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.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Cowboys Can't Be This Bad

I think I am starting to live in denial. The Cowboys found a way to lose another winnable game against the Vikings. But I still can't believe my eyes. And I still can't give up on the Cowboys this season.

There is no getting around the fact that the Cowboys are 1-4. They have shown that they play sloppy football. The Cowboys commit too many penalties, they turn the ball over too much and they have terrible special teams. They haven't shown anything outside of the game against the Houston Texans that would show they are a decent team.

But 1-4 bad? That is just ridiculous. This isn't the Quincy Carter led version of the team from 2005. The Cowboys have a good quarterback no matter what some of the "fans" who have jumped ship will tell you. The Cowboys have a good defense. The Cowboys have great receivers. And they have three good running backs. Admittedly the kicker is terrible. But that shouldn't make a team go from 11-5 to cellar dwellers in one offseason.

Things just don't make sense here. It might be too late for the Cowboys to turn this season around. But they do still have a chance even with a 1-4 record. If the penalties can be cut down and the kickoff coverage can be improved that would probably be enough to turn the close losses into victories. And if the turnovers can be minimized on top of that we would see a team that could beat anyone.

There is no indication that anything will change from this point forward. But I know this team is better than 1-4 and they are better than a 5-11 or 6-10 team like the teams we lived through in the early 2000's. There is no way the Cowboys have gone from winning 9, 13, 9, and 11 games over the last four seasons with the same core group of players to an absolutely horrible team.

That said, I have zero confidence that the Cowboys are going to beat the Giants on Monday night. But this team does have a history of playing its best football when its backs are against the wall. Well, the Cowboys will have their backs against the wall for the rest of the season. I can only hope in the face of the evidence telling me I'm wrong that the Cowboys will find a way to get it done in the last 11 games.

One thing I will tell you is I will never give up on my team. I'm probably living in denial thinking this team will turn it around. But what fun is it to give up on the season only 5 games into the season. It is certainly your right if you decide to give up on the season. But if the Cowboys miraculously turn it around I don't want to hear that those people that they are the biggest fans in the world and they have been here all along. I'm taking notes on all the "fans" around me who are jumping ship. Because I want to remember either this season or next season or ten years from now who the real fans are.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Will the Cowboys End Favre or Will Favre End the Cowboys?

Here we go again. Back to the Metrodome to revisit the Cowboys house of horrors. The last time the Cowboys visited Minnesota we all know how things ended. 34-3...the game wasn't as bad as the score indicates since the Vikings ran up the score but it was a dominant win for the Vikings.

So what is different this time around? Not really much for the Cowboys except for the fact that they come into the game with no confidence as opposed to being filled with confidence coming off their blowout over Philadelphia last season. The Cowboys still have problems at safety and they still have problems on the offensive line and a kicker who's ability can best be described as questionable.

The Vikings last season were also a team brimming with confidence. Brett Favre was at his best and the defensive line was tough to deal with. This year Favre looks like a man who stayed one year too long. The Viking offense hasn't been good all year and the defense is nothing like what we saw last season.

It is amazing how different this matchup appears this week compared to what we thought it would be when the schedule came out. This was supposed to be the clash of the NFC titans. Instead we essentially have the NFC toilet bowl.

But something has got to give here. Both of these teams are better than they have shown up to this point. And the Vikings have added Randy Moss who seemed to have put a little spark back into their offense last week. The Cowboys haven't shown anything that would make you believe they are ready to turn the corner but they do have possibly the most dynamic offense in the NFL.

It is difficult to predict how this game will play out. If the Cowboys can get some early points they might be able to keep the crowd from becoming such a big factor this time around. And maybe the Cowboys can establish more of a running game this time around to keep the Vikings from rushing the quarterback relentlessly like they did the last time around.

But on the flip side, Randy Moss is like kryptonite to the Cowboys defense. He has always burned them for big plays nearly every time he has face them. And the Cowboys have struggled with allowing big plays in the passing game this season. So that matchup could be a big problem.

I think the game will come down to what happens with Brett Favre. Favre has a tendency to turn the ball over when he faces the Cowboys. And he will be pressing this week and playing with a bad elbow. It seems as though he is one big hit away from the end of his career. But if he comes out hot the Vikings will be very tough to beat.

There is really nothing coming out of Valley Ranch this week that leads me to believe they will win this game. But I just can't allow myself to give up on the season yet. I pick this game with no confidence but my heart tells me the Cowboys will win the game 31-20.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Cowboys Have to Prove They Aren't a Bad Team

Let me start by prefacing what I am about to say with a few remarks. I have not given up on the team. I still believe the Cowboys can achieve every goal they had set before the game started this year. Every game remaining on the schedule is a winnable game.

