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My Top 25 Albums of 2014

December 18, 2014

2014top25

The Lowest Extremities

September 5, 2014

My wife and I recently had a conversation with two of our teenagers about the dismal state of American politics, which I rarely discuss with anyone these days, even though I majored in Political Science back in college. Not that such a course of study makes me more qualified to have such a discussion — it most certainly doesn’t — but having once been interested enough in the topic to spend four years focused on it (actually five, if I’m being completely honest) would seem to suggest a willingness on my part to more frequently discuss politics.

Alas, this is the social media age, where every word posted on Twitter or Facebook is immediately scrutinized, judged, and — if not completely aligned with that particular reader’s entire viewpoint — attacked. Anyone who dares to disagree in the slightest on even the smallest point is instantly branded a dangerous heretic or an imminent threat. This appears to be a direct byproduct of the intense partisanship that currently permeates Washington, D.C., and which has led to the demise of civil discourse.

The two-party system has been in place for well over a century, yet only over the past two decades has the divide between the Democrats and Republicans become so deep and bitter. With each passing year, the rancor and vitriol becomes increasingly hostile. The chasm is now so great, the middle ground has completely eroded. All that remains on the ideological spectrum is the far left and far right.

Somewhere along the way, independent thought became viewed as weakness. To be truly considered a Democrat, you must be unyieldingly liberal, and to be truly considered a Republican, you must be unflinchingly conservative. Any view held by the other side must be immediately opposed, dismissed, rejected, and repudiated as treasonous heresy. Strength can only come from a complete and total alignment of opinion. Dissent is anathema.

As a result, it has become virtually impossible to engage anyone in a reasoned discussion about anything even remotely political. Every single topic, regardless of significance, is now a hot button issue requiring a stance be immediately and definitively taken on one side or the other. All that exists is black and white. Gray is but a distant memory.

That’s why I typically avoid discussing politics, but when our kids wondered aloud who we thought might be the next President, my wife and I considered it a perfect opportunity to try and start reversing the trend of belligerent political discourse in this country by openly engaging the next generation in a civil and respectful manner.

We talked with them about how the two-party system is antiquated and broken, which has caused a level of government gridlock so impenetrable that it severely handicaps the effectiveness of whoever sits in the office — regardless of whether that person is a Democrat or Republican. Each of the past two Presidents — Barack Obama and George W. Bush — have been criticized to the point of villainy by their opposition in Congress, who uses their power to serve as an obstruction to democracy, rather than the conduit they were elected to be.

But most of all, we emphasized to both our 16-year-old son and our 14-year-old daughter the importance of thinking for themselves, rather than simply falling in lockstep with either extreme of the ideological spectrum. Each man and woman in this great country of ours should be free to make their own informed decisions, without feeling any societal pressure to align with one side or the other. A party platform is not sacrosanct, nor should it be viewed as a guide for living one’s life.

Show respect for others to hold opinions which differ from your own. The fact that someone disagrees with you does not make them wrong. Simply because someone has an opposing viewpoint does not mean they are a bad person. This line of thinking has to stop, or this country is doomed. We are capable of peacefully coexisting, despite our differences. That is the very freedom upon which America was founded. Let’s all please try and remember that the next time we engage with someone whose opinion differs from our own.

My Quick Thoughts on Packers at Cowboys 2013

December 16, 2013

(Jim Biever/Packers.com)

