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My Quick Thoughts on Cowboys at Chargers 2013

September 30, 2013

(GIF originally posted to Deadspin.com by Samer Kalaf)

  • That was just awful.  You aren’t going to win many games where you allow the opponent to score 20 unanswered points.  The Cowboys played poorly in – as Jason Garrett says repeatedly – all three phases.  In fact, two of those phases were absolutely terrible: defense and special teams.
  • Yes, San Diego has a good offense led by a capable quarterback, but the Cowboys’ defense simply did not show up yesterday.  Sean Lee’s pick six was just about the only good play the defense made the entire game.  His sidekick, Bruce Carter, was especially bad.  Carter got burned TWICE by a guy who isn’t even allowed onto most amusement park rides, the very diminutive Danny Woodhead.
  • The secondary was also torched repeatedly by Philip Rivers, making this the second game in four weeks where they’ve done nothing to slow the opposing team’s passing attack.  Mo Claiborne is definitely being targeted, given the fact that he’s clearly hindered by his shoulder injury.  This unit will need to figure things out fast, or it could get much, much worse before it gets better.
  • Most disappointing was the complete disappearance of the defensive line.  It’s hard to blame the fact that Anthony Spencer was lost for the season, since he’d only appeared in one game.  They only managed to sack Rivers one time, and barely put any pressure on him all afternoon.  Most troubling was the fact that DeMarcus Ware made virtually zero impact for the second time in four games this year.  He had only two tackles and was basically invisible all day.  The Cowboys need more from him – a LOT more.
  • Special teams was also abysmal – especially the punting game.  The normally solid Chris Jones had a couple of particularly terrible punts, and then when he actually managed to finally have a good punt late in the game with a chance to pin the Chargers deep in their own end, the punt coverage team couldn’t keep the ball from rolling into the end zone.  It’s hard to beat up Dan Bailey for missing a 56-yard field goal attempt, but what he does deserve criticism for is blaming it on the “operation.”  C’mon, man – don’t throw your snapper and holder under the bus.
  • Offensively, the problems can be traced to two flaws with the gameplan that seem to crop up over and over: failing to commit to the running game and forcing an excessive number of plays to rookie WR Terrance Williams.  Whether the blame for this falls to Bill Callahan or Garrett or both, the bottom line is they simply cannot keep repeating these two flawed approaches.  The one time they actually committed to the run, last week against the Rams, it paid huge dividends.  But when they don’t stick with the run, drives stall, which causes time of possession to get so lopsided that their defense gets worn out and they don’t get enough opportunities on offense.  This has to get fixed, as does their inexplicable obsession with running so many plays to Williams – especially in the red zone.  Dez Bryant is one of the best red zone receivers in the league, so why keep forcing it to an unproven rookie who’s shown no signs whatsoever that he’s ready for such a role?
  • The offensive line was also really bad, especially Doug Free and Ronald Leary.  The line has played better than expected most of the season so far, and with Brian Waters finally ready for full-game action, it’s surprising and disappointing that this unit took such a major step back yesterday.
  • Also disappointing was the perpetually rock solid Jason Witten, who had a horrible drop in a crucial situation late in the game yesterday.  When even your most reliable players aren’t on their game, you have no chance.  Witten has to show up.
  • If there’s anything positive to take away from yesterday’s game, it’s that Tony Romo had another good day.  His army of detractors will no doubt do their damnedest to try and blame him for the loss, but he and Dez are the only two guys who kept the Cowboys from getting blown out by the Chargers.  It was Romo’s third straight game without an interception, and he’s only thrown one all year so far, while putting up eight TD passes.  Nothing Romo does will ever be good enough for his detractors, so it’s pointless to try and convince those brain-dead dullards otherwise.  Those of us who understand how bad this team would be without him will continue to appreciate Romo.
  • Next week, the Broncos roll into town, and they are arguably the best team in the league – at least the team playing better than anyone else so far this season.  And that’s almost entirely due to the all-world performance they’ve gotten from Peyton Manning at QB.  He started off the season with a seven-TD performance, and if the Cowboys don’t solve their defensive problems – especially in pass coverage – he just might make a run at replicating that opening week stat fest.
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My Quick Thoughts on Rams at Cowboys 2013

September 23, 2013

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(Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

