Friday, October 28, 2011

Time to Start a Streak

Let's go ahead and say this ahead of time. This is a big game. There is always a debate after the fact whether Tony Romo has played well in big games. Although this is just the 7th game of the season it feels like this game could be a turning point for the Dallas Cowboys. Win and the Cowboys could be at the start of a big winning streak. Lose and we could be looking at a team that will be up and down all season long.

It is hard to know exactly what to expect heading into the game. The Cowboys have been very good on defense this season. But they have been inconsistent on offense. The Eagles have been bad defensively and inconsistent offensively. But Andy Reid is 12-0 with his team coming off of a bye.

I don't think I am going out on a limb thinking this is going to be another close game. The recent history of the Cowboys tells us that we should expect to see a close finish. The Cowboys have been horribly inconsistent in close games this season. The Eagles have been terrible in close games. But it is hard to believe that the Eagles aren't going to get their season going in the right direction at some point.

I think the Cowboys are going to win this game. And I'm not just going on a gut feeling. The Cowboys are good at everything that has given the Eagles trouble this season. The Cowboys do a great job confusing the opposing quarterbacks with the multiple defensive looks. Michael Vick struggles to decipher the opposing defensive scheme. That is a big advantage for the Cowboys.

The Cowboys have turned a corner with their running game. In both games that the Cowboys played with Tony Fiammetta at fullback they have been very good running the ball. He is playing this week. The Eagles have had a very difficult time stopping the run. With DeMarco Murray providing a more physical running style I think the Cowboys will be able to control the time of possession and get first downs consistently.

The Eagles have the number one running offense in the NFL. The Cowboys have the #1 running defense in the NFL. Something has to give here. Remember that the primary reason that the Eagles are rated so high with their running game is due to their quarterback. I think we are going to see Michael Vick get knocked out of this game with another concussion. He has been hit so much this year that there is real concern that Vick isn't going to finish the season. I don't think he'll be out for the season after this game but I'll be surprised if he finishes the game.

The Eagles' kicker has been wildly inconsistent kicking field goals. The Cowboys kicker has made 16 consecutive field goals. Again, advantage Cowboys.

Even if this game somehow turns into a shootout I think the Cowboys have plenty of offensive fire power to keep up with the potentially explosive Eagles offense. But do the Eagles have the type of team that can win a physical, hard-hitting battle? I don't think so. The Cowboys can win the game in many more ways than the Eagles can.

I'm picking the Cowboys to win in a close game. The difference will be the defense of the Cowboys and the reliability of Dan Bailey. In a close game you have to be able to come away with points every time you get an opportunity. Dallas will get their points. The Eagles will not get points from their kicker every time. And the biggest moment in the game will come when Vick gets knocked out of the game. I'm picking the Cowboys to win 27-21. I might be fooling myself but it feels like the Cowboys are at the beginning of a big winning streak.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


Finally, the Dallas Cowboys found a way to win a game without waiting until the last two minutes to decide the outcome. It was total domination basically from start to finish. The Rams were completely overmatched by the Cowboys in every way. And DeMarco Murray provided a surprising spark to the running game.

The game was well played across the board for the Cowboys. Obviously Murray gets the headlines and rightfully so after going for 253 yards on 25 carries. I'm not ready to say he is the next great Dallas running back but he will at least be a big part of the offense for the rest of the season. Maybe Felix Jones will return to his role as change up back now that we see how effective Murray is between the tackles.

Tony Romo played a solid game but he really didn't have to do much thanks to the dominating running game the offense had all day. Romo threw for 2 TD's and never threw a pass that was the least bit dangerous. And he smartly took a couple of sacks rather than forcing the ball down the field when he was under duress.

The defense kept Steven Jackson bottled up for the most part. Jackson did break off one big run and scored a TD but he managed only 70 yards on 18 carries. The Rams passing game didn't do much of anything all game long. And Mike Jenkins ran a better route than Brandon Lloyd to come up with a nice interception. Abram Elam also forced a fumble and recovered a fumble to stop a potential scoring drive by the Rams.

Dan Bailey has now made 15 consecutive field goals. I was ready to cut him after he missed a short kick against the 49ers but he has been money ever since. I'm assuming the Cowboys are waiting for David Buehler to get healthy so they can avoid an injury settlement when he is cut.

