Saturday, December 29, 2012

This Seems Familiar

Twelve months after losing to the New York Giants to end the 2011 season with the NFC East title on the line the Cowboys are back in the same situation again.  The only difference this time around is the opponent.  The Cowboys will get a second shot at RGIII tomorrow night.  It hasn't been that long since the Thanksgiving game but the Cowboys will have many of their injured players back for this game that weren't there the first time around

The offensive line was a mess with injuries.  This time Tyron Smith and Ryan Cook will both be starting and the offensive line won't have to shuffle around to fill in the missing pieces.  Miles Austin will hopefully last longer than he did in the first game.  And, most importantly, DeMarco Murray will be on the field and probably the healthiest he has been since the season started. 

To me the deciding factor in the first game was turnovers.  The Cowboys were able to move the ball against the Redskins with ease in the first game.  The problem was the Cowboys dug a 28-3 hole in the first half thanks to three turnovers.  The Cowboys need to protect the ball this time around

Defensively the Cowboys gave up way too many big plays to RGIII and the Redskins.  More than anything else the Cowboys need to force the Redskins to earn their points.  The key will be forcing field goals and limiting touchdowns.  The defense is too beat up to be expected to shut down the Redskins.  But they can play sound assignment football and limit the big plays.  And I want to see Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr willing to take a few shots at picking off some passes.  Turnovers will decide the game.  The Cowboys must win the turnover battle.

The special teams match up is very even.  Both teams have good kickers and dangerous returners.  Dwayne Harris is showing a knack for making big return plays at critical moments.  A big return or two could really turn the tide in this game.

No matter how this game plays out you have to give the Cowboys a lot of respect for battling to get back into this position.  With all of the injuries on defense and the Josh Brent tragedy there have been countless reasons for the Cowboys to give up on the season.  But they haven't.  And they seem determined to prove everyone wrong.

I can't even explain how excited I will be if the Cowboys can find a way to get into the playoffs.  I really think they can beat the Seahawks if they get another shot at them.  This time the game would be a home game and I think that would be the difference. 

I hope Jason Garrett and Rob Ryan have a better game plan this time around.  Rob Ryan appeared to figure some things out in the second half of the first game against RGIII.  Hopefully he can get the defense going earlier in this game.  And the offense has got to get out fast and score touchdowns.  It is going to take a lot of points to win this game.  The play calling should reflect that.

This is the moment that we dream about as fans.  Don't forget to enjoy the moment.  I'm expecting the Cowboys to win but it could very easily be the last game we get to see the Cowboys play for about 8 months.  Savor the moment!

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Fun Continues

I'll be the first to admit that the season looked like a lost cause six weeks ago after the Cowboys lost to the Falcons to drop to 3-5 and the news came out that Bruce Carter was out for the season.  How could this team with an inconsistent offense and a defense decimated by injuries possibly rally to get back into contention for a playoff spot?

I've watched it all happen and I'm still not sure that I completely understand exactly how the Cowboys keep winning games against good teams.  But they are getting it done.  It is taking better play from the offensive line, the return of DeMarco Murry, big plays by the best defensive players, and timely plays in crunch time on both sides of the ball.  And we can't forget to throw in the big plays on special teams from Dwayne Harris and Dan Bailey.

I am having more fun with this season than any year since probably 2007.  And the reason has to do with my expectations for the team.  Even with the Cowboys winning five of their last six I have no delusional thoughts of the Cowboys running the table to win the NFC East.  I know it can happen, but I still see their chances of winning each of the next two games as 50-50 at best.  But there does seem to be something special building with this team. 

It has been refreshing to go into each and every game with very low expectations and see the team play above themselves even if it is only for a short stretch of the season.  It is funny how quickly the national media has jumped on the Tony Romo bandwagon when all he is doing is playing the same football in December that he has played for the last three or four seasons.  The difference this year has been his supporting cast.  But don't tell those talking heads that.  They all want you to believe that Romo is somehow playing differently this year than in years past.

Jason Garrett does seem to be more decisive over the last few weeks as well.  He did have an interesting thought at the end of the game last week when he had Dan Bailey line up for a 61 yard attempt before rethinking the move after a Steeler time out.  I'm not sure the Cowboys would have actually kicked the field goal without the time out, but it would not have been a fundamentally sound call.  But with the way things are going right now Bailey probably would have nailed the kick anyway.

DeMarco Murray is the biggest difference in the offense over the last few weeks.  It is amazing how much more efficient the offense has become in the red zone with the ability to run the ball even in short yardage situations.  It is sad to think what could have been last year had Murray not been injured but we can't go back in time so I have to let that go.  But it has been nice to see DeMarco Murray not only on the field over the last few weeks but seemingly getting more healthy as the weeks go by.  The Cowboys only have a real shot at winning out this season if Murray stays healthy.

I'm not going to make any more predictions this season.  My plan is to sit back and enjoy the rest of the games.  I'll still be posting on my blog, but I'm really going to just appreciate watching a team that continues to surprise me.  I hope it doesn't end.  This season is reminding me how fun it can be to be a loyal fan.  Don't forget to remind your family and friends who jumped off the bandwagon as they begin to jump back on that they gave up on their team.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Still Alive

I’m not exactly sure how the Cowboys have managed to keep themselves afloat, but they are still alive with three weeks to go in the season.  If you looked at the injuries on the defensive side of the ball it would be easy to think that the Cowboys have no shot to make the postseason.  But the Cowboys have managed to win four out of their last five games even with the injuries and the horrific car accident taking place.

I have to admit that my patience with Jason Garrett was really growing thin.  But I think the win last week was the biggest win of his coaching career.  The Cowboys went into the Bengal game with the season on the line, the defense devastated by injuries, and the news that one of their teammates was dead and another was in jail.  Jason Garrett had them ready to play despite all of the cards being stacked against them.

