Wednesday, November 30, 2011

It Feels Like a Trap Game

I don't have a lot to say here. I'm mainly just throwing this thought out there. With the Cowboys coming off of 4 straight victories and with the first game with the Giants coming up next week this is the type of game that defines what a trap game is. Jason Garrett's one day at a time mantra will be put to the test this week.

Can the Cowboys come out focused and execute efficiently against the Cardinals? A quick start by the Cowboys would probably result is an easy win over the Cardinals because they won't have much desire to fight back from a deficit. But if the Cowboys come out playing flat or sloppy the Cardinals will gain confidence and make it a tough game.

I hope my feeling is wrong about this week. But all I am hearing about is how the Cowboys are in first place and that this should be an easy win. This is the type of game that Bill Parcells would have hung mouse traps from the ceiling for. I hope Jason Garrett finds a way to keep his guys focused on the Cardinals before moving on to the Giants.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Cowboys Keep on Rolling

It wasn't pretty. It wasn't easy. And they Cowboys get no style points for their 20-19 escape act victory. But it was a win. And that is now four in a row.

My thoughts during the game kept drifting to where this team would be this season without Dan Bailey. As he lined up the game winner it was money in the bank. But if that had been David Buehler lining up that kick there is no telling where the ball would have gone. The Cowboys could easily be 3-8 this year with a bad kicker. He has scored the winning points in the fourth quarter of 4 of the 7 Cowboy wins this season.

Tony Romo started off slowly but he was at his best when the Cowboys needed him most. The touchdown drive that gave the Cowboys a 17-16 lead wouldn't have happened with any quarterback in the NFL except Tony Romo. He made four plays on the drive that should have been sacks or throwaways but he turned them into positive plays. And his touchdown to Laurent Robinson was a perfect throw after he escaped pressure and rolled left.

The defense continues to be a concern. For the second straight week they made a marginal quarterback look like a pro bowler. You can blame the secondary but the pass rush seems to disappear at critical moments in the game as well. And Rob Ryan has a tendency to go to the three man rush in critical situations that usually results in the opposing quarterback having all day to pick apart the defense. The defense has to improve or the Cowboys won't go anywhere if they manage to get into the playoffs. Hopefully the return of Mike Jenkins will help.

I'm still very disappointed in the return game of the Cowboys. Felix Jones didn't do anything of note with his kick returns. But at least Dez Bryant gave the team a spark with his 20 yard punt return to start the final possession of the game. The Cowboys have to be one of the worst return teams in the league.

I'd like to say that there are a lot of signs of improvement from this team but that wouldn't be accurate. The one big improvement I can see is that the Cowboys are finding a way to win close games instead of losing them like they did early in the season.

I don't want to sound like I'm complaining about a win. I'm thrilled the Cowboys found a way to pull out a fourth straight victory. But looking at the team long term this season it is pretty obvious that there needs to be improvement in all phases of the game if the Cowboys want to make any noise in the playoffs. It was nice to finish off a great Thanksgiving day with a win by the Cowboys.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Cowboys Need Another Win

The Cowboys come into the Dolphins game riding on the high of a three game winning streak. But just because they have won three games in a row doesn't mean they can afford to lose a game against an inferior team. It is very likely that the Cowboys will need 10 wins to make the playoffs. That means that they need to go 4-2 over their last 6 games. And that means they have to win the remaining games on the schedule against teams with losing records.

A few weeks ago it appeared that this would be an easy game for the Cowboys. The Dolphins were winless and they were finding a way to lose every week. But the Cowboys three game winning streak has been mirrored by a three game winning streak for the Dolphins.

Matt Moore has been on a roll during the winning streak. I felt that when the Cowboys released Moore a few years ago that they had made a mistake. It isn't like Matt Moore is going to be the next Tom Brady but I thought he had potential. He has developed into a guy who would have been a good backup option for the Cowboys.

I think the bigger concern for the Cowboys has to be Reggie Bush. The Dolphins have finally figured out how to use Reggie Bush in their system. And he creates matchup nightmares for any opponent. Sean Lee has the athleticism to match up with Bush but he is still playing one-handed. Lee's ability to contain Bush will have a big impact on whether the Cowboys can contain the Dolphin offense.

