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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.

My Quick Thoughts on Vikings at Cowboys 2013

November 3, 2013

(Matthew Emmons/USA Today)

  • Tony Romo has been unfairly saddled with the choker label by lazy media types and ignorant fans throughout his career, despite the fact that he’s been the NFL’s all-time highest-rated 4th Quarter QB for quite some time now.  Against the Minnesota Vikings, it took an heroic effort by Romo in leading the Cowboys on a 90-yard game-winning TD drive to keep his team from losing to one of the worst squads in the entire league.  The sad truth is that very few of those same media and fans who have relentlessly criticized Romo will be willing to credit him for delivering the win this time.  But there are still plenty of us out here who have always appreciated Romo and realize that without him, the Cowboys would have been at or near the bottom of the league for the past 7-8 years.  He’s the main reason this team ever has a chance to win.
  • As poorly as the Cowboys’ defense has played for most of the season, Monte Kiffin deserves the lion’s share of the blame.  But the one guy who should be given much more credit than blame is Rod Marinelli, for somehow keeping a defensive line that’s been perpetually beset by a seemingly endless series of injuries not only functioning, but often effective.  This time, a guy the Cowboys signed on Monday named Everette Brown made two huge plays to help save the day.  His pressure of Vikings QB Christian Ponder resulted in an interception by Orlando Scandrick, and he also added one of the Cowboys’ two sacks on the day.  George Selvie, who continues to be a surprisingly consistent contributor, had the other sack (his fifth so far this season).
  • Bruce Carter apparently remains in the doghouse he first entered in San Diego, having been benched again to start this game.  But after several terribly missed tackles by Ernie Sims, it wasn’t long before Carter saw action.  Considering how great he was during his breakout season last year, it’s shocking that Carter has been struggling so mightily in 2013.  With six tackles (five solo) on the day, hopefully Carter is starting to turn the corner and can begin rounding into the form we saw from him last season.  If so, he and Sean Lee make a very formidable tandem.
  • DeMarco Murray returned from injury and averaged just under eight yards per carry.  But he was only given four handoffs, as the Cowboys set a franchise record low in rushing yards for a game with a measly 36 yards.  It’s one thing to avoid the run due to ineffectiveness, but given what Murray showed on his four carries, the Cowboys’ decision to throw 51 passes is just impossible to explain or defend.  Bill Callahan and Jason Garrett need to figure out a more effective offensive gameplan ASAP, or each week will continue to be a struggle.
  • Until Romo engineered that incredible game-winning drive at the end of the game, the Cowboys’ two best players on the day BY FAR were Dan Bailey and Chris Jones (the latter of whom made a better tackle than anyone else on either team’s defense).  And when your kicker and punter are your two best players, you’re not going to end up winning too many games in this league.  The Cowboys should feel very fortunate to have emerged victorious.
  • The old adage goes that in the NFL, any team can beat any other team on any given Sunday, but it would have been absolutely catastrophic to lose at home to a team with only one win on the season.  Yes, the Vikings have the best running back on the planet in Adrian Peterson, but they have very little else and should have been easily dispatched by a team supposedly holding playoff aspirations.  The Cowboys came much too close to getting beat by this sorry bunch – and at home, no less.
  • Next up is a trip to The Big Easy to face the 6-2 Saints.  The Cowboys better not make the mistake of thinking New Orleans is ripe for the taking, after losing to the Jets, but the Saints are 4-0 at home on the season and have a QB in Drew Brees who has the potential to absolutely obliterate the vulnerable Dallas secondary.  If the Cowboys can keep Brees under 500 yards passing next week, it will be a minor miracle.  Their only shot at a victory is for the offense to rediscover the form it showed against the Broncos back in Week 5, and for the defense to generate at least several takeaways.  Otherwise, their time spent on the right side of .500 will be short-lived.