  • After riding an unstoppable running game to a seemingly-insurmountable 23-point halftime lead at home against a reeling opponent saddled with an extremely ineffective backup quarterback, the Dallas Cowboys came out of the locker room and ran just seven times in the second half, while inexplicably calling 23 pass plays. Meanwhile, their supposedly reeling opponent – the Green Bay Packers – chose not to abandon the run. It paid off immediately, as Eddie Lacy began the third quarter with a 60-yard run on Green Bay’s first play from scrimmage after halftime. Three plays later, the Packers would score their first of FIVE second-half touchdowns, en route to a 37-36 comeback win that should be shocking, but really wasn’t in the least.
  • Dan Bailey (5-for-5 on FGs, including two 50-yarders) and DeMarco Murray (134 yards rushing, with an average of 7.4 yards-per-carry) are the ONLY two people associated with this franchise (including those who receive checks from the team, as well as the guy who signs those checks) who don’t deserve to be harshly criticized after that debacle. That includes Dez Bryant, who although he made some spectacular plays and posted big numbers on the day, also made the completely inexcusable decision to leave the sideline and head back to the locker room with a minute-and-a-half remaining. He’s got to show more maturity than that.
  • There’s really not much else to say about the Cowboys’ disaster of a defense that hasn’t already been said after any number of their many catastrophic performances this season. If the game ended at halftime, it would have been their best performance of the season, as they held the Packers to just three points in the first two quarters. But after forcing Green Bay to punt four times in the first half, the Dallas defense forced zero punts in the second half, allowing the Packers to score 14 in the third quarter and another 20 in the fourth.
  • DeMarcus Ware has been one of the greatest players in the history of the Cowboys over the course of his career, but he’s played well below expectations this season. Last week, his frustration reached a new high, as he took a page from the Heisenberg playbook and defiantly asked the media, “WHAT’S MY NAME?” After his no-show yesterday (1 tackle, 0 sacks), you have to wonder whether anyone on the Green Bay offensive line could answer his question. The real question that needs to be asked is, “How much is left in his tank?”
  • Jason Garrett, Bill Callahan, and Monte Kiffin should ALL be fired, but it’s doubtful any of them will – especially not during the season. If the Cowboys win their next two games, they will still win the NFC East and make the playoffs, so Jerry Jones will view that as a successful season. If they beat the Redskins, but then lose to the Eagles, he’ll be able to fall back on the argument that the Cowboys at least were right there with a chance to win the division on the final day of the season. Heck, even if they lose both of these last two games, he’ll probably justify it by blaming the rash of critical defensive injuries to key players. Unfortunately, the one thing he WON’T do is fire the guy who’s responsible for hiring all of those incompetent coaches: the General Manager.
  • Given the numbers Kirk Cousins posted yesterday in his first start of the season for Washington (381 yards passing, 3 TDs, 94.8 passer rating), along with the Cowboys’ inability to stop the backup quarterbacks of opposing teams in recent weeks (Green Bay’s Matt Flynn and Chicago’s Josh McCown), it seems inevitable that Cousins will light up the Dallas secondary. So, what seemed like it should have been an easy win just one week ago now looks to be anything but that. And if the Cowboys somehow do manage to beat the Redskins next week (ON THE ROAD, no less), their reward is yet another season-finale winner-take-all showdown for the NFC East title. They failed two seasons ago when facing the Giants in that situation at MetLife Stadium, and failed last season when in that same scenario against the Redskins at FedEx Field. In order for history to even have a chance of repeating, the Cowboys will have to immediately reverse the direction of their sinking ship, or that last game at home against the Eagles won’t be for anything but one final undeserved 2013 paycheck.

My Quick Thoughts on Cowboys at Bears 2013

December 10, 2013

(GIF originally posted to BleacherReport.com by Kyle Newport)