I think the offense will put up points for the Cowboys. The Dolphins aren't world beaters on defense but they are decent. They are currently ranked 9th in the NFL in yards allowed so it isn't like we should expect Tony Romo to throw for 5 TD's and DeMarco Murray to run for 150 yards. But I do think the Cowboys will be able to put up at least 24 points which should be enough for a win.

The Cowboys defense needs to force a few early 3 and outs and maybe a turnover or two so the Cowboys can get out to an early lead. The Dolphins don't have an explosive offense that can play from behind. Matt Moore has been great over the last 3 games but his history includes a lot of high turnover games. The defense needs to make this another one of those games.

I'm expecting a relatively easy win for the Cowboys. But I don't think that it will be a complete blowout. Tony Romo will continue his excellent play and Sean Lee will find a way to limit the big plays of Reggie Bush. I'm picking the Cowboys to win the game 24-13.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

3 In A Row

For the second time this season the Cowboys won a game against the Redskins that felt a little like stealing. Dan Bailey squeaked his game winner just inside the right upright to win the game in overtime this time around. The Redskins had their shot to win in just a few minutes earlier in overtime but Graham Gano missed wide right by about 2 feet.

This game could have easily resulted in a tough loss. But thanks to a missed field goal they come away with a win and a shot at a first place in the NFC East if the Giants lose to the Eagles. So the Cowboys come out of the game at 6-4 and on a bit of a roll.

There was a lot to be happy about in the game. But there was a lot to be concerned about as well. Considering the game was a win you would think there would be more good than bad but really not so much.

Tony Romo played another good game. He wasn't perfect. But I'll take 3 TD's and no interceptions any day of the week. And he made a few plays during the game that only Tony Romo makes. The touchdown to Laurent Robinson that tied the score at 17 was an improv play by Romo. And the touchdown to Witten for 59 yards and a 24-17 lead was another improv special. And finally, the big gain to Dez Bryant to set up the game winning field goal was all Romo.

Dan Bailey just continues to make field goals. I thought he had missed the game winner and I wasn't convinced he actually made the kick until after FOX came back from commercial and showed the replay. He has been a great addition to the team. I wonder how many games the Cowboys have won that they would have lost if Buehler was still the kicker.

The defense played very well for about a quarter and a half. And then the wheels fell off. They allowed Rex Grossman to look like a pro bowl quarterback from the 2nd quarter through the end of the game. There wasn't enough pressure on Grossman and the secondary allowed a bunch of no name receivers to rack up big play after big play. I'm concerned about the play of the defense because I expected them to be rounding into shape at this point in the season. Hopefully this game was just a blip on the radar.

The running game for the Cowboys struggled all game long. Jason Garrett stayed committed to running the ball even though the Redskins kept DeMarco Murray in check all game long. At least the Cowboys were able to convert on 3rd and short by running to extend one of their drives. I don't know if Tony Fiammetta's absence hurt the running game that much or if the Redskins just played that well against the run.

There was good and bad with Dez Bryant. He made a great play on his first quarter touchdown and another great play to get open in overtime. But he disappeared for a big stretch of the game again. Until his route running improves I don't think we'll see a full 4 quarter of dominating play from him.

Jason Witten is a beast. The Redskins doubled him all game long. But he still came up with 3 receptions for 85 yards and, of course, the huge scoring play in the 4th quarter. He is just a great player.

The Cowboys nearly lost the game in large part due to bad punting and bad punt coverage. Matt McBriar shanked a punt to set up one of the Redskin scores. And a big punt return set up another score. Joe DeCamillis needs to get his punt team going. And the Cowboys kick and punt returns were awful as usual. I hope we see Felix Jones on kick returns against Miami because Akwasi Owusu-Ansah just can't get it done.

What originally looked like it would be an easy Thanksgiving day game against Miami is now looking like it will be a tough test. Miami has won three straight coming into the game and they are playing good football. The Cowboys will have to play better all around if they expect to make it a happy Thanksgiving for Cowboys fans.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Get Ready for Another Wild One Against the Redskins

I don’t know what it is about the rivalry the Cowboys have with the Redskins. But for some reason the games are decided by some sort of wacky play on a regular basis. You don’t have to look back more than a few games to see what I mean.

