Monday, November 17, 2008
What a Night. The Season is alive. Marion the Barbarian and the boys in the trenches may have saved 2008 on a brisk night in Washington.
We talked in the pregame show about the lines of scrimmage and how it was so important for the big boys to dominate and stand their ground. The offensive line especially had to step up and keep Tony Romo off the deck. And they had to jump back at a Washington team that beat them physically in Irving back in September.
0 sacks. 66 yards of rushing in the 4th Quarter where the Cowboys killed off the game. And most importantly, 3 yards on 4th and 1, on a play that put the Cowboys back in the win column and seemingly ready to spring back to life in the race for the playoffs. That 4th down call was exactly what I hoped they would do. Conservative kicks to go up 7. But a team with swagger puts a dagger in your chest right there. Good work, Wade, on that one.
The Return of the Jedi was also a welcome sight. It took a bit to knock off some rust and get some confidence back, but when the game mattered, it was easy to see that #9 was getting his swagger going and the offense was starting to rise up and look like a bully yet again. Surely, a game with 2 interceptions is nothing to send to Canton, but under the circumstances, Romo brought home a win with just enough key passes to keep the offense balanced and threatening.
Without taking anything for granted in a season that has seen the Cowboys blown out by the Rams, I should say that the Cowboys will be heavy favorites to be 8-4 as the calendar turns to December. If they do that, then 10 wins seems manageable and 11 wins is possible. 11-5 is my preseason prediction for this team, but surely not the road I anticipated them taking. Regardless, last night was fun football. Let’s offer some observations:
• At the risk of sounding a bit like a cheerleader here, I want to point out how nice it was to see Romo enjoying himself. One of my theories back in October was that Romo did not appear to be having fun and that the expectations of winning every game on the way to the Super Bowl weighed on his back like a piano. Maybe, a break from the team would clear his head and he would return looking like Romo ’07. Well, I like the returns so far. The smile, the poise, and the ability to not allow frustration in to the mix is a lot easier when you aren’t picking your body up off the turf every play, but it was nice to see it back last night.
• Jay Ratliff is an awesome football player. I am convinced that he is miscast as a NT in a 3-4. I am further convinced that priority #1 in the off-season needs to be to secure an anchor in the middle that demands a double-team block on every play and move Ratliff to DE after Spears moves on to that next employer. That is what most 3-4 teams have as a foundation in their defenses (Vince Wilfork, Shaun Rogers, Jamal Williams, Grady Jackson) and that should allow the Guards to stay off the Middle Linebackers who sweep in to make plays. The Cowboys are too easy to gash up the middle because they have no anchor in the middle. However, Ratliff is a talent. A big-time talent. In the pass rush you better double team him because he will whip most centers or guards in a 1-on-1 matchup. His quickness and power make him a wonderful inside pass rusher on passing downs, and I suggest that his sack dance is one of the best I have ever seen.
• Sunday Night Football is always fun and it brings some things to the table that you don’t always get. First and foremost, the Sunday Night crew comes up with numbers that nobody else does. For instance, have you heard that Nick Folk has no touchbacks in over a year? Or, that statistic of Barber passing Bronko Nagurski for all time leading rushers for Minnesota Golden Gophers? Or, Barber’s 2007 4th Quarter rushing production versus 2008? I enjoy that very much. Then, NBC brings you the great John Madden. Sorry, I know he goes on and on about Larry Allen and Brett Favre, and that he always jumps on Flozell Adams for penalties, but Madden is awesome. I wish they would let him get into his football jargon chalk talk that he occasionally shows you, but I am sure the national broadcast people want the broadcast dumbed down for the first time football viewer. I look forward to the Cowboys being in prime time. It always seems like good things happen there, too. At Green Bay this year, At Carolina in Romo’s debut. In 2007, the Cowboys beat the Giants, Bears, and Eagles on Sunday Night Football. So unless I am mistaken, the only loss in the Romo era in front of Madden and Michaels is the Sean Payton ambush of December 2006. 6-1 is nice.
