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My Quick Thoughts on Cowboys at Bears 2013

December 10, 2013

(GIF originally posted to 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.

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.
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