Monday, November 30, 2009

Cowboys Need to Prove They Learned from Packers Loss

The script for the game Sunday seems very familiar. The Giants are on the ropes. The New York media is blasting them for their play, Eli Manning is injured, Antonio Pierce is out for the season, Brandon Jacobs is soft, the defense is a mess, and on and on. All signs point to the Giants rolling over for the Cowboys.

But we all know that isn't what happens when teams play the Cowboys. The Giants are playing to save their season. And they are playing the Cowboys so you know they will be on an emotional high for the game. They are going to give everything they have and probably play their best game of the season.

So the Cowboys need to prove they are a better team than the Giants. The Cowboys have a tall order this week. Not only are they trying to deliver the death blow to the Giant's season but they are also trying to do it on the road. Just like the Green Bay game a few weeks ago.

I don't know if anyone can really predict how the Cowboys will perform this week but I do think the Cowboys will be mentally prepared for what they are going to face. They know this time they are walking into a hornet's nest. And the Cowboys don't need any extra motivation to get up for the Giants.

The bottom line is that the Cowboys need to win games like this one if they have any hope to win a playoff game. You have to be able to beat a team that will do anything to win. I'm hoping that the Green Bay taught the Cowboys a lesson. Teams don't go quietly, especially a recent Super Bowl champion. I keep thinking of the Karate Kid this week. Sweep the leg.

Friday, November 27, 2009

8-3 and Now the Real Fun Starts

We've heard the same story in every way, shape and form for the last four years. The Cowboys are good early in the season but they can't get it done in December. Well, here we are for the fourth year in a row. The Cowboys have had a strong November to put themselves in position for a playoff run and a possible NFC East championship. But still no one really knows if this year is going to be any different.

The Raider game was a relief because the offense seemed to finally find its stride once again. The defense continued its impressive play but it is hard to judge how they really played since it was a terrible Raiders team they beat. But this is the same Raider team that beat Cincinnati the week before and embarrassed the Eagles earlier in the season. So it wasn't like the game was a foregone conclusion as much as we all wanted to believe it was.

So will things be different this year? There really is no way to answer that question. But we do have some indicators that might shed some light on what to expect. The Cowboys probably need to win 3 of their last 5 games to win the NFC East and just 2 of the last 5 to make the playoffs. Not a tall order until you look at the list of upcoming opponents.

On defense the Cowboys have played very good since early in the season. If they continue to limit opposition scores the way they have then you have to believe that things will be different this December. Keep the opposition below 17 points and they will win the majority of their games. The Cowboys defense is third in the NFL in points allowed and that is a recipe for success.

On offense it would appear that the Cowboys went through their slump at the best possible time. As long as the Green Bay and Washington games were an aberration then the offense should be just fine. They still commit too many penalties when the get in scoring position, but they are moving the ball. The offense is third in the NFL in yards per game. And Tony Romo, Felix Jones, and Marion Barber are all healthy this year. That is going to make a big difference.

Special teams is improved over last year. I still think back to how the special teams lost the Steeler game last season by allowing a big punt return late in the game. That hasn't been an issue this season. What does concern me on special teams is the inconsistency of Nick Folk. Kickers seem to operate on confidence and I'm not sure he believes in himself right now. The offense needs to keep the field goals short or score touchdowns to prevent the momentum swings that have happened recently due to missed field goals.

Most of the indicators point to a strong finish. The injury situation is completely different than last season and that makes a bigger difference to the Cowboys than anyone on ESPN will admit to you. Tony Romo was not healthy down the stretch last year and Felix Jones was out for the season. This year Romo is nearly 100% and Felix Jones is just rounding back into form for the key December stretch. Hopefully Ken Hamlin will be back which would put the entire starting defense on the field to start December.

If the Cowboys can play the same kind of football they have in all three phases of the game for the last five games then we should be talking about a playoff game five weeks from now. All we can do on the injury front is hope that the good luck continues.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Time to Gobble Up the Raiders

After the close call last week there is no telling what type of game we can expect this week.  But there is no doubt that this is a must-win game if the Cowboys expect to make the playoffs and/or win the division.  The Raiders have shown the ability to beat some of the better teams in the league but also the ability to lose to some of the bad teams as well.  They are definitely due for a let down after their huge upset of the Bengals last week, but you could also argue that they will be playing with a new confidence after winning last week.

Bruce Gradkowski is certainly not anyone to fear, but he is an infinitely better quarterback than Jamarcus Russell.  I was hoping Russell would survive as the starter through the Thanksgiving game, but he was so bad the Raiders finally pulled the plug last week.  That makes things a little tougher for the defense because the Raider quarterback can actually hit a wide open receiver down the field.  He wasn't great last week but he was able to make enough plays in the passing game to pull out a victory for the Raiders.

So the defense is actually going to have to show up this week once again although you would hope that this will be the week that the offense gets back on track.  I fully expect the offense to put up more than 20 points in this game, so that should ensure a victory since the Raiders have not scored over 20 points in any game this season.  The Cowboys defense is now the 5th rated defense in the NFL in terms of points allowed so they should be able to shut down the Raider attack.

