Friday, November 28, 2008
Thanksgiving feasts in Dallas are becoming a relative formality for the Cowboys in the Tony Romo era. In 2006, the Cowboys demolished the Buccaneers 38-10. In 2007, they destroyed the New York Jets, 34-3. And yesterday, true to form, the Cowboys ate up the Seattle Seahawks, 34-9. Three Thanksgiving games in the Romo-era, three wins. Combined score? 106-22.
After the clinic put on in the 1st half yesterday, and after the last 5 days of Cowboys football where they hang 69 on the NFC West, I seem to be less likely to buy that the league has sorted out the Jason Garrett offense. There is no amount of defensive scheming that is going to slow down a Romo-Witten-Barber-Owens-Williams offense. Forget it. Add in a Crayton here, a Bennett there, and I am convinced this team can still achieve what it dreams to achieve despite the fact that the odds are almost nil that the Cowboys could play a playoff game in Irving.
I guess it all comes down to a few things. Can they quiet the December reputation (which I don’t honestly care about given that the number of 10-16 in that month since 2003 takes into account Quincy, Vinny, and Drew. You want to show me a number, show me Romo’s December record – 4-5) and can they stay healthy? If the Romo injury wasn’t enough to give you indigestion last month, than the Marion Barber and DeMarcus Ware situations give you grave concern. I think they will both be ok, but I am particularly worried about the pending MRI of Ware because we all know how ordinary the Cowboys defense would look if they didn’t have the absurd play-making of #94 on the flank. Further, after Brenden Morrow blew out his knee without experiencing much discomfort at all and even thought he could keep playing in the short term, all he could say was that his knee just “wasn’t quite right”. As odd as it seems, you could completely blow your knee out and not know it. So, cross your fingers.
I think we all know that every team has a few guys that are irreplaceable. If it wasn’t true, then you would pay all of the players the same amount. For every case of Osi Umenyiora and the way the Giants have marched on without him, there are 10 cases of a team losing a “big 5” player and the season crumbles far below expectations. If Romo, Barber, Ware, Witten, or Owens end up missing for a month, this team is not the contender it is. So regardless of how much preparation and execution you pour into this thing, one thing about winning the Super Bowl that nobody likes to admit is the sheer luck of health. Let’s all hope for that in this particular case.
Anyway, we said they had to figure out how to get to 8-4 as the calendar turns to December, and they did it. I think they deserve great marks for coming out of the bye and taking care of their business. Now, the weather turns, the schedule improves, and the pressure accumulates. But, at least they are back in the game. We all know how close they were to being out of the mix with a loss to Tampa Bay or at Washington, this team would be relegated to playing out the string in the ultra-competitive NFC playoff picture.
But, they won in such a way that the 2nd half was only necessary for record-keeping, and they can take a 10-day rest, then report to Pittsburgh for the big final push on December 7th.
Notes and observations from the very last Thanksgiving Day game at Texas Stadium:
• You know you are playing well when you run 20 plays without ever having a 3rd down. The Cowboys actually did have one 3rd down, but due to a penalty, it is ruled a “no play” in the stats, so they went right up and down the field in the 1st 3 drives with almost no need for the 3rd down package. The ease was amazing. How great does this offense look when it is fully operational? At least almost. No Felix, but I am focusing on the good.
• Jason Witten’s last 4 games: 4 catches for 53 yards. Witten in the 1st Quarter yesterday: 4 catches for 67 yards on his way to 9 for 115. I think he is healthy again, and I think his interview with Deion helped, too.
• So, the Cowboys have a pass rush now? Or should we assume that the Seahawks were trying to play with a new Left Guard and a new Center because of injuries. Regardless, 7 sacks used to make up about 30% of a season’s total of sacks for the Cowboys. In 2000, the Cowboys had 26 sacks for the year. 2001, 24, and 2002 just 24. The Cowboys now lead the NFL in sacks with 40, after nailing 46 last year. If there is anything that Wade Phillips can say that did not exist before he arrived it is that ability to sack the QB. The last time the team broke the 40 sacks barrier before Wade arrived was 1994. Now they have done it both years Wade has been here. The last time they had done it in back to back seasons is 1987-1988.