My Quick Thoughts on Cowboys at Lions 2013

October 27, 2013

(GIF originally posted to by Samer Kalaf)

  • When your opponent has FOUR TIMES as many penalties as you do, you should win the game.
  • When your kicker makes TWO 53-yard field goals, you should win the game.
  • When your quarterback throws THREE TD passes, ZERO interceptions, and does NOT get sacked, you should win the game.
  • When you hold your opponent to SEVEN POINTS in the first three quarters on their home field, you should win the game.
  • When you have TWO 10-point leads in the 4th quarter, you should win the game.
  • When your opponent is on their own 20-yard line trailing by six with 1:02 left to play and NO TIMEOUTS remaining, you should win the game.
  • When you force your opponent to commit FOUR TURNOVERS, you should win the game.
  • When you commit NO TURNOVERS, you should win the game.
  • In fact, teams with a +4 turnover margin were 55-1 since 2011, which means the Lions had LESS THAN A TWO PERCENT CHANCE of winning this game (1.8%, to be exact)…so, HOW IN THE EFF DID THE COWBOYS LOSE THIS GAME?!?
  • The Lions outgained the Cowboys in total yards 623-268, made more than twice as many first downs (29-13), ran 22 more plays (78-56), and went 4-5 in the red zone (compared with Dallas’ 1-1).
  • The one play that will haunt the Cowboys more than any other is Matthew Stafford’s game-winning QB sneak with 0:12 remaining.  The defense was completely asleep and unprepared for anything other than a clock-killing spike.  Of all of the poor defensive plays on the day, this was clearly the most egregious and inexcusable.
  • There is only one wide receiver in the NFL right now more dangerous than Dez Bryant, and he happened to be on the opposing team in this game.  There’s certainly no shame in being second-best when the only guy better than you is Calvin Johnson, and this was “Megatron” at his absolute zenith.  Johnson’s 329 receiving yards were the second-most ever in a single NFL game.  The Cowboys’ injury-depleted defense was absolutely no match for him.
  • As for Dez, his sideline outbursts have never been so volatile or on greater public display.  But regardless of exactly who or what he was mad at, whether it was unrestrained competitive passion or the selfish tantrums of a me-first diva, the bottom line is he is BY FAR the Cowboy’s most important and irreplaceable offensive piece.  The sooner he and his teammates can get on the same page, the better chance this team has to succeed.  It doesn’t matter who’s at fault here, it just needs to get fixed, and FAST.
  • With the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints next up on the schedule, this team is almost certain to be 5-5 at the bye, which means they’ll need to win four of their final six games to finish 9-7.  Can they do it?  Well, there looks to be only one game in their last six they’re a long shot to win, against the Green Bay Packers.  The other five (New York Giants, Oakland Raiders, Chicago Bears, Washington, and Philadelphia Eagles) are all winnable.  So, there’s still reason to be somewhat optimistic.
  • It’s easy to look at things from a negative perspective right now, but consider the number of key injuries the Cowboys have suffered so far this season, and the fact that three of their four losses have been by a total of five points – including two one-point road losses, one of which was to the still-undefeated Kansas City Chiefs.  That alone should give you an idea of just how close this team is to being 6-2 or even 7-1 right now.  Like Bill Parcells said, “You are what your record says you are,” and the 2013 Cowboys are certainly no exception.  But this is NOT a bad team, and they still have plenty of season to prove they are better than they’ve shown so far.  Once this season is over, we’ll know exactly how good they are.

My Quick Thoughts on Cowboys at Eagles 2013

October 21, 2013

(Elsa Garrison/Getty Images)

