Monday, October 13, 2008
Part of the process of becoming a champion is sometimes to take a good humbling. Many have pointed out that it sure seems like the Cowboys were crowned champion during the offseason. Well, they are not conducting themselves like they are God’s gift to football anymore. Consider your Dallas Cowboys humbled.
They played one of those goofy, wild games yesterday in Arizona. But, unlike the crazy game in Buffalo ‘07, and the wild game in Detroit ‘07, the Harry Houdini act at the end did not work this time. They lost to the Cardinals, in a game where they outgained the Cardinals handily (374-276), and won the turnover battle easily (+2). It is tough to lose a game when you win the turnover battle and outgain your opponent. But, not only did the Cowboys accomplish that goal, but they did it in such a way that they are now surely humbled.
The swagger is gone. They look bewildered, confused, and discouraged. From their QB to the other 12 pro bowlers on this team – there is a faraway look in their eyes that seems to scream out “We are not having fun”. They look like the spoiled rich kid who finally is shown the reality that the sun doesn’t rise when he opens his eyes.
Alas, as I pointed out last week, the other team pays their players, too. They, the rest of the NFL, that is, do not merely exist to provide fun amusement for the Cowboys and their fans. They have their own aspirations, dreams, and obsessions. The Cardinals, for instance, feel like they now have the type of win that will convince their city that they are finally a quality organization building up around Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt.
The NFL has decided to continue its competition in 2008, regardless of whether or not the Cowboys were crowned “paper champions” some time ago. And if they don’t answer the call quickly, this will develop into one of the great under-achievements that I can remember around here.
While attempting to not over-react myself, on this a day where the email is full of over-reactions, here are some thoughts and observations from the week 6 loss at Arizona:
• Bruce Read is no longer an anonymous coach on Wade Phillips’ staff. It would shock no one if this was the last straw of his employment here in Dallas. The kickoff coverage on the Arrington TD return was amazingly half-hearted. Broken tackles were credited to Anthony Spencer and Mike Jenkins, who appeared to be assigned to have contain on the sideline. Kevin Burnett got caught up in the wash, and Nick Folk’s effort was horrendous along the sideline. Then, on the punt block that cost them the game, it was such a coordinated failure that you almost thought the special teams were on the take. Barely one single guy attempted to make a block on that punt, where Matt McBriar had no chance. It looked to me like Tashard Choice and Tony Curtis let Sean Morey right through from McBriar’s left. Bobby Carpenter and Justin Rogers let Monty Beisel through on McBriar’s right and they ended the game right then and there. Heck, the amazing part of it all was that Carpenter even took a penalty on the play for being downfield too quickly. The last thing on their mind was the idea that the punt might get blocked. That is the problem. Last week, Rogers and Carpenter were napping on the Bengals onside kick, and this week they were napping on the punt block. When you have a busted kickoff, punt, and onside kick nap all in 2 weeks, your special teams coach is going to get blamed for this many guys blowing it. And you know what? It is with good reason.
• Another game where Tony Romo doesn’t look himself. And, another game where Terrell Owens doesn’t look like the greatest WR in the league. And, another game where Marion Barber is not able to average 4 yards a carry (2.6). And, another game where the Cowboys offensive line doesn’t impress. Mr. Garrett, Your work appears to be cut out for you, as it looks like the league is getting a handle on how to defend your offense. Romo was under siege all day long, and I certainly would not have guesses that DL would have the Cowboys big boys begging for mercy.
• This just in: Larry Fitzgerald has amazing skills. After a quiet 1st half, he made 4 catches that were all awesome in their own ways. Locked up against Pac Man on 2 of them, he just used superior strength. Up against Henry on the jump ball pass, he used superior leaping ability. And up against Scandrick, he showed a great ability to get his feet in bounds before he was forced out. With Boldin out of the game, you would have liked to keep his impact minimal, an while 5 catches for 79 yards and 1 TD is not extraordinary, he was awful impactful.
