Friday, September 30, 2011

Cowboys vs. Lions

This is going to be a big test for the Cowboys. I’m not ready to say that the Lions are one of the best teams in the NFL but they are certainly a big step up from the last two opponents the Cowboys have faced. It definitely looks like this will be the best offense that the Cowboys have faced this year. And the offense will be very limited again without Miles Austin and a hobbling Dez Bryant.

There are two guys playing for the Lions that are going to be quite a handful for the Cowboys. Calvin Johnson is probably the best wide receiver in the NFL. And Ndamukong Suh is a force to be reckoned with in the middle of the defensive line for the Lions. The Cowboys don’t have a good answer for either of those guys if you try to take them on with one guy. So the Cowboys won’t try to stop these two with just one man. You can bet that Suh will be double teamed on the majority of plays throughout the game. And Calvin Johnson will surely get extra safety attention on most plays.

The good news is that the Cowboys have a few guys that will cause big problems for the Lions. Demarcus Ware has to be the biggest fear for the Lions. They will try to double him when they can but now that Rob Ryan is moving him all over the field that becomes much more difficult to do. And I have to throw in Sean Lee on the defensive side of the ball. He seems to be all over the field this year and I don’t know if there is any good way to contain him. If you try to focus too much on Lee and Ware then someone else in the defense is going to be left unblocked and make some big plays.

And on offense it is hard to stop Jason Witten and Tony Romo. It helped last week that both guys were playing with hurt ribs. But Witten seems to be feeling better this week and Romo is getting better every day. While the pressure the Lions will bring at Romo is certainly a concern you also have to remember that what makes Romo so good is that he can escape pressure and then make a big play. So, in a way, Romo will neutralize the front four of the Lions that everyone keeps talking about.

I think there are two keys to victory this week. Dez Bryant has to make plays to open up the offense and the defense has to contain Calvin Johnson. I know Dez still isn’t going to be 100% for the game but there is a noticeable difference in the way the defense plays when Dez is on the field versus when he is off the field. Opposing defenses just aren’t worried about Ogletree, Holley, and Robinson. But Dez puts fear into the defense and keeps them honest.

Notice I didn’t say that the Cowboys need to stop Calvin Johnson. That isn’t going to happen. He is just too good. What the Cowboys need to do is prevent Johnson from going crazy for 10 catches for 150 yards and 3 touchdowns. To me if they can keep him to numbers like 5 catches for 80 yards and a touchdown I would consider that a success.

It is going to take a total team effort to win this game. Last week special teams and the defense allowed the offense to have an off game. This week all three phases need to play well. I think the offense will be improved enough to allow the Cowboys to win. I predict a win for the Cowboys 26-21.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Another Heartstopping Finish

What a game last night. And what a season it has been so far. The Cowboys could easily be 0-3. But they could just as easily be 3-0. After escaping last night with a win that felt like stealing you have to be happy with the Cowboys sitting at 2-1.

Say what you want about the embarrassing performance of some of the players on offense last night. There is something to this Jason Garrett guy. For some reason the Cowboys have suddenly remembered how to come through in the clutch and win the game late. And, like I have said many times, winning in situations like that becomes a habit just as much as losing games like last night’s does.

It was another gutty performance from Romo. I have never seen him get so visibly angry with his teammates as he did last night. I’m sure the “leadership” questioners were loving the fact that he was yelling at his teammates to get things fixed. That is what many people think leadership is. But it really isn’t too shocking that a guy playing in immense pain is going to get more than just a little frustrated with repeated boneheaded mistakes. What I really liked about Romo was the way he kept fighting throughout the game even though things just weren’t going right. That is what I am looking for in a leader. I don’t mind the yelling but I think what he does when he is coaching up his teammates on the sidelines is a bigger sign of leadership.

The play on 3rd and 21 late in the game was the back breaker for the Redskins. They sent an all out blitz and the Cowboys did a decent job picking it up. Nothing was there for Romo so he retreated and rolled right to buy time. Dez broke deep and Romo made a Romo play. He threw off his back foot across his body running away from the line of scrimmage. It was basically everything that a quarterback is taught not to do. But it works for Romo when he is in the zone. It was one of those plays where it was amazing but it could have also turned out to be like the interception late in the Jets game where you wonder what in the hell Romo it thinking. It’s what makes him Tony Romo.

