a few games late in the season to establish some momentum heading into the offseason. But, for this week at least, I think I would be happy with just seeing the team play like a professional football team again.

I'm not picking the Cowboys to win this week but I think the game will be closer than the so called experts would have you believe. It isn't easy to blow out a division opponent because the teams are so familiar with one another. I just don't think the Cowboys can score enough points to beat the Giants without Romo running the offense. I predict a 27-17 loss for the Cowboys.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Jason Garrett Immediately Sets a New Tone

If you haven't watched Jason Garrett's Monday introductory press conference I highly recommend you check it out. You will immediately notice that Jason Garrett has a presence about him that has been missing from the head coach for about three and a half years. Garrett is direct and makes his statements with conviction. He seems like a natural leader.

What I like the most about the tone Jason Garrett is setting is the message he has given the team. "Be great today" sums up his philosophy. And if the players really take that message to heart the Cowboys might be able to begin picking up the pieces and get the team moving back in a positive direction before the season ends.

Garrett's first practice as a head coach was a practice in full pads. Wade Phillips never held a full pad practice in his entire time as head coach of the Cowboys. Maybe that doesn't mean anything but it does make you realize right away that Jason Garrett is going to make changes and he is going to run the team his way.

At practice today Garrett was reportedly yelling at the players to hustle between drills and was constantly stressing tempo during practice. That is a far cry from the laid back approach that Wade Phillips had that allowed the team to slowly unravel this season. And Jason Garrett laid down the law in his first team meeting letting the team know that things are changing right now.

I know there isn't any reason to have hope for the playoffs. I have accepted that fact. But I am honestly excited about seeing what Garrett can do with the team. I don't expect immediate results against the Giants this week but I do expect to see a team showing promise for next year by the time the season wraps up. There is something about the way that Garrett talks that makes me believe he is ready to turn this team around.

Garrett says the best players will play. I hope that is true. And he says there will be lineup changes but isn't ready to let everyone know what those are yet. I have to believe the changes involve benching Alan Ball. And I hope that anyone who is seen giving less than their best effort will be immediately pulled from the game.

I hope the fans that aren't happy with Jason Garrett running the team will give him a shot before they say he can't do the job. It seems like Garrett is was ready to take over and is fully capable of running the team. Give him a chance to show what he can do. The season is a lost cause anyway so if Garrett can turn things around we will be watching the beginning of a new era for the Dallas Cowboys.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Jerry Finally Makes the Right Call

I was hoping Jerry Jones would make the move after the 2008 season ended in disaster. So I've sat watching the Cowboys for another season and a half knowing the Cowboys were fighting a losing battle with Wade running the show. I was shocked that Jerry didn't fire Wade after the embarrassing showing against the Jaguars last week. But the worst game I have ever watched as a fan of the Dallas Cowboys finally convinced Jerry that the time had come.

I know all of the problems with the Dallas Cowboys aren't leaving with Wade Phillips. But something had to be done. Wade didn't show any fire and it seems like his players followed his lead. When the Packers picked up the non-fumble on the kickoff return in the second quarter last night and ran it back for a bogus touchdown I was livid about the missed call. But Wade...he just stood there emotionless as usual. How can he not get angry and at least yell at the officials in that situation? I almost punched a hole in the wall and I'm not a violent person.

I really do think Wade Phillips is a very nice man. But he lost his team a long time ago. Like I've said before, I believe the Cowboys won last season in spite of Wade Phillips as opposed to because of him. And the playoff win last season created a mirage that convinced Jerry Jones that things were heading in the right direction. But Wade's laid back approach has allowed a talented, promising team to unravel into the joke of the NFL.

So now Jason Garrett gets to try to clean up the mess. And it is fitting that he takes over. Jason has been part of the problem over the last few years. If things have been too lackadaisical with the team approach you have to give Garrett part of the blame. He has had complete control over the offensive side of the ball and the offense has become sloppy and undisciplined slowly but surely over the last two seasons.

I'm not saying I don't think Jason Garrett can get the job done. He is very smart and organized. And from what I have witnessed watching him coach in training camp and on Hard Knocks he seems like a hands on guy who will voice his displeasure with his players. Maybe without Wade there Jason will be more willing and able to crack down on the sloppy, undisciplined play. Things certainly can't get any worse.