I’m not giving Garrett a pass on his play calling.  He has got to get the offense going earlier in the game.  I really wish he would take the handcuffs off of Romo earlier in the game.  The Cowboys have been finding ways to pull out victories in the 4th quarter with big plays by the offense.  But you can’t expect miraculous comebacks every week.  Just look back at the Redskins game and you see what I mean.  

So the Steelers come to town in a situation very similar to the Cowboys.  They are fighting for their season.  But the Steelers aren’t playing good football coming into the game.  In fact, they are really struggling recently partly due to the injury to Ben Roethlisberger and party due to injuries.  Whatever the reasons, you know the Steelers are going to do whatever they can to pull this game out.

The Cowboys are piecing together a new starting lineup on defense every week.  And this week will be no different.  Jay Ratliff is out again and probably for the rest of the season.  Josh Brent it out.  Morris Claiborne should play but is questionable with a concussion.  Demarcus Ware has a bad shoulder, a bad elbow and a bad neck but he should play.  Somehow the defense has got to find a way to contain the big play receivers of the Steelers.  It is going to have to big pressure from Hatcher, Spencer and Ware that keeps the passing game in check.

The offense has got to get off to a better start.  I’m not sure what the recipe is for a better start but something has got to change.  I would love to see a more up tempo feel out of the gates for the offense.  It doesn’t have to be a no huddle offense but the pace should be quick.  That seems to get Romo and the rest of the offense into a rhythm.  

Dez Bryant is playing with a broken finger but I really don’t think it will have any impact on his play.  I know he’ll have some pain to deal with but he has such big, strong hands that I think he’ll catch the ball without any issues.  My bigger concern is Miles Austin.  He needs to come up big in this game.  Defenses are rolling coverages to Dez’s side of the field to try to stop him so Miles needs to start making plays against one-on-one coverage to make them pay.  With the poor quality of the Steeler secondary there is no reason that Miles shouldn’t be getting open.  Now, Romo actually having a little time to survey the field and find the open receiver is another problem entirely.

I think this game is going to be a tough battle.  Neither team really has an offense that lights up the scoreboard.  And both teams are dealing with injuries on both sides of the ball.  It doesn’t make sense when you look at the makeup of the defense, but I feel like the Cowboys are going to find a way to get it done again.  Jason Garrett is starting to understand how to coach his team in late game situations and it is making a difference.  I think the Cowboys win this one 22-16 and keep the playoff hope alive for at least another week.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Romo Must Play at MVP Level

The Cowboys don't have much of a shot to make the playoffs.  They will likely have to win their remaining four games to even have a chance.  The defense is a complete mess after suffering injury after injury throughout the season.  So it would seem that the only real chance that the Cowboys have to keep winning is to simply outscore their opponents.  That is going to be a tall order especially when you consider the poor play of the offensive line.

I know the win against the Eagles was a bit of a mirage because the Eagles have essentially shut it down for the season.  But it gave us a glimpse of what the games are going to be like from this point on.  The defense is going to give up a lot of yards and a lot of points.  The offense is going to have to put up big numbers on the scoreboard in every game for the rest of the season.

So it boils down to this.  Tony Romo has to be great for the Cowboys to have a chance.  Not good, great.  Getting DeMarco Murray back into the fold is going to help.  But the offense is only going to go as far as Romo takes them.  Just think of what Aaron Rodgers did two years ago.  He caught fire and carried his team into the playoffs.  Romo has to do the same thing.

Now don't get me wrong here.  I'm not saying that Romo is going to carry to Cowboys into the playoffs.  That scenario is extremely unlikely.  All I am saying is that the only path to the playoffs has Romo leading the charge. 

The defense is bad.  So what I would like to see out of them is more risk taking.  They need to play for turnovers.  They are already giving up big plays and big yardage anyway.  The only way the defense can offset that is to force more turnovers.  Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr need to get more freedom to jump routes.  Playing soft and keeping everything underneath isn't working.  Everyone on defense needs to go for broke within the framework of the defense.

It seems like a pretty simple adjustment for Rob Ryan and Jason Garrett to make to the defense.  Unfortunately we don't see the coaches make many adjustments during the game or even week to week with this team.  So maybe my vision for the defense is a pipe dream but it sure seems like the only answer to me with so many key players missing.

Tony Romo is getting hot.  Dez Bryant is in full beast mode.  Jason Witten is finally making plays down the field.  The offense needs to run on all cylinders from this point on.  It is the only hope the Cowboys have.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Defending RG3

The Cowboys face a pivotal moment in their season tomorrow.  If they can find a way to beat the Redskins there will be a very good chance that the Cowboys will tied for first place after the Giants play the Packers on Sunday.  The big obstacle in front of them is RG3.

This is the first game in what will likely be a decade or more of games against the exciting rookie quarterback.  He has shown impressive athleticism and smarts early in his career.  But, if you watch the Redskins closely, you will see that there is a reason why his passing stats are so stellar.

The Redskins throw a dazzling array of screen and play action passes.  I don't mean to take anything away from what RG3 has done but his stats as a passer are very much related to the offensive scheme and his running ability more than anything else.  The opposing defenses have to spend so much time worrying about containing him as a runner that it leaves the receivers in very favorable matchups.

So the Cowboys have to get the Redskins out of their game plan.  There are a few ways to do that.  The most obvious way to do it is to get out to a big lead.  Unfortunately that isn't how the Cowboys typically operate.  But Jason Garrett needs to go with an aggressive game plan to put points on the board early and often.  The Redskins have one of the worst defenses in the NFL.  But the Cowboys counter that with one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL. 