Injuries are going to play into the gameplan for the Cowboys in a big way.  Jason Witten is a game time decision with a sprained foot and Tony Romo will be playing with a sore back.  Doug Free hasn't played enough to be fully trusted yet in place of Marc Columbo.  And Alan Ball will have his hands full with the vertical threat that the Raider offense poses.

The wild card in the game is the big play threat that many of the Raiders players pose.  Darren McFadden hasn't been great this year but he can score on any play when he gets the ball.  Darrius Heyward-Bey has terrible hands but he can get behind the defense with his speed.  And Johnnie Lee Higgens has big play potential as well.

The Raider defense has been pretty good all year long.  But it is a base 4-3 which Tony Romo usually handles pretty well.  They have allowed 365 yards per game on defense which ranks 24th in the NFL and they have allowed 23.4 points per game which ranks 22nd in the NFL.  While that doesn't sound great you have to look at how many close games the Raiders have lost.  Most of the games they have lost were by less than 10 points, so they usually have stayed close in every game.  There are some exceptions (New York Giants, New York Jets, and Houston Texans), but those big losses were all week 7 or earlier.  They seem to be an improved team over the last 3 games.  And Nnamdi Asomugha is probably the best cornerback in the league.

As long as the Cowboys don't lay an egg they will make it a happy Thanksgiving for all of the Dallas Cowboys fans.  Tony Romo usually shines on Thanksgiving and I expect the same thing this year.  I predict a 27-9 victory for the Cowboys.

Tony Romo Getting a New Image?

Tony Romo has always been the lovable, goofy, guy next door.  His new campaign with Starter looks like it might be trying to change that image.  I am excited to see a tougher side of Romo being displayed to the public because I don't think most people recognize the toughness he displays on a weekly basis during the season.  I know a commercial won't do anything without winning some playoff games first, but I have to believe it will help the public perception of him.  Check out the video.  This is going to play during the game tomorrow.  Maybe somewhere down the road Starter can showcase the toughness Tony Romo has displayed so far in his NFL career.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Wow, I almost ate my words. I was absolutely convinced the Cowboys were not only going to win, but that they would dominate yesterday. I was right about the win but very wrong about they way it happened. There were some positives to be taken away from the game regardless of what you hear from ESPN or the Dallas media. Here is what I took away from the game.

The Good: I saw a team that found a way to win when it seemed they were destined to lose. The Cowboys had no business winning that game. I know the team last year would have lost. This team seems to have learned what it takes to make the play when the game is on the line. Whatever plays weren't made at the end of the Denver game were made with the game on the line. The defense was great all day long even though they were under tremendous pressure all game long due to the offensive struggles. The Cowboys found a way to win when Tony Romo had a bad game. I don't know if I've ever seen them win when he plays so bad. And the defense stepped up and finished the game off when the Redskins got the ball back after the Cowboys touchdown. Like I've said before, winning is a habit.

The Bad: The offense struggled to put points on the board for the second game in a row. It seemed as though Jason Garrett over-corrected the lack of running game. It was great that they ran the ball so well but you have to make a big play here or there to put points on the board. Tony Romo is still struggling to connect with Roy Williams. Nick Folk is not making the big kicks like he used to do with regularity. It seems like the kicks he has missed have been in moments that could have made a big difference in the game.

The Ugly: Tony Romo did not look good. I am more concerned about his mechanics than anything else. Troy Aikman didn't point out what was obvious to me during the game. Tony Romo is not setting his feet and squaring his shoulders before he throws. It kind of reminds me of how his mechanics fell apart at the end of last season. I hope it was just due to injured back, but bad mechanics are going to lead to a lot of high, off-target passes. I wonder if he has lost trust in his offensive line. It is a correctable problem, but we all know that sometimes the coaching staff seems to let things go that should be addressed. Even worse than that is the play calling by Jason Garrett. He seems to have a real problem finding a balance between the passing game and the running game. One game it is all passing and the next is all running. That would be fine if points were being scored but when the offense is struggling you have to change things on the fly. I hope he finds a balance soon.

I'm going to look at the glass as half full after that win. And let's not forget it was a win against a division opponent which is big no matter how you get the W. Last time the Cowboys barely beat a team they were supposed to dominate they went on a four game winning streak. Let's hope this win propels them on another tear. Another three or four game streak would nearly clinch a playoff appearance. They have to get the streak going with a win against the Raiders.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Cowboys Will Win This Week

I don't normally deal in absolutes when it comes to the Dallas Cowboys. But they will win this week. Had they won against the Packers last week I might feel differently. But the Cowboys can't afford to drop another game. The Redskins may have pulled off an upset last week but, let's be honest, their season is essentially over. The desperate team usually wins in the NFL. The Cowboys have more to play for and more motivation after what happened last week.