• Didn’t it appear early that Jason Garrett and Romo had no idea what he was capable of? The had nothing but short routes and misdirection gadgets early on. A reverse that was doomed, a waggle with Owens in motion that was blown up. The only thing that saved the Cowboys on offense was when Romo demonstrated he could get the team down the field with a few darts on consecutive plays to Jason Witten for 28 and Terrell Owens for 25. Once he did that, the Redskins safeties had to play it honest. And that is when the running game really got cooking.
• Mike Jenkins had another “meow mix presents the play of the week” moment. Take a look at the kickoff return that Rock Cartwright busted open near the end of the 1st half, and see which Cowboys coverage member wanted nothing to do with busting the wedge. That is right, Mike Jenkins with an “ole” on Mike Sellers. Of course, Rock followed Sellers right past Jenkins and the huge return was on.
• Terence Newman was absolutely awesome last night. He as chasing his nemesis Santana Moss all over the field, and with an interception and tight defense on the big 4th down at the end of the game. He almost got burned on the home run pass to Moss on the first play of the Redskins only 4th Quarter possession, but the ball was not secured by Moss. If that play is made, the game is likely lost, but it just missed. Newman tackled hard, covered well, and brought those All-Pro credentials to the table for the first time this year. Maybe he is finally healthy. That could be huge.
• Did Jason Taylor play? I am not saying he has instantly become Shaun Alexander or anything, but he was awfully invisible last night.
• I give a great amount of credit to Clinton Portis. He was trying to play when he was not healthy enough to go. But, he knew that the Skins would be doomed if they were left to Jason Campbell’s ability to march the team down the field. I know he is talented, but I think Campbell is going to have to get the ball down the field if they are to be taken seriously offensively. WR screens can only take you so far, and the Skins would really be dangerous if they could threaten the secondary a bit more with vertical stretching. Of course, Tennessee has managed to go 10-0 without any sort of vertical stretch so I guess this isn’t a completely air tight sports theory.
• Keith Davis brings the wood pretty well. Jenkins should ask him how to do it.
• The last time the Cowboys ran the ball like they did was the game in Green Bay. What do those games have in common? Well, in both cases, it appeared they were determined to run the football and have Romo throw as a compliment to the run, not the other way around. Of the 55 offensive snaps, 37 were from under center last night. Using the shotgun is good. Relying on the shotgun gets the Cowboys into trouble. Let’s hope Garrett uses this game and the Green Bay game as the template to win. “21” and “12” personnel make the Cowboys very tough to stop. 3 WR sets make the Cowboys far more predictable and teams bring in a base Nickel to counter.
• Jason Witten had a crucial drop on the drive in the 4th Quarter that could have really hurt. It hit him right in the hands and right in stride. Luckily, on the next 2 plays, Romo hit Austin with a chest pass for a first down, and then on the very next play, Romo throws a beautiful pass to Martellus Bennett of all people for the winning TD. Bennett is beginning to show what he is capable of, which is pretty exciting to consider.
• What a game with serious hitting. NFL football is awesome on nights like that.
• Disappointing elements of the game? I was under the impression that we were going to see a ton of Anthony Spencer, and I hardly saw him. Also, the penalties were bothersome yet again. Other than that…not much was disappointing. Even the 14 points doesn’t bother because they surely could have had 7 more if they needed it at the end. And the 2 interceptions took points off the boards as well. I think the offense is fine when Romo is on the field. Sadly, now you better prepare to hear about Pac Man Jones this week. I wouldn't let the guy near this locker-room, but we all know Jerry.
• Time to save the season. To do that, the 2 home games in 4 days stretch is mandatory. San Francisco and Seattle are both teams having lousy years, but the Cowboys are already 0-2 against the silly NFC West. That better be evened at 2-2 by Thanksgiving night. It is alive.