I have to admit I was wrong about Dan Bailey. I was ready to cut him after he missed the 21 yard field goal early in the 49er game last week. After nailing the kick to send the game to overtime last week and the game winner last week and then going 6 for 6 with another game winner this week I think he’ll be the kicker for years to come. I love the way his kicks go right down the middle. I am actually starting to have a little confidence when the Cowboys line up for a field goal that the kick will go through the uprights.

Is there any doubt that Sean Lee is a force to be reckoned with at this point? The guy is just all over the field. He reminds me of one of my favorite Cowboys of all time, Dexter Coakley. The reason I loved Coakley is the same reason I am loving Lee. Just watch where Sean Lee is and that is where the play is going. He has a natural feel for the game and he just keeps making plays.

And let’s not forget that this game was really won by the defense and special teams. Sure, Romo gets a lot of credit because he is the quarterback. But the offense was not very good most of the night. The defense kept the Cowboys in the game. And Dan Bailey’s field goals speak for themselves. In a low scoring game like last night’s game it reminds you how important Matt McBriar can be. He completely swung the field position on a couple of punts and you can’t overlook how important that can be.

I’m certainly not going to complain about a win. But there are a lot of problems that need to be fixed. The biggest problem has to be the confusion with the wide receivers on where to line up and what route to run. Not knowing your job is at least understandable if you are new to the team like Laurent Robinson. But Kevin Ogletree should be ashamed of his performance outside of one nice catch that he made late in the 4th quarter. One more game like that from Ogletree and he’ll be packing his bags at the end of the season. I’m not going to harp on the botched snaps too much because it turns out the Redskins were illegally mimicking Romo’s snap count to get Costa to snap the ball early. The Cowboys should have adjusted once they realized that the horrible officiating crew wasn’t going to call a penalty but it is a problem that is easily corrected.

At the end of the day the Cowboys escape with a win and a 2-1 record. Not bad for a team with so many injuries. Next week’s game is going to be a real test. The offense better find a way to play much, much better or it is going to be a long day against Detroit. Hopefully the defense will be able to continue their stellar play and shut down the Lion’s seemingly unstoppable offensive machine.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Beating the Redskins

With another unexpected loss by the "dream team" today the Cowboys have a shot to pull into a tie for first place in the NFC East with a victory on Monday night. While the Redskins are coming into the game at 2-0 it isn't like they are world beaters. The Cowboys will have to play good football to win but they don't have to play a perfect game to beat the Redskins. Here are my keys to victory.

1. Make Rex Grossman uncomfortable. A lot of people laugh off the prospect of getting beaten by Rex Grossman. But when Grossman is on he is a very good quarterback. That is the bad news. The good news is that Grossman is also one of the worst quarterbacks in the league when he has a lot of pressure on him. It will be very important for the Rob Ryan defense to bring pressure at Grossman all game long.

2. Contain the Redskins running game. The best way to pressure the quarterback is to put the offense in obvious passing situations. The Cowboys need to keep Tim Hightower under control and it will make priority #1 (see above) much easier to achieve.

3. Don't let Santana Moss get deep. We all know what can happen when Moss gets behind the defense. Moss is the type of receiver who will disappear if you take him out of the game early on.

4. Protect Tony Romo at all costs. While I would love to see Romo come out and throw for 300 yards and 4 touchdowns I really don't think this is the week for that. Miles Austin is out and Dez Bryant will be a game time decision. With the limited options in the passing game it will be important for the short passing game to efficiently rack up first downs. It could be a big game for Jason Witten and for the running backs in the screen game.

5. Run the ball. I don't expect the running game to suddenly put up 250 yards. But it will be important to control the time of possession and keep the offense in manageable down and distances. I'm not looking for 60 yard touchdowns. But 4 yards a carry would be nice.

This game isn't like climbing Mt. Everest for the Cowboys. All they need to do is play solid football and they will win the game. It would be nice to get help from the defense with a few turnovers and on special teams with some nice returns. I expect the Cowboys to come out focused a play solid football. It won't be a blowout but the Cowboys will win. I predict a 23-13 win for the Cowboys.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Should the Offense Adjust for Romo's Injury?

Heading into the Monday night game against the Redskins there has been some speculation about the status of Tony Romo for the game. But let's be real here. Tony Romo is playing. There isn't much of a chance that Romo will be forced to miss the game due to the injuries he sustained in the 49er game.