At the beginning of the week I thought this might be one of those last-minute/last play of the game type of wins, but I'm getting a different vibe this week. I know they players are saying that last week is over and they have moved on. But we all know they were embarrassed by the way they played and they are determined to prove it was just a hiccup and not an indication of what type of team that they really are. I'm not saying the Cowboys are going to win by 30 but I do think it will be very obvious that the Cowboys are the better team on Sunday.

Jason Campbell is in for a long day. Clinton Portis is out, Chris Cooley is out and Albert Haynesworth is highly questionable with an ankle injury. All signs point to a big win by Dallas and I think we will see exactly that. I predict a final score of 27-13 and the game won't seem as close as that score sounds.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

An Interview with Daryl "Moose" Johnston

I was lucky enough to get some time to talk with three time Super Bowl champion Daryl Johnston today. It was quite an honor for a lowly fan like me to have 15 minutes of his time to discuss the Dallas Cowboys. Daryl played for the Dallas Cowboys from 1989-1999. He was the lead blocker for the majority of Emmitt Smith's all time NFL record rushing yards. Daryl currently works for FOX as a color analyst for NFL broadcasts. Any long time fan knows that "Moose" was a fan favorite no matter where the Cowboys were playing.

Daryl talked to me in conjunction with his promotion of Bank of America's Cowboys Banking. The program allows you to personalize your debit Mastercard and provides tons of incentives for Dallas Cowboys fans. Be sure to check it out to thank Daryl for giving his fans some of his time.

Here is the interview posted in question and answer format:

What is your best memory from your games with the Redskins?
"Its kind of a mixed bag for me. My initial neck injury came against the Redskins at FedEx Field and then my career ended against the Redskins at FedEx Field. So, not a lot of good memories for me in the rivalry. We did win the only game of 1989 when we went 1-15 that was a victory over the Redskins at RFK. And then one of the other ones that I really enjoyed was probably my favorite game was the opening game of the 1991 season on Monday Night Football. We had Hank Williams, Jr. down in Texas Stadium to sing the song. It was the first time that Texas Stadium was really electric with the atmosphere inside. Even though we lost the game 31-30 I think that gave us a lot of confidence at the start of the season that we could compete with the better teams in the NFL. We went on to have an 11-5 season that year."

How about the game in 1999 when you guys came back from 21 points down to win the game?
"Yeah, that was a good one. I had forgotten about that one. Yeah 21 points down in the 4th quarter too? That was pretty amazing. It was a situation too because we were really having trouble throwing the football. We actually got back into the game even down 21 by running it. So that was one of the more emotional games we had down the stretch. Things for me were starting to wind down. That's a good game to have in your memory banks at that stage of your career."

When you are calling the Cowboys games for FOX do you ever find yourself having trouble pulling for the Cowboys and having to keep yourself level or do you have yourself pretty well separated at this point where that's not an issue anymore?
"No, its kind of easy for me. I like to see good football. So, if the teams are playing good football it doesn't matter whether its Dallas, Philadelphia, Washington, Carolina, San Francisco. I like to watch well executed, well coached football. What is frustrating for me is when you see sloppy play, when a team is out of sync. We've had Dallas on a number of occasions where they have not played well. We had Dallas-St. Louis last year. That was a difficult game to be a part of. They went right down the field on the first series and then didn't do much of anything right the rest of the game. You can't tell the viewer something that's not happening on the broadcast. So if Dallas is not playing well it is just me trying to explain why its not happening or what the other team is doing to take advantage of the fact that they are playing well. And that's about all I can do. They either make my job a little bit easier when they are playing well or a little bit more difficult when they don't play well."

When you aren't calling the games do you still consider yourself part of the team or the organization?
"Part of the family. Part of the Cowboys family. You're not part of the organization. Your not a part of the team. Not from a business sense or from a participation sense but you are always a part of the family. And the Jones family has done a great job of kind of perpetuating that. So you have a lot of great people that you can call part of the family. And a lot of those guys have made the Dallas/Ft. Worth area their home. I get to see Walt Garrison and Roger Staubach and Preston Pearson and Drew Pearson and Randy White and Lee Roy Jordan and all of the guys that came before us. So that's the cool part. You're not part of the organization but you are always part of the family."

What do you think about this year's version of the Dallas Cowboys?
"Lacking consistency right now. I thought that if they would have won the Green Bay game in convincing fashion then all of a sudden now I think that the New Orleans Saints are the team they have to be concerned about. And they are going to play each other down the stretch in the month of December. The loss to Green Bay just brings everything back after that great victory in Philadelphia. I'd seen Philadelphia the week before against the Giants and I really thought that was one of the best performances I had seen all season, personally. I just was so impressed with Dallas going up there the following week and playing as well as they did that the game in Green Bay should have been a lock. Green Bay had lost to Tampa Bay, they had a players only meeting. Those are signs of a team in desperate straits. Dallas should have been able to come out and finish those guys off."