The good news for the Cowboys is that they looked like a quality team. Good teams handle poor teams with ease. The Cowboys did that. Of course that doesn't mean the Cowboys are playoff bound. It just means that they have the potential to be a playoff team this season. Now they need to start handling quality teams with a little more ease.

Next week is going to be a big test of just where the Cowboys are right now. The Eagles are only 2-4 but they have their backs against the wall. The Cowboys can essentially bury the Eagles' season but you can bet they will get the best shot the Eagles have. Next Sunday will be a big game without a doubt.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Cowboys Need a Convincing Win

The more I mull over the first five games of the season for the Cowboys the more I am becoming convinced that they still have a shot at a good season. Yes, they are finding a way to lose close games in the clutch. But they are also learning to compete with the best the NFL has to offer this season.

In order for the Cowboys to be the team all of the fans hope they can be they are going to have to start winning against quality opponents. Well, this isn't the week to worry about that. The Cowboys need to win against the Rams and they need to do it convincingly.

I am not subscribing to the idea that this is a trap game. The Cowboys aren't good enough to take any opponent for granted. Entering the game with a 2-3 record should be enough to make the Cowboys realize that they need a win in the worst way.

The defense should be dominant in this game. The Rams have struggled on offense all season long. And, if Sam Bradford finds a way to play, their quarterback will be hobbling around and be nearly immobile in the pocket. The defense should be able to completely shut down Steven Jackson since he will be the only offensive threat the Rams can put on the field.

The defense for the Rams isn't terrible. But the Cowboys should be able to score a lot of points because they will have a lot of opportunities to wear down the defense. They need to find a rhythm and start putting the ball in the endzone more consistently. This is a good game to find that rhythm. The running game hasn't been good at all this season but maybe with some more bulk in the middle of the line with Montrae Holland at guard the Cowboys will be able to establish a decent running game. Demarco Murray is going to get plenty of opportunities to show what he can do. Hopefully the offensive line will give him a real shot to rack up yards on the ground.

The way this game plays out will tell us what kind of season we are in for. If the Cowboys can win in dominant fashion then we at least know they have enough talent to overwhelm inferior teams. But if this is another 3 point heartstopper then we might just be looking at an 8-8 season.

The Cowboys have proven they can hang with anyone. Now it is time to prove that they can win the games they are supposed to win. I think the fans finally get a chance to relax during a dominating win. I'm expecting the Cowboys to win big. I am picking the Cowboys to win 31-13.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Odds and Ends

I find it to be really tiresome to keep hearing the second guessing of the late game play calling of Jason Garrett. Garrett was crucified for calling a pass play at the end of the Lions game with the Cowboys clinging to a 6 point lead. The call led to a Romo interception and, eventually, a loss. So this time he tries to go more conservative and put the game in the hands of his defense who had limited the Patriots to just 13 points prior to their last drive. And, since the Cowboys lost, he is called an idiot again. The reality is that if they had won either or both games with the exact same play calling sequence we wouldn't be hearing a peep about it. Maybe he should have been more aggressive with trying to keep the ball away from Brady but his conservative approach is understandable considering what when down against Detroit.

Jerry Jones really needs to learn how to filter his comments to the media. He went out a second guessed Garrett's conservative calls late in the Patriots game to several reporters. It doesn't matter how he phrased it or what he really meant. The media is going to take any sound bite they can get and run with it. Jerry has every right to question his head coach but he needs to do it face to face and leave the media out of it.

I was very surprised to see that Dwayne Harris was cut today to make room for another offensive lineman since Bill Nagy was lost for the season with a broken ankle. Hopefully he will clear waivers and make it to the practice squad. He seems to have a lot of potential long term and I would hate to see him go flourish somewhere else in a slot receiver role like Danny Amendola with the Rams. I'm curious to see how the punt return duties will shake out now that the primary punt returner is gone.

Felix Jones is out for 2-4 weeks with an ankle sprain. It certainly isn't a devastating injury but it does hurt the offense. Demarco Murray did a good job filling in on Sunday but he lacks the explosiveness that Felix Jones gives the offense. Felix's injury probably saved Tashard Choice from being traded prior to the trade deadline.

The Cowboys are extremely fortunate that no team is running away with the NFC East this year. Normally a 2-3 record would mean you were in a very deep hole but the Cowboys are still very much in the mix in the NFC East. I think the Eagles and the Cowboys will end up being the top 2 teams in the division by the end of the season.