I know a lot of people aren't happy with Jerry's choice for interim head coach. But I think handled it exactly right. If Jason Garrett can't get the job done at least we will find out in a setting where there is nothing to lose. And if he does manage to turn the team around we will know that he is the man for the job. It is the perfect job interview. I'm going to hope that Jason Garrett can get the job done. And if he can't we can go after a new coach in the offseason.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Still Hoping for a Win

I'm certainly not expecting an upset win this weekend. In fact, I would be fooling myself if I tried to say I have any realistic expectation of the Cowboys winning the game against the Packers on Sunday night.

But that doesn't mean I can't hope. The Cowboys have lost four straight games and the negativity has become demoralizing. I'm sick of the bad jokes being directed at the team and at me specifically. I know one win won't stop that from happening any more this season but it will at least quiet it down.

I can't simply throw in the towel and start hoping for the #1 pick in the draft. Giving up is just simply not in my DNA. And I hope the Cowboys players feel the same way. Last week didn't indicate that the players are still trying but maybe they will show some pride this week.

Like Roy Williams said, the season isn't completely over until the Cowboys are mathematically eliminated. They still could technically win 9 straight games and make the playoffs. It isn't likely, but there is still a chance. And I won't give up on that tiny glimmer of hope until it is completely gone.

With that said, I am still expecting a loss. I think the players will give a better showing this week, but beating the Packers at Green Bay is too much to ask of this team this season. I predict a 27-17 loss for the Cowboys but I hope I am wrong.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Time For Some Finger Pointing

Over the first few weeks of the season and really, for me, up until the moment I found out that Tony Romo was out with a broken clavicle I still believed the Cowboys were just off to a bad start. Now it has become obvious that there are much bigger problems with the team than just bad luck and untimely penalties. I've been trying to figure out what is wrong with this team since early in the season.

It blows my mind that a team can go from a dominating playoff win, an NFC East championship and an 11 win season to what they have become this year. In order for the Cowboys to fall so far so fast there have to be multiple problems with the team and the organization. Here is what I am thinking is the root of the problem. You will notice that the list is long. And you can't pinpoint one specific reason for the downward spiral.

1. Jerry Jones was overconfident in the offseason. He made essentially no moves to fill the obvious holes in the roster at safety, kicker and offensive line depth. I don't know if Jerry was trying to save money or if he really believed that all of his young players were ready to step up but obviously the offseason was a disaster. I don't think you can say that unloading Flozell Adams was a bad move, but just about every other move was suspect.

2. Wade Phillips has lost his effectiveness as a defensive coordinator. It seems as though the opposing teams know exactly what they Cowboys are doing with their defensive schemes. It is almost as if teams have studied the tendencies in Wade's play calling for the last three seasons and now know exactly what is coming. That makes sense since the fans can tell what is going to happen with the defense before the snap just as easily as the opposing quarterback and offensive coordinator.

3. Wade Phillips was never a good head coach to begin with. I truly believe the Cowboys have won in spite of the "leadership" of Wade Phillips over the last three seasons. Now that things are going downhill Wade lacks the skills to motivate his players and turn things around.

4. Jason Garrett's play calling is extremely predictable. Once again, the fans know what is coming as soon as the Cowboys line up. 99% of the time the quarterback calls "kill, kill, kill" the play changes to a run up the middle. And based on down a distance I know about 8 out of 10 times what play will be called. You can get away with that if your offense is dominant, but the Cowboys aren't good enough on the offensive line to succeed when the defense knows what is coming.

5. The offensive line is a disaster. Marc Colombo is obviously playing hurt and it shows. Leonard Davis is either having a terrible season or he is declining in ability rapidly as he ages. Kyle Kosier can't say healthy. Andre Gurode can't seem to adjust his blocking techniques to avoid holding calls now that there is an extra official watching the offensive line from behind. And Doug Free is not a very good run blocker even though he is a very good pass blocker.

6. Miles Austin is having major drop issues. I don't know what is going on with Miles but he is good for a drop or two every game over the last few games. That isn't what we should expect from Miles after he was awarded a huge contract extension.

7. Dez Bryant was hurt in training camp and just recently started practicing regularly. The injuries have drastically limited the offensive impact that Dez could have had early in the season. Dez could have been a difference maker when the season was still salvageable had he been able to practice and learn the offense. It is very apparent that he is going to be a special player for years to come.

8. Martellus Bennett is never going to develop into a dynamic playmaker. I don't know if Marty B. gained weight to help his blocking but it has really hurt his speed and quickness. He looks like just an average tight end now that he looks like he is carrying an extra 15 pounds on his frame.

