Monday, September 22, 2008
The Dallas Cowboys are the best team in the National Football League. There. I said it. It is September 22, 2008 – 132 days from Super Bowl XLIII – So the title of “Best in the NFL” is not really that important right now, but it does speak to the reality of the league after 3 weeks of the 2008 season.
There is no team that can match this team right now. The offense is so full of weapons that on a night in which Tony Romo was not his ordinary self, they still could have posted 40+ points save for a poor 1 out of 5 in the redzone performance. They can win easily on the road in a place where Cowboys teams before have never found success, winning 27-16 at the famous Lambeau Field. Wow.
Surely, the final pieces to the Cowboys World Championship Title would have to be an imposing defensive effort. I would suggest you can consider Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense imposed. That offense can score some points and move the ball, but last night when it mattered, the Cowboys defense was very strong. 5 sacks and more importantly, they limited the Packers to 4-14 on 3rd down. When you can do that, you win easily. And the Dallas Cowboys beat the Green Bay Packers easily on Sunday night.
Here are some random notes and thoughts from a cool, crisp night in Northern Wisconsin, a place that needs no convincing how good the Cowboys are:
• I thought it was awfully interesting how the Cowboys decided to attack Green Bay on Sunday. The game will be remembered for Tony Romo being rather underwhelming, but from the early going, the Cowboys seemed far more determined to run the football. I have to believe the philosophy was to pound that football all week. Was it to counter the Packers pass defense sagging on Owens? Was it to keep Romo from trying to do too much? Or was it just to show the NFL that if Dallas wants to, they can pound the ball for 217 yards on the ground and just demoralize a defense that was thought to be halfway decent. With enormous help from the massive offensive line, Marion Barber was absolutely dominant. 31 touches is a lot of work for Barber, but he appears ready to administer punishment at any moment. Then, when you are exhausted from trying to get him to the ground, Jason Garrett shows no mercy by sending Felix Jones around the flank for a 60 yard touchdown with speed that is just silly. Wow.
• So tell me, when Jay Ratliff signed a $20 million extension last December did it puzzle you? Just a year ago, the question was whether Ratliff could fill in for Jason Ferguson without exposing himself too badly. Now, Ratliff makes plays every week and certainly overpowers interior linemen.
• Speaking of Felix Jones, he is the first Cowboys rookie to score a touchdown in each of his first 3 games. And let’s point out that his TD against Philadelphia was 100 yards away and the TD last night was a 60 yarder. To suggest that he offers a bit more explosiveness to the Cowboys offense is quite an understatement. There is no doubt that he is everything they dreamed he would be.
• The problem with the Packers’ cornerbacks is that despite their quality, they seem to miss plenty of action. Al Harris and Charles Woodson are both really physical players. Of course, the problem with being really physical is that you tend to get hurt yourself.
• Back in camp, I was engaged in a sports debate with Dan regarding Miles Austin. It was my claim that at the end of last year, he began demonstrating his ability to be the deep threat that had been missing without Terry Glenn. Surely, he is not in Glenn's class, but when #19 is on the field, the safeties better take notice. Well, last night, we saw it. I think we will continue to see more and more from him.
• That Lambeau stat about the Cowboys being 0-5 was interesting but irrelevant. In fact, I am willing to say that any of the historical stats of the Cowboys are generally irrelevant as it pertains to the Romo era. Remember the road record of the Cowboys in the earliest part of this decade? From 2000-2002, Dallas had a sparkling road record of 4-20 (including 2 of those wins in Washington). Since Tony Romo took over as QB, the Dallas Cowboys are 13-2 on the road in the regular season – matching Daryle Lamonica as the best start EVER. Where were the two losses? That is right, Washington.
• Early in the 3rd, 2 plays after Donald Driver gained 50 yards on one of the rare moments where the Cowboys defense gave up a play, Aaron Rodgers was chased out of the pocket by DeMarcus Ware. Somehow, after chasing him out of bounds, the sack was awarded to Zach Thomas – who happened to be on the screen at least, but had nothing more to do with the sack than Wade Phillips. I tell you all of this because I believe that was clearly Ware’s sack, and if you are like me, and you want Ware to be credited for all of his sacks and compete for the league sack title, then you want this odd and incorrect ruling changed.
• One thing we don’t talk enough about his the athleticism of the Cowboys defense. They are just so fast in their ball pursuit and I think this improved with Roy Williams out of the mix. It is so tough to move the ball down the field on the Cowboys because they happily allow the underneath routes because they know their pursuit will usually track down most players after the catch. Reggie Bush and Bryan Westbrook may give the Cowboys issues, but a team like Green Bay who has a bruiser like Ryan Grant cannot preserve drives with dump offs underneath.
• I think Greg Jennings is a star. What a nice player, and surely he is Rodgers favorite target. For years, Donald Driver served that role for Brett Favre and it appears the torch has been passed at both spot. Speaking of that, don’t you think everyone will slow down now on their love for Rodgers? I think he is talented and all, but I would suspect his growing pains will continue quite a bit.
• Terrell Owens showed his awesome speed twice last night: You had to see him track down Nick Collins on the interception return from behind with the naked eye. It was awe inspiring. Then, on the Felix Jones TD, the Owens convoy was once again quite impressive. I know he was quiet all night, but those two moments suggest he is playing “team football” and is buying into the bigger cause.
• One thing about last night did bother me from a Cowboys perspective; the offensive line’s ability to give Romo a pocket when the opposition is determined to get to him. Aaron Kampman is a premier pass rusher, and watching him and Cullen Jenkins get after Romo last night for 3 sacks, numerous other pressures, and a few intentional grounding penalties reminded me of when it all went wrong last year against the Giants in the playoffs. It proves the Cowboys must continue to focus on pass protection, because like the Giants game last January, last night Romo looked uncomfortable, and his performance reflected that. I am sure you can tie his statistical brilliance to his level of comfort. 3 sacks is not the end of the world, and the season total is only 3 in 3 weeks, but it is just something to demonstrate how fragile Super Bowl runs are.
• Bottom line, the NFC East is clearly the best division in football. Heck, I think the case can be comfortably made that the 3 best teams in football are the Cowboys, Giants, and Eagles. Imagine that, and the 13 weeks that lie ahead.
• The next 5 games on the Cowboys schedule: H Washington, H Cincinnati, A Arizona, A St Louis, and H Tampa Bay. Wow. 8-0? Doesn’t seem far-fetched as the Cowboys may be touchdown favorites in all 5 of these games.