Do you think the team has enough talent to compete for a Super Bowl or do you think there is a talent issue and that is part of the problem?
"No, I don't think there is a talent issue. I really don't. You look at the key components you have to have to be successful. The NFL is a quarterback driven league. They have a quarterback who admits that he has some things that he has to improve on with his game. I think he has been a lot better with his decision making this year. You need big playmakers. They've got Roy Williams, Miles Austin, Jason Witten, Felix Jones, Marion Barber. You need a defensive presence that can get to the quarterback. They have Demarcus Ware. They have Anthony Spencer. Bradie James is good from the inside. They've got some good tackles to hold down that foundation. To me they've got all the components. I don't think there's any lock down corners in the NFL. But when you look at Dallas with Mike Jenkins, Orlando Scandrick and Terence Newman that's a pretty good trio of corners that you throw out there. I don't really see a glaring weakness anywhere with Dallas and that is why the Green Bay game so frustrating."

What do you think they need to do to get over that hump to achieve the consistency that everybody is wanting to see out of them?
"Understand that they have to match the intensity every week of the opponent that they are going to play. It can't just be when it is a division rival on the road. You wonder what their mindset was taking the field that day. Was that game more important to Green Bay then it was to Dallas? Being able to put your emotions in check and live in a week to week and game to game scenario as opposed to thinking hey, we're pretty good we've played well over the last four weeks. That means nothing once that game's over. That means nothing and that is one of the things that fans don't realize. When you play in the NFL you don't get to enjoy your victories very much but the losses tear your heart out. So its a tough business to be around. We were motivated in my era mainly by not wanting to win as much as it was you were trying to avoid that sickening feeling when you lost was our key motivation."

A lot of people believe that Jason Garrett is the head coach in waiting for the Cowboys. You know him better than a lot of people who comment about him. Do you see him as the next coach of the Dallas Cowboys?
"I definitely see him as a head coach in the NFL in the future whether he has that opportunity with Dallas or not I'm not sure. Everything that was done a couple of years ago with his contract you would think that was something that would be possible. He is the highest paid coordinator and Jerry made it very, very easy to make the decision to stay in Dallas. I think it would be a natural progression if there were a change that Jason would be your guy. But what happens if all of a sudden that Dallas is playing very, very well and there is no reason to make that change and there is another opportunity that comes along that Jason Garrett thinks is too good to turn down? When he went to Baltimore, when he visited Atlanta I think that those were probably scenarios that weren't as appealing being in Dallas at that time was. Jason made the comment that he felt that there was unfinished business here with the Cowboys. They haven't done anything comparable to what they did after they had that loss to the Giants in the playoffs that year so I still think you would still hear Jason Garrett say there is unfinished business here with Dallas."

I think maybe Jason Garrett gets a little bit of a bad rap and the Dallas media is notoriously hard on the entire organization when they aren't winning Super Bowls.
"Yeah, they tend to ride that emotional roller coaster quite a bit. The big thing is things weren't as great as they were in their minds after the Philadelphia win and things aren't as bad now after the Green Bay loss. It lies somewhere in between. Players and coaches try to keep it as consistent as they can. Not get too high with the highs and not get too low with the lows. But the media and the fans they swing back and forth on that pendulum all the time."

What are your impressions of the new stadium?
"I think it is fantastic, I really do. The architecture from the outside when you walk up is very cool. I love the big plazas at the ends. The uniqueness of the monitors, the roof, the panels. Jerry did the best of or the biggest at this time on a couple of occasions inside. Once you get in the building the finish out is phenomenal. The Jones family put a lot of thought into that facility and I don't think they left a stone unturned. When you're talking about a three million square foot facility and you can walk through it and see the finish out and the quality that exists on that size of a building it is absolutely incredible. I'm completely blown away by it."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Things Are Never Easy Against the Redskins

On paper the game on Sunday looks like an easy win for the Cowboys. The Cowboys tend to dominate bad teams. Washington comes to town with a 3-6 record and a head coach who is nothing more than a glorified cheerleader. But they did pull off an impressive upset of the Denver Broncos last weekend so they are a little better than it seemed a few weeks ago. Still, without any rivalry implications this would seem to be an easy game.

Unfortunately, history tells us otherwise when it comes to division games and especially division games against the Redskins. The best example to me is the 1989 season. Dallas was only 1-15 but the one game they managed to win was against the Washington Redskins who were 10-6 that season. That game essentially cost the Redskins a trip to the playoffs.

Looking back at the history between the two teams there are examples where both teams have pulled off unexpected upsets or won in dramatic fashion. The past tells us that something crazy is bound to happen in one or both of the games between the two teams this year.

One of my favorite games of all time was the season opening comeback victory for the Cowboys in 1999. The Cowboys overcame a 21 point 4th quarter deficit to win on a 76 yard pass from Troy Aikman to Rocket Ismail in overtime. The Cowboys actually swept the season series that year but it took an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime type of comeback to win that first game. Check out the video if you need a reminder of the game.

On the other side of things, in 2005 the Cowboys dominated the Redskins for nearly the entire game and had a 13-0 lead late in the game. Santana Moss burned the Cowboys for two long touchdowns to steal the game from the Cowboys in the last few minutes of the game. It was a heart breaker and it still hurts to think about even now.