9. Jason Witten is committing too many penalties. It pains me to criticize Jason because he is my favorite Cowboy of all time. But his false starts are getting ridiculous. He is good for one a game this season.

10. The middle linebackers have both regressed. It seems like the Cowboys kept Keith Brooking for one year too long. Brooking was a good player last year but he seems a little late to react on nearly every play this season. And Bradie James has gone from average to below average. I think these two guys are the main problem with the run defense. Hopefully Sean Lee will help correct this problem but his injuries have slowed his development.

11. Alan Ball is terrible.

12. Orlando Scandrick is awful this season. It appeared early in Scandrick's career that he would develop into a starter. Now he'll be lucky if he isn't flat out released in the offseason.

13. Mike Jenkins has regressed. I think Jenkins still has ability but he has been hit with so many pass interference penalties that he has lost his aggressiveness. Without his intensity and tenacity Jenkins has become a liability in coverage.

14. Anthony Spencer is not playing good football. I don't understand why his habit of jumping around blocks is not being corrected by the coaches. His jump to the outside at the snap is opening up huge running lanes. And Spencer's pass rush has been nearly non-existent.

15. David Beuhler has been inconsistent. I think the Cowboys would have two more wins right now if Beuhler had not missed crucial kicks in the first few games of the season. He may turn out to be a good kicker in the long term but he hurt the team badly while he struggled early on.

16. Tony Romo's turnovers were crippling. I don't think the majority of the interceptions Romo threw were his fault. But the interceptions came at the worst possible moments in the game against the Titans and the Vikings.

17. The special teams punt and kick coverage has been inconsistent. Big kick and punt returns have cost the Cowboys games. Kick returns have been flat out terrible. Maybe they Cowboys should try Dez out there on kick returns.

18. Jay Ratliff is not dominating the middle of the line. In the past Ratliff would split the double team and blow up plays. Now he is getting dominated by double team blocking. His ability to disrupt the middle of the line is the key to the defense.

I could continue this list for at least 10 more items if I really wanted to nitpick. I didn't even get into the bad draft picks we've seen over the last few seasons. But I think the point has been made. The Cowboys have a giant mess to clean up. Hopefully they can fix these problems before next season so we don't have to live through another dreadful season.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Wade Has To Go

I really don't hate Wade Phillips. He seems like a genuinely nice guy. But he is no longer an effective head coach for the Dallas Cowboys if he ever was at all. I wanted him fired after the 2008 season. I thought he had lost the team at that point. And I still believe they won in spite of him rather than because of him last season. At least the defense was still effective in 2008 and 2009 even if he wasn't doing a good job leading the team.

But things are worse now than ever. The defense stinks. The offense can't stop making mistakes. The special teams play is inconsistent. And Wade seems to do nothing to fix the problems that are consistently showing up week to week. And now the team is simply giving up when the chips are down against inferior talent. The Cowboys can't be called anything but a disaster at this point. And Wade is the man leading the downward spiral.

I said it last week and it is even more obvious now. This team isn't going to turn things around this year. Romo or no Romo, the Cowboys have too many problems to put together a winning streak that would save the season now. So when Jerry Jones says he wants to keep Wade Phillips through the end of the season because it sets the team back to switch to a new coach now I get very confused.

What does Jerry think he is going to save by keeping continuity in the coaching staff now? The season is lost and we can all see it. Things are so bad that some of the knee jerk "fans" are wearing bags on their heads at the game to make their point. While I think the paper bag over your head is a little extreme considering the team won a playoff game last year I think Jerry should see that there is a lot of truth in what his fans are telling him. The team is an embarrassment. And Jerry even admitted as such and apologized to the fans after the game.

But then in the next breath he essentially said that things are going to remain status quo for the rest of the season. I just don't understand what that accomplishes. I think he should give Jason Garrett a shot if he really believes that Garrett can still be the next head coach. Paul Pasqualoni has served as a defensive coordinator of a 3-4 defense before so he can take over the defensive play calling. It isn't like Wade has done a stellar job in the last few games running the defense so it couldn't hurt to try something new. It would be a perfect opportunity to give Jason Garrett a test run as head coach with nothing to lose.

I don't think that people are asking Jerry to change the coach just to make a change like Jerry talked about after the game. It is painfully obvious that Wade Phillips has lost his ability to lead the team. Wade essentially admitted that fact in his post game press conference. But still Jerry stands defiantly behind his coach.