  • That was as close to perfect as the Cowboys have played in quite some time.  Sure, there were a couple of miscues from some particularly uncharacteristic sources – Dan Bailey missed a chip shot FG for maybe the second time in his career, and Dwayne “Predator” Harris muffed a punt – but, as a whole, the team played a pretty dominant game on both sides of the ball.
  • DeMarco Murray absolutely loves it when the St. Louis Rams come to town, as he broke a 17-game drought of sub-100-yard games with a huge 175-yard afternoon.  It wasn’t just that the offensive line opened up holes for him (which they did), but he really seemed to be running with a greater sense of purpose and urgency.  Hopefully, he won’t wait until the Rams’ next visit to Arlington before showing that same effort again.  If he runs like this every week, the Cowboys will finally be able to break free from their string of 8-8 seasons.
  • Speaking of that offensive line, it’s no coincidence that the more Brian Waters has started to play, the better that unit has gotten.  It’s hard to believe he’s already that good, given the fact that he spent the entire 2012 season on the couch.  At his age, he probably doesn’t have many seasons left, but perhaps some of the younger guys on the OL can learn from him and continue to develop.
  • Many (myself included) were very critical of Tony Romo’s second half performance last week against the Chiefs, but there was absolutely nothing whatsoever to criticize about Romo this week.  He was extremely efficient all afternoon, throwing three TD passes, zero interceptions, and only getting sacked once.  Romo also averaged 8.8 yards per completion, after just 5.4 in Week 1 against the Giants, and 7.7 last week against the Chiefs.
  • The entire defense deserve huge kudos, especially the defensive line, which as a group has probably been the team’s most consistent unit through three games.  This is especially noteworthy, when considering all of the concerns about depth and injuries.  The DL has been very effective, despite playing without Josh Brent, Jay Ratliff and Tyrone Crawford – not to mention Anthony Spencer having missed two of the team’s three games so far.  George Selvie has been an amazing find, Jason Hatcher is playing perhaps the best football of his career, and DeMarcus Ware is, well…DeMarcus Ware.
  • This was the secondary’s best game of the season so far, thanks in part to the first career start of J. J. Wilcox, who was solid at safety.  Morris Claiborne also played very well, despite basically having one arm at this point.  But the one guy who stands out week after week is Barry Church.  He is, without a doubt, this team’s best DB – and it’s not even close.
  • It’s always an adventure when FOX’s only three-man broadcast team does a Cowboys game, and yesterday did not disappoint.  Tony Siragusa has displayed a rather questionable fashion sense over the years, but this time he hit a new low as it looked like he raided the wardrobe of Cam from “Modern Family.”  I guess we should just be thankful that it wasn’t Gloria’s closet he snuck into.
  • The only really significant negative to come out of yesterday’s game is the 873rd hamstring injury of Miles Austin’s frustratingly inconsistent career.  OK, perhaps that is a SLIGHT exaggeration, but has any other body part in DFW sports history ever been so fragile?  Maybe Roy Tarpley’s septum?
  • After three weeks, the Cowboys are all alone atop the NFC East with a 2-1 record, and are a full two games up on the two teams expected by most to vie for the division title: the Giants and Redskins, who are now a combined 0-6.  Next week’s trip to San Diego looms large, as the Chargers will be desperate to avoid falling to 1-3 on the season, and the Cowboys should be equally desperate to string together consecutive regular season wins for the first time since early last December.

My Quick Thoughts on Cowboys at Chiefs 2013

September 16, 2013

(GIF originally posted to Deadspin.com by Samer Kalaf)