The Browns game should have taught Garrett that the quick passing game out of the shotgun is the best chance the Cowboys have to move the ball consistently going forward.  The run blocking is terrible and the pass blocking is worse.  But, if Romo can get the ball out quickly, Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, and Jason Witten should be able to pile up the yards for the offense.

On defense the Cowboys will need to stop the running game early on.  If the Cowboys can force the Redskins to be a one dimensional offense then they can focus all of their attention on stopping RG3.  He is going to make some big plays.  You should expect to see that.  But the Cowboys need to force him into some bad plays too. 

The key is to make his bad plays outnumber his big plays.  That is easier said than done, but Demarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer need to make him uncomfortable.  Most of the Redskins big passing plays have come when RG3 is in the pocket.  Keep him in the pocket and then bring pressure up the middle in his face.  That will be the challenge.  Jason Hatcher, Marcus Spears and Jay Ratliff need to bring relentless pressure up the middle.

This is going to be a tough game for the Cowboys.  The offensive line is a mess with injuries and poor play.  The defense is missing starters all over the place.  But the Redskins have similar problems with their team.  I want the Cowboys to get out to an early, big lead but it is unlikely.  So I'm going to pick the game to be close.  I'm taking the Cowboys 23-20.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Stealing a Win

I had a feeling all week that the Cowboys would have a tougher time against the Browns than many people were predicting.  But I certainly didn't expect to see the Cowboys come away with a win in a game where they were completely outplayed for the first two and a half quarters.  I always say that I won't complain about a victory, but I do have a lot of concerns.

On the plus side, the Cowboys finally found a way to win a game late.  This team has been in a habit of performing near comebacks only to lose in the closing minutes of tight games.  I know it was only the Browns but I am a big believer that winning and losing can become a habit.  If the Cowboys can pull out another late win or two they might get the belief back that they will win any game if it is close in the 4th quarter.

I was also impressed by how well Tony Romo played considering the circumstances.  Let's face it.  The offensive line stinks.  The offensive line is the #1 problem with the Cowboys this season.  And the Browns game was no exception.  7 sacks allowed is unacceptable.  But Romo managed to find a way to throw for over 300 yards and rally his team from behind despite the play of the line. 

Dez Bryant was also very good outside of the boneheaded play when he ran out of bounds a yard short of the first down.  Romo is really starting to trust Dez and it shows.  Romo is looking for Dez in big spots and he is getting the ball to Dez quickly when the defense tries to cover him with no safety help.  And, even better, Dez is beginning to consistently make big plays and routine plays without the brain farts that plagued him early in the season.

On the negative side, I am really frustrated with Jason Garrett.  His conservative play calling late in the game really should have cost the Cowboys a win.  With the Cowboys up 4 and trying to run out the clock from their own 1 yard line I knew he would run the ball three straight times.  Good teams play to win.  Garrett coached that situation not to lose.  The Browns couldn't cover anyone all day long.  And with the defense over-committing to the run a simple slant route would have been easy to complete and the game would have been over in regulation.

Rob Ryan and his three man rush are on my last nerve.  You are playing against a rookie quarterback with a tendency to throw interceptions under pressure so you sit back and let him survey the field all day long?  And Ryan kept that stupid strategy going for the entire first half.  Why do Rob Ryan and Jason Garrett both take so long to deviate from their game plan when it isn't working?  Anthony Spencer in coverage is just dumb and it very rarely works out in the Cowboys favor.

I am happy that the Cowboys won the game.  They overcame a lot to win.  Missing your starting and backup center, starting left tackle and countless defensive starters is nothing to overlook.  But the Cowboys came out of the gate very flat and were lucky to win against an inferior team.  The good news is that they are very much back in the thick of the NFC East race.  But they need to keep winning.  The Washington Redskins aren't going to come in and roll over for the Cowboys.  Hopefully the Cowboys will come out with more fire to start the game on Thursday.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Now or Never

I'm still here.  It has been a long time since I have posted.  But please don't think that I have given up on my team or jumped ship to a new team.  I have been a fan for my entire life and I'll always be a fan.  But I do have to admit this season has been tough up to this point.  That isn't why my posts have decreased though.  I have a lot going on right now so my blog had to take a back seat to other priorities.  I can't promise to post as often as I have in the past, but I'm still here.

The game today is a do or die for both teams.  And that is exactly what worries me.  Last season the Cowboys faced a do or die in week 17 and we saw what happened against the Giants.  All signs in this game point towards the Cowboys having a great shot to win the game.  But I'm willing to bet the Eagles feel the exact same way. 

The game could go either way.  It feels like a blow out type of game.  Either the Cowboys will get out early and turn the Eagles into a chaotic mess of finger pointing or the Eagles will get out early and do the same to the Cowboys.  It all depends on the start of the game.  The stadium in Philly will turn against their team if the Cowboys can force a few early turnovers and put some points on the board.  But the stadium will go crazy supporting their team if the Cowboys come out and play sloppy football early on and let the Eagles get the lead.

I wish I could say which Cowboys team will show up.  But, as we've seen this year, the Cowboys are a tough team to figure.  On one drive they can look unbeatable.  On the next drive they can be a disaster.  On one play they can look like the best team in the league.  The next play can be a circus of ridiculous mistakes.  I'm sure Jason Garrett is more frustrated by the inconsistency than any of us fans could ever be. 

It feels like this is it for the season.  The Cowboys can win and really get on a great roll in the second half of the season with an easy schedule.  Or they can lose and fall into the abyss of crappy NFL teams.  The Cowboys have the talent to pull out of this mess.  But so do the Eagles.  Your guess is as good as mine when it comes to picking a winner.  My heart says the Cowboys.  My head says flip a coin.  I'm not even going to pick this one.  I'm just going to hope that the season isn't already over after 9 games.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Tough to Take

I was at the game yesterday.  The Dez Bryant almost catch happened right in front of me.  And for about 3 minutes everyone in the stadium thought the Cowboys had pulled out a miracle victory.  They didn't show any replays in the stadium after the touchdown signal.  We all thought that the game was stopped simply because Dez Bryant was hurt.  And then the official overturned the call.  Devastation. 