I'm sure the contract extension that Jerry gave to Wade looms large in the current decision making process. Jerry was fooled by the success of last season into thinking that the Cowboys won because of Wade Phillips rather than in spite of him. And now if Jerry fires Wade he'll have to pay out Wade's contract. What I don't think Jerry is considering is how many fans he is losing while he tries to save a buck by waiting until the end of the season. Jerry will lose more money in the long run from his fan base than he is going to save by keeping Wade around.

The bottom line is that Wade needs to go. Not at the end of the year. Now. I don't think Jerry is going to actually pull the trigger which is sad. I hope we don't have to see more performances like the Jaguars game to convince Jerry that Wade is no longer effective as the head coach.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Season Keeps Rolling On

As much as the season has the feeling of a lost cause at this point the Cowboys still have a game to play on Sunday. I can't fool myself into thinking the Cowboys have any realistic shot of turning the season around without Tony Romo running the offense. Even with Romo making something out of this season would have been a challenge.

But technically there is still a chance. And the Cowboys still have to show up on Sunday to play the Jaguars so they might as well go out there and give it everything they have. And if the Cowboys had to play any team without their top offensive player it might as well be a team that has major problems with its defense.

It is going to be interesting to see how the offense changes with Kitna running the show. I don't think the Giants game was really a good representation of what he is capable of considering his lack of practice reps over the last two seasons. But with a full week practicing with the starters he shouldn't come out rusty like he did against the Giants. I'm assuming that Kitna is going to start at least until the Cowboys are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs so I'm going to throw all of my support behind him. He has a monumental task in front of him over the next few weeks.

Speaking of monumental tasks, the Cowboys defense has got to take their game to another level. The defense was actually pretty good up until the Giants game. So I am hoping they can crank it up a few notches to make up for the fact that they offense is probably going to be a lot less explosive with Kitna at quarterback. I think the defense can dominate the Jaguars offense, but I'll believe it when I see it. Demarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer and Jay Ratliff need to start making game changing plays if the Cowboys are going to win some of their games without Romo.

The performance from the special teams last week needs to continue. Kick returns were actually pretty good and Dez Bryant had the best punt return I have ever seen from a Cowboys player. And the kick and punt coverage both did a good job controlling the Giants return game last week. Again, with the offense running at less than full steam the special teams needs to pick up the slack.

The bottom line is I know the Cowboys can beat the Jaguars this week. The key word there is that they CAN beat the Jaguars. The question is whether they actually go out and get the job done. I've made a fool of myself picking the Cowboys to win every week this year. And I guess I'm a glutton for punishment because I think they'll get it done this week. I think the Cowboys come out fired up to make up for their missing quarterback. I'm picking the Cowboys to win the game 27-14.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Romo's Injury Ends Any Hope

Tony Romo's broken left collarbone may not knock him out for the season but it might as well. It would be one thing if the Cowboys were sitting at 5-0 and could afford to lose a few games while they wait for Romo to return. But with a 1-5 record it is obvious that Jon Kitna and/or Stephen McGee won't be able to turn the season around.

I don't even know what to say. It is just sad. The season started with so many expectations and hopes and it is essentially over after six games. I'm going to have to sit back and digest this one for a few days before I figure out how I'm going to get through the rest of the season. It is worse than watching preseason football in a lot of ways.

My one hope is that the rest of the players on the team show some pride. They certainly didn't in the second half of the Giants game after finding out that Romo was out. I expected the defense to come out fired up but they just seemed to quit. The only guy who still seemed to be playing hard was Demarcus Ware. Hopefully the Cowboys will change their attitude this week and come out fired up against Jacksonville.

So does the injury to Romo save Wade Phillips' job? The Cowboys were 1-4 anyway, but I thought Wade would be safe if the Cowboys could find a way to make the playoffs. I wonder if Jerry Jones disregards the record this year and brings Wade back for another season. I certainly hope that isn't the case.

Note: The Cowboys did show a little life late in the 4th quarter and nearly came back to steal the game from the Giants thanks to some sloppy play from the Giants to close out the game. And Dez Bryant showed some phenomenal athletic ability throughout the game.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The NFC Is Wide Open

As the Cowboys sit around Sunday waiting for their Monday night match up with the Giants the NFC leaders continue to struggle. With both the Saints and Eagles losing on Sunday the NFC seems pretty weak this year. There are several teams with only two losses, but it seems like the NFC is going to be a scramble for the #1 seed all season long.