  • Yes, the Chiefs are a much, much improved team – and Arrowhead Stadium is one of the toughest places to play in the NFL – but that was a game the Cowboys really should have won.
  • I’ve been one of Tony Romo’s biggest defenders throughout his career – a group that’s becoming a dying breed with each passing season – but not even I can defend how poorly he played in the second half of this game (after a very good first half).  So many of his throws were way off-target, many thrown behind his receivers, and he simply held the ball too long on the play where he fumbled on a strip sack.  He’s not solely to blame for the loss, but he definitely deserves a significant share of it.
  • There was some speculation that Romo’s sore ribs could have contributed to his poor throws, but the only inside scoop we were able to get from sideline reporter Jennifer Hale was that Romo had eaten a granola bar.  These in-game reports don’t have to be Woodward and Bernstein-level stuff, but c’mon!
  • Meanwhile, Alex Smith spent much of the day doing a shockingly convincing impression of Johnny Football by running so free he led the Chiefs in rushing.  Unlike Romo, he didn’t turn it over all day, although Bruce Carter dropped an easy Pick 6 at one point.  Smith has been considered a disappointment by many over the years, mainly because he was the first overall player taken in the 2005 draft, but being paired with Andy Reid may finally enable him to have some sustained success for the first time in his career.
  • Dez Bryant was phenomenal all day…EXCEPT for that uncharacteristic and completely inconceivable drop of what might have been a 79-yard touchdown, or at the very least a huge gain.  The timing of that drop was especially painful, as it came on the Cowboys’ first drive after the aforementioned Romo fumble, and was with the Cowboys trailing 17-13 with 9:00 left in the game.
  • For the second straight game, the Cowboys’ most reliable player was Dan Bailey.  It’s great to have such a dependable kicker, but when your most reliable player every week is your kicker, that points to significant issues with the rest of your team.
  • The Cowboys’ offensive line again provided Romo with solid pass protection most of the day, surprising us all once more.  What wasn’t surprising was yet another week of awful run blocking.  But that being said, Bill Callahan and Jason Garrett simply must figure out a way to try and run the ball more than they have in each of the season’s two games so far.
  • Orlando Scandrick blocked a ton of kicks in college at Boise State, so it was good to see him finally get one yesterday as a Cowboy.  Special Teams has been the Cowboys’ best unit by far through two weeks of the season.  Both Bailey and punter Chris Jones have been very good in each game, and Dwayne Harris continues to dominate in coverage, while giving the team some solid returns on punts and kickoffs.
  • If this game had been played closer to Thanksgiving, I would have called Macy’s to alert them to the fact that their “Bob The Tomato” float had gotten loose and drifted all the way to Kansas City…before realizing it was just Andy Reid in his bright red pullover tarp from the Charlie Weis signature collection.  He’d be much better off raiding Jerry Glanville’s closet, because let’s face it, black is slimming.
  • Looking at the glass as half-full, the Cowboys remain tied for first in the NFC East heading home to face the St. Louis Rams next week.  Hopefully, it will more closely resemble Week 1 than Week 2 – especially in terms of the final outcome.

My Quick Thoughts on Giants at Cowboys 2013

September 9, 2013

(GIF originally posted to Deadspin.com by Samer Kalaf)

  • Dwayne Harris was a one-man wrecking crew on special teams. On a night when no individual Cowboy put up huge numbers, “Predator” should be considered player of the game.
  • Dan Bailey is, with the possible exception of Jason Witten, the most consistent player on this team.
  • For those who might think DeMarcus Ware should be included in that discussion, explain his whereabouts last night after making that fantastic interception on the Giants’ first play from scrimmage. Zero sacks, zero tackles, zero assists. Yes, he is a future HOFer and one of the five best defensive players in the NFL today, but it’s mystifying how he can disappear for such long stretches – especially considering how favorable this switch to the 4-3 is supposed to be for him.
  • Another one of the NFL’s best at his position was basically M.I.A. last night, as Dez Bryant only made four catches for 22 yards. However, the blame for this does not fall on Dez, as Bill Callahan and Jason Garrett absolutely have to figure out a way to better incorporate him into the gameplan. He is going to be double- and triple-teamed probably for the rest of his career, so you simply cannot allow the opponent to dictate your willingness to get Dez the ball.
  • As a whole, the offensive line played much, much, much better than anyone could have possibly hoped for last night. Tony Romo was only sacked twice (once was entirely his fault for holding onto the ball way too long), and he had a solid pocket most of the night. Kudos to both Travis Frederick and Tyron Smith, especially Smith for absolutely manhandling Jason Pierre-Paul all night long. That being said, Doug Free and Mackenzie Bernadeau were both atrocious. On the play where Romo got hurt, Free went airborne so violently in the opposite direction, it looked like he might have stepped on a land mine planted by Verizon as retribution for losing out on the stay-jum naming rights.
  • But while the offensive line greatly overachieved last night, the secondary massively underachieved. Yes, Barry Church and Brandon Carr deserve credit for scoring touchdowns, but there is absolutely no excuse whatsoever for giving up 450 passing yards and four TDs. Morris Claiborne was particularly abysmal before he hurt his shoulder. Hopefully, his poor play was mostly due to his lack of conditioning resulting from his preseason knee injury. They are going to need much better from this unit the rest of this season – especially from last year’s top draft pick.
  • Speaking of injuries, regardless of what you think about Tony Romo, you have to admit he is one tough S.O.B. No matter where or how hard he gets hit, unless he ends up on a stretcher, he’s almost always going to find his way back into the game. And while every single Romo critic out there is going to single out his red zone interception, anyone with even the slightest understanding of football knows the blame for that goes to Terrance Williams for running the wrong route and Callahan for even trying to run a play for the unproven rookie in that situation.
  • Stat of the night: The Cowboys never trailed in this game, after trailing in all 16 games last season.
  • Stat of the night (runner-up): The six takeaways for the Cowboys gives them just under 40% of the total they generated for the entire 2012 season.
  • There was a lot of talk wondering why Brian Waters wasn’t active for last night’s game, instead of David Arkin, but even more confounding was the fact that Caesar Rayford was inactive. Waters hasn’t played in over a year and missed all of training camp, so he’s clearly not yet in game condition. But Rayford led the NFL in both sacks and forced fumbles during the preseason, so he’s probably in better condition than just about anyone on the defense. Given how thin the defensive line rotation is right now, it makes no sense whatsoever that Rayford was inactive last night.
  • All in all, despite the previously stated concerns, it was ultimately a good win for the Cowboys. Not only did they get the “never beaten the Giants at The Death Star” monkey off their back, they won for the first time on Sunday Night Football since Carrie Underwood was still in her training bra.
  • Next week, things aren’t likely to get much easier, as the Cowboys take on the much-improved Chiefs in the always hostile environment of Arrowhead Stadium. Let’s hope the Cowboys can build on the good things they did last night, and improve those things they didn’t do well. Andy Reid has always been a tough adversary for this team, though now that he’s sporting an all-red sideline wardrobe, he looks a tad less menacing in the guise of Santa’s more slovenly younger brother.

