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.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Cowboys Should Win a Game Like This One

Heading into the game on Sunday it is pretty clear that the Cowboys are a heavy favorite.  I don't think this game will be a cake walk, but, if the Cowboys play a good game, they will win.  There are a lot of factors that make me feel confident heading into this game.

The biggest strength I see in the Cowboys right now is their defense.  Russell Wilson struggled last week against a traditional defense.  This week he'll be looking at different fronts and blitzes from all over the place throughout the game.  That is a tough task for a rookie quarterback starting his second game in the NFL.  I was very high on Russell Wilson going into the draft.  I was really hoping the Cowboys would take him in the middle rounds to develop.  He has a lot of talent.  He can run and he plays smart football.  I just don't think he is ready to face a defense as talented and sophisticated as the Cowboys just yet.

Tony Romo is always the x-factor for the offense.  If he plays well then the Cowboys usually win.  But the big concern on offense is the offensive line.  Last week Romo threw is only interception on a play where the Giants had pressure right in his face.  The line has to improve and do a better job giving Romo a clean pocket.

DeMarco Murray might be looking at a big game this week.  Not only will he be a big part of the game early on, but if the Cowboys can get out to a lead I'm sure the Seahawks will see a heavy dose of DeMarco Murray.  I won't be at all surprised if Murray gets 20+ carries again and goes over 125 yards.

I'm expecting to see the defense force at least two turnovers.  I won't be at all surprised if we see a fumble and one or two picks from Wilson.  If the Seahawks start turning the ball over early then this game could get out of hand very fast.  But if they play conservative and get Marshawn Lynch going it is going to make things tough on the defense.  Lynch is the only thing that could foil the plans of the Cowboys.  If he gets going it will open everything up for Wilson.  The defense should be focused on stopping Lynch early on.

I feel confident heading into this game but the Cowboys haven't shown nearly enough yet for me to be overconfident.  The penalties need to be reduced and the line has to block better.  I think we'll see improvement on both of those fronts.  I'm picking the Cowboys to win big 30-13.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A 2-0 Start Would Be Sweet

The Cowboys received no favors from the NFL schedule makers when they were given two road NFC games to start the season.  An 0-2 start could have put the Cowboys in a big hole that would have been hard to get out of.  But now the Cowboys are staring at the very real possibility of a 2-0 start against NFC opponents with one of those victories being a division win.

Winning NFC games doesn't seem like a big deal right now but it will be towards the end of the season if the Cowboys end up in a fight for a wild card spot.  I would love to say we should expect the Cowboys to win more games at home than they do at the road, but the Cowboys haven't exactly been world beaters at home since moving into the new stadium.

So that means that the Cowboys need to rack up wins any way they can get them.  And Seattle is a decent team but, let's be honest, it is a team the Cowboys should beat if they expect to be a playoff contender. 

As much as I enjoyed the win last week against the Giants I have come to the realization that it was only one game.  Who knows, the win against the Giants could turn out to be the best the Cowboys play all year long.  The Cowboys are still a long way from proving that they can consistently play good football on offense and defense for 60 minutes every week.

Another solid performance will start to convince everyone, including the players themselves, that the Cowboys are for real this year.  The defense should go into the Seattle game with a lot of confidence after controlling the game against the Giants.  The offense put up a lot of yards and scored plenty of points, but there are still very big questions about the quality of the offensive line.

I would hate to think that the Cowboys could go into the Seattle game overconfident but it is a real possibility.  So much of the focus for the Cowboys in the offseason was on beating the Giants that you can see how easily there could be a letdown after the big week 1 win.  This will be the first of many tests for Jason Garrett this season to find out if he can teach his team to handle success.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Giant Win to Start the Season

The Cowboys won last night 24-17 in a game they dominated more than the final score shows.  As the clock was ticking down and I was finally convinced that the Cowboys were going to pull it off I began to think about the enormity of the win.  Sure, it was just one game.  But let's take a look at how big one game can be.

It was a win against the defending Super Bowl champions.  It was a win on the road.  It was a division win.  It was an NFC victory which comes into play in tiebreaker situations.  It was a statement game that will make people realize that this season is not going to be a repeat of 2011.  This was a big win. 

Obviously the Cowboys didn't play a perfect game.  But that is part of what makes this win so exciting.  The Cowboys were sloppy on offense committing penalty after penalty.  But even with all of the self-inflicted wounds the offense still managed to practically move at will in the second half of the game.  It is exciting to think how good the Cowboys might be if they can clean up the penalties.

The defense was clearly improved over last season.  There weren't receivers running free in the middle of the field and the Giants had almost no running game outside of one big run.  There was pressure on Eli Manning both from edges and up the middle in his face.  Demarcus Ware had two sacks but that is what we expect out of him.  Sean Lee had 12 tackles and a forced fumble and almost no one is talking about him.  This is a much improved defense that could develop into a dominating unit as the new starters get more comfortable in their roles.

Jason Witten was inspirational and proved, once again, why he is my favorite Dallas Cowboy of all time.  How can you not pull for a guy that is willing to put it all on the line for his team?  How can any player sit out of a game with a minor injury after seeing him do everything in his power to get on the field?

Kevin Ogletree proved a lot of people wrong including me.  I really thought he was a lost cause this offseason.  Last night he looked like a perfect replacement for the production that everyone thought was lost when Laurent Robinson left for Jacksonville.  If Ogletree can consistently play like that the Cowboys will be tough to stop.