I swear the Cowboys find a new way to lose every time they do it.  They literally lost by a fingertip.  And really had a great chance to win even after 6 turnovers.  There is no way a team should have a chance to win a game with 6 turnovers.  The Cowboys did because the defense played great football all day long. 

Unfortunately the Cowboys just kept turning the ball over.  I felt like Romo atoned for his first half mistakes as he led the team back from a 23-0 deficit.  But then Felix Jones had the most ridiculous fumble in a clutch situation I have seen in a long time.  Who tries to switch the ball from one hand to another in the middle of the field with defenders all around.  Felix Jones sucked all game long and he blew it when his team needed him the most. 

The Cowboys have to be the most frustrating team in the league to watch.  They seem to have enough talent to compete with anyone but they make so many stupid mistakes it is hard to believe.  You would like to point the finger at someone but it seems to be a different guy nearly every time.

On the bright side it was great to see Jason Witten show why the Cowboys only made Martellus Bennett a low ball offer to stay as the #2 tight end this offseason.  He is a future hall of famer.  Too bad it seems that his talents are going to waste as the Cowboys continue to be stuck in mediocrity.

The season is slipping away very quickly.  It really feels like the Cowboys need to reel off about 4 or 5 wins in a row to really get back in the playoff picture.  Based on what they have shown so far I have no confidence that this team can do it. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Sky Isn't Falling

The news about Sean Lee this week was terrible.  But I think there has been a very big over-reaction taking play since we all found out that Lee is out for the season with a toe injury.  The season isn't over.  The Cowboys can still win without Sean Lee.

I don't want to minimize what Sean Lee meant to the defense.  He has become the best player on the defense.  Yes, better than Demarcus Ware.  But every team in the league deals with injuries.  The good ones find a way to win despite injuries.  Of course, this implies that the Cowboys are a good team.  I'm not sure I'm ready to say that yet.

But I think an injury like the one to Sean Lee has a way of unifying a team.  The defense can't sit around waiting for Sean Lee to make a play anymore.  The offense can't expect the defense to be as dominant as they have been at times this year.  Basically, this injury forces every player on the team to step up their game.

I think we are all about to find out what Bruce Carter is made of.  So far he has been operating in the background as Sean Lee dominated the game and the headlines.  But Bruce Carter is another version of Sean Lee.  He was predicted to be a sure-fire first round player before a knee injury knocked him out of the first round.  He is two years removed from his torn ACL.  Which means he should be rounding back into top form.  I think he is about to show us how good he is.

I think the offense is finally rounding into form.  Yes they are still missing DeMarco Murray.  And Phil Costa is out for at least 4 weeks with a dislocated and severely sprained ankle.  But it seems like the pass protection problems from early in the season have been corrected.  And the run blocking has at least improved to the point that you can expect positive yardage on the majority of the running plays.  This week will be a big test for the pass protection now that the Giants are rolling.  I think they will hold up enough to give Romo the time he needs to make some big plays.

The wide receivers have all been hot and cold all season long.  The only constantly good performer has been Miles Austin.  But you can definitely tell that Jason Witten is finally operating at 100% again as he has returned to his pro bowl form after an atrocious start to the season.  Dez Bryant still isn't making the big time plays in the clutch moments but he definitely has a much better feel for the offense now than at any point in his career.  My big worry is Kevin Ogletree.  I really hope that Jason Garrett is planning to give some of the other receivers some of Ogletree's plays this week because I am tired of seeing passes hit right between the 8 and the 5 on Ogletree's jersey and fall to the ground.

I know that logic says that the Giants should win this game.  But the Cowboys are entering the point in the season where they usually start rolling before their December swoon.  And the Giants have been barking all week long and seem surprisingly overconfident heading into this game.  I am actually very happy to see the Giants come into the game on such a roll because I think they are getting a little complacent. 

We are going to see a great game out of Tony Romo.  I think he will throw for over 300 yards and at least 3 TD's.  And the defense will do just enough to allow the Cowboys to win a high scoring game.  Demarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, with help from Ratliff supplying pressure up the middle, will force Eli Manning to turn the ball over a couple of times.  I pick the Cowboys win the game 30-24.  I know it sounds crazy but I really believe the Sean Lee injury is going to make everyone pick up their individual play which will result in a better team performance.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Win is a Win

It wasn't pretty.  But it was a win.  I said before the game that it was a must win game.  A loss would have sent the Cowboys into the toughest three game stretch in their schedule at 2-4.  Instead they are treading water at 3-3.  But if the Cowboys can find a way to repeat their performance against the Giants they will find themselves right back in the thick of things in the NFC East.

The Cowboys really missed DeMarco Murray.  Felix Jones and Phillip Tanner did their best to fill the void but there is a big difference between the tough running of Murray and the two backups.  I was impressed with the way Jones and Tanner were running hard the whole game but they don't get the extra 2-3 yards at the end of the run that Murray always seems to get.

The defense was ok.  Not good.  Just ok.  They managed to contain Cam Newton who was desperate to get his rhythm back from last season.  Newton had a few nice runs and a couple of big pass plays, but the Cowboys didn't let him take over the game.  The Morris Claiborne interception in the end zone was a huge play.  It wasn't really a great play by Claiborne as much as it was a great play by the defensive line to get pressure in Newton's face to force a bad throw.  But the turnover kept points off the board for the Panthers.

The pass rush was pretty decent for the most part.  And the best part about the pass rush was the fact that Anthony Spencer stepped up with a big sack as the Panthers were in desperation mode at the end of the game.  Demarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher split a sack.  Two sacks doesn't sound like much but the Cowboys kept Newton from getting really comfortable in the pocket all game long. 

