There will hopefully be weeks in the 16-game NFL schedule where your opponent is in no shape to beat you and you must merely take the game from them and take care of your business in matter-of-fact fashion. These types of weeks do not come around very often, but, when they do, you would like to merely crush them like a grape and move on to your bigger battles without anything like a bad injury or lost momentum. The Cowboys did just that in their rather simple 38-17 pounding of the Seahawks on Sunday to raise the season record to 5-2 as they take to the road.
Seattle was coming of a bye week, but still looks just too beat up to resemble anything close to the team that many thought could challenge the Cardinals for the NFC West title. Injuries are part of the NFL game, so you should always prepare to deal with them, but if you have 5 Left Tackles as the #1 on your depth chart by November 1st, it might not be your year.
For the second straight week, the Cowboys used a Touchdown right before halftime from Tony Romo and his receivers, and another Touchdown off a 2nd half punt return from Patrick Crayton to seal the fate of their opponent. And this opponent was in no position to fight back too much, leading to a 4th Quarter where the only doubts left were wondering how the Cowboys brass could defend their QB getting hurt after they took out his personal bodyguard, Flozell Adams. Luckily, he seemed fine, despite rubbing his right arm on camera after the sack he took while up 38-10.
Beyond that, it was all about getting your work in, and getting to 5-2. 5-2 is a fine place to be after 7 weeks, and thankfully the Giants have obliged by sliding back to the group in the NFC East. Now, with half the season to go, it is all in front of the Cowboys. And, I don't believe you should be quick to assume that this team is going to follow any path of fading that has been worn by previous teams. There are certain elements of this squad that lead me to believe that this team may have the right amount of chemistry, accountability, and unity to stay together when adversity visits. Not from above, of course, but from eachother. Keith Brooking has filled a gigantic void of leadership, and others who were here have stepped up to do their part.
They have their work cut out for them, but they are where they wanted to be with 5 wins already in the bank with 9 to play. Assuming it will take 4-5 more wins to make the playoffs and 6 more to win the division, the battles that decide this are straight ahead.
Let's crack open the notebook and offer some observations from the easy win against the Seahawks at Cowboys Stadium:
* Tony Romo and his streak of flawless play continued, as did his chemistry with Miles Austin. There is no question where he wants to go with the ball when he needs to connect downfield, and the inside-outside game he can play with the safeties as he works from Witten to Austin and back is going to be very important down the stretch. I also loved the concept of running the WRs deep enough to clear out the Defensive Backs, only to send a shallow route - once it was Hurd, once it was Felix -across the linebackers and exposing their inability to run with the Cowboys speed. When you see two defenders with "5" as their first number trying to chase down Sam Hurd, you know that the game plan installed on Wednesday and Thursday worked to perfection. We will spend plenty of time looking at that tomorrow on Football 301, but the conclusion is obvious: If they are going to gang up on 82 and 19, then you can use them as decoys to get big gains on underneath high-percentage plays that gash and demoralize the opponent.
* If the roof cannot be open on the most beautiful day of the year (73 degrees, not a cloud in the sky) will there ever be a time when it can be open? Or could we have saved about $500 million by just making that place a dome? Just asking.
* Bobby Carpenter shot the A gap and Matt Hasselbeck never had a chance to avoid the sack. You might have thought that was the first sack of his career, but I looked it up during the game, and apparently he had 1.5 sacks already. The entire 1.5 came on December 16, 2006 (week 14 of his rookie season) at Altanta against the Falcons' QB, Michael Vick. A lot has happened in this world during those 1,051 days - and in the life of Mr. Vick - since that day, but Carpenter now has another sack. Good for him, I think I am starting to secretly pull for the guy because he has become such a pinata. Although I suppose if I am going to secretly pull for him I shouldn't tell you. Oh well.
* Did you happen to see how the Seahawks have tried 14 offensive line Combinations in the last 23 games? I don't care who your QB or Head Coach is, when you have that much trouble in the offensive line, you don't have a chance. The Cowboys have lost 1 lineman since the start of 2008 to injury when Kyle Kosier was out for much of the season last year, but otherwise, it has been Adams-Kosier-Gurode-Davis-Colombo for the entire ride. If you can keep it that way, you have a chance to be in the playoffs. If one of them drops, things can start to unravel. The New York Giants had the same starters since the start of the 2007 season until Kareem McKenzie got hurt a few weeks back - a streak of 38 games in a row. Quality and stable offensive lines and winning football are closely related.