You certainly can't call the Rams game a trap game this week. Sure, the Cowboys are expected to not only beat the Rams but to do it in convincing fashion especially now that it looks like Sam Bradford will miss the game. I just don't think you can have a trap game when you are 2-3. Trap games are reserved for teams that have been winning games and can afford to take an opponent lightly. That isn't the Cowboys.

I don't want to be negative about the Cowboys but it is time for them to start winning these close games down the stretch. It is great to be competitive in every game against even the top levels of competition. But that becomes meaningless if you can't start coming away with victories in those situations.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Brady Saves the Day for the Patriots

The Cowboys played a good game on Sunday. They were solid on offense, they were good for most of the game on defense, and they were good on special teams. Unfortunately they needed to be great to beat the Patriots at New England. The Cowboys didn't need everyone on the team to be great. But they needed one or two great performances. They didn't get one.

Tony Romo was just ok. He threw a bad interception early in the game but found his rhythm in the second quarter and played pretty well for the rest of the game. Demarcus Ware had two sacks but couldn't come up with a big play on the final New England drive. Sean Lee had a nice interception but finished with just 6 tackles.

I could go on but you get the point. A lot of players had good games. But no one was a difference maker for the Cowboys today. And Tom Brady was the difference maker for the Patriots. The Cowboys had no answer for his heroics on the final Patriot drive.

It is a little hard to swallow the fact that the Cowboys just lost to a better team. But facts are facts. The Cowboys forced 4 Patriot turnovers. But they couldn't cash in with touchdowns and that was the biggest difference in the game. When the Patriots needed a touchdown at the end of the game they got one.

Now that the Cowboys are 2-3 the Lions loss hurts even more. It would have been easier to stomach a 3-2 record. But 2-3 is the reality the team faces. Fortunately there isn't a team running away with the NFC East. The path to the playoffs for the Cowboys is looking like an NFC East championship. That won't be impossible but they need to start winning some games. They should get back in the win column next week against the Rams.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Stage Is Set

Here we go again. Tony Romo is once again the worst quarterback in NFL history. The Cowboys have no shot to win against the Patriots in Foxboro. Tom Brady and Wes Welker are the greatest of all time. Bill Belichick is a genius. I could go on but you get the point. The media would have you believe that there isn't much of a chance of the Cowboys coming away from the game on Sunday with a victory.

But something tells me that this is going to be a defining moment in the season for the Cowboys. And I mean that in a good way. The Cowboys are due for a big win. And they are due to knock out a top team. Romo has done it before against future hall of fame quarterbacks. He led his team to victory against Peyton Manning and also against Brett Favre. Now it is Tom Brady's turn.

This isn't going to be an easy task for the Cowboys. Rob Ryan's defense will be under the gun all game long. Turnovers by Tony Romo will lose the game. And missed field goals or allowing big kick returns could lose the game as well. The Cowboys don't need to play a perfect game, but they need to play very good for 4 quarters. That is something they have not done yet this season.

I realize that Tom Brady is going to be hard to stop. I have accepted the fact that the Patriots are going to score some points. But as much as possible the defense needs to force field goals and turnovers. Brady and Welker will get their yards. But if the defense can force field goals then the Cowboys offense can score enough to win the game. And if the defense can force 2 or 3 turnovers it could be enough to allow the team to win. Demarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer need to force Brady out of the pocket. Brady on the run is not a good quarterback.

On offense the Cowboys will be able to move the ball. It sounds like the Patriots are going to focus on stopping Jason Witten. That is ok. The Cowboys have plenty of weapons to make up for a low stat game from Witten. Dez Bryant and Miles Austin are both back at 100% for the first time since the first half of the Jets game. And Felix Jones has had two weeks to allow his shoulder to heal. Romo's cracked rib has had two weeks to heal as well. I think the Cowboys can put up 30 points if they can keep from turning the ball over.

Dan Bailey will need to hit all of his kicks. The Cowboys can't afford to go on a long drive and come away with no points this week. And, more importantly, the kick coverage needs to force the Patriots to drive the length of the field as much as possible. As crazy as it sounds, Matt McBriar is very important in a game like this. If he can pin the Patriots deep in their own territory a few times it will do wonders for keeping the Patriots' scoring down.

I know there really isn't a reason to trust Romo this week. But I loved the way he dealt with the media like he had a chip on his shoulder after all of the Romo bashing that has been going on for two weeks. He has something to prove and he knows it. And winning against Tom Brady and Bill Belichick at Foxboro will definitely help him regain some credibility.