The offensive line was decent.  Unfortunately Phil Costa went down with what appeared to be a serious injury.  Now the word is that it is just an ankle sprain so we can at least hope he'll be back this season.  The penalties were greatly reduced on the line so that was obviously a huge improvement.  But there wasn't a big push from the line in the running game.  Tony Romo was protected pretty well throughout the game and didn't get sacked at all.

Romo played an ok game.  He was lucky to avoid an interception on one play but was very good protecting the ball besides that one.  He missed Miles Austin on an easy touchdown early in the game but threw a beautiful pass to Austin in the second half to make up for it.  Romo seemed much more settled in this game than he has looked in the last few games.

The wide receivers all had their problems.  Miles Austin failed to protect the ball as the Cowboys were driving for a potential 10-0 lead.  Kevin Ogletree is just terrible.  He missed at least one route adjustment and had another drop.  Dez Bryant dropped a touchdown pass that would have given the Cowboys a much more comfortable lead and instead they had to settle for a field goal.  Dez also made a boneheaded play and got called for a personal foul on a punt return.

I have some big questions about whether Jason Garrett trusts his offense in critical moments since he once again settled for a long field goal when the Cowboys had a chance to go for the jugular.  On one hand I understand wanting to be sure you have an easy field goal for the lead.  On the other hand a field goal only gave the Cowboys a 2 point lead and put the game in doubt.  You can say he trusts his defense but I really think it is a lack of faith that the offense won't commit a penalty or turnover in critical moments.

Sean Lee went out with a toe injury but says he expects to be back next week.  I sure hope so because the Cowboys will need him against the Giants.  The Giants seem to have found their groove so the Cowboys will need all hands on deck.  I haven't heard an update on Murray for next week but hopefully he can get back on the field as well.

The Cowboys played just ok basically across the board in this game.  That won't be enough next week.  But I'll never complain about a win. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Early Must Win Game

Usually you don't start talking about must win games until at least half way through the season.  Unfortunately when you get off to a 2-3 start and you are facing a very difficult stretch of games you can get yourself backed into a corner very early on.  With games coming up against the Giants, Falcons and Eagles this game is without a doubt a season defining game.

Win this game and you can still cling to some hope that the playoffs are a real possibility.  Lose and you are staring at a very real possibility of an implosion.  Obviously I am hoping and slowly convincing myself that the Cowboys will win this game.

Carolina may be a 1-4 team, but they have several very close losses.  Included in that list of 4 losses is a game against the Falcons that they only lost thanks to a miracle finish.  So we are really looking at a team that is essentially in the same place as the Cowboys in terms of record and desperation.

Cam Newton could easily take the game over if the Cowboys don't have a good plan to contain him.  I hope we don't see a lot of the typical 3 man rush from Rob Ryan this week.  The Cowboys need to contain Newton and keep him in the pocket.  Steve Smith is the biggest concern in the passing game but he can be taken out of the game with physical play at the line of scrimmage.  Terence Newman always had Smith's number but now that he is gone the Cowboys need the other cornerbacks to step up.

The offense has a good chance to repeat their rushing performance from last week.  Carolina has a terrible rush defense.  But the Cowboys will have to do it without DeMarco Murray this week.  He is likely out with a sprained foot so Felix Jones will get a lot of action.  Felix was pretty good last week but ran out of gas a little in the second half.  Hopefully he'll be able to stay strong for four quarters this week.  I'm sure Phillip Tanner and even Lance Dunbar will get a lot of action as well as long as the running game is working.

The biggest thing this week is just playing a clean game.  By that I mean no turnovers and no big special teams plays by the Panthers.  On paper the Cowboys appear to be the better team.  They have a better defense and a better offense than the Panthers.  But if the Cowboys play a sloppy game like they have often done this season they could easily lose.  The Cowboys don't have to play great or even good.  They just need to play decent football and they will win the game.

I don't think the Cowboys will win as easily as they should this week, but I do think they will find a way to get it done.  I'm predicting a 23-10 win for the Cowboys in what will be a hard fought game with a lot of rushing yards by the offense.  I don't even want to think about what could happen to the season if the Cowboys find a way to lose this game.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Don't Blame Dez, Blame Jason Garrett

I have gone out of my way to defend Jason Garrett for the last two seasons.  I really believed, and I still do, that he is the man for the job in Dallas.  But the botched clock management at the end of the game that forced the Cowboys into a 51 yard attempt at a field goal was all on Garrett. 

It wasn't just that the Cowboys threw a 2 yard pass to Dez Bryant instead of pushing the ball down the field a little bit with a first down and 26 seconds on the clock.  If Dez breaks the tackle there he might have gone for 20 more yards.  The problem was the play call.  Every other receiver was sent down the field on a go route.  That means that there was no contingency for the scenario that played out.  All the receivers were so far down the field that it took too long for everyone to get lined up for another play.  Why not run the ball?  The Cowboys were gashing the Ravens all game long.  And a run allows you to easily clock the ball and get another play off before the field goal.

And instead of realizing the circus act taking place after the play and calling a quick time out Jason Garrett stood there and let the clock run down and settled for a 51 yard field goal.  Now, should Dan Bailey have made the kick?  Yes.  But you can't expect your kicker to hit a game winner from 50+ yards.  Especially when you have a chance to get him closer.

I wouldn't be so mad if Jason Garrett hadn't frozen up in the same situation last season.  For those that have forgotten the Cowboys had a chance to win the game against Arizona last season in a similar situation.  Jason Garrett botched the clock management in the case as well and settled for a long field goal.  I gave him a pass then because he was inexperienced.  I can forgive a mistake once, but the same mistake a second time is unacceptable.