* What sort of bizarro world do we live in where a month ago, Miles Austin was ignored running free in the endzone in Denver and now he gets pulled early in the 4th Quarter because he is such a vital part of this offense? Crazy how quickly things change in this league.
* Perhaps now is a good time to sing the praises of the special teams, and their new leader, Coach Joe DeCamillis. Bruce DeHaven (who now coaches Seattle's special teams) and Bruce Read (who now coaches Oregon State's special teams) had their shot at changing this team's special teams. In fairness to them, I am not sure they ever had the benefit of massive personnel changes to address the issues on their crews, but in fairness to JoeD, his unit seems pay attention to detail and generally is in the right places. I have no idea what has gotten into Patrick Crayton, unless the challenge to his manhood has raised his game another few notches, but he has been superb in sealing the last 2 wins with spine-snapping returns in the 2nd half. But, I feel like we should recognize the other 10 Cowboys who were on the field for this week's return (and aside from 85, likely last week's, too): 89 Phillips, 53 Octavien, 17 Hurd, 34 Anderson, 25 Watkins, 32 Scandrick, 20 Ball, 57 Butler, 85 Ogletree, and 18 Buehler.
* That's right: David Buehler is now on the punt return and punt cover teams. The Cowboys kicker is running down the field trying to make tackles and blocks against NFL linebackers. It is my understanding that this was actually a situation from last week's Allen Rossum signing against Atlanta. See, with Rossum, you had 5 guys on your 45 that had no chance of helping you anywhere but with their designated special teams role (McBriar, Folk, Ladouceur, Rossum, and Buehler). This meant that you had to deactivate a depth LB (Jason Williams) which meant you were short a cover player in returns and coverage teams. Well, you could either ask a starter to join or you could go the extremely unconventional route of having your kicker trying to actually get in the middle of some of the most violent scenarios on the field. But this is no normal kicker. This guy is fast, muscular, and looking for a collision. He did so well, that this week, without the Rossum problem, they left him out there. And, so far, after 2 weeks on the crew, he has been a part of 2 returns for Touchdowns. I know this will possibly backfire if he gets hurt, but it really excites my inner football dork to see this working, so I support it 100%.
* Announcers: Please stop telling us that Roy Williams and Tony Romo "threw alot" in the offseason. This is pointless on a number of levels. First, we must assume as fans of the NFL that QBs and WRs generally throw periodically between games and seasons. This should be a given, and similar to saying that "so-and-so chose to eat and sleep in the offseason". Second, they apparently require plenty of more work. The zigging of Romo and the zagging of Roy will not be very amusing when they are down 7 in the 4th Quarter at Philadelphia and desperately need a score. On the other hand, it seems that Romo's throws to Roy right now are almost charity, and when he needs something important, he doesn't seem to look at Williams very seriously. Strange, but in key spots, 82, 19, and 84 are all more likely targets than Roy. Only when that changes will we be able to assume they are on the same page.
* Miles Austin can't dunk? Seems unlikely. I will say he took off too far from the basket.
* I love it when we excuse Wide Receiver rants (like TJ Houshmanzadeh yesterday) on the sideline because "He just wants to win". Anyone else, in any other sport is called a jerk. But, WRs "just want to win". Whatever. It is called being selfish and myopic. Can't win with em. Don't want em.
* Evan Grant tweeted that the back-to-back weeks with a punt return TD was the first time the Cowboys did that since 1968 with Bob Hayes. Nice stat, Evan.
So, here we are. 44-6. At Philadelphia. The hated Eagles. I like this match-up because the Eagles are feeling great coming off a crushing of the Giants. They are going to be told how great they are all week, and the Cowboys are going to be told to relive 44-6 all week. I like that mixture to result in a very annoyed Dallas squad taking the field on Sunday night. This is going to be riveting.