  • Tony Romo threw three touchdown passes with no interceptions, DeMarco Murray ran for 146 yards while averaging 8.1 yards per carry, and the Cowboys did not turn the ball over once…so they must have won easily, right?  Not even close.
  • There’s so much blame to go around that this game recap should probably be written by Tolstoy, instead of yours truly.  But while no Dallas unit or player was without fault, the defense clearly deserves the most scrutiny.  For the second time this season, the Cowboys played an entire game without forcing their opponent to punt (Denver being the other, not to mention New Orleans, who only punted once).  They also failed to generate a single Chicago turnover.  The pass rush was virtually nonexistent, multiple interceptions were dropped, and there were also several inexcusable drive-extending penalties.
  • So, what’s the root cause of the Cowboys’ defensive failings?  Is it the scheme, or their personnel?  At this point, you have to say both, as Kiffin doesn’t appear to have any answers, while the players are not getting it done.  But regardless of whether it’s the scheme, the personnel, or both, it was all put into place by the master architect: the General Manager.  He’s the one who proudly and defiantly owns that title, so he’s the one who has to be responsible for the results.  Normally, a GM would be held accountable for his results, but when he’s his own boss, that simply isn’t going to happen.
  • There are several players on defense, like George Selvie and Nick Hayden, who can’t really be criticized too severely, because they are really only playing due to a lack of roster depth exposed by key injuries/departures.  The ones who really should come under scrutiny are those who are failing to perform up to expectations.  Brandon Carr has not been playing anywhere near a level commensurate with his contract.  DeMarcus Ware is looking more and more like a shell of his former self.  Sean Lee is fantastic when healthy, but he can’t seem to stay on the field often enough to make a sustained impact.  Orlando Scandrick has been very up and down this season, but was especially down against the Bears.  The bottom line is the guys who have shown they are capable simply have to start playing better.
  • Many will point to Alshon Jeffery’s spectacular touchdown catch with 17 seconds left in the first half – which put the Bears up 24-14 – as the backbreaker, but the real turning point happened on the Cowboys’ previous possession, when Jason Witten dropped a key pass less than one minute of game time earlier.  It wouldn’t have given the Cowboys a first down, but it would have given them 2nd and short while running clock (Chicago was already out of timeouts).  Instead, Dallas ends up going three-and-out, leaving the Bears enough time to start nailing the coffin shut.
  • Witten and Dez Bryant each caught a touchdown pass, but did almost nothing else.  Dez added one other catch, but the two only combined for three catches and 22 yards on the night.  They simply have to be more productive, and the coaches absolutely must figure out a more effective way to incorporate these vital weapons into the offensive gameplan.
  • That was officially the second-coldest game in the history of the Dallas Cowboys franchise (only the legendary “Ice Bowl” was more frigid), and it will take a long, long time for the hopes of Cowboy fans to start thawing.  The bottom line is that every single person associated with this franchise – be it front office, coaching staff, or player – has to share in the blame for this abomination.  No one is above reproach right now.  It’s an epic and colossal failure in every way imaginable.  Attempting to single out any one component – such as scheme or roster depth – is foolish.  It’s ALL bad, and may not get better anytime soon.
  • Next week, the very same franchise Dallas faced in their coldest-ever game – Green Bay – comes to town.  And regardless of whether or not the Packers have Aaron Rodgers back under center, the Cowboys won’t have a chance at winning if they play like they did against the Bears.  Although the Cowboys still technically control their own “destiny,” one more loss could very well prove to be fatal, given how well the Philadelphia Eagles are rolling right now.  “Must-win” is a massive understatement.

My Quick Thoughts on Raiders at Cowboys 2013

November 28, 2013


(Matthew Emmons/USA Today)

