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.