Last year the Cowboys appeared to win and then lost on the final play of the game when Alex Barron was called for a holding penalty that nullified the game winning score.

This year Dan Bailey hit six field goals to provide all 18 of the Cowboys points as Tony Romo made a miraculous play on 3rd and 18 late in the game to get the Cowboys in position for the game winner.

You can go back not only for a few years but for a few decades and you’ll see similar games that have been played between the two teams almost every season. So why would this game be any different?

On paper it would appear that the Cowboys and Redskins are heading in opposite directions. The Cowboys are just starting to get on a roll and are beginning to look like a playoff team. The Redskins have lost 5 straight and appear headed for a top 5 draft pick. But those types of things don’t usually matter in the Cowboys-Redskins series.

The year the Cowboys went 1-15 with first year coach Jimmy Johnson guess who they beat for that lone victory. That’s right, the Washington Redskins. No one expected it that day and no one expects the Redskins to be able to win this week.

I’m not saying all of this to predict a loss by the Cowboys this week. I just think we need to realize that another 44-7 win is probably not in order this week. The Cowboys should win, but it will likely be much closer than that if history tells us anything.

The Cowboys will obviously try to keep their running game rolling this week. But with Tony Fiammetta out battling a mystery illness the running game will lose one of its biggest assets. The good news is that Felix Jones will return and will likely give a nice #2 option to the running attack.

The Redskins have a good defense despite what their record shows. The majority of the losses the team has had are due to the completely inept play they have had at the quarterback position. Tony Romo and the rest of the offense won’t have to be special to win the game this week. But they need to protect the ball so that the Redskins have to work for any points they get.

The defense will be challenged to stop the run yet again this week. You know that Mike Shanahan wants to be able to hide Rex Grossman with his game plan. That means a heavy dose of the running game. If the Cowboys can shut down the run then Grossman will be forced to throw the ball. The Redskins have no receivers who can provide a threat and Fred Davis at tight end is the only real playmaker on the offensive side of the ball.

It is hard to envision a scenario where the Cowboys lose this game barring a catastrophic injury to Romo or a Romo meltdown. But, as I say that, all I have to do is picture a few of the crazy things that have gone on in this rivalry over the last few years to realize that it only takes a few odd plays here or there and suddenly the Cowboys will be on the wrong end of the scoreboard.

I think the Cowboys will find a way to overcome any odd moments that come up in this game. I’m not expecting a blowout this week. But I wasn’t expecting one last week either. The Redskins just can’t score enough points to keep up with the Cowboys offense. I’m picking the Cowboys to win 24-12.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Tide Might Be Turning

The Cowboys played their most complete game of the season today. And as I write this the Giants are in the process of losing to the 49ers. And just like that it appears that the Cowboys will be just one game out in the NFC East and ready to start rolling through the next three games on their schedule.

I'm certainly not going to make more out of the Bills game than I should. But the win and the absolute complete domination of a team that many thought was a quality team heading into the game can't be overlooked. The Cowboys started scoring early in the game and they never stopped.

Tony Romo was finally Tony Romo again. He was moving around with ease and taking shots down the field without hesitation. And, what was even better, he seemed to be picking his moments to be aggressive. A few times in the second half he had a thought to go deep on play action passes. But when the defense didn't bite he either checked the ball down or simply ran it. Lessons were learned in the Detroit game but he finally got his mojo back today too. Games like today make all of the idiots who talk about how terrible Romo is look like fools.

DeMarco Murray looks better in every game he plays. I have no idea how Jason Garrett can possibly justify making Felix Jones the starter when he is finally healthy again. But it will be nice for DeMarco to be able to get a rest more often when Felix is ready to play. It is really starting to look like the Cowboys might have found a franchise back in the third round of the draft.

What was most impressive to me today was the performance of the offensive line. I can't think of any hits that Romo took outside of plays that he ran the ball. And the running game was dominant even when the Bills knew the run was coming. Maybe the line is starting to gel. Time will tell, but that is two straight weeks that they have looked great. And Jason Garrett even felt confident enough in them to pound the ball into the end zone from one yard out with DeMarco Murray. The ability to run in the red zone has been the missing link for the offense.