  • It only took 12 seconds to realize just how few Cowboys are more important than Dwayne Harris.  Terrance Williams, filling in on kickoff returns for the injured Harris, foolishly chose not to take a knee on the opening kickoff and instead ran it out from nine yards deep in his own end zone.  He only made it three yards further than if he had taken the touchback, then coughed up a fumble that the Raiders’ Greg Jenkins immediately returned for a shockingly quick touchdown.  Cole Beasley’s first attempt replacing Harris on punt returns was just slightly less catastrophic, as he simply took a four-yard loss to pin his offense back at its own 7.  Fortunately for Dallas, those first returns were the worst Williams and Beasley would have on the day, but let’s all hope Harris is back ASAP to prevent any future ugliness in the return game.
  • When Dallas fell behind 21-7 to Oakland late in the first half, so many former Cowboys had contributed to the Raiders’ effort that it started leaving one to wonder whether Jerry Jones had gotten rid of the wrong players.  But eventually, guys like Mike Jenkins and Andre Gurode started playing like they did when they were (rightfully) sent packing from Valley Ranch.
  • DeMarco Murray became the first running back to score three rushing touchdowns for the Cowboys in almost a decade, though he was often put in position to do so by the much more effective running of Lance Dunbar.  Murray’s 3.7 yard-per-carry average was nearly doubled by Dunbar, who averaged 6.8 YPC on the afternoon.  Unfortunately, Dunbar went down late in the game with a knee injury.  Hopefully, that won’t keep him out of action too long, as the Dallas rushing attack is much more effective with both Murray and Dunbar working in tandem.
  • Tony Romo (a.k.a. “America’s Whipping Boy”) avoided the Sports Illustrated cover jinx with another solid, if relatively unspectacular, performance.  After the game, it was announced that Romo is currently suffering from the flu, and had actually spent much of the night before throwing up.  But if his army of detractors refused to give him credit for previously gutting it out through cracked ribs and a punctured lung, they certainly aren’t going to do so for fighting through the flu.  That really sucks, because as the SI cover story went to great lengths to point out, Romo deserves infinitely more respect and appreciation than he gets.
  • After playing a forgettable first half bordering on abysmal, Brandon Carr atoned by making a fantastic end zone interception of a Matt McGloin pass that kept the Raiders from tying the score (assuming a successful extra point) in the fourth quarter.  Also worthy of kudos on the otherwise beleagured Dallas defense was Kyle Wilbur, whose recovery of a Raider fumble at their own two yard line positioned the Cowboys to score their first touchdown of the game.  Wilbur’s played well just about all season, especially considering the fact that he’s been asked to switch positions.  I really like the cut of this kid’s jib.  The other Cowboy defender who deserves recognition is Barry Church, who’s just always solid, and is the best tackler in the secondary (if not the entire team).
  • I don’t want to end on a negative note, since the Cowboys won, so I’ll mention Dez Bryant’s fumble before getting to his touchdown grab.  As spectacularly talented a football player as Dez is, his ball security has officially become troubling.  Can he not even get through an entire game anymore without fumbling?  OK, now that we’ve got that out of the way, kudos to Dez on the six other catches he made in this game without fumbling – especially the one he caught for a touchdown.
  • As ugly as that game looked at times, the Cowboys deserve credit for rallying from a 21-7 deficit to score 24 unanswered points en route to a much-needed 31-24 victory over Oakland, finally earning a win against the AFC West for the first time this season after failing in their previous three attempts.  They now get a mini-bye, with 11 days until their next game, a Monday night road trip to Chicago to take on the Bears.  Being 7-5 at this point is infinitely better than being 6-6 would be, so let’s hope they can maintain the momentum gained by their first two-game winning streak in more than a month.  With just four games left in the regular season, each win brings them closer to a division title and playoff berth.

My Quick Thoughts on Cowboys at Giants 2013

November 25, 2013


(Paul J. Bereswill/New York Post)

  • The New York Giants spent the entire week leading up to yesterday’s game with Dallas flapping their gums about how they were going to “put it on ‘em,” with Jason Pierre-Paul even going so far as to say “blood will be spilled.”  But it was actually the Cowboys who drank the Giants’ milkshake, effectively snuffing whatever tiny flicker of postseason hope New York had left, by dropping them to 4-7 with a 24-21 victory on a last-second game-winning field goal from Dan “Money” Bailey.
  • The Cowboys made plenty of mistakes on the afternoon, including some of the most ineffective run defense we’ve seen in years, but nothing was worse than two Dallas defenders – Jeff Heath and Bruce Carter – literally falling asleep on a play and allowing Giant wideout Brandon Myers to get up off the ground untouched and scamper into the end zone for a touchdown that kept New York in the game when they had been on the verge of being blown out.  At least Heath scored a touchdown of his own earlier on a fumble return, but Carter has inexplicably been horrible all year long after looking like an emerging All-Pro last season.  Whatever’s going on in Carter’s head needs to get fixed ASAP!
  • The Dallas offense looked better than in recent weeks, except on third downs, where they were abysmal…that is, until it mattered most.  After starting the game 1-for-8 on third down, the Cowboys converted three huge third downs on their final game-winning drive, led by a clutch performance from Tony Romo.  For the second time in the last three games, Romo worked his patented fourth quarter magic and saved the day for the Cowboys.  His seemingly endless army of detractors can (and undoubtedly will) continue to willfully ignore the fact that he has the highest 4th quarter QB rating in NFL history, meanwhile, the rest of us will be thankful he’s on this team and turning losses into wins time and time again.
  • It was really stupid of Jason Hatcher to say he didn’t want to risk putting “bad tape” out there by playing at less than 100% last week against the New Orleans Saints, but there was certainly nothing bad about the tape he put out there yesterday, as he posted two monster sacks of Eli Manning.
  • Speaking of Eli, has there ever been a QB in the history of the NFL with a greater disparity between his regular season and playoff performances.  He is routinely one of the most inept-looking quarterbacks in this league on a week-in week-out basis, yet he’s somehow managed to put together two amazing postseason runs in which he played flawlessly on the biggest stage possible.  I guess you’d rather have a guy who plays terrible in the regular season and brilliantly in the postseason, than vice-versa, but it’s just completely bizarre.
  • The most important number to come out of yesterday’s game?  The Cowboys are now a perfect 4-0 this season against their NFC Least opponents, which gives them a huge advantage in the event of a tiebreaker.  They also sport a very stout 6-2 conference record.  Only their 0-3 record against the AFC West is tarnishing what would be an otherwise solid season.  Hopefully, they’ll forget that their Thanksgiving opponents, the Oakland Raiders, hail from that same division.  Because a win on Thursday would put the Cowboys at 7-5 and in the NFC Least driver’s seat headed down the stretch.