You can go back and look at the games in every season and you'll find that there is usually some sort of wacky outcome in one of the two games during the season. Do yourself a favor and check out the Wikipedia page on the Cowboys-Redskins rivalry. There are a lot of good memories and a lot of painful ones too.

The point here is that we can't assume that just because the Cowboys are 6-3 and clearly the better team on paper that Sunday is going to be a cakewalk. Sure, the Cowboys might just go out and dominate the Redskins. But there is a good chance that something crazy will happen during the game. As long as the Cowboys come out on top I'll take any win they can get.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Bad Loss, But the Sky is Not Falling

It was an ugly game. The Cowboys played a stinker in what could have been a defining moment in the season. With the Eagles losing to the Chargers it could have been a two game lead in the NFC East. That didn't happen. We all need to get over it.

Sure, it was terrible. Just when they had us all believing they had turned the corner they gave us a reminder of why everyone is always skeptical about the Cowboys. For some reason they just can't seem to handle prosperity. I don't know what it is, but it is almost like you can feel it coming with this team every now and then. I have to believe part of it is that Wade Phillips isn't knocking these guys down to size when times are good. When you are winning you have to continue to work just as hard if not harder to succeed because you get a target on your back.

I don't want to go into too many specifics and do too much finger pointing because you can point to just about every player and point out mistakes. The Miles Austin/Tony Romo near touchdown on the opening drive would have completely changed the game. Roy Williams had a terrible fumble and a dropped pass on a perfectly thrown ball. The offensive line let free rushers get after Tony Romo all day long. Jason Garrett abandoned the run. Nick Folk missed a field goal. Jason Witten missed a block to cause a sack. Orlando Scandrick was penalized several times. The officiating was terrible. And on and on and on.

The Cowboys have to correct the mistakes in the game and move on. If they let a game like this sink in for too long they might doubt themselves. I might be naive, but I think it was just one of those days. Nothing ever came together for endless reasons. As Tony Romo has been preaching, they need to learn from the game and get better. I just hope they can find a way to prevent a clunker like this happening again this season. I'll give them one horrible game, but they can't afford any more like that game.

The worst news from the game to me were the injuries. Marc Columbo is out for at least the regular season and probably until next year. Ken Hamlin is out 3-4 weeks with a sprained ankle. Mike Jenkins has a severely bruised biceps but should be ok. Kyle Kosier and Flozell Adams both have minor ankle sprains. David Beuhler has a bruised and possible broken pinkie toe on his kicking foot. The only positive is that most of the injuries appear to be relatively minor, but the injury bug finally hit. I knew the day was coming that guys would get hurt but it just seemed to be an endless parade of guys laying on the turf getting tended to by the trainers.

With all of that bad news I think it is important to remember where the Cowboys stand. They are 6-3 and leading the NFC East. Two very winnable games coming up should allow them to push the record to 8-3 heading into the final stretch of the season. Even with the injuries on Sunday the Cowboys are still in better shape than most teams in the league. Tony Romo is still healthy and I'll take my chances with him at QB any day. Don't forget how important it is to have your franchise quarterback at 100%. All the preseason goals are still possible, but no one will give them any breaks. The Cowboys have to go out and earn it on the field starting with the Redskins on Sunday.

Friday, November 13, 2009

How to Beat the Packers

When the week started all signs pointed to a victory for Dallas this week. Over the course of the last few days there has been nonstop news and controversy coming out of Green Bay. The Packers held a players meeting to get themselves back on track. The coach has been accused of having a stadium employee fired. The fan base has become restless about the performance of the Packers. It feels like the Packers are backed into a corner. This has turned into the biggest game of the season for the Packers. Beat the Cowboys and they can turn things around. Lose and it would appear that they will fold up shop for the season as they fade into obscurity.

I initially had a great feeling after the great road victory against the Eagles. Now I have an uneasy feeling the if the Cowboys don't bring their "A game" they will be in for a tough fight. Road games are never easy. The home field advantage the Packers usually have is the cold weather. While it will be cold compared to Dallas, the forecast is for a high of 47 on Sunday and a low of 31. Cold but not anything that should impact either team. So my uneasy feeling is purely based on the vibes coming out of Green Bay that this is the defining point of the season.

The Cowboys will have to come out quickly to keep the Packers from getting too much confidence early in the game. I've said this before, but the key when you are the better team is to show them early so they don't start believing that they can win. Start out quickly and the crowd might just turn on their beloved Packers. Who knows, the Packers might implode before our eyes if the Cowboys jump out early.

Turnovers are always a big deal and the Cowboys will obviously need to limit them again. But more importantly, I think they need to force some turnovers. Aaron Rodgers is expected to throw more quick passes this week to limit the number of sacks he has been taking. If the Cowboys can pick one or two off early in the game then it will force the Packers back to the deep ball approach. That puts the advantage back in the corner of the Cowboys because they'll be able to get to Rodgers if he holds the ball.

