A few things we must consider about this week's Cowboys opponent, their former Cotton Bowl co-habitants, the Kansas City Chiefs.
1) - This is the worst team they will play all year. I know it is popular to assume that Oakland is the worst team they will play all year, but Oakland won a game at Arrowhead Stadium already this season. With that in mind, I think we should be able to say for now that while Oakland is really, really bad - at least they can beat the Chiefs. Seriously, after trying to absorb as much knowledge as I can from watching the last 3 Chiefs games (vs Oakland, At Philadelphia, and vs New York Giants), there is very little to be impressed with regarding this former powerhouse.
2) - The Cowboys do not have the luxury to assume that they can beat the worst team on their schedule after losing last year (BADLY) in the 16th toughest game on the 2008 schedule when they were blown out by the St Louis Rams. A team that on October 19, 2008 beat the Cowboys like a rented mule so handily that even the absence of Tony Romo doesn't explain why you trailed that team by 4 touchdowns for most of the 2nd half. That Rams team was so bad, that they haven't won a game since that day. That's right. The Rams have lost 14 straight since they drilled the Cowboys about a year ago. So, any team with that on their ledger, is not allowed to assume they can waltz into Kansas City and leave with an easy win.
To suggest this is a must-win game is a tremendous understatement. The bye week is next, so to imagine this city surviving a 14 day break after losing to the silly Chiefs should be enough to scare the Cowboys into a focused and complete effort. Honestly, the Cowboys should fire Wade Phillips in the locker-room if this team doesn't respond to the Denver loss with a decisive win.
Perhaps one of the most unsettling elements of the season so far is to see the complete destruction of the Carolina Panthers at the hands of the Eagles and what the Giants did to the Tampa Bay Bucs. Common Opponents can tell us a bit about where the Cowboys stand in the division, and if we can learn anything about how good the Chiefs are, it would be that they were blown off the field by both the Eagles (with a back-up QB) and the Giants by halftime. These games were not even close.
This team did not respond well to adversity in 2008. The premise of the off-season was to change the room and change the mentality of the team. Did it work? Sunday is a good test, because people are already thinking it might be time to write off the Dallas Cowboys in the 2009 campaign.
After 3 straight weeks of great success on offense, the Cowboys finally hit a week in Denver where they could not move the chains whenever they wanted. This was a big step back, and you could see the city's collective confidence shrivel up. Tony Romo looked about as bad as he has looked since 44-6, and the running game returned to a far more reasonable result than the 200+ yards that Weeks 2 and 3 had.
This week, it is quite likely that the Cowboys will be without Roy Williams and Felix Jones. Andre Gurode and Marion Barber both seem to offer some optimism to their ability to play. With weapons depleted, the questions are beginning to be asked again about who will make the plays on this offense. You may recall last year that this team could not overcome the attrition that injuries brought to the Cowboys offense, and it will be extra interesting to see how they do this week without some of its top-end playmakers at the skill positions.
Regardless, the best talent on the field will be in Dallas Uniforms, and despite the issues with health, the Cowboys have avoided major health concerns to their extremely thin Offensive Line. When that starts happening is when panic will really start creeping in.
1) - Big Game From The QB: I think it is borderline insane to suggest that Tony Romo should be benched, but since we live in Dallas, Texas, I should not be surprised that this line of logic has actually been offered. He has not been a very good QB at all in his last 8 games, and neither has his team. Everyone has a theory as to why this is, but the reality is it doesn't matter. To win in this league, your QB has to be able to do 2 things on a consistent basis: 1) see the field and diagnose where the ball should go on a given play, and 2) execute the throw and put the ball where it needs to go. Romo's performance in 2009 has been as bad as he has ever played, causing all manner of folks to suggest that he isn't that great. You can tell that this has rocked his confidence and affected his play even further. Then the ridicule gets louder, and it appears his confidence evaporates even more. Is he too fragile mentally to ever succeed here? It certainly gives one pause to consider that his most effective plays in the last two games were the dance-around-and-throw-across-the-field play to Choice versus Carolina, and the 4th and 3 miracle to Sam Hurd to 53 yards. Like his idol, Mr Favre, Romo is finding his finest moments happen outside of the formatted offense. This makes you wonder if trying to "settle him down" is exactly the wrong approach. Just a thought. Bottom line, he needs to snap out of this funk quickly.