And there is good reason Romo is playing. The team needs him on the field. Can they win without him? Yes. But the odds of winning without Romo on the field drop dramatically. And as nice as it was for the Cowboys to get their first win of the season they can't afford to lose any of the winnable games on the schedule if they expect to compete for a playoff spot.

So let's go under the assumption that Romo is playing. Does Jason Garrett adjust the game plan to try to protect Tony Romo? I'm sure he will try. Conventional wisdom would say that you run the ball more and do a lot more max protect in the game plan to limit the hits that Romo takes.

That's all fine and good but the Cowboys have been terrible running the ball this season so far. And running a max protect protection scheme means that you usually only have three receivers out in routes on any given play. That requires your receivers to be able to regularly beat a double team. Miles Austin is likely out. The only hope for a receiver who can beat double teams is Dez Bryant getting back on the field this week. I think Dez playing and playing with a little spring in his step will be the key to the success of the offense this week.

I think Jason Garrett is going to try to call a conservative game that protects Romo. But that game plan will only last as long as the Cowboys are able to keep the game close. If the Redskins find a way to get a lead more than 7 points I expect that the Cowboys would be forced to open up the offense. Of course that would open up Romo to more hits.

Hopefully the running game can finally find its way this week against the Redskins. And hopefully Dez Bryant can take over as the #1 receiver who can keep the Redskins from over-committing to stop the running game of the Cowboys. Otherwise it is going to be a tough game to win with no true threat at wide receiver and a quarterback who is only one good hit away from heading to the locker room for the evening.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Romo's Redemption

Tony Romo, you are officially forgiven. In what will go down in one of the all-time performances by a Dallas Cowboys quarterback Romo led his team back from a 10 point 4th quarter deficit playing with cracked ribs. It wasn't just that Romo played. It was that every single breath he took after he cracked the ribs early in the game made him wince with pain. And he took all of the abuse in the media throughout the week after the 4th quarter melt down against the Jets last week.

The Cowboys did not play well in the 1st half. They were flat on offense and the defense just couldn't seem to get home on their blitzes as the 49ers built a 14-0 lead. Romo was under fire all game long and took shot after shot in the first half. But he was able to hit Miles Austin for a 53 yard touchdown late in the half to get the Cowboys back within striking distance.

But then coming out of the half we found out that Tony Romo would not be returning to the game. And the medical staff forced him to go back into the locker room. We were told he was out for the game with broken ribs. I started thinking about how the Cowboys could find a way to get to 2-2 heading into the bye week. I still felt the game was winnable with Kitna but the defense was going to have to step up.

The defense did step up and start making plays. Alan Ball came up with a big interception to set up a Kitna to Austin touchdown to tie up the game. Unfortunately Kitna followed that up with an interception on the next Cowboys possession to set up the 49ers for another score and a 21-14 lead.

And then Romo came back to save the day. His first possession went nowhere and gave the 49ers a short field that allowed them to hit a 55 yard field goal for a 10 point lead.

Trailing 24-14 I would normally feel like the Cowboys were in deep trouble. But with Romo playing the hero role and playing through the rib injury it just felt like they were destined to win the game. So with about 11 minutes to go the Cowboys got the ball back and it was Romo time. He just kept making plays and was hit on seemingly every single play. But he kept peeling himself off the ground in obvious pain and kept going.

While I would love to give all of the credit to Romo for the win you have to recognize several other things that helped out. First, Jon Kitna managed to give the game back to Romo exactly how he got it...with the Cowboys down 7. Miles Austin played lights out from the end of the 2nd quarter on. And the defense made the stops they needed to keep the Cowboys in the game. Most importantly, they got the ball back for the Cowboys in overtime to set the stage for the Jesse Holley play. Dan Bailey shanked a short field goal early in the game but nailed a 48 yarder as time expired to tie the game and then calmly hit from 19 to win the game.

Think about this. The Cowboys played without their top 2 cornerbacks. Dez Bryant was out. Felix Jones played hurt. Martellus Bennett played hurt. Phil Costa went out and Kevin Kowalski had to take over at center. Tony Romo played hurt. Miles Austin tweaked his hamstring and didn't play during overtime. The Cowboys were shorthanded on both sides of the ball. But they battled to the end and they won.

If you blamed Romo last week like I did you have to give him his due this week. He has earned a new level of respect from me. And I don't ever want to hear this ridiculous leadership debate about him again.