I think this is the week that the running game gets back on track. The Cowboys have been doing a good job taking what the opposing defenses are giving up. The Cowboys have been heavy on the pass over the last few weeks and I have to believe that the Packers are going to try to prevent the big pass plays. That means leaving safeties deep which opens up the running game. I expect a heavy dose of Marion Barber, Felix Jones, and Tashard Choice. Of course the Packers may believe that Charles Woodson and Al Harris can shut down the outside receivers with their tough bump-and-run (aka defensive holding) so the Cowboys may have to hit a few passes to loosen them up for the run. I just hope we don't have the type of officials who let Al Harris hold all game long without throwing a flag.

One of the biggest helps to the defense has been the ability of the special teams units to make the opposition drive the length of the field. That will need to continue this week. If the Packers are forced to drive the length of the field then the Cowboys can afford to give up some quick passes without surrendering points.

For some reason it feels like this is going to be a close game. I expect the Cowboys to win but not like most people seem to believe. My pick is a 27-24 victory for the Cowboys in a tight, hard fought game.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Cowboys Need to Keep Adding to the Win Column

So here the Cowboys sit at the halfway point at 6-2. Not only that but they are also 5-1 in NFC games and they have the tiebreaker over Atlanta and a road win at Philadelphia in their pockets. Not bad for half a season's work. But there is still half a season to go.

The Cowboys have been relatively injury free so far this season. Sure, Marion Barber and Felix Jones are fighting through minor injuries. Gerald Sensabaugh missed a game with a broken thumb and is still playing with a cast. Andre Gurode and Ken Hamlin are nicked up after the Philly game. But compared to the injury disaster that was the 2008 season there is really nothing to complain about. My worry is that it only takes one game or, in some cases, one play to change everything. That is why they need to keep winning the games they are supposed to while they still have all hands on deck.

The December schedule has been dissected to no end by nearly everyone and we all can see that things are going to get much tougher down the stretch. If the Cowboys can piece together 3 more wins over the next few weeks they can head into the brutal stretch at 9-2. Even going 2-1 over the next 3 games would be ok since they would sit at 8-3 and in no worse than a tie for first in the NFC East. It is probably going to take 10 wins to clinch a playoff birth and at least 11 to win the division. If the Cowboys can bank a few more wins now then they can afford to drop a few late season games without destroying the season.

Winning breeds more winning. We can all see that the team that takes the field these days for the Cowboys is very different from the team that walked on the field in week 1. I think part of that is due to the added confidence that comes with putting together a winning streak. The more times they win the more they are going to believe in themselves. I think the Philadelphia win is going to put a swagger back in their step that we haven't seen since the 13-3 season in 2007. I think they are a more mature team this time around who will handle the media attention better. Romo is a seasoned veteran and he seems to understand that he is going to have to continue to "grind" every day to make sure things stay on the right path. It seems like the whole team gets it right now.

I hope we aren't being set up for a disappointment again but I don't think we are. Things feel different this time. Sure, injuries could knock the wind out of their sails faster than anything else, but I don't think complacency is going to be the downfall. Keith Brooking won't allow it. Jay Ratliff won't let it happen. Tony Romo has worked his tail off and isn't going to fade into the abyss without a fight.

With the great start to the season all that the Cowboys need to do to make sure they are in the tournament is win the games they are favored to win. I see 4 very winnable games remaining and 4 tough games. If they win the 4 winnable games that is 10 wins. Split the other two and we are looking at a 12 win season. All of the preseason goals are there for the taking. The Cowboys need to just keep doing what they are doing right now.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Sweet Revenge

The players and coaches can say this game didn't have anything to do with last season all they want. We all know that when something like the 44-6 season finale happens to you it is a big deal. I guarantee part of the reason there was so much excitement after the win last night was because the team felt like they finally got past the disaster last season. I know it felt better than any win they have had in a long time to me. I'm going to enjoy this one just a little bit more this week because it came against the Eagles and it shut up their obnoxious fans for at least a few weeks.

It was a hard fought game by both teams. Romo finally got things going with Roy Williams so that storyline can die down for a while and hopefully forever. Miles Austin made the big play to win the game again on a perfectly thrown ball in crunch time in the 4th quarter. The defense contained the big playmakers of the Eagles all night with the exception of a long gain on a screen pass to LeRon McCoy. Special teams never let DeSean Jackson get anything going on punt returns and kick returns were minimal with the exception of a return for a touchdown called back thanks to a holding penalty.

What went right: The defense was in McNabb's face for the majority of the game and definitely had a hand in his subpar play. The two interceptions were huge and they lead to 10 points for the Cowboys. Tony Romo did a great job choosing his moments and he took the sack a few times rather than risk a turnover. He threw for over 300 yards and made a perfect throw on a double move to Miles Austin late in the game for a touchdown. Roy Williams looked good for the first time since the season opener against Tampa Bay. Jay Ratliff was a beast in the middle stopping the run in the second half and coming up with 2 sacks. Don't discount the job that Matt McBriar did preventing DeSean Jackson from getting any big punt returns.