  • What a rough and tumble defensive slugfest that was, just like everyone expected.  Two of the league’s highest-ranked offenses against two of the league’s lowest-ranked defenses resulted in a combined THREE POINTS in the first half?!?  I doubt you could find anyone who guessed the final score would be 17-3.  That being said, just before kickoff I went on Twitter and predicted the Cowboys would blowout the Eagles.  Does 17-3 qualify as a blowout?  I can’t really give myself too much credit, though, since my tweet included a final score prediction of 38-17.  At least I got the 17 part right (yeah, wrong team, but whatever).
  • The Cowboys continue to receive excellent defensive play from Jason Hatcher, George Selvie, Sean Lee, Brandon Carr, and even the oft-maligned Orlando Scandrick, as all were solid contributors to yesterday’s stalwart effort against Chip Kelly’s unstoppable juggernaut of an offense.  But truth be told, the Cowboys’ MVP yesterday was clearly Eagle QB Nick Foles.  Foles played about as poorly as any QB has against the Cowboys in recent memory (excluding anyone who may have received noogies as a kid from a certain unnamed Bronco).
  • But as badly as Foles played, his injury replacement wasn’t much better.  Former USC great Matt Barkley saw his first-ever NFL action, and to use the favorite term of his surnamesake, he was TURRBLE.  Barkley threw three fourth quarter interceptions, and had a fourth erased by a Dallas penalty.  If Michael Vick doesn’t heal up soon, the Eagles could be in pretty dire straits.
  • Neither team was very good offensively, as they combined for a stultifying 18 punts (nine per team).  Obviously, the Cowboys were significantly more effective on offense than Philly, but they were primarily hurt by penalties.  Half of the whopping 12 penalties Dallas had on the day were committed by the offense, including four false starts – three of which were by lunkheaded offensive lineman Doug Free.  He’s played much better this season overall, but it is ridiculous and unacceptable to get flagged for three false starts in one game.  The Cowboys are fortunate the penalties didn’t end up being more costly than they were.
  • Tony Romo had two interceptions, but one was on a Hail Mary to end the first half.  His second INT initially looked to be entirely his fault, until it was revealed that Phillip Tanner had erroneously cut in front of Romo’s intended receiver (Cole Beasley) and brought an extra defender into the passing lane.  It wasn’t Romo’s best game of the year, but he played well, for the most part.
  • The Cowboy receiving corps is really becoming a force to be reckoned with.  We already knew Dez Bryant was a beast (though that aforementioned Hail Mary INT went right. through. his. hands.), and rookie Terrance Williams has played so well he’s relegated Miles Austin to an inconsequential afterthought (as if his glass hamstrings didn’t already do so).  Williams has now caught a TD pass in three straight games, and is a legitimate threat opposite Dez.  Cole Beasley has really emerged as a go-to guy on third down, as well.  Add the explosive Dwayne Harris to the mix, and now Austin is basically your fifth-best wideout, for all intents and purposes.
  • Next up for the Cowboys is a trip to the Motor City for a showdown with the Detroit Lions, who are also 4-3.  While it’s not a divisional game, the Cowboys want to try and stockpile as many conference wins as possible, in the event of an eventual playoff tiebreaker.  Right now, Dallas is 3-0 within their division and 4-0 in the conference, so a win over the Lions would further improve their position.  Given the offensive weapons at Detroit’s disposal (Matthew Stafford, Reggie Bush, and Calvin “Megatron” Johnson, among others), it seems unlikely we’ll see another low-scoring game next week.  Dallas had better be firing on all cylinders as they drive into Ford Field, in order to keep from slamming the brakes on their modest two-game winning streak and crashing into a pileup of 4-4 teams.

My Quick Thoughts on Washington at Cowboys 2013

October 14, 2013

(GIF originally posted to by Samer Kalaf)