With that said, the Cowboys are not a good team right now. In fact they aren't even an average team right now. They are flat out bad. They put up great offensive numbers but they don't score enough points off of all the yards they gain. The defense hasn't been anything to brag about all year. And the special teams have been bad in nearly every game.

They are a 1-3 team. It is really embarrassing to even admit that they have such a terrible record. You can search high and low for answers but the problems of the Dallas Cowboys are a complicated riddle. Here is a brief list of what ails the team: penalties, turnovers by the offense, lack of turnovers forced by the defense, poor tackling, missed field goals, poor kick coverage, big plays allowed by the defense, poor pass protection by the offensive line, missed throws by the quarterback, dropped passes and inconsistent results in the running game. And I could keep going.

There is no way I can sit here and say the Cowboys are really close to being a good team right now. There are way too many problems to correct. They are going to have to improve in every category if they expect to not only win one game but win several games in a row to claw their way back into the NFC playoff picture.

I don't care what anyone wants to say about the Cowboys right now. They do have talent on the roster. That is no mirage. But they don't play as a cohesive unit and they don't fire on all cylinders with any consistency. Until that changes the Cowboys are just a collection of talented players. Look at the players individually and most of them look very good, but the performance of the team is currently less than the sum of the individual talent on the roster.

I have reached the point that I have lowered my expectations for the Cowboys. They are going to have to prove to me that they are a good team. Obviously they haven't been a good team up to this point, but Sunday can be the start of a turnaround.

One win won't convince me that the Cowboys have cleaned up their act. I was fooled by one decent performance in the Houston game and then felt like a sucker watching the game last week against the Titans. It is going to take 3 or 4 good team performances in a row before I start to believe all of the hype that surrounded this team heading into the season.

The Cowboys can't prove they've turned it all around against the Vikings. But they can begin to right the ship. I am a firm believer in the idea that winning is a habit just like losing can become a habit. The Cowboys are in danger of becoming habitual losers this season. The more they lose games the easier it becomes to accept those losses. I think the Cowboys have enough backbone to refuse to go down that losing road. I hope I'm not fooling myself again.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Cowboys Should Be Embarrassed

This is getting ridiculous. How in the world can the Cowboys continue to be so sloppy in every phase of the game? Too many penalties, mental errors, dropped passes, turnovers, missed tackles and on and on. It is quite honestly hard to watch the Cowboys play right now.

They'll make plays that will get you excited. They'll make plays that will have you believing they could be the best team in the NFL. But for every one of those good plays there are two bad plays that erase the gains made. I know all of the fans are sick of it. I think the players are tired of it. But I don't get the sense that Wade Phillips completely grasps the enormity of the problem.

At this point I'm not going to just start pointing fingers and say any one person or player is the root of the problem. But I do think it is appropriate to identify the problems with the team. As I just mentioned, I think the passive approach of the head coach is one of the major issues.

Alan Ball is hurting the team on defense. Ken Hamlin may not have made any plays on the ball in the passing game, but the defense rarely gave up a long pass when he was back there. The deep ball has become a major problem this season. The only change in the secondary is Alan Ball so it is pretty clear that he is at least part of the problem.

Mike Jenkins has not been very good this season. Jenkins was absolutely terrible against the Titans but he has struggled all year long.

The offensive line is wildly inconsistent. There have been good games and bad games for the offensive line. The Titans game was good and bad all in one game. The first quarter of the game was a complete joke. And the funny thing to me is how I got to listen to fans at the game complain about Romo in the first quarter when he spent more time on his back than he did upright. Romo is only going to be as good as the line allows him to be.

The penalties are completely embarrassing. I don't understand how the Cowboys can consistently commit so many penalties. And what is more irritating is the way Wade Phillips responds to the penalties. He very rarely even seems annoyed or bothered in the least bit by the endless penalties. And today he didn't seem concerned at all when asked about the number of penalties in the game. The players aren't going to worry about penalties if the coach doesn't either.

The stadium atmosphere in Cowboys Stadium is part of the problem as well. It honestly feels like a three ring circus in that place during the game. There is so much going on that it makes it hard to concentrate on the actual game play. I'm sure all of the extra stuff going on around the game isn't helping the team focus. I realize the Titans are dealing with the same thing but it isn't their faces that are flashing up on the giant screen during the game.

