"And 2009 is underway!"
As is the case in 100% of NFL games, there was certainly some good, some bad, and some ugly in the 2009 season opener, but the Dallas Cowboys slowly and surely overwhelmed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, and start the season off in the only acceptable way. They beat a team that will struggle this year to win 6 games. And they beat them in a fashion where one never felt the game was in doubt after halftime.
I believe the early theme of the season has been whether or not the Cowboys would be capable of assembling a dangerous offense this year. Would the exit of Terrell Owens diminish the lethal qualities of this offense to a point where they struggle to get to 20? Depends who you believe. But, I have always believed that this current crew of playmakers would be fine. And, I believe we saw enough big plays yesterday - and several more that merely teased (Martellus Bennett, Wildcat) - that we can all prepare for the team to accumulate plenty of points. And they may need to. Because...
The defense did not seem to be as encouraging. Not only did the defense allow 450 yards (which is a huge number), but they also accounted for exactly 0 takeaways and 0 sacks. You could also very easily make the point that the Bucs offense left points on the field (especially before halftime) due to a QB who apparently can only make some of the throws necessary to be a successful NFL Quarterback. Tampa, which as we have detailed here last week, has every reason to have an ineffective offense right now - yet, they moved the ball with ease. And that ease was apparent especially when they ran the ball right at the Dallas defense to the tune of 174 yards on the ground at 5.6 yards a carry. Yikes.
The object of the NFL game is to beat those you are supposed to beat. On Friday, we talked about how losing this game was not an option. Now, with the Giants and the opening of the stadium looming, the Cowboys can attempt to make a big statement on NBC Sunday Night that last season was last season. But, they will need the defense to do much more of the talking than they did yesterday at Raymond James Stadium.
More Notes and Observations from a Week 1 win:
* I thought an extremely key juncture to the game was right before halftime. Tampa has a 7-6 lead, and has the ball at their own 14-yard line with 2:00 to play. Their objective should be to get to halftime with the lead in a game where they are seen as an underdog. This could really have a young team feeling great about itself in the intermission and vault them to a big 2nd half. On 1st down, they lose ground on a pass to Antonio Bryant in the flat, but the clock does keep running. The Cowboys only have 1 remaining timeout, so the best they can do is force a punt with around :30 left if the Bucs don't do anything stupid. They snap the ball on 2nd and 11 with 1:21 left, and after finding nobody open, Byron Leftwich scrambles out of bounds to stop the clock with 1:13 left! Why would a QB stop the clock for a shot at 3rd and 11 from his own 13 yard line? If he stays in bounds, 40 more seconds run, and the Cowboys may just take a knee after the punt. What makes this even more enjoyable for the viewer is that Tony Siragusa compliments Leftwich's awareness to stop the clock! Yet, he was hurting his own cause and doing the Cowboys a huge favor. And yes, 2 plays after the punt, Miles Austin is in the end zone - and the Cowboys never trailed again. It's the little things in these games that make the difference.
* It appears that Jason Garrett is planning on plenty of "12" personnel. The match-up issues that caused such chaos in that Tampa Bay secondary are now being closely studied by the Giants defensive coaching staff as they prepare for Sunday. The problem is that you can study it all you want - but do you have the ability to cover Martellus Bennett and Jason Witten with corners? And can your safeties run with Roy Williams and Patrick Crayton? Because with pre-snap motion out of the "12" package, Garrett can force you into some uncomfortable moments that will result in "Oh, ----" moments up in the coaches booth as the ball is being snapped.
* Speaking of points left on the field, the Cowboys certainly had some of their own. In the first half, Romo and Marty B should have connected on a fade against Ronde Barber, and Romo missed a wide open Miles Austin down the sideline for a huge completion on 2nd and 20. As the game went on, Romo re-adjusted his sights, and in his 40th regular season start was able to bring home his 11th "monster". I have defined the "monster" for QBs as 300 yards + 3 TDs. A truly rare feat for most QBs in this league. But, Romo has done it 11 times! He is very good, folks.
* The defense had many issues worthy of discussion. The biggest and most real concern with Brandon Jacobs and friends looming is the question of whether this team is stout against the run. Now, we should point out that Tampa is quality on the ground with a veteran line and an obvious surplus of capable RBs. However, the question of the DL being undersized will appear when you give Cadillac running lanes all day long. And, then when he is tired, you do the same with Derrick Ward. That was not good. Then the pass rush seemed pretty weak, too. There were some big hits on Leftwich, but for a guy who is stationary in the pocket and has a slow release - he was not sacked all day. These issues give Wade and friends plenty to consider this week.