I think the Cowboys are going to pull off the upset this week. You can call me crazy if you want. I just feel like the Cowboys have had two weeks to think about how close they came to making a real statement against the Lions before the late game collapse. This will be the week that everyone around the league realizes that the Cowboys are building a team that will be very good for years to come. I am picking the Cowboys to win the game 32-27.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Real Dallas Cowboys?

We finally get to see a nearly healthy version of the 2011 Dallas Cowboys this weekend. After the first four games there seem to be just as many questions about the team as there were before the season started. But now that the Cowboys have had a week off and will be getting most of their injured players back it is time to find out if this team can really compete at a high level.

The Patriots will certainly test every facet of the team. And I don't mean to say that the Patriots are an unbeatable opponent. But they will present challenges that are beyond what the team has faced up to this point. Wes Welker and Tom Brady are going to provide a big test for the new Rob Ryan defense. And you know they will score some points no matter how well the defense plays.

So that means that the offense will also be under the gun. We already know that Tony Romo has the weight of the world on his shoulders based on his second half performance in the Lions game. Add to that the pressure of having to go score for score with Tom Brady. The offense is going to have to play a clean game and put up a lot of points if the Cowboys expect to win. With Miles Austin and Dez Bryant both back to 100% there are no excuses this week.

I don't know what to expect from the team this week. I do have confidence that the Cowboys can win the game. But the big question is if Jason Garrett can get his team to play good football for four quarters against a quality opponent. This isn't a make it or break it game but it will go a long way to answering the question of how good the Cowboys can be this year.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Blame Game

I don't even know where to start. I was at the stadium for the worst collapse in the history of the Dallas Cowboys. It was a completely helpless feeling to sit there and watch Tony Romo and the Cowboys give away a 27-3 lead and lose a game they should have won in a blow out.

I place the majority of the blame for this loss on Tony Romo. Like I said when he made the throw on 3rd and 21 last week against the Redskins, Romo does things that a quarterback isn't absolutely not supposed to do. Sometimes it pays off like last week and sometimes it loses the game like yesterday.

The first interception just looked like Romo didn't see Carpenter covering out in the flat. A boneheaded mistake but at least understandable. The second interception is probably more on Laurent Robinson than on Romo because the receiver has to get inside the defender on a slant.

The third interception is the one that really makes me mad. The Cowboys were still clinging to a 6 point lead. The game was still in the hands of the offense. A few first downs and the game is over. The worst part of the play was the fact that Romo threw the ball late off his back foot and forced it into coverage when all he had to do was throw the ball away. It was just a flat out stupid play by Romo.

But we can't forget Jason Garrett's role in this disaster. He is the one who was calling high risk passes with the game on the line. All the Cowboys needed to do was run a ball control offense for a 4 minutes and the game was over. But instead he went for the jugular. The smart move would have been to be safe and milk the clock. It was just horrible on Garrett's part to even allow Romo to have the option to screw up again in the game.

And as much as I don't want to put blame on the defense they had a lot of chances to make a play to stop the Lions as the collapse slowly occurred. Sure, Romo and Robinson handed the Lions 14 points. But the pass rush disappeared for the Cowboys in the second half. All it would have taken was a sack or two or even just one turnover in the 4th quarter and the game would have been won even with the mistakes by the offense. It seemed like Rob Ryan went conservative in the second half when the aggressive, attacking style was what helped shut down the Lions for the first quarter and a half.

So where does this loss leave the Cowboys? They have won two games they should have lost and lost two games they should have won. So 2-2 feels about right considering the inconsistency that the team has shown. All is not lost. But at some point this team needs to put it all together or we are looking at an 8-8 team who can beat any team in the league or lose to any team in the league.

I'm giving Jason Garrett until midseason to clean up this mess. It seems like a lot of the mistakes that plagued the team last season are still popping up. I realize Garrett didn't get an offseason to fully implement his system and that is why I am cutting him just a little slack. But the slack is starting to run out. Either he gets the team to pull it together or I have to start questioning whether he is ever going to change the culture of the team. I believe he has improved the team's practice habits but he needs to get them playing smarter. The clock is ticking.

If there is a bright side to the mess we saw it is that we got a glimpse of how good the Cowboys can be if they can play good football for four quarters. It will just be a question of whether the players on the team are capable of playing smart, fundamentally sound football. There are 12 games to go. Hopefully the Cowboys will find a way to fix the mistakes that are costing them games.