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.