Now don't think I am giving Dez Bryant a pass here.  Tony Romo could not have thrown a more perfect pass on the 2 point conversion play.  The defender definitely hit Dez Bryant while the ball was in the air, but the bottom line is Dez had a perfect opportunity to catch the ball and he didn't get it done.  The sad part is that the game was shaping up to be a break out performance for Dez.  Instead, he dropped the most important pass of the day and looked like an idiot begging for a call.

It is hard to watch your team lose after they physically dominate the opponent all game long.  The offensive line manhandled the Raven's front seven.  I don't know where that performance came from but it sure was a nice change to see the Cowboys running the ball effectively all game long.  Hopefully it wasn't completely a result of terrible play be the defense.  I want to believe that the offensive line is rounding into shape but I need to see a few more performance like that one before I'll be a believer.

The defense played pretty well but they went soft when the team needed them the most.  After the Cowboys pulled within one point the defense could have really given the Cowboys a good shot to win by stopping the Ravens.  Instead they allowed a methodical drive for a touchdown and so the Cowboys were forced to scramble back from an 8 point deficit.  The defense still isn't making big plays in big spots. 

It was nice to see the offense stop screwing around at the line of scrimmage before the play for the first quarter and half.  The Cowboys were actually lining up and just running their plays.  But, as the game wore on, it turned back into a mad scramble at the line with Romo trying to give 10 players their assignment before the snap.  I don't understand why the Cowboys got away from the initial game plan because it was working just fine.  The idea of simplifying the pre-snap work for Romo was good.  For some reason Garrett abandoned that plan.

On one hand I was pleasantly surprised by the massive improvements made by the offense during the bye week.  But I'm over the morale victories.  The Cowboys need wins.   For the last 4 or 5 seasons the Cowboys play very good against the league's best teams but always just good enough to lose.  It is time to start winning those games.  Jason Garrett has his work cut out for him to win back the trust of the fan base after completely botching the end of the game.  I think I have to finally agree that Jason Garrett needs to hand the play calling duties to someone else.  He seems overwhelmed when he has to manage the game and call plays in critical situations.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Not Feeling Good About the Ravens Game

I don't do this very often.  I'm picking the Cowboys to lose this week.  I consider myself to be a glass half full kind of guy.  But after watching the Cowboys disgusting display of football last Monday night against the Bears I can't find any reasonable way to see the Cowboys winning on Sunday.

The cards are stacked against the Cowboys.  The Ravens haven't just been good at home.  They have been great.  The Ravens are known for having a tough defense.  The Cowboys offense has been horrible since their week 1 win against the Giants.  Like I said, it doesn't look good.

I do think the Cowboys will be better than they were against the Bears.  I can't imagine a repeat performance by the offensive line, Dez Bryant, Kevin Ogletree and Tony Romo anything like the one we saw.  I think they will all play better.  Unfortunately, improvement on a terrible performance really isn't saying much at all.

The Cowboys don't need to play better to win this game.  They need to play great.  I can envision the defense putting up a great performance.  I just don't see it with the offense.  What the Cowboys really need is a boost from the return game and maybe a defensive score or two.  Could that happen?  Sure.  Is there a good chance of it happening?  Probably not.

I don't want to sound like I have turned on my team.  I'll be a Cowboys fan until the day I die.  But I have to look at this game realistically.  The Ravens are simply a better team than the Cowboys right now.  I really hope that the Cowboys prove me wrong. 

I'm picking the Ravens to win the game 23-16.  I think the x-factor for the Ravens will be Ray Rice.  Not Ray Rice running the ball but Ray Rice catching dump off passes out of the back field.  I think Romo will be better but I fear that he might play it a little safe after the disaster game against the Bears. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Revised Expectations for the Season

I had to get away from the Cowboys for a week.  The game against the Bears was one of the most disappointing games I've seen in a long time for the Cowboys.  It was just pathetic.  The offensive line officially sucks.  Tony Romo still reverts back to his younger days when he feels like he has to do it all himself.  Dez Bryant is an idiot.  Kevin Ogletree can't be trusted to catch a ball that is perfectly thrown.  It was absolutely awful.

As I removed myself from the world of the Cowboys for a week I came to the realization that this team simply can't be expected to compete for a playoff spot with such a terrible offensive line.  DeMarco Murray has absolutely no chance to find room to run.  Tony Romo seems to be running for his life on every play.  So, at this point, I'm expecting an 8-8 record at best.

I do expect the offensive line to improve at least a little.  But I really wonder how much longer it will be before Tony Romo or DeMarco Murray gets injured.  If Romo goes down we could be looking at a 5-11 season.  I'm very worried that will happen.

I think Mackenzy Bernardeau has to be benched.  He is terrible and seems to be getting worse.  At least we know Doug Free has the ability to put it together and play good football.  He has done it before.  Bernardeau was terrible in Carolina and he is just as bad in Dallas.  Derrick Dockery should get a shot at right guard.

I don't have much more to say about the Cowboys right now.  The problem is clearly the offense.  If the Cowboys can't move the ball consistently and score points they aren't going to win many games.  It is really as simple as that.

On the bright side I do think that offensive lines can improve during the season.  Hopefully that will be the case for the Cowboys.  If the offense could even be average the Cowboys could be a dangerous team.  But the offense won't even become average no matter how well Romo or the rest of the skill players perform if there isn't any blocking.  Hopefully Bill Callahan has a magic formula to whip the line into shape.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Offense Needs to Show Up This Week

The Cowboys are somehow going into their game Monday night with the Bears with a 2-1 record.  The defense is the #1 rated defense in the NFL based on yards allowed.  But the offense has been nearly non-existent since the week 1 win against the Giants.  And the punt team continues to struggle.