Piranha Talk

August 21, 2013

During The HardLine yesterday on The Ticket, the boys were discussing some of the more over-the-top movies featuring animal attacks, including Piranha (the original 1978, not the 2010 remake).  I sent them a tweet telling them I had been an extra in that legendary piece of cinema, which briefly derailed their “Community Quick Hits” segment (apologies for the low-quality audio)…

My Top 5 Albums From Each Decade

August 7, 2013

I recently took part in an interesting exercise over at a music-centric forum I’ve been known to frequent. The assignment, if you will, was to come up with a list of the five albums from each decade which best define your musical taste. I accepted the challenge (only including the decades I’ve been alive), and after extensive thought, here are the albums on my list (plus, as a bonus, the one album from each decade it was most difficult for me to exclude) – with links to listen on Spotify (if available):

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1960-69

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1970-79

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1980-89

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1990-99

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2000-09

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2010-now

Game 7: The Best

June 21, 2013

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(Photo by Jerry Lara of the San Antonio Express-News)

As someone who’s been a die-hard San Antonio Spurs fan for almost 40 years, watching a fifth championship slip through their grasp in Game 6 – followed just two nights later by seeing it snatched away for good by the Miami Heat – was about as painful a sports-related experience I’ve ever gone through.  And thousands of my fellow Spurs fans share in this misery right now.

Feeling this way, it’s awfully tempting to focus on everything that went wrong.  Instead, I’ve decided to emphasize all of the many great superlatives we witnessed during The 2013 NBA Finals…

  • The Best team of the past decade-and-a-half (the Spurs) – gave The Best team in the NBA (the Heat) all they could handle…and then some…and then a little more.
  • The Best player in the league, LeBron James, played The Best game of this series in Game 7.
  • The Best power forward of all time, Tim Duncan, was absolutely amazing the entire series, defying age, logic, and all odds to deliver a remarkable performance in all seven games.
  • Tony Parker played so fantastically throughout the playoffs, he now has to be considered The Best point guard in the NBA right now, and should be applauded for fighting through his hamstring injury and extreme fatigue to give the Spurs everything he had.
  • Despite having what may have been some of his worst moments during the late stages of Game 6, Gregg Popovich still remains The Best coach in the league.
  • With all apologies to Tim Duncan, perhaps The Best player for the Spurs from the start of Game 1 through the end of Game 7 was Kawhi Leonard, who made a strong case to be included among The Best young forwards in the NBA, and who certainly has The Best future ahead of him out of all those who played in The 2013 Finals.
  • While LeBron was clearly the MVP of The Finals and The Best player on the court in Game 7, the Heat ultimately would not have won this last game without an incredible long-range shooting performance from Shane Battier, who has to rank that among The Best games he’s ever played.
  • Game 6 was arguably The Best game in NBA history, and a compelling argument could be made for this being The Best NBA Finals series ever played.

As disappointed as I am at the outcome of The Finals, I’m even more proud of the valiant effort put forth by the Spurs, who showed unbelievable heart playing their guts out with practically nothing whatsoever left in their collective tank.  To say they played Game 7 running on fumes would be an understatement, yet they stayed right there within striking distance until the very end.

You’ve got to beat The Best to be The Best, and that’s exactly what the Miami Heat did – they beat The Best…they beat my Spurs.

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