The bottom line at this point is that the Cowboys are what they are. Their record says they are 1-3. And they feel like a 1-3 team. I'm certainly not saying they can't turn it around, but until the Cowboys go out and show they can play with fewer mistakes and penalties on a regular basis I won't have high expectations. I just hope the players and coaches are as upset by what is going on as all of the fans are.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Cowboys vs. Titans

It sure seems like it has been a long time since the Cowboys beat the Texans. Nearly two weeks since the last game and it feels like the season is almost starting over again. Sure, the Cowboys are sitting at 1-2 and still have a hole to dig out of. But they are only 1/2 game out of first place in the NFC East. So a win this week could be another big step in righting the ship. And the expectation for the Cowboys this week should be a victory.

But the Titans are a dangerous team. Their offense doesn't have much of a passing attack but Chris Johnson is the most explosive running back in the NFL. Any time he touches the ball there is a real chance he will take it all the way for a touchdown. And Vince Young can really hurt you with his legs if you don't force him to stay in the pocket.

Defensively the Titans are a pretty decent unit. But what makes them tough is their relentless pass rush and their tendency to push the limits of the officiating crew. You can bet that Tony Romo will have to move around in the pocket and scramble away from the pass rush during the game. And you can bet even more that the Titans will hit the Cowboys after the whistle and do anything they can to get a rise out of the players on the offense.

The game plan for beating the Titans seems pretty simple. The offense needs to score points early and often to force the Titans to become a passing team. And the defense needs to stop the running of Chris Johnson and Vince Young at all costs. If the Titans are forced to win behind the arm of Vince Young the odds will be stacked in the Cowboys favor.

The concern I have for the game is a slow start coming off of the bye week. If the Cowboys allow the Titans to hang around in the game then Chris Johnson will be a threat all game long. And the longer they hang around the more likely it will be that Johnson will break off a long run for a touchdown. I hope the game plan for Jason Garrett is to strike early with the offense. Early points are they key to making this a one-sided game.

Another big advantage the Cowboys could have is actually in the penalty category this week. The Titans commit penalties at a high rate just like the Cowboys. But the Titans also tend to give the opposition a lot of free yards on personal foul penalties. Courtland Finnegan is the most likely Titan to do something that will cross the line. If the Cowboys can keep themselves under control they will get a few easy 15 yard gains on penalties.

I hope the Cowboys are still feeling the desperation they felt heading into the Texans game. They are still only 1-2 and have a long way to go before they can be happy with their record. And the players have all seemed to understand that in talking with the media this week.

I think the Cowboys will win this game fairly easily given the extra week to prepare for the Titans. I expect the Cowboys to jump out early and control the game from that point on. I predict a 27-13 victory for the Cowboys.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Back from the Bye Weekend

The Cowboys seem to have a caught a little bit of a break with the timing of the bye week. Kyle Kosier and Jason Witten look like they will both be back for the game this weekend against the Titans. And, even better, the Eagles lost this weekend allowing the Cowboys to move within one half game of first place in the NFC East. The Cowboys are also alone in last place in the NFC East but it sounds a lot better to say they are a half game out of the lead in the division.

So what should we expect from the Cowboys coming off the bye? Well, as you have probably read, we should expect to see the Cowboys reel off a few wins in a row over the next few weeks. The Cowboys have put together three game winning streaks coming off the bye for the last three seasons in a row.

That doesn't mean it is a lock for the Cowboys to roll, but it really felt like the Cowboys found their groove against the Texans. The bye week unfortunately may cause the Cowboys to need a few series to get back in rhythm but the gains on the injury front probably outweigh the loss of momentum.

The Titans are going to present a tough challenge regardless of what the records or the statistics indicate. It seems like the type of season where every week is going to be a crap shoot. We don't know which Cowboys team will show up this week and we don't know which version of Vince Young is going to show up either.

The Cowboys are definitely going to be prepared for the Titans from a strategic standpoint. An extra week to dissect the Titans tendencies on both sides of the ball should give the Cowboys an advantage. But they still have to make sure they keep Chris Johnson under control on every play during the game. And the Titans seem to have mastered the art of pushing the buttons of their opponents.

You can bet that there will be a few scuffles after the play during the game due to some cheap shots and offensive comments by the Titans. They key is that the Cowboys will need to avoid allowing themselves to get drawn into the mind games of the Titans. Avoiding dumb personal foul penalties will undoubtedly be a challenge.

The Cowboys got in some good work last week and they got an extra day of practice in on Monday. They will be prepared. And they still need to dig out of the hole they dug for themselves in the first two games of the season.