Monday, September 29, 2008
I am as guilty as anyone. And really, I should have no excuse. I spend hours talking about this rivalry and the thing that makes this a real classic rivalry is that no matter what – you must throw the records and the point spreads out the window when these two teams meet. 1989. 1991. 1995. When one team appears much better than the other, the other wins. Of course, we don’t know if Washington is inferior, but Vegas suggested an 11 point gap in the Cowboys favor between them yesterday.
Regardless, I spent hours all week and then 3 more hours on game-day documenting this crazy rivalry, but at the same time not really thinking the Redskins had the ammunition to slow down the Cowboys “unstoppable” offense and doubting Jason Campbell and his grasp of the Jim Zorn offense. I guess I was quite wrong.
The Redskins put a very fine clinic on the field on Sunday, and not only beat the Cowboys in front of 65,000 Cowboys faithful, but ground them into submission on both sides of the ball. Surely, this is not something that will derail the 2008 Cowboys march to Tampa, but it does provide distinct evidence that regardless of how easily previous opponents have been dismantled, the Cowboys must put the work and execution in each and every week to get its desired results.
The Redskins have put together 3 weeks of solid football that has answered some questions about their team. Their QB play has been plenty good, they have been able to run the ball, and cover receivers relatively well after containing Boldin/Fitzgerald one week and Owens/Witten the next. They still have no pass rush to speak of, but they did put just enough pressure on Tony Romo to make him uncomfortable. But, the biggest issue yesterday was simple: Their defensive backs were never out of position and they never lost their shape. They kept 81/82/84 and friends under wraps. 10 months after Owens had 4 TD’s against this Redskins team, they appear to have a far better grasp of how to defend him.
More notes and items from the first loss of 2008:
• Jason Campbell looks really composed in the pocket. I like how he was able to keep some plays alive with his feet and make good decisions with his arm. I wasn’t sure he made sense for the “West Coast Offense”, but having seen his every snap this year – I may also put it on the list of things I was wrong about. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think he is ready to be called a franchise QB, but for what they are asking him to do, I think he is doing very well. He has a talented offense with above average players at RB, TE, and reasonable WRs, so he is just letting those guys get in good matchups and then putting the ball where it needs to go.
• Meanwhile, Tony Romo did not look very Romo-like in my estimation. But, in this sports-talk-radio age we live in where we must now deduce that he had his mind on Jessica, Golf, or a commercial, I want to say that I think Romo is only guilty of not having the normal wide-open receivers all over the field. The Redskins had some various dangerous schemes on their defense that put a ton of pressure on their defensive backs to cover tightly. If you give Romo any space, he will kill you, but to the great credit of the Skins, Witten and Owens almost never ran free. When they did, Romo found them, but they just weren’t able to solve a scheme from Washington that somehow found the magic key of stopping the run (like Philly) AND stopping Owens (like Green Bay). But, unlike the Eagles and Packers, they did not sacrifice huge gains in the other departments to fulfill their mission. In a word, they were able to contain Barber, Owens, and Witten. That was previously thought to be impossible. I am not trying to take Romo’s play off the hook, but I think this is where Jason Garrett has got to show far more determination to run a more simple, bruising offense. Barber, Barber, Barber. The “13” formation was not present at all, and I don’t get why. After running “13” 12 times last week at Green Bay for nearly 10yards a carry (Barber with 3 TE’s) the Cowboys ran it once on Sunday. Once!
• I think part of the Washington success on defense was based on the ability to keep the defense off the field quite a bit. The Cowboys had the ball for less than 22 minutes. This allows Washington to play an aggressive style of defense despite the weather. If the Cowboys had the ball for 32 minutes, then even more of the Skins talented backs are over on the sideline with dehydration and exhaustion. And of course, this speaks to the ability for the Redskins to not only score, but also to eat up plenty of clock during those drives. Washington had 6 drives of 7 plays or more, the Cowboys just had 3.