So even with the Cowboys sitting at 1-4 in terrible shape they still have a very realistic opportunity to not only get back in the playoff race but also get back into contention for the #1 seed. It just might be one of those season where 10-6 or 11-5 gets you one of the top 2 seeds in the conference.

Of course all of that is completely meaningless if the Cowboys can't beat the Giants on Monday night. Not only that, but the Cowboys need to get on a decent winning streak to talk about anything other than getting their record to .500 right now. But it is nice to know that they haven't played themselves out of the NFC race yet.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Impossible Turnaround Scenario

As far as the "experts" on ESPN and the NFL Network are concerned the Cowboys might as well forfeit the rest of the games on their schedule because they have no chance to turn their season around. It seems like the majority of people who call themselves Cowboys fans are so discouraged by what they have seen from the Cowboys that they are giving up on the season as well.

But all hope is not lost yet. I keep saying this and I'll keep saying it. The Cowboys do have the ability to turn the season around...even at 1-4.

I have laid out a scenario here where not only do the Cowboys find a way to qualify for the playoffs but also still find a way to win the NFC East. Obviously this is completely based on my blind faith that the team will find a way to reduce their ill-timed and numerous penalties, reduce turnovers, and revamp their kickoff coverage.

Cowboys vs. Giants (Monday, October 25): If things are going to turn around it has to start with this game. The Cowboys and Giants have gone back and forth over the last 5 years so there is no reason to believe the Cowboys can't win this game. I think they squeak this one out to keep their slim chance alive. Result - Win (Record 2-4)

Cowboys vs. Jaguars (Sunday, October 31): The Cowboys can't afford to lose winnable games left on the schedule like this one. They will win handily but no one will notice because beating Jacksonville should be the expected outcome. Result - Win (Record 3-4)

Cowboys @ Packers (Sunday, November 7): If the Cowboys can win this game they will really have the start of something. The Packers have been devastated by injuries on both sides of the ball so this game is not as tough as you might initially believe. I think the Cowboys win this one to pull to .500 at the midway point of the season. Result - Win (Record 4-4)

Cowboys @ Giants (Sunday, November 14): The Cowboys are starting to play with a little swagger again at this point. They will need it because beating the Giants at their stadium won't be easy. I think the Cowboys pull the upset to sweep the Giants for the season. Result - Win (Record 5-4)

Cowboys vs. Lions (Sunday, November 21): Another game the Cowboys have to win to complete their improbable turnaround. The Cowboys win but not as easily as they should. But with their 5th straight victory fans are starting to jump back on the bandwagon. Result - Win (Record 6-4)

Cowboys vs. Saints (Thursday, November 25): This is a tough one for the Cowboys. But last season proved that the Cowboys match up well with the high powered Saints offense. I think the Cowboys pull this one out as well and now the train is really rolling. Result - Win (Record 7-4)

Cowboys @ Colts (Sunday, December 5): This is where the streak comes to an end. The Cowboys come into the game on a six game winning streak but Peyton Manning and the crowd noise take down the Cowboys. Result - Loss (Record 7-5)

Cowboys vs. Eagles (Sunday, December 12): The Cowboys are on the ropes now but get a shot at the NFC East leading Eagles. Just like last season the Cowboys have the answer for the speedy Eagles offense. The Cowboys win to keep their hopes alive. Result - Win (Record 8-5)

Cowboys vs. Redskins (Sunday, December 19): The first time the Cowboys played it appeared they won the game on the final play only to have a penalty wipe the win away. Things are different this time around as the Cowboys win easily. The playoff hopes are very alive now. Result - Win (Record 9-5)

Cowboys @ Arizona (Saturday, December 25): Playing on Christmas is no gift to the fans or the players. But playing on the road is actually an advantage in this situation since the players can focus solely on the game. The Cowboys win easily and clinch a wild card birth. The NFC East is up for grabs heading into the season finale for the second season in a row. Result - Win (Record 10-5)

Cowboys @ Eagles (Sunday, January 2): A rematch of last year's season finale for the NFC East crown. The Cowboys and Eagles play close down to the wire but the Cowboys are rolling and have the confidence and belief in themselves to pull out the game in the 4th quarter. The victory also clinches the #2 seed in the playoffs for the playoffs. Result - Win (Record 11-5)

Is this a likely scenario? Absolutely not. But is there really any team on the schedule that you don't think the Cowboys can beat if they play up to their abilities? I don't think so. Every year there is a team that has been left for dead that turns their season around. Why not the Cowboys? They certainly have the players to do it.