The offensive line had a lot of struggles but they did enough to allow Tony Romo to throw for over 300 yards and 3 TD's.  And Demarco Murry ran for well over 100 yards once the line settled down after some early game struggles.  I'm not saying the line made Romo's night easy because Romo had to pull his usual escape acts to extend several plays and Murray made a highlight reel run that was almost all him.

My MVP for the game is Tony Romo.  I hope he can continue to put up games like that in big situations so that his critics will finally stop trying to tell us he is terrible.  I honestly believe the Cowboys would have lost the game last night without Tony Romo.  I can't imagine that Kyle Orton could have pulled off several of the scrambles and throws for touchdowns that Romo did.

It is only one game and we all have to remember that.  But I'm going to enjoy this one for a few days after hearing about the Giants all offseason.  This game doesn't erase the pain from what happened to end the season last year but it sure hurts a lot less now.

Quick afterthought:  Are the Giants really complaining about the officiating?  It sounds like they think the officiating was skewed against them.  Seriously?  There were 13 penalties against the Cowboys and only 4 against the Giants.  The Cowboys were called for offensive holding twice.  The Giants were called for holding a grand total of zero times.  I saw Ware, Hatcher and Spencer all get held during the game.  Maybe the better team just won the game.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Cowboys @ Giants - Week 1

The season is finally here.  The Cowboys have made a lot of changes to their roster that seem almost entirely aimed at fixing what went wrong against the New York Giants last season.  We finally get to see if the moves the Cowboys have made can make a difference. 

On defense let's start with the secondary.  Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz destroyed the Cowboys last season.  So the Cowboys changed out three of the four starters in the secondary to try to find a way to stop the passing game of the Giants.  Brandon Carr is a clear upgrade at one cornerback.  And Morris Claiborne is potentially an upgrade at the other starting corner spot.  Barry Church takes over for Abe Elam and has looked like a major upgrade at safety.  It will be very interesting to see how the new look secondary of the Cowboys can match up against the Giants.

Also on defense the Cowboys have become younger and more athletic at middle linebacker.  Sean Lee is still starting but this time he'll have full use of both hands unlike last season after his dislocated wrist.  And Bruce Carter is a clear upgrade in terms of athleticism over Bradie James and Keith Brooking.  The concern with Carter is his lack of experience.  He is going to make mistakes.  The Cowboys just have to hope they aren't the kind of mistakes that lose games.  Carter will be much better in pass coverage than James or Brooking were even if he is making mistakes.

There haven't been many changes on offense at the skill positions.  But the fullback is new (Vickers) and four of the five starting offensive lineman are new or playing in new positions.  I'm hoping the Vickers-Murray combination can put up enough rushing yards that the Cowboys don't have to resort to a pass happy offense.  The pass blocking should be improved but it doesn't matter if the Giants know the pass is coming.  The pass blocking for the Cowboys will be one of the key factors in the game.

Martellus Bennett will be starting at tight end for the Giants.  He will undoubtedly be fired up to do some damage against the Cowboys.  The Cowboys do have good personnel to match up against Marty B. down the field with Carter and Barry Church likely getting most of the coverage duties.  Martellus has always had all the potential in the world but has never been able to grasp the offense or catch the ball consistently enough to be a big factor in the passing game.  But something tells me he will have a big game against the Cowboys.  Hopefully he'll run the wrong route at a crucial moment or drop a few easy passes like he has done over the years for the Cowboys.

This game really feels like a toss up to me.  The teams are very evenly matched regardless of what the experts are saying.  For some reason a lot of people are forgetting that the Giants were only 9-7 last season and I'm not sure they have really upgraded their roster significantly this offseason.  I know the Super Bowl champion hasn't lost their season opener in a long time.  But it just feels like the Cowboys are long overdue for a win against the Giants and just a big win in general.  I predict the Cowboys win the game 30-25.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Season Prediction Time

The final roster is finally set.  The first game is almost here.  And I finally feel confident enough to put my season prediction out there.

Let me start by saying I think the 2012 Dallas Cowboys are a clear improvement over the 2011 version.  That doesn't necessarily mean that the record will be significantly better.  The problem is the schedule that the Cowboys face.  It is going to be tough to repeat 8-8 let alone improve on it.

But there are some factors that lead me to believe this year will be better in terms of record.  Let's start with the defense.  It is already obvious even just through four preseason games that the pass defense is significantly improved.  Sean Lee is primed for a pro bowl year and Demarcus Ware is arguably the best defensive player in football.  Throw in Morris Claiborne, Brandon Carr and Barry Church providing an upgrade at safety and you can see a lot to be excited about.

The offensive line is improved over last season.  Both starting guards have been replaced.  Last year Kyle Kosier was nursing a bad foot ball season long.  Tyron Smith came in a started as a rookie.  And Phil Costa was a first year starter at center.  There have been clear upgrades made by switching Free and Smith, replacing the guards, and at center...well, things are the same.  I have to believe that Costa will be improved over last season. 

A healthy DeMarco Murray could go a long way to helping the offense score more points to go along with the massive amounts of yards that are usually gained every week.  And Dez Bryant looks ready to take the next step to become an elite receiver. 

The bottom line is I see a better team across the board.  I'm picking the Cowboys to go 10-6 and make the playoffs.  At that point it really becomes a matter of health and who is on a hot streak.  It isn't out of the realm of possibility to see a deep playoff run but only if the Cowboys can get to the postseason with all of the key players in good health.

So there you have it.  10-6.  Let me know what your predictions are in the comments.