  • Dwayne Harris has now been a major factor in two of the Cowboys’ three wins so far this season.  Without his 86-yard punt return for a touchdown and 90-yard kickoff return that led directly to another touchdown, Dallas might not have won this game.  Harris also made his presence felt last night as part of the coverage unit, as well.  PREDATOR GO HARD!
  • Harris definitely picked a great night to give the Cowboys such a huge special teams boost, since neither Tony Romo nor Dez Bryant generated their usual amount of offensive production, though Romo did play a fairly solid game.  His TD pass to Terrance Williams was an absolutely spectacular play, and his one interception on the night was on a tipped ball.
  • Speaking of Williams, it’s amazing to think how much he’s improved when comparing his performance these past two games to how lost and unprepared he looked during the season’s first four.  His emergence clearly spells the eventual end of Miles Austin’s career in Dallas.  Austin simply can’t keep his glass hamstrings healthy, and even in those rare games he is able to play, he simply does not contribute.  His effort is poor, from running half-hearted routes to cutting them off altogether to not going up after the ball to fight off the defender.  Austin needs to go – the sooner, the better.
  • Kudos to the Cowboys for overcoming in-game injuries to a couple of their most important players.  Let’s all hope Ware and Murray both get healthy soon, because the Cowboys can ill afford to have DeMarcus and DeMarco on the DiSabled List.
  • It was quite impressive to see how the Cowboys’ defensive line really seemed to ratchet up the pressure after Ware went out, especially considering the fact that they are largely comprised of guys on leave from their day jobs at Home Depot.  The one fully legitimate NFL-caliber player still healthy in that unit, Jason Hatcher, has been absolutely huge all season.  Last night was certainly no exception, as he added two sacks to his team-leading total of five on the year.  And Kyle Wilbur showed signs he may yet develop into what the Cowboys thought he was when they drafted him, with an enormous strip sack and fumble recovery of RG3 deep in Washington territory to help seal the win.
  • Bob Costas has always been a tremendous broadcaster, but these halftime soap box preachings of his are simply insufferable.  Why he feels the need to serve as America’s moral compass is beyond me.  It’s especially off-putting when delivered in such a sanctimonious and condescending tone.  It takes a LOT to leave viewers wishing they were watching Chris Berman, instead, but Costas is trying his hardest to make that seemingly impossible task a reality.
  • Next week, the Cowboys travel to Philly in a first-place battle for NFC East supremacy.  The Eagles have bounced back from a 1-3 start by winning two straight on the road.  Dallas has not yet won a road game this season, so it will be a difficult test.  Perhaps the biggest challenge will be for Monte Kiffin to figure out how to do a better job of slowing down Chip Kelly’s offense than when they last faced each other back in the PAC-12.

Congratulations to Shutdown Inning (and me)

October 9, 2013

Congratulations are in order for everyone over at Shutdown Inning, which just celebrated its second anniversary.  For those of you who may not know, Shutdown Inning is a baseball website (or “blog,” as the kids these days call it) that focuses primarily on the Texas Rangers, and for which I have been fortunate enough to write since June 2012.

In fact, my next article for SDI will be the 50th I’ve written for them, so allow me to take a quick moment to break my arm patting myself on the back.  Hope I don’t end up on the DL.

And while in celebratory mode, I’d like to extend heartiest birthday wishes to my most beloved (*wink*) member of the Rangers’ starting rotation, Derek “The Dutch Oven” Holland, who turns 27 today.  I chose the SDI graphic with Derek in it specifically in honor of his birthday.

My Quick Thoughts on Broncos at Cowboys 2013

October 7, 2013

(GIF originally posted to by Samer Kalaf)

  • Tremendously exciting.
  • Incredibly disappointing.
  • Tony Romo gave the performance of a lifetime, throwing five TD passes and threatening the all-time single-game record by passing for 506 yards. But he threw a fatal interception late, enabling the Broncos to kick the game-winning FG as time expired. Most people will choose to focus on that INT, but I will focus instead on the fact that the Cowboys would have lost this game by AT LEAST 30 without Romo.
  • Remember after the Rams game when everyone thought the Cowboys’ defense was Doomsday III? Good times…
  • Monte Kiffin’s crew has now surrendered more than 1,000 yards over the past two games, while allowing 81 points. If you want to know why the Cowboys are 2-3, look no further than this completely ineffective unit. Unless they get things figured out FAST, it’s going to be a long, painful year for this team.
  • Jason Garrett also deserves a significant share of the blame for this loss, especially for his decisions late in the game. Now that he’s a “walk-around” coach, there’s just no excuse for this anymore.
  • Next week, the rival Redskins roll into town, for what has become an absolutely critical early season game for the Cowboys, as the difference between 2-4 and 3-3 is huge. Will they be able to ride the offensive momentum from the Broncos game, or will their dreadful defense drag them into the abyss? We’ll find out on Sunday night…
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