• Maybe it is all just the timing of the insanity of the Wade Phillips press conference on Thursday where he had to show how little he was in charge, sandwiched by 3 weeks of football where the Cowboys look like they are breaking apart at the seams, but it sure has a Barry Switzer feel to things right now according to many, many people who follow this team. I guess what I find most tiresome about making Phillips the goat here is that the players who were here before him, had a tougher coach who was “in charge” and they rejoiced when he left. Now he is gone and many of those same players seem unhappy that this coach is “too easy” on the team. Do you want to be treated like men? Or do you want to be treated like kids? Either way, will you play to your ability every week? Or will we just blame the guy on the sideline for you not getting it done on the field? As you may recall, I was a huge Parcells guy and very sad to see him go. But, the players wanted to be treated with respect and love. Now they have it, and the attention to detail is eroding.
• Early in the game (8:50, 1Q), the fundamentally sound Zach Thomas went for the Roy Williams un-fundamentally sound kill shot tackle. For those who are not sure what that is, it is launching your body as a missile at the ball carrier and with just your helmet and shoulder trying to knock him over. When it works, you stand and flex. When it doesn’t work, we wonder why they have 2 arms if they don’t wish to use them to wrap up. Zach?
• DeMarcus Ware is amazing. Still. And so is Jay Ratliff. That Ware sack on 3rd down for the Cardinals with the game on the line is stuff legends are made of. And don’t look know, but I think I actually saw Marcus Spears get to touch the QB!
• Beware the speed rushers. It surely appears that Bertrand Berry and Travis LaBoy could turn the corner on the Cowboys tackles with great ease. Flozell Adams is looking a little slow to get to the edge on the speed rusher, but imagine how much quicker he is now than he will be in 2013 when his contract expires! That is a smart-aleck way of saying, Tony, let’s develop a bit more pocket presence and hold on to that ball when you are blind-sided.
• If Pac Man was worth the trouble, wouldn’t he have made a play yesterday at some point?
• Romo’s interception streak ended! Hurrah! Seriously, though, Patrick Crayton broke up that sure interception along the sideline – the site of many poor Romo throws. The idea that his arm strength is suspect is being raised because many of his back-foot throws to the sideline just hang up in the air and beg to be picked. If he doesn’t step into a throw, his arm betrays him outside the numbers. Inside the numbers, he still throws down the seam as well as anyone. That throw to Witten to set up the final FG has been seen many times in his career and is still money. But, man, his body language is still not encouraging.
• Speaking of that, you could really make the case that a few different moments changed the game dramatically. For instance, the application of the “Tuck Rule” was properly called, I believe, but nevertheless, a bad rule in my estimation. Romo fumbled in the end zone and that should have been a Touchdown for the Cardinals. Meanwhile, the penalty on the Cardinals that turned Folk’s final FG attempt from a 57 yarder to a 52 yarder for being LaBoy being offside when he was actually injured may also have been harsh, as Troy Aikman said. But, what Aikman didn’t say is that the Cardinals had timeouts left! Heck, they used it to ice Folk a few seconds later. Why would you not use a timeout and preserve the 57 yard distance which is a very unlikely attempt rather than not use it, take a 5 yard penalty and then try to ice Folk from 52? That made no sense.
• Someone may have to explain to me the Leonard Davis penalty after the amazing Barber touchdown catch and run. It looked like he spiked the ball which I thought was legal but perhaps it is only the person who scores that can spike it? Because I refuse to support any of the anti-celebration rules in the NFL, I am amazed that we have come so far that a teammate cannot spike the ball after a touchdown.
• In the end, the malaise over this thing continues to grow. The storm clouds continue to roll in. After leaving Green Bay, the premise of a 7-1 start heading into Giants stadium seemed reasonable. Now, we are realizing that every week is going to be a struggle. They are being tested. They are being humbled. This is where you find out if you have a team of character or a team of characters. Prepare for a week of the experts saying the latter is true. Let’s see…