I also give a lot of credit to Jason Garrett. Early last year when Wade Phillips was the coach it always seemed like the team would fold when a top player went out with injury. But when someone gets hurt this year the next guy just steps in and makes plays. This team somehow seems more capable of overcoming injuries. I have to give the coach credit for that because he has everyone prepared to play.

Let's remember that this is only one game. But, wow, what a game it was. This is the type of game that will be a signature victory for Tony Romo. And it could be the start of something special this season. It feels like the Cowboys found their mojo today.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Beating the 49ers

Entering Sunday's game with an 0-1 record should eliminate any worries about the Cowboys taking the 49ers lightly. And coming off a 6-10 record last season it would be a ridiculous thought that the Cowboys could be overconfident going into any game right now. But it sure feels like the type of game the Cowboys should win and win easily. In order for the Cowboys to get their first win of the season here are some of the keys to victory.

1. Stop Frank Gore. The 49ers would love nothing more than to keep the ball away from the Cowboys offense as much as possible. And if they establish a good running game with Gore they'll be able to limit Romo's chances to put points on the board. The defense needs to stop Gore early in the game and for the 49ers to throw the ball.

2. Put pressure on Alex Smith. A lot of people think Alex Smith is a joke. But he is actually pretty decent when he has time to throw. There is a reason he was the first pick in the draft a few years back and it is because he has great accuracy from the pocket. Smith's problem has always been that he has rushers in his face constantly and he makes back decisions under duress. Demarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer and Jay Ratliff need to keep Smith moving and he will give the Cowboys several chances at turnovers.

3. Contain Ted Ginn. The 49ers were on the verge of blowing a big lead last week against the Seahawks when Ginn came to the rescue. He returned a kick and a punt for scores to seal the victory. The Cowboys need to contain Ginn and force the 49ers to drive the length of the field for scores.

4. Get out to a fast start. The 49ers don't have a high powered offense. And they really prefer to control the game by running and using a short passing attack. If the Cowboys can put up a couple of early scores they can get the 49ers out of their game plan.

It has been a long time since the Cowboys have entered a game as the clear cut favorites. But I think that is the case here. The key is to handle it by taking care of business. Jason Garrett isn't going to let his players walk into the game thinking they just need to show up. I think the Cowboys will win and win big. I predict a 33-16 win for the Cowboys.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Time to Win 3 Straight

It is time to let last week’s game go. I’m not going to forget that it happened but I can’t keep thinking about it or I might never watch another NFL game again. The Cowboys are 0-1. There is now way around that. They lost a game they should have won. And there is a good chance that we’ll think back to the Jets game in December and talk about how they Cowboys could really use that victory.

The only remedy for a game like last week is for the team to win. And not only win one game but win several games. If you look at the upcoming schedule it definitely lends itself to the Cowboys getting on a bit of a role. And, in all honesty, the Cowboys need to head into the bye week (week 5) on a 3 game winning streak.

Why is it so important for the Cowboys to streak into the bye? Actually there are several reasons. First and foremost is that the Cowboys needs to re-establish the belief in the team that they are winners. I know they aren’t all wallowing in their own misery right now but there is something to be said for someone who believes deep down that they will win when the game is on the line. And that kind of confidence comes from winning on a regular basis.

Look at the game following the week 5 bye. The Cowboys will be playing at New England in week 6. Now I’m not saying the Cowboys can’t beat the Patriots. But I am saying that they won’t stand much of a chance if they don’t go into that game with a great deal of confidence that they can win against any team. Again, that confidence will only come if the Cowboys start winning games in bunches.

Tony Romo needs a winning streak right now more than possibly any player in the league. I know he is a very good quarterback. But he has got to prove that he can consistently perform at a winning level. He did it for 3 and a half quarters on Sunday night. Another half quarter would have been nice. But he needs to play three good games in a row so not only the fans get over the Jets game, but also so that any of his teammates that have a little bit of doubt in Tony can remember why they believed in him to begin with.

Jason Garrett needs to get his team winning on a regular basis. It certainly seems that his players have bought into his system. But he needs to get results in the games or his players might start to develop a little bit of doubt in their head coach. And things can go downhill fast if the coach loses even a few of his players. Winning breeds winning and winning makes players believe in their coach.