• Observations that have nothing to do with the game: I don’t get the Jonas Brothers, but my daughter does. And, if I had the time to play video games anymore (I think less blogging would help) I am pretty sure I would buy the new Tomb Raider game that was advertised during the 2nd half. Looks pretty cool.
• Every time they show Terrell Owens, something appears to be going on with him. They show him once, it looks like Rocky Bernard wants to kill him. They show him again, Pac Man Jones is pulling him away from an animated discussion with Tashard Choice (I think?). The man does not lack for excitement in his life.
• Don’t look now, but Martellus Bennett looks like he is making all of the progress a young man should be making in his rookie season in the NFL. And as well as he is playing, he is getting on the field plenty. He was on the field 17 of the last 18 plays yesterday as the Cowboys began running the ball. Meanwhile, if your name was Roy Williams or Patrick Crayton, you played 1 play in the 4th Quarter for that same reason.
• Orlando Scandrick is also really showing himself well. I like his ability to fight his way through routes and make a few plays on the ball.
• Favorite story from yesterday? Tra Battle. From what I understand, Tra Battle has been on the practice squad of the San Diego Chargers for 2007 and a good part of 2008. Then, 2 weeks ago, he was activated when the Chargers needed another safety and was credited with 1 tackle in that famous game played between the Chargers and Steelers in Pittsburgh on November 16th. Then, he was pushed back to the practice squad on Saturday for the Chargers. On Tuesday, he is having lunch in California and told to get to an airport because the Cowboys, who needed another DB with the Pat Watkins and Mike Jenkins injuries, and wanted to sign him to the 53. He landed in Dallas Tuesday night, worked with special teams on Wednesday, and was activated for the Thanksgiving day game for the Cowboys on Thursday. Then, put right on kickoff coverage, the Cowboys lined him up at “R2” which is the second man in from the right on the cover team. With 12:36 left in the 1st Q, he runs down the returner with such speed and conviction that it certainly caused a fine reaction at the Stadium. Very cool to see #35 make a play in his first play as a Cowboy.
• Chalk-talk of the day: The Owens Touchdown late in the 3rd (2:23 left) is a perfect example of how coaching and scheming can get you points. The Cowboys are in “13” personnel – 1 RB, 3 TE, and Owens. Owens is wide left with Marcus Trufant in his face. Tony Curtis is technically in the FB spot in front of Barber, with Witten on the left of Adams and Bennett on the Right of Colombo. They then motion Curtis all the way out to the Seattle sideline, and the Seahawks coaches no doubt gasp in horror because they know what their soldiers are going to do. Trufant follows his automatic defensive principles which state that when motion crosses his man, he then slides out to cover the outside man (Curtis) while the man who had Curtis (LB Julian Peterson) originally grabs the guy who is now essentially in the slot (Owens). Oh dear. Major mismatch and I am sure the Seahawks coaches were trying to call timeout. Romo snaps, looks away, but knows he is going to Owens who will beat the safety to the endzone. Touchdown. It reminds me of the same thing they did to Washington in Week 4 with Felix Jones did the same thing to leave Witten up against a LB because of pre-snap motion from the backfield to the sideline. Love it. It just shows you how complicated the NFL really is. If the Cowboys did that more often, the opponent would prepare in practice for that scenario. But, if you do it one play a month, you hope the defense makes the wrong pre-snap adjustment. Then, Romo sees what they did, and he pounces. I was disappointed that the Fox guys did not see WHY the Seahawks had Peterson on Owens. Aikman just went on and on about how he didn’t understand why Seattle would try to do that. They didn’t. They just had 2 players who made a split-second poor decision. But now Seahawks fans think their coaches are imbeciles for trying to put a LB on Owens.
• DeMarcus Ware is amazing, and made Walter Jones look like he has lost a step. When you rip Flozell Adams next time, just remember how bad Walter Jones – who most people consider the best Left Tackle in football – looked. The point is that these speed rushers are just impossible to stop sometimes. And who doesn’t love the blitzing of Bradie James? He seems to have found a knack.
• 10 days off before an absolute huge challenge in Pittsburgh. Keep those players healthy, and let the stretch drive begin….