The defense was able to force 4 turnovers but I wasn't overly impressed by their performance. I realize that the Bills had a very good offense coming into the game. And I know the Cowboys only gave up 7 points. But the Bills were moving the ball with ease on the ground and through the air. Ryan Fitzpatrick missed a couple of deep throws in the 2nd half that could have gone for touchdowns. Luckily it didn't hurt the team but the defense has a lot to work on despite the fact that they only gave up 7 points.

Dan Bailey was perfect as usual and I am really trying to remind myself not to take his consistency for granted. I love the way he nails his kicks right down the middle and they don't hook or fade at all. And the kickoffs for Bailey today were great. He had touchbacks on all but two kickoffs which makes the thought of having Buehler on the team next year seem ridiculous.

The Cowboys are heading in the right direction. After the Eagles game I had to admit that the Cowboys were mediocre. But good teams continue to improve throughout the season as Jason Garrett likes to say. It certainly appears that the Cowboys are still improving and it is exciting to think that their best football still might be in front of them. It is going to take a great final 7 games for the Cowboys to find a way into the postseason. But today makes it feel like anything is possible.

Friday, November 11, 2011

No Sure Thing Against the Bills

For some reason the media seems to be picking the Cowboys to win on Sunday against the Bills almost unanimously. I don’t understand why. Yes the Cowboys are at home. And the Bills have been fading after their fast start to the season. But this is the same Cowboys team that only played 2 quarters of good football last week.

I’m certainly not saying I think the Cowboys will lose. But I think that is a real possibility. The Cowboys will need 4 quarters of good football and the run defense needs a dramatic improvement over their last two performances.

There are a few things that make me worry about this game. This is a game that will likely prove to be the pivotal moment in the season. Win and they could go on a pretty good run against a weak schedule to get back in the NFC East and playoff race. Lose and they are probably in too deep of a hole to get back in the playoff hunt. So far this season the Cowboys haven’t been able to win any games that felt like they were season changers. We all know how the Jets game went down and the Eagles game was a disaster. Should I even mention the Lions game?

The run defense has me very worried. They have given up big yardage in two straight games. The good news is that Sean Lee will be back in the lineup this week. But he’ll be playing with only one hand. But Sean Lee with one hand is leaps and bounds better than Keith Brooking on any day. Hopefully the missing link in the run defense has been Lee because the Cowboys won’t win this game if they can’t stop Fred Jackson. I have to believe that Rob Ryan is making the adjustments to the defense that will help shore up the huge cutback lanes that have been opening up over the last two games.

Miles Austin is injured again. Laurent Robinson has been an unexpected surprise as the #3 receiver but now he will get more attention from the defense. Hopefully he can do enough to keep the defense from focusing on Jason Witten and Dez Bryant all day. Dez Bryant is going to have to step up and become the receiver he was drafted to be. Dez is long past due for a 10 catch for 200 yards and 3 TD’s type of performance. Maybe this will be the week.

As usual I have no doubt that the outcome of this game will probably depend on Tony Romo’s performance more than anything else in the game. Tony needs to be aggressive but also protect the ball. He has seemed a little gun shy since the disastrous second half of the Lions game. Maybe now that he is fully healthy he’ll get his swagger back. The offense needs him to hit big plays to keep the defense from focusing on stopping DeMarco Murray.

I’m really uneasy about this game. Half of me thinks I should pick the Bills to win because they are coming off of a tough loss and they have been a good team this year. But the other half of me feels like the home field advantage and they Rob Ryan defensive schemes can do enough to shut down the Bills offensive attack. Either way I think it will be a very close game down to the end of the 4th quarter. I’m going to stick with what my heart tells me and pick the Cowboys to win 26-23.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Good & Bad from the Seahawk Game

Rather than just a recap of the game I thought I would try something a little different this time. I know there were a lot of things to dislike about the game yesterday, but there were also a lot of things to like. Let's take a look at things that should give up hope and things that should make us worry.

The Good: DeMarco Murray is starting to look like the real deal. It is now three straight weeks that Murray has looked like a legitimate starting running back. It will be interesting to see how many touches Felix Jones gets when he gets healthy. Hopefully Garrett will keep Murray as the starter and use Felix as the change up.

The Bad: The running game still isn't punching the ball into the end zone from close range. I don't know if Jason Garrett just doesn't trust the offensive line, but the Cowboys didn't make much of an effort to power the ball into the end zone from close range. Until they start running the ball in they red zone offense will continue to struggle.