I’m not looking past the 49ers on Sunday. The Cowboys aren’t talented enough this season to try to sleepwalk against any team in the league. The Cowboys needs to go out and play good football against the 49ers and win handily. And then they need to handle the Redskins at home. Then follow that up with a win against a tough Detroit team. Maybe then we can all start to believe that this team is capable of making a serious run at a playoff spot this season.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Blown Opportunity

The Cowboys had everything going their way last night. They were up 14 points in the 4th quarter and seemed in control of the game. And then everything went wrong. It almost seems as though this team has forgotten how to win games in clutch moments. It was going to take a total collapse by the Cowboys to let the Jets back into the game and that is exactly what happened.

Now I'm not going to blame the entire game on Tony Romo. But it is awfully difficult not to. The blocked punt was as much to blame for the 4th quarter melt down as anything else. But the goal line fumble with the Cowboys poised to go up by 14 or at least 10 points halfway through the 4th quarter was disastrous. And the late interception thrown by Romo was possibly the worst play of his career. When he threw that ball I yelled out "What the f*!% was that?" And I'm still saying the same thing to myself today.

Not only was the pass bad but I sincerely wonder what in the world Dez Bryant was doing on that play. He didn't fire off the ball, didn't really run any sort of defined route, and didn't make much of an effort to tackle Revis after he picked off the ball. If Dez was hurt that badly either he should have taken himself out of the game or the coaches should have. I honestly put half the fault on Dez for the interception and half on Romo. Romo clearly forced the ball against the wrong coverage. But it sure seemed like he expected Dez to come back for that throw. Both guys should be ashamed of that play.

In the end I have to remind myself it was only one game. But it would have been such a huge win. And it is becoming so common that Romo pulls something like this in big moments of big games that I am starting to just expect it to happen. I love Romo. I think he is talented and a great team player. But enough is enough with these boneheaded plays. At some point it has to sink in to him that he has to play smart. The fumble in the red zone was inexcusable. You have to throw that one away and take the field goal. That is football 101.

You have to give the defense a lot of credit. The Jets never really got a good running game going. And their passing wasn't much to talk about until both Scandrick and Jenkins were off the field in the 4th quarter. They made play after play to keep the Cowboys in the game. But the offense and special teams failed them when they put up a winning effort. Rob Ryan deserves a lot of credit for getting so much out of his undermanned defense. And Sean Lee had another game similar to last season against the Colts that hints that he could be something special. Let's hope there is more where that came from.

I know Jason Garrett is saying all the right things about the team playing hard and showing a lot of heart. But I hope he is laying into Tony Romo behind closed doors about some of the decisions that he made late in the game. At some point the light has to come on for Romo or we are going to have to expect the same late game antics for 4-5 more years. For some reason he has to be reminded of the consequences of playing recklessly about once a season. At least it happened in week 1 so hopefully it will be the last time this season.

The season isn't over. It just feels like it is. There are 15 games to go. The Cowboys are going to have to win a game somewhere in the schedule that they were expected to lose to make up for letting this one slip away. I can only hope that this game serves as a lesson to the team in how to handle big moments in big games. And as much as some people hate to hear it, this team will only go as far as Tony Romo takes them. I sure hope this was the game that finally convinced him to play smarter.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Cowboys @ Jets

It is finally here. The 2011 season kicks off for the Dallas Cowboys Sunday night against the Jets. The Cowboys will have to battle the Jets and a very highly charged crowd thanks to the September 11 ceremonies prior to the game. It is already a tall task to ask the young offensive line of the Dallas Cowboys to take on Rex Ryan's complex defense. Now they can add extreme crowd noise to the list of things to overcome for the Cowboys.

If you break this game down into a position by position battle it appears that the Cowboys are over-matched. But I think that simply matching player for player to analyze a game simplifies things too much. There are some intangible factors that are difficult to account for in any NFL game.

I'll start with the traditional look at things. The Cowboys offensive line has to be one of the biggest concerns heading into the game. Clearly they will be under fire as Rex Ryan will undoubtedly throw everything but the kitchen sink at them to try to cause confusion. But what it being discounted here is what a good game plan can do to an overly aggressive defense. Running the ball effectively will keep the defense honest. And the screen game that Jason Garrett plans to use regularly this year helps keep a team honest on defense because they can't simply let loose and go straight after the quarterback on passing downs. If Tyron Smith is able to play I feel like the offensive line can do a good enough job to give the Cowboys a chance to win.