What went wrong: I'm sure Tony Romo would like to have the ball back that was intended for Jason Witten that got intercepted. It was a bad read and a bad pass. The penalties were still a challenge for the offense to overcome. They had to overcome a lot of their own mistakes. The officials stunk all night long. They made bad calls against both teams but a few really stood out for me. The Eagle's touchdown pass came after Brent Celek clearly pushed off from Gerald Sensabaugh to get open in the back of the endzone but there was no call. Jason Witten was called for offensive pass interference for doing basically nothing. And the kicker was the Asante Samuel play in the end zone at the end of the half when he held the arm of Roy Williams on a sure touchdown pass. I think the calls evened out overall with the exception of the Asante Samuel play. David Beuhler didn't have his best night on kickoffs as he struggled to get the depth on his kicks we have come to expect.

Overall, going on the road against a division opponent and getting a win in a high pressure game was huge for the team going forward. This year's version of the team has found the formula for making the plays when it counts. They struggled early in the season in the big moments but they have now won a couple of games when the chips were down in the fourth quarter. 6-2 is a great record at the halfway point, but it is only the halfway point. But the Cowboys are in a great position heading into the second half of the season to not only make the playoffs but compete for a division title.

Next up is Green Bay on Sunday. They are only 4-4 but their offense is dangerous. I hope the players aren't going to buy into the media hype that is sure to build this week now that the team has proven that it is a force to be reckoned with. I don't want to look too far ahead, but a seven game streak is a real possibility if the Cowboys can take care of business this week.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

How to Beat the Eagles

We've all seen the games between the Cowboys over the last few years. They are usually close and there are usually big plays for both teams throughout the game. Last year's season finale was the obvious exception. But with the Eagles adding another play maker in Jeremy Maclin this season and the Cowboys discovering the talent of Miles Austin it seems like both teams are primed for a shootout. While that would be entertaining for fans who like scoring I think the Cowboys would be making a mistake by playing that type of game.

I don't mean the Cowboys shouldn't run their offense. I think what they have been doing over the last month is exactly what they need to do in this game. Mix the pass and run, play safe at times and go for the big play in the right moments. The main thing is that the game has to remain relatively close or the Cowboys will be forced to open things up which could mean a shootout or it could mean disaster if Tony Romo isn't having one of his good games.

So how do they keep the game from turning into a shootout? I believe the key to stopping the Eagles is to contain DeSean Jackson. I know Westbrook, Maclin and McNabb all present their own challenges, but the Eagles have lived by the big play this season. They don't have a single scoring drive that has lasted over 5 minutes. That means that when the score the drive usually involves one or more big plays.

There are two places I worry about Jackson. Punt returns are a big concern just because, at some point, the Cowboys are going to have to punt the ball to him. It is going to be vitally important that the punt coverage gets down the field quickly and bottle him up before he gets in the open. If he gets in the open field he is gone. The other concern is the big pass play. That is where the pass rush becomes the key to the game. The only way McNabb can throw 50 yard bombs to Jackson is if the Cowboys give him time to let the play develop. Demarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer need to be in McNabb's face all night long. I'm sure Wade Phillips will be dialing up blitzes to prevent the deep balls, but the best plan is to get your pass rushers to beat their blockers one-on-one without blitzing.

If the Cowboys can prevent the big plays in the Eagles passing game and continue their improved special teams play I believe they will win. Donovan McNabb is not an accurate passer and he will make mistakes if the Cowboys pressure him. And not only get to him but bring him down once they get there. McNabb is a big guy and he is hard to bring down so the defense needs to wrap up when they get to the quarterback.

I believe Tony Romo has turned the corner and he will continue to play good football this week. That means that the Cowboys will score enough points to win provided that the Eagles don't hang a big number on the scoreboard. I predict a 31-20 victory for the Cowboys.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Win This Week Would Mean...

A lot, but not as much as some would have you believe. Sure, a win would put the Cowboys in first place in the NFC East and in the driver's seat for a playoff push in the second half of the season. Not only that, but the Cowboys would have a four game winning streak and confidence in themselves heading into the tougher part of their schedule.

But beating the Eagles Sunday night doesn't guarantee anything except a 6-2 record at the halfway point. Six wins would be great but no team is going to qualify for the playoffs with only six wins. The Cowboys will probably still need at least four more wins in the last eight games even if they do beat the Eagles.

I'm trying not to treat this game as the Superbowl because the bottom line is that even a loss doesn't mean that the season is over. A loss would put the Cowboys at 5-3 which isn't terrible, but it would make a playoff trip difficult because they would probably have to go at least 5-3 over a much tougher second half schedule.

If the Cowboys really are as good as I am starting to believe then they should be able to go to Philadelphia and win. Are the Eagles really that good? Are the Cowboys really that good? This game will help answer both of those questions but things could be totally different by the time the two teams meet again in the season finale. Just ask the Giants...they were 5-0 a few weeks ago and everyone had them in the Superbowl. A few weeks later they are trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

I will definitely enjoy the game if the Cowboys beat the Eagles and shut up their obnoxious fans. But the last few years have taught me that they don't crown the NFL champions in November.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Now We're Rolling!