My Quick Thoughts on Cowboys at Saints 2013

November 11, 2013


(Bill Haber/AP)

  • That. Was. An. Embarrassment.
  • When you lose by 32, give up 625 yards, and allow the opposing offense to post an all-time NFL single-game record of 40 first downs, then your defense is going to come under the most scrutiny. And while the Cowboys’ defense has suffered a catastrophic amount of devastating injuries to critical personnel, the bottom line is they are not even putting forth a mediocre effort at this point. This squad is somehow managing to hit new lows with each passing week. And that ultimately falls at the feet of Monte Kiffin, whose glory days are fast becoming a distant faded memory.
  • The biggest culprit on defense last night was Jeff Heath. Yes, he’s an undrafted small college free agent, but do they not tackle at small colleges? Heath was absolutely pathetic, and no matter how many apologies you want to make for the guy, he should be disgusted by what has to go down as one of the single worst games ever played by a DB in NFL history.
  • Things really aren’t going much better on offense, either. The playcalling is completely lacking in creativity and innovation, as Bill Callahan simply cannot figure out any possible way to get his best weapon, Dez Bryant, the ball – especially when double-covered. Every other big-time wide receiver in this league regularly draws double coverage, yet somehow they still manage to remain part of their team’s offensive gameplan. For whatever reason, Callahan and the Dallas offense are unable to make the necessary adjustments.
  • While we’re taking the defensive and offensive coordinators to task, the head coaching really needs to be called into question, as well. After last night’s loss to the Saints, the Cowboys are now 4-20 under Jason Garrett against teams with a winning record. Folks, that is flat-out unacceptable in every way, shape and form. Taking away the burden of calling the plays in order to allow him to be a “walk around” head coach was supposed to help him improve, but it has done anything but that so far this season.
  • Given the frequency of injuries and the often inexplicably longer-than-normal recovery times from those injuries, it’s probably time to ask whether Mike Woicik deserves a significant share of the blame. His sole responsibility for this team is to ensure the strength and conditioning of their players, but given how fragile so many of these guys appear to be on a weekly basis, you have to question just how strong and conditioned they really are.
  • There are really only two coaches on the Cowboys’ entire staff who are legitimately earning their paychecks this season: Rod Marinelli and Rich Bisaccia. It’s borderline miraculous what Marinelli has gotten out of the 17 different defensive lineman he’s had to use this year, many of whom were literally plucked straight off the couch in Home Depot’s employee breakroom. And Biasaccia deserves tons of praise for making sure his unit is ready to play and excel every week. Dan Bailey and Chris Jones may be the best kicker-punter duo in the league, and Dwayne Harris has to be considered the Cowboys’ team MVP this season. The return and coverage teams, both on kicks and punts, have been outstanding. If only the Cowboys’ defense tackled even half as well as their special teams, Kiffin’s unit would be under a lot less scrutiny right now.
  • This team heads into the bye week with a very tenuous hold on first place in the NFL’s worst division. By the time they return to action on November 24 against the New York Giants, they very well could be looking up at the suddenly surging Philadelphia Eagles. The Cowboys seemed like a virtual lock to make the playoffs just one week ago, but now those odds appear to be growing longer by the minute. The next six games may be Jason Garrett’s last chance to prove his worth as an NFL head coach, because if the Cowboys can’t win this slagheap of a division, Jerry Jones likely won’t let his guillotine go unused.
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