On defense for the Cowboys there are major concerns. The run defense has been terrible all preseason long. I'm hoping the return of Marcus Spears will help solidify the run defense, but I'm not sure he'll be enough to be the difference maker. The other concern has to be the starting cornerbacks. Mike Jenkins appears ready to go after hyper-extending his knee on Wednesday. But Terence Newman is out. Fortunately for the Cowboys the Jets are a run first team. But you can expect them to take more shots down the field knowing that the Cowboys secondary is vulnerable to the big play. While Mark Sanchez gets a lot of press because he starts for a New York team he really isn't a player to fear. I think the key to the entire game is the ability of the Cowboys to effectively stop the running attack of the Jets.

On special teams David Buehler should eliminate any possible kick returns for the Jets. And the Cowboys have possible the best punter in the NFL in Matt McBriar. The concern on special teams is whether Dan Bailey will be able to handle the pressure of kicking at the NFL level. He did a good job in the preseason but kicking on the road with the crowd in a frenzy will be a new world for him. At least the Cowboys can fall back on the wildly inconsistent Buehler if Bailey completely loses his nerve. Don't discount the game changing ability of Dez Bryant on punt returns. I don't think the Cowboys will hesitate to use him on a punt return or two if he can be a difference maker.

What excites me about the Cowboys chances more than anything is the atmosphere that Jason Garrett has created with the team. Don't forget how the Cowboys were able to win seemingly unwinnable games last season with Jon Kitna and even Stephen McGee playing quarterback. And even when they did lose with Garrett running the show the games were very close. Coaching can make a big difference in the NFL. Hey, Bill Parcells went 10-6 with Quincy Carter and a terrible roster and qualified for the playoffs in 2003. Coaching can make all the difference in the world.

And for that reason I am picking the Cowboys to pull of a shocker on Sunday. I think Jason Garrett will try to control the clock with a heavy dose of running and a short passing attack. By controlling the ball Garrett can help hide the defensive flaws that still exist while the players continue to learn Rob Ryan's scheme. As long as the Cowboys avoid more than one or two turnovers they should be able to keep the game close. And I think the Cowboys will pull it out 20-17 in a very close, back-and-forth game. Call me a homer or overly optimistic if you want, but there is something special about Jason Garrett as a head coach that I think a lot of people are about the learn.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Predictions for the 2011 Season

The Cowboys have announced their 53 man roster for the season. There might still be a few changes here or there but we finally have a clear picture of what the team will look like this season. With the roster complete it is finally the right time to make some predictions for the season.

Cowboys @ Jets (Sept. 11): I know the Cowboys are underdogs in this game. But the core group of players on this team seems to be at their best when people are counting them out. I think the Cowboys win this game and force everyone to realize that they will be a playoff team this season. (WIN)

Cowboys @ 49ers (Sept. 18): Let's be honest here. The 49ers will be terrible this season. There is no reason the Cowboys should lose a game like this. And they can't afford to win easy games like this one. (WIN)

Cowboys vs. Redskins (Sept. 26): Crazy things always happen when these two teams meet. I am giving the Cowboys this one because they are at home. (WIN)

Cowboys vs. Lions (Oct. 2): The Lions are no longer the laughingstock of the league. But the Cowboys will be on a roll heading into this game and playing with confidence. (WIN)

Cowboys @ Patriots (Oct. 16): I'd really like to see the Cowboys pull off the upset here. But I don't think they will be goo enough on the defensive side of the ball early in the season to deal with Tom Brady. (LOSS)

Cowboys vs. Rams (Oct. 23): I know the Rams are a much improved team. But this is another one of those games that the Cowboys have to win if they expect to be a playoff team. (WIN)

Cowboys @ Eagles (Oct. 30): The Eagles are the chosen team this year or so they believe. They get the best of the Cowboys on this day but the Cowboys will get the last laugh. (LOSS)

Cowboys vs. Seahawks (Nov. 6): This is another one of those games that a good team has got to win. The Seahawks are not expected to be good at all this year. (WIN)

Cowboys vs. Bills (Nov. 13): You can see the theme here. The Cowboys have an easy schedule this season for the most part. They have to win here. (WIN)

Cowboys @ Redskins (Nov. 20): I can't pick a sweep for the Cowboys against the Redskins. History says something crazy will happen to let the Redskins pull out a squeaker. (LOSS)

Cowboys vs. Dolphins (Nov. 24): The defense should be getting very good by this point in the season. Chad Henne will be overwhelmed. (WIN)

Cowboys @ Cardinals (Dec. 4): It still turns my stomach to think about how the 2008 season unraveled thanks to an overtime loss against the Cardinals. I think the Cowboys pull this one out in a close game. And Romo survives this one. (WIN)