A few weeks back I was hoping that the last second win against the Chiefs might be the spark the Dallas Cowboys needed to get a winning streak going. Well, here we are about three and a half weeks later and things seem a lot more settled in the world of the Cowboys. Tony Romo is on the longest interception free streak of his career, three games. Miles Austin has now performed as a top receiver for three games in a row. The defense is creating turnovers and getting pressure on the quarterback. And the special teams is making it a habit of making big plays and preventing big returns by the opposition.

I was at the game Sunday so I had a different perspective than usual for the game this week. Obviously it was complete domination, but I saw a team that just might be a real contender this year. Sure, it was the Seahawks, but there was no doubt that the Cowboys were in a different class than the Seahawks. Now the real test will begin as the Cowboys will travel over the next two weeks to Philadelphia and Green Bay. If they come out of those games with at least a split then I think we can start talking about the Cowboys being a playoff team. I want to look back one last time at the Seattle game and enjoy the win before shifting my focus to the Eagles...even though I am already pretty well focused on the upcoming game.

What went right: Well, pretty much everything. The passing game was very good once again. The Seahawks sent blitz after blitz at Tony Romo and the offensive line, tight ends, and running backs stonewalled them for almost the entire game. Romo had ample time to find his receivers all over the field. He completed passes to 10 different receivers and had three touchdowns and no interceptions. The running game wasn't great but it was certainly good enough to keep the Seahawks honest. Marion Barber looked almost full strength and Felix Jones is starting to seem a little more durable (by that I mean I'm not holding my breath every time he gets hit because I fear an injury). The defense pretty well dominated the Seahawks. They did give up a few big pass plays but Matt Hasslebeck is a very good quarterback and the big plays he made were near perfect passes. The secondary broke up several passes and the running game of Seattle was basically non-existent after the first quarter. And Patrick Crayton returned another punt for a touchdown. I'm going to have to admit that I was wrong about him as a returner. With adequate blocking he can make a big return because he knows how to read the blocks ahead of him.

What went wrong: From my perspective in the stadium I could see exactly what was happening between Tony Romo and Roy Williams. It appeared that most of the incompletions between the pair were a result of different reads by the two players on option routes. The fact that Roy is the only one having a problem with Tony tells me that the problem lies with Roy Williams. There was one pass in the second half where Tony correctly read that the safety was jumping the short route so he expected Roy to break deep. Tony threw what would have been a touchdown but Roy cut off his route and ran straight into the coverage instead of away from it. The "cute" playcalling of Jason Garrett made one appearance late in the game. With a 28 point lead and about 9 minutes to go, Garret called for a play action pass that resulted in a fumble by Tony Romo. It was a completely unneccesary play at that point in the game and, in the stadium, they showed the displeasure of Wade Phillips on the sideline. After the Seahawks scored, Wade went over to Jason Garrett and appeared to tell him something with the words run the ball in the phrase.

What needs to improve: The running game hasn't been the same since the Cowboys had Felix Jones and Marion Barber go down with injuries. They both seem to be getting close to full strength, but you can see that they both don't quite have their usual burst back yet. The Cowboys will need to be able to control the ball against the Eagles so both backs need to be ready to go this week. Obviously, Tony Romo and Roy Williams need to start clicking. I know it will happen at some point, but this is starting to get ridiculous. I think Roy needs to realize that Tony always looks for the big play first so he should always take that option on his routes when in doubt. The Cowboys can't afford any wasted plays against the Eagles so Jason Garrett needs to be smart with the playcalling especially late in the game with a lead.

My stadium impressions: I'm posting a view from my seats along with this entry. Although my seats were pretty high up (section 433), I had a great view of the field and I didn't feel like I was too far from the action like I had feared. The video boards obviously are amazing and I noticed a lot of fans were watching the board rather than the action on the field. I prefer the field view at the stadium because you can see so much more of the offensive and defensive strategy play out when you can see the entire field in front of you. The stadium itself is an absolute palace. The concessions and bathrooms are easily accessible. I don't leave my seat during the game so I don't know about wait times during half time or between quarters, but before the game there were no lines for the bathrooms or at the concession stands.

My biggest gripe about the stadium is the sound system. I don't know if it was where I was sitting, but I could hardly make out the stadium announcer calls after the plays and the music sounded atrocious due to the different speakers hitting me with the same sounds at different times. Things might be better down in the high dollar seats, but, up high, the sound system is flat out terrible.

The coolest thing I saw at the stadium was the opening of the giant glass doors in the endzone before the game. At 10 am when fans were allowed to enter, security lined up in front of the doors. Dramatic music fired up and then the doors slowly opened to unveil the center of my football universe. It was the neatest pre-game moment I can ever remember at a stadium. It took a few minutes for the doors to open and then the fans streamed into the stadium when the line of security gave the ok.