The Good: Tony Romo didn't turn the ball over at all. By protecting the ball the Seahawks were always forced to drive the length of the field to score. That helps the defense prevent touchdowns more than any scheme Rob Ryan can draw up.

The Bad: Tony Romo is still playing too safe. It feels like Romo is still gun shy after what happened in the Detroit game a few weeks back. Romo is definitely protecting the ball but he seems to be lacking what makes him great right now. Romo is at his best when he is in gunslinger mode. He is a very average quarterback when he plays the bus driver role.

The Good: Dan Bailey continues to nail his field goals right down the middle. He is having the best season by a Cowboys kicker since Nick Folk's rookie season.

The Bad: The return game for the Cowboys is awful. Kevin Ogletree is just a very bad kick returner. And Dez Bryant made a horrible decision to field a punt inside the Cowboys five yard line.

The Good: The defense came up with 3 turnovers. The interceptions in the second half helped turn the tide in the Cowboys favor.

The Bad: The run defense was bad again. Last week seemed like a blip on the radar when McCoy went crazy for the Eagles. But Marshawn Lynch made it back to back weeks that the run defense has struggled. Run defense is becoming a major concern.

The Good: The offense had great balance with both Romo and Murray coming up with good games.

The Bad: Jason Garrett is still struggling to find a way to get the offense in the end zone consistently. I don't know if the offensive line is just handcuffing him in critical situations, but it is frustrating to see some of the questionable calls in short yardage situations.

The Good: Anthony Spencer finally woke up. He came up with a sack and a huge blocked field goal. Now he needs to show up next week again.

The Bad: Keith Brooking was terrible starting in place of Sean Lee. Brooking is so bad it is embarrassing. It seems like he should have retired 2 years ago. He is always a step or two late, he gets run over, and he seems lost in pass coverage. Lee can't get back on the field fast enough for me.

In the end a win is a win. It wasn't pretty but the Cowboys just need to start getting on a roll before it is too late. Buffalo is coming off of an embarrassing loss and will present a tough challenge next week. If the Cowboys can win that game we might see the Cowboys make a run to 8-4 against a very soft schedule. With the Giants playing with a 2 game lead in the NFC East getting to 8-4 is going to be needed to get back in the playoff race.

Friday, November 4, 2011

This Should Be An Easy Win

The game on Sunday against the Seahawks reminds me a lot of the game against the Rams a few weeks ago. The Cowboys just have an overwhelming talent advantage entering the game. That should be a recipe for another dominating victory.

I am still reeling from the beat down the Cowboys took from the Eagles. It has convinced me that the Cowboys just aren’t as good as I thought they were this season. Good teams don’t lose 34-7 to a 2-4 team. I have come to the realization that the Cowboys aren’t going to do anything this season if they don’t start getting on a roll right now.

Fortunately the Seahawks are coming to town at the right time. The Cowboys need a win. Any kind of win. The Seahawks are a team that could beat you if you took them lightly. But the Cowboys can’t afford to take anyone lightly.

I have some big concerns about Keith Brooking filling in for Sean Lee at linebacker. Brooking was absolutely terrible last week. He looked like a guy who should have retired a few years ago and it made me wonder if a big part of the defensive problems last year came from his performance. Hopefully he can get the Cowboys through this game before Sean Lee can hopefully return for the Bills game next week.

Is the offensive line ever going to improve? There has been a lot of talk about the lack of deep passes by the offense in recent weeks. It seemed pretty obvious to me against the Eagles that Romo just didn’t have time to get the ball down the field. Deep routes take time to set up and Romo isn’t getting enough time from the offensive line to get receivers open deep down the field.

On the positive side with the offensive line at least their run blocking seems to be rounding into shape. As bad as the game was last week was at least DeMarco Murray found some big running lanes on his limited attempts last week. I expect to see that continue this week against the Seahawks. I don’t think he’ll be running for 250+ yards but I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t break 100.

I’m confident the defense will be able to force a few Tavaris Jackson turnovers even without Sean Lee and Mike Jenkins. As long as Romo doesn’t have one of his high turnover games there is no reason to think that the Cowboys will lose this game. I’m picking the Cowboys to win big, 27-16.