The Bears aren't world beaters but they do have a very good defense.  That means that the offense has their work cut out for them this week.  Last week the offense struggled against one of the worst pass defenses in football primarily because they just couldn't get Tony Romo any time to throw the ball.  And the running game was so bad it was embarrassing.

The defense will have their hands full dealing with Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall.  It is sounding more and more like Matt Forte will play Monday night as well.  But you can be sure that Cutler will throw at least a few balls that the defense will have a chance to pick off.  The real test is going to be stopping the running game again.  Even without Matt Forte the Bears will still have Michael Bush who is no slouch.  The good news is that the Bears are very similar to the Cowboys in that their offensive line is not good at all.

The real test for the Cowboys this week will be what they do on offense.  It is pretty obvious at this point that the Cowboys could be a very good team if the offense could become even mediocre.  Who would have thought that the offense would be the big problem after the terrible finish to the season by the defense last year.  That just goes to show how poorly the offensive line has played up to this point.  They aren't opening any running lanes at all and Tony Romo will be lucky to play 16 games this season they way things are going.

Bill Callahan admitted that his offensive line has been terrible.  Doug Free admitted his play has been terrible.  The question is whether there is enough talent and skill on the offensive line to fix the problems that have been apparent over the last two games.  We have all seen Doug Free play good football before.  He just needs his confidence back. 

I believe the rest of the issues stem from the fact that the offensive line basically had no preseason together.  The new center and a lack of focus has been causing a ridiculous number of false starts.  And the communication between the lineman has been terrible.  But these are issues that can be fixed.  There is still hope but we need to start seeing improvement.  I don't think all of the issues can be fixed in a week but I do think we'll see a better performance all around from the offensive line this week.

I am a little worried about Jason Witten now.  Not that he is never going to be the player he has been for the last 10 years, but that it is going to take him some time to get his mojo back.  He looked healthy last week.  He just seems very unsure of himself.  If he can get off to a better start I'm sure things will fall into place.  Maybe he can start the game without having to catch a tipped pass this week.

The Cowboys need to get off to a good start this week to help out the defense since they are down a man with Barry Church out for the season.  Danny McCray is a decent player but is a clear step down from the play of Church.  It makes the job of a safety much easier if they know when the pass is coming.  Getting a decent lead could force the Bears into a passing game which could lead to interceptions and sacks.  A close game will allow the Bears to continue to pound away with Forte and Bush. 

I don't expect a quick turnaround from the offense this week.  But I do think they will be better.  I expect a close game Monday night.  It is a very even matchup with two good defenses matching up with two bad offensive lines.  It really comes down to whether you have more faith in Romo or Cutler to make the play or, more importantly, not make the bad play.  I have more trust in Romo to get the job done based on what I've seen from Cutler and his line this season.  I'm picking the Cowboys to win a close one 20-17.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Concerning Win?

Sounds crazy to say a win could be cause for concern, but this one feels that way.  Sure, the Cowboys found a way to win a very ugly game.  And the defense was dominant.  But the offense has major problems on the offensive line and now Barry Church is out for the season with a torn achilles tendon on the defensive side of the ball. 

On the bright side, the Cowboys are somehow heading into their Monday night game against the Bears with a winning record at 2-1.  And they are tied for first place in the NFC East after the Eagles finally paid the price for playing sloppy football. 

The only player on the team who has put three good performances in a row together seems to be Miles Austin.  He has been solid every week and just keeps making plays.  He made a great catch on a deep ball from Tony Romo this week and was just very good overall going for 5 catches and 107 yards. 

The offensive line nearly got their quarterback killed this week.  Romo was hit hard several times.  But on the biggest hit that seemed at first to be a knockout shot for Romo the officials missed an obvious shot to the head that should have given the Cowboys a first down in the red zone.  The real officials can't get back on the field soon enough.

Romo was good when he had time.  But the early interception was bad even if it came on a great play by Aqib Talib.  The two fumbles just can't happen.  The attempt to shovel the ball forward reminded me of Tony Romo 5 years ago.  I guess he'll just never stop doing things like that.  With a gunslinger like Romo I guess you just have to take the good with the bad and hope the good plays make up for the boneheaded ones.  Fortunately the defense covered up his mistakes today.

Brandon Carr really showed why he was worth so much in free agency this offseason.  Not only did he shut down Vincent Jackson every time he matched up against him but he also filled in at safety and looked pretty good doing it.  The Cowboys are in a world of hurt at safety but luckily they are so strong at cornerback the safeties don't get asked to do much in coverage.

Sean Lee had a nice interception but he missed a few opportunities to make tackles in the back field.  But it is amazing to see how many tackles Sean Lee ends up making in every game.  This wasn't his best game, but he still played pretty well.  There is a reason he is the defensive captain.

The punt team has become a major concern.  They very nearly had a punt blocked for the second week in a row.  It appears that Chris Jones escaped without major injury, but there seems to be a real problem blocking for the punter.  Joe DeCamillis needs to get his special teams units in gear.  Dez Bryant did have a great punt return to help seal the game but kick returns were terrible as usual.  How much longer are we going to have to watch Felix Jones run into the backs of his blockers before someone else gets a shot at kick returns?

Jason Witten still looks like a guy who is missing the edge he usually has.  He did seem to be moving better but he missed what would have been a great catch on a deep ball after juggling the pass and he dropped a tipped pass early in the game.  The thing I am getting tired of seeing are the false starts.  I even know the snap count when Romo calls for the snap.  Jason needs to focus out there.  It is frustrating to watch my favorite player struggle to get back to his Pro Bowl form.