* How did we all feel about the debut of Gerald Sensabaugh? Of the new starters on defense (Olshansky, Brooking, Spencer, Jenkins, and Sensabaugh) he gets easily the best reviews of the day. He chased Jeremy Stevens and Kellen Winslow around pretty well and tackled in space. He blocked a field goal. He chased down Cadillac and saved a touchdown in the 2nd Quarter. He tried to knock Michael Clayton out with a huge hit that ended up hurting Sensabaugh far more. He broke up another pass. If he can play that style without killing himself, I think we might enjoy an aggressive safety who can cover some ground. I give him a very solid review.
* Roy Williams looked the part yesterday at times. It is tough to find a more pretty play than his TD down the seam with confused Tampa Dbs trailing behind. I think the Cowboys would enjoy playing Sabby Piscitelli every week. In our preview of the game, we mentioned Tanard Jackson's suspension as a big deal. Well, after watching Piscitelli and Jermaine Phillips butcher centerfield all day, I think we see why. I suppose Tampa wishes they had more reinforcements on the way because I think both safeties are not very good.
* Marcus Spears hit the QB! Twice! I am not sure who took over his body, but if that is Marcus Spears, Jay Ratliff may benefit from someone beside him actually causing some havoc in passing situations. Further, Bobby Carpenter chased down Kellen Winslow on a key 3rd down! 1st round picks can occasionally make a play once in a while.
* The Special teams made an impact that was felt. The David Buehler effect was impressive to say the least. Multiple touchbacks? And Mat McBriar's thunderfoot was back for all to witness. Those two feet may not be credited with a single point all year, but that is field position. Very key to the ability of this team to have a chance to win the NFC East rests in the special teams. A FG block goes a long way to win a game, too. All in all, that was encouraging.
* Anyone else nervous about DeMarcus Ware down on the field? That could have been the season as he surely qualifies as a guy they cannot afford to lose to injury. By the way, Donald Penn did a great job against Ware again. I am not sure why, but I think Penn handles Ware as well as anyone I have seen. When 94 got loose yesterday, it seemed it was when they flipped him over the Right Tackle.
* Early leader in the "dumb penalty of the year" contest must go to Patrick Crayton. His kick out of bounds should be enough to demand that he runs the stairs today at the stadium. So, this guy has been a return guy for how many years and he thought that was legal? All in all, a nice game from Crayton, but it does deserve a mention.
* How many subsequent moves would have been cancelled if the Cowboys could have developed Antonio Bryant? He is a monster when healthy. And he should have had 7 when he left Mike Jenkins behind before halftime but his QB missed him. Clearly, his knee is not ready yet.
* Football Dork Chalk Talk of the Week: Go back and watch the Marion Barber Touchdown that iced away the game. The Cowboys are in "13" personnel (1 RB, 3 TEs) and are at the 6 yardline. 2 TEs (82, 80) are on the offensive right. John Phillips (88) is lined up as a FB offset to the right. Tampa sees this huge overload and they adjust the defense accordingly. Then, at the snap, Phillips heads right behind Witten to the right. At the same moment, the Left Guard (Kosier - 63) pulls to the right edge. Every single Cowboy is selling that this play is going to the right. Watch the Tampa Linebackers and safeties at the snap - they are following their keys. Key on the lead blocker. Key on the pulling guard. Almost everyone is running towards that edge where the Cowboys are all deployed. One problem. Romo flips it to Barber who heads to the Left. He doesn't follow any of his blockers. And the play is so well executed that Barber is to the 1 before he has to do anything but stroll into the endzone. Roy Williams helped at the end with a block, but it was a total shock to the defense. I love it. Genius stuff. You have to go back and watch that play if you get the chance.
* I really question Mike Jenkins' quality. Orlando Scandrick is never out of position and almost never seems lost. Jenkins always seems like he rarely watches film or listens to coaches. I know he is young, but he needs to show he is improving soon.
Who would have thought we would see 912 yards of total offense in this matchup? Regardless, it looks like a fairly injury-free road win to start the season. 1-0 is a nice spot, and now we have our first "showdown" of the season. It is Giants week, and the opening of a new stadium. I think we are all looking forward to this.
Comments? What did I miss? Let's have it.