• The chess match was alive and well yesterday and both teams did well to win their share of battles. On both the Witten and Owens TD passes, the Cowboys used pre-snap motion to move a defender away from their intended targets. Felix Jones took London Fletcher and Chris Horton out to the sideline as he went in motion, leaving Witten 1-on-1 with Marcus Washington which was amazingly simple for a score. On the Owens TD, motion again (To Barber) took out London Fletcher, and Owens ran right to that space to get open. Meanwhile, Romo saw Miles Austin lined up against Leigh Torrence late in the 3rd Quarter, where Torrence was giving at least a 15 yard cushion on 1st and 10. This is not a terribly uncommon possibility after Austin showed his world class speed the week before in Green Bay. Romo saw the bait, and took the bait thinking he had a pitch and catch first down, but what he didn’t see is Horton who started on the hash mark sprint straight to the spot Austin was going to, and he had a free interception. Romo likely did not see that one time on film, and although at the stadium it looked like an absolutely horrible decision from Romo, I think closer to the truth is to tip your hat to the Redskins for a great scheme. And while I am going on and on about the brilliance of coaching schemes, let’s not forget the James Thrash TD, where he had Newman so frustrated with his back and forth motion that clearly had Newman panicking as he knew the Cowboys were about to get toasted at the snap of the ball.
• It is quite possible you lose the game with or without the 12-men on the field penalty, BUT. What in the wide, wide world of sports is going on around here when you have an entire timeout to get your act together on a 3rd and 2, and you allow your team to have 12 men on the field at the same time? Apparently it was a mix up with Pac Man and Patrick Watkins mis-identifying the personnel of the Redskins. I enjoy Wade’s answers where he takes the blame for everything, but good gosh. Brian Stewart, what exactly is going on down there that you don’t notice that? The Cowboys had 2 timeouts left at the time, and I might have liked to use one there. Instead, nearly 4 more minutes went off the clock before the eventual Field Goal, and instead of down 9 with 7 minutes to go, the Cowboys were down 9 with 3:16 left. Game Over.
• Santana Moss vs Terrence Newman. Winner: Moss. And not by a little bit. Elite corners get beat. But Newman’s day is one that was horrible from top to bottom. If you remember Harold Jackson lighting up Charlie Waters , you can compare that day and decide for yourself. Yikes. Moss was all over the field. Again.
• When Kenny Loggins was over-singing the Anthem, I heard someone suggest that he had the right to do that as he has such a body of work that he can do no wrong. C’mon. Is Loggins really Springsteen now? He is Kenny Loggins. Danger Zone and Footloose do not quite give you legendary status like Sinatra, right?
• Big winner yesterday? Casey Rabach. His two penalties that took away two Redskins touchdowns on that 3rd Quarter drive were no doubt weighing heavily on his mind. But, when you win, we forget about those penalties. And when you lose, you wonder how you get 12 men on the field flags.
• Remember Felix Jones? I wonder if the Cowboys do? And Barber? 11 touches should bring his season average down to a reasonable level. You know, I said this before: The Cowboys 2 biggest enemies as it pertains to their offense are the following: 1) Tony Romo’s wandering attention span and 2) Jason Garrett trying to get too cute. If they simply do what they do, they are fine. But I think yesterday Garrett got too cute with the inverted wishbone and no touches for Felix Jones.
• Props to Tim McMahon for the research about the last 5 teams to keep the ball away from the Cowboys: I thought this stat was pretty telling: the Redskins held the ball for 38 minutes, 9 seconds. It was the fifth time since 2006 a Cowboys' opponent has held the ball for more than 37 minutes. Not surprisingly the Cowboys have lost all five. Oct. 14, 2007 vs. New England, 38:15 – L; Sept. 28, 2008 - vs. Washington, 38:09 – L; Dec. 10, 2006 - vs. New Orleans - 37:11 – L; Dec. 30, 2007 - at Washington, 37:08 – L; Dec. 25, 2006 - vs. Philadelphia - 37:06 – L.
• How do they miss Pac Man’s facemask against? Horrible call. Horrible!
• 1 loss. No big deal in the big scheme of things. It is a fair point to question how well the Cowboys deal with success. When they get people telling them how great they are, they always seem to come out flat. It isn’t easy hearing that you are going to the Super Bowl in September. But, “get better” week against the Bengals is here.