The bottom line is a win is a win.  You have to take them any way you can get them.  At the end of the season no one will care what the score was or how bad the team played.  But there needs to be major improvement along the offensive line if this team is going to ever play good football.  You can try to blame Romo and Murray but it is pretty obvious that the line is doing a terrible job in every way.  Hopefully we'll see improvement as the season goes on because Romo isn't going to last much longer taking hits like he did today.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Time to Get Serious

I really made an attempt to not overreact to the loss last week.  I will not be so patient this week.  The Cowboys have to win this game if they think this season is going anywhere.  Last week the Cowboys were completely manhandled by the Seahawks.  Their pride should be bruised.  I expect to see a much better effort this week.

Does that mean I think the Cowboys are going to come out and destroy the Tampa Bay Buccaneers?  No.  But I do expect to see a team that looks more aggressive and confident than the one that took the field last week.  Jason Witten has something to prove.  The offensive line has something to prove.  Felix Jones has something to prove.  Nearly every player on the team was embarrassed in one way or another last week.

If this team is going to be a playoff team this season I want to see them play with more urgency this week.  I felt like the opening kickoff last week stunned the team and then the blocked punt was essentially a knockout blow.  In the first quarter.  That shouldn't happen.  Jason Garrett always preaches about not getting too high or too low.  Move on to the next play.  The Cowboy didn't do a good job of that last week.

I want to see a more aggressive game plan out of Rob Ryan last week.  I still don't understand the three man rush against Russell Wilson.  There was some bad coaching going on last week on the defensive side of the ball.  Last year the Cowboys got after Josh Freeman.  I expect to see the same thing this season.  And with Gerald Sensabaugh likely out the secondary needs some protection.  That means there needs to be pressure on the quarterback.  That won't happen if we see a three man rush on a regular basis.

The offense just needs to find its groove.  The biggest problem right now is the offensive line.  They aren't consistently opening running lanes for DeMarco Murray and Tony Romo is never comfortable in the pocket.  There has to be improvement on the line if the offense is going to improve.  I'm not forgetting about all of the dropped balls last week.  I will be shocked to see a repeat performances of the dropsies this week.

The easiest problem to correct should be the special teams.  There are some mixed signals coming out about who the kick returner will be.  I hope there is a change.  Felix Jones seems to just run into the back of his blockers.  I know there is a blocking scheme but it doesn't seem like he has any vision or explosiveness on his returns.  The punt block was just a badly missed block by Dan Connor.  A terrible mistake but very correctable.  If we see another problem with the punt team this week I am going to start seriously wondering if Joe DeCamillis is the man for the job as the special teams coordinator.

It is hard to know what to expect out of the Cowboys in their home opener.  I think they will play better but what exactly does that mean?  They were so bad last week that predicting them to play better isn't saying much at all.  Let's just say I think they will play good football all around and win the game.  I'm predicting the Cowboys to win 24-16 in a score that sounds closer than the game actually is.

Monday, September 17, 2012

What a Disaster

Total domination.  That is the only way to describe what happened yesterday.  The Seahawks were better in every phase of the game.  The Cowboys flat out got their butts kicked.

I'm officially done with Felix Jones.  He set the tone for the day by fumbling the opening kickoff.  And, on the final play of the game, he had nothing but green grass and blockers in front of him and he just tripped over his own feet to end the game.  He isn't the only reason the Cowboys lost, but he certainly deserves a big part of the blame.

Jason Witten played his worst game as a pro.  He dropped three passes and you might even be able to say four.  He missed two blitz adjustments on his routes and he ran the wrong route on the play that resulted in a Tony Romo interception.  It was just a disaster for him.  I don't know what was going on with Witten but I have no doubt it will be the last time we ever see him play like that again.

Dez Bryant joined in by playing the worst game of his young career as well.  He dropped two passes, muffed a punt, and fumbled while fighting for an extra yard on a 2 yard pass.  I have no idea what was wrong with Dez's hands yesterday but maybe he needs to get some new gloves.  Bryant was terrible.

Tony Romo threw an awful interception that didn't cost the Cowboys points but it was terrible.  On the play Witten ran the wrong route which forced Romo to hesitate and scramble for time.  Instead of throwing the ball away and moving on to the next play he forced the ball late across the middle to Witten.  The ball was intercepted and what was going to be at least a three point drive for the Cowboys turned into zero points.  Romo shouldn't be making mistakes like that anymore at this point in his career.

Rob Ryan's defensive game plan had me very confused.  Russell Wilson showed last week that he struggles against the blitz in the passing game.  So what did Rob Ryan do?  Rush three and drop back in coverage.  What???  I'll never understand what caused that game plan.

The defense was pretty stout in the first half considering the constant stress they were under thanks to poor offense and special teams play.  But they wore down in the second half and the Seahawks ran all over them.  It didn't help that both starting safeties were lost for the day. 

I found a few things to be happy about with this game.  First, as ugly as it was, it only counts as one loss.  The Cowboys didn't lose anyone for the season.  Ask the Redskins how they are feeling after not only losing but also losing Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan for the season and it will make you feel a little better.  In a way it is almost better to lose by 20 than to lose by 3 points.  There is no fooling yourself into thinking it was one play here or there if you are the Cowboys.  You got your asses kicked.  Improvements need to be made across the board. 

I have lost all respect for Golden Tate.  Sure, he lit up Sean Lee on that hit.  But his celebration after a cheap shot was one of the worst displays of poor sportsmanship you'll ever see.  I think he should be suspended not only for the hit but for the disgusting display he put on after the play while Sean Lee was laying on the ground.  Golden Tate should be ashamed of his behavior but something tells me he isn't.

The good news is that it was only week 2.  The sky isn't falling yet.  It was a road loss.  An ugly loss but, again, just one game.  I'm not totally surprised the Cowboys are 1-1.  I just thought it would have been reversed in terms of the games won.  The Seahawks were much better than I expected.  And the Cowboys can't play worse than they did.  Let's just hope that was a one time performance by the Cowboys.