2) - Recognize and Pick Up The Blitz - The Chiefs are no dummies. Todd Haley was on an Arizona team last year that rocked the Cowboys by bringing pressure. Clancy Pendergast was that Defensive Coordinator. They both have studied that film, the Giants film, the Eagles 44-6 film, and the Broncos last week. They see that a good way to get torched by the Cowboys is dropping back into coverage. They see a good way to shut the Cowboys down is to bring pressure. Expect blitzes galore on Sunday. Exotic blitzes and overload blitzes should be expected. How the Cowboys handle them will be the test. And I have been very disappointed with the handling of them so far. It seems like there is always someone running free up the middle at Romo. When picking up the blitz, you are taught to always get the inside man. Why the Cowboys are not doing that is perplexing.
3) - Martellus and Miles - We are starting to get to the point where either they start making an impact on the offense or guys like me will have to admit we highly over-rated them all off-season. I swear that Martellus Bennett is capable of the things we saw JerMichael Finley do on Monday Night as the Green Bay 2nd TE out of "12" personnel. But so far, Bennett has been good for 1 1st half catch per game for somewhat garden variety results. Austin looked lost and clueless on Sunday. I need more. Especially with depleted depth elsewhere.
4) - Keep Running That Screen - Have the Cowboys figured out how to run a screen? Have they figured out that this is one of the best ways to slow down an edge pass rush and a blitz? Stay tuned.
This is where the Eagles and Giants took the will to win out of the Chiefs in the last few weeks. Let's be honest, the Chiefs have a poor offensive line; very few play-makers; a #2 WR who just joined the team; a scheme that is being installed as they go; and a QB who looks to Sean Ryan as his most reliable target. The Chiefs sort of run the ball with some level of effectiveness, but it is more based on surprise runs like the 3rd and long draw play. When they actually line up and try to run it at you, they have had almost no success - with Larry Johnson averaging 2.6 yards per carry.
For the 2nd straight week, the Cowboys grabbed 3 sacks in Denver, and we are starting to see sustained pressure at the proper points of the game. Still very little sign of DeMarcus Ware, and that is honestly starting to border on crazy. We all keep waiting for him to go off for a 3-sack game, but at this point, you wonder how many millions of dollars he might be costing himself on his next deal.
1) - Jump On Them Early - You are playing a team with a very fragile self image. If film has revealed anything about the Kansas City Chiefs, it is that they have a difficult time convincing themselves they are good enough to win NFL games. These are the teams you must jump on and destroy early in a game. If you let them hang around, you might be sorry you did. You don't want confidence to grow as the game goes on. You want to enter the game with an aggressive defensive style that causes duress and confidence shaking from the 1st drive. Release the hounds.
2) - Be Aggressive and Challenge The Chiefs to Get Vertical - They have not demonstrated any reason why safeties should respect them over-the-top. Matt Cassel is good at not throwing picks, but it is my opinion that much of that is due to the fact that he will not roll the dice. He will take the 5 yard dump down on 3rd and 11 rather than trying to thread the needle. So, use that against him. Push the safeties up, and dare him to take a chance. I am not sure they are comfortable doing that all.
3) - Keep an Eye on Jamaal Charles - One weapon that is especially interesting on 3rd down is the former Longhorns RB Charles. Larry Johnson looks beat up and slow, but Charles can make the first guy miss in the open field. He is also a key return man who can break one (or fumble one). I wonder if he can ever be a full time RB, but as a change-up, he intrigues me quite a bit.
4) - Lock Down Dwayne Bowe - After high marks with Steve Smith (Carolina) and giving up the one play to get you beat with Brandon Marshall, Terence Newman and the secondary will have a chance against the LSU product Bowe. Bowe is a guy I was quite certain the Cowboys should have grabbed in 2007 on draft day, instead of getting cute with the trade down/trade up for Anthony Spencer. However, the coaching change has not done him much good so far. His size and strength suggest that he can be a #1 target, and it will be up to the Cowboys to limit his chances to make a difference.
Again, the Cowboys must have a healthy respect for their opponent, but I have to protect any sort of credibility by telling you how bad the Chiefs are. They have lost 8 straight games at Arrowhead. They have almost no chance on 3rd down to sustain drives. If you don't give them free points with a bad turnover or a special teams meltdown, you should not be able to lose this game. A loss in Kansas City would reveal that this thing is irreparably broken and should be gutted immediately. This game cannot be lost.
Dallas 31, Kansas City 17
Denver Broncos Game Plan
Carolina Game Plan
Giants Game Plan
Tampa Bay Game Plan