Cowboys vs. Giants (Dec. 11): The Giants are in a transition year with their roster. But they will still be dangerous. I give the Cowboys this one because they are at home. (WIN)

Cowboys @ Bucs (Dec. 17): This will be a tough game. The Bucs are an up and coming team. It might be a battle for a playoff spot. I give it to the Bucs. (LOSS)

Cowboys vs. Eagles (Dec. 24): The Cowboys clinch a playoff spot with a win here. The dream team falls in a close game. (WIN)

Cowboys @ Giants (Jan. 1): The Cowboys have clinched a playoff spot and the Eagles have clinched the NFC East. So the Cowboys rest many of their starters. (LOSS)

I probably have a pretty optimistic outlook on the overall record but the schedule is fairly easy this season for the Cowboys thanks to a 6-10 record last year. With so many more winnable games on the schedule I don't think 11-5 is out of the question. I see 10-6 at worst. But either way I think the Eagles will win the NFC East and the Cowboys will make the playoffs as a wild card team. I expect at least one playoff victory.

Is it realistic? Maybe, maybe not. There are a lot of unknowns heading into the season. But I have a lot of confidence in the new attitude and focus that Jason Garrett has brought to the organization.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Who Impressed Against the Dolphins

The players on the roster bubble had their last opportunity to impress the coaches on Thursday night. Most of the veteran starters had the night off so many of the younger players got extended playing time for the first time in the preseason.

One thing I really liked about Jason Garrett's plan was that Tyron Smith and Bill Nagy were both in the starting lineup. Those guys need all the work they can get heading into the regular season since they will be counted on to start. There is no reason to rest a player who is still learning on every game rep they receive. Nagy even got some playing time in the second half although Tyron Smith sat for the second half.

The Cowboys have to be planning on keeping Kevin Kowalski on the final roster as a backup. He started at center again and there is no way he would be able to clear waivers now that he has played two full games at center this preseason and done a good job. I think the Cowboys are getting him as much work as they possible can in case he has to step in for Phil Costa at any point this season at center.

DeMarco Murray had a big gain on a screen pass to start out the game. The blocking on the play was exceptional so I can't say the play had much to do with Murray. Murray is much bigger than I thought he was but he doesn't have the top end speed I expected when he was drafted. He is quick but he is not that fast. He looks great running the ball both in the middle of the field and in space. He is going to be a factor in the offense this season.

Stephen McGee really looks comfortable running the offense now and I have more confidence that he is going to develop into a solid backup. He looked controlled and confident throughout the game but he made a bad decision and throw on an interception in the end zone.

Kevin Ogletree got a chance to start and show that he deserves the #3 receiver role. He made a nice move after the catch on an option route for a first down. But he looked slow on an end around later in the game.

Dwayne Harris returned punts and he looks much more dynamic as a returner than Akwasi Owusu-Ansah has looked over the last few weeks. I don't know how Harris could not make the final roster. He ended up leaving the game early with what appeared to be a slight concussion. He has so much potential he seems like a keeper.

The backups on defense started out strong but then allowed a long run by Larry Johnson for a touchdown. The score doesn't bother me. What bothered me was the atrocious tackling on the play.

If Barry Church isn't starting at strong safety next season I will be surprised. He gets better every time he is on the field.

Phillip Tanner is making the decisions at running back very difficult for the coaches. Every time he carries the ball he looks good. There is no way the Cowboys can sneak him onto the practice squad. On that same note I have come away unimpressed by Lonyae Miller after 4 preseason games.

In the kicking battle David Buehler made an extra point length field goal at the end of the first half. Later in the game he missed a 48 yard field goal wide to the right. He was also kicking off through the end zone as usual coming off of his hip injury. Dave Rayner missed from 51 yards and 36 yards. No one has made the decision at kicker easy for the coaches. It seems as though they will have to go on a gut instinct. My gut tells me that Buehler keeps the job.

As the game entered the 4th quarter it became very difficult to watch. The vast majority of the players on the field will not make the team. The 3rd/4th string offensive line was very bad and the offense couldn't move the ball at all. The only thing I watched for at this point was another field goal attempt. Unfortunately I got my wish but it was another ugly miss by Rayner.

The worst part of the night was Rayman Radway's injury on the last offensive snap of the game. He went out on the cart with an air cast on his leg and he is undoubtedly done for the season. That is sad to see.