Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Morning After: Cowboys 24, Saints 17

Raise your hand if you understand pro football. I am obsessed with this sport. There is nothing I spend more time thinking about and reading about and studying than the NFL. But, I sure don't understand it. Except, I do understand one important element about my lack of understanding: You can never account for the unaccountable. Said another way: Last night is why it is not smart to gamble on "sure things".

The Cowboys pulled the unthinkable last night in New Orleans with their performance that surely was one of the best games of football any of them had ever played. Once in a while, with all of the chips down, they find what they were looking for, and it so happened to be with the entire football world watching (provided they had the NFL Network) on this Saturday night in December (of all months).

On one hand, you have to be very pleased for these guys who spend a lot of time answering why they are not up to the challenge of winning important games such as these. On the other hand, you wonder how this is going to feel if they lose to Washington next week. But, that can wait for 8 days. This was a thing of beauty.

The offense made all the sense in the world. And it made all the sense in the world because the offensive line held up its end of the bargin, because Jason Garrett seemed to pull the puppet strings with great precision, and because your QB was the perfect maestro of the proceedings.

Tony Romo has not been the focal point of too many of these "Morning After" columns for a few reasons, but I think this may be the perfect day to spend a moment or two on the leader of this offense. Nobody is more scrutinized nationally than Tony Romo - whether it is appropriate or not never seems to matter. He had painted a large target on his chest long ago, and has been declared dead quite a few times by the experts.

All along, he has just chipped away at the mountain before him, and I dare say his QB work this season may be his finest year yet. Nobody is willing to admit that he isn't the problem, it seems, but to play the Giants-Chargers-Saints trio in succession in December, and emerge on the other side without one single giveaway (fumble or interception), 6 TD's, and a QB Rating of 109.7 is remarkable. They have lost 2 of those 3 games, so there is still that thread of blame that can be taken back to the QB because that is how we discuss this game. But, in December, Romo has been nearly flawless with absurd pressure and scrutiny aimed at his head. Put it another way: By George, I think he's got it.

And here is the good news: It is still a secret. Romo, it would seem, can still sneak up on the league because some have spent so long claiming he is the problem that they will not concede that point until he has a trophy in his hand. And we all know that is a long trip from here. But, in a 2009 where he had to prove he wasn't the problem, I think most fair observers would realize that the Cowboys have a useful Quarterback - maybe not a perfect one, but one who is very good.

Beyond Romo, there are so many others with their fingerprints on this unlikely win. As Junior Miller said last night, this may be Wade's signature defensive win. I argued that the Green Bay win in 2007 qualifies as well, but in fairness to Craig, that Green Bay team was not the juggarnaut the Saints are, and were not held to 3 points through 3 Quarters on their home field. The defense played very well, holding the Saints to just 1 3rd Down conversion - which occured in the final minute of the game. The Saints set the industry standard on 3rd Down conversions, but on this one night, they could not move the chains on the money down.

And then there is everyone's quiet hero, DeMarcus Ware. There are a number of reasons to look at his performance last night and marvel. One, of course, is that we feared for his physical well-being on Sunday evening at Cowboys Stadium when they are unscrewing his facemask from his helmet and strapping him onto a stretcher. Late in the day yesterday, there were still many reports circulating that he would not be able to play at all. Then, for him to play as well as he did - with a sack and fumble to end the final Saints' drive of the 1st half, and then another sack and fumble to end the final Saints' drive of the game - was the stuff of legends. The Cowboys could have very well crumbled under the pressure in that 4th Quarter - but #94 would not be denied. Joined by #93, Anthony Spencer, the Cowboys pass rush finally made sense for a night. It was like Ware and Ellis used to be. A speed LB who can not be blocked for long on each flank. Was it just a 1-night mirage?

The Cowboys' best players were their best players. They stepped up an emerged with a team victory that could certainly take this team to a new level. But, because of how this league and this team works, we are all wondering if we should read too much meaning into this game. Did the QB break through? Did the coach? Did the team? It all depends on where they go next.

But, for one night, they played like they could win a Super Bowl. I just don't understand the NFL sometimes.

Other observations from the night that ended the New Orleans quest for perfection:

* I suppose I should not allow this Nick Folk elephant in the room go on any longer before we address it. Look, I am all for trying to let a guy break out of his slump before we knee jerk and go to "Kickers-R-Us" for another one, but it is time. There is too much riding on everything this team does to allow one guy to get his head screwed back on. He is a kicker. He must make kicks. To miss that 24-yard Field Goal in that situation is an absolute fireable offense. He nearly cost you the football game - which in turn would have cost many men their jobs. I am sure he is a nice guy, and I hope his career can continue somewhere else, but like a group of athletes in our lifetime, it appears his head is not allowing his foot to do its job. That footage the NFL Network presented showing his pregame warm-ups was quite revealing. And then, on cue, he missed what amounts to an extra point. The Cowboys must get a kicker before Washington. And they are darn lucky that their refusal to address this issue sooner did not cost them another game.

* Mr Austin, your contract is ready. What a stud. 1100 Yards and counting. Was Terrell better than this? And, evidently, the Cowboys' offense also took note as we did Friday that the deep ball is but a faded memory. Brilliant double move off play action on the first drive of the game resulted in a 49-yard bomb to signal the attack. A thing of beauty.

* Does anyone know why the Cowboys would call timeout after Patrick Crayton's big 25-yard catch at the end of the 1st Quarter? I was thoroughly confused as the Saints were given time to review every replay possible during that timeout and decide if they should use a review on that 3rd and 8. Luckily, it held up, but I found that most curious. Let's not act like last night was not without brain freezes, as that decision, the 12-men in the huddle, the play where Barber forgot he was supposed to get the ball, the Flozell facemask, and a few others that we would all be pointing to if the Cowboys did not close the deal. But, they did, so they are but details in a notebook.

* Speaking of the review impacting the game, I was interested in what effect the review of the Spencer hit on Brees with :18 to go in the game had on the next play. If you recall, the Cowboys were rushing Brees on that final drive for 11 consecutive plays. Since they were in the no-huddle, you could make the case that the longer the drive goes on, the more depleted the energy becomes for the pass rushers. But, when they were reviewing the question of whether Brees' arm was going forward, DeMarcus and friends are catching their breath on the sideline. On the very next play, Ware beats Jermon Bushrod round the corner again and seals the game. It might have all happened the exact same way without the break, but my theory is that it helped Ware.

* I would never question the offensive genius of Sean Payton, but David Thomas gets 10 targets? He wasn't bad, but I think I have to adjust my gameplan when I find out my starter (Jeremy Shockey) can't play. The goal was obviously to isolate the Cowboys LBs in space (Carpenter, Brooking, James) and he was willing to work his back-up TE all night to do so. If I am the Cowboys, I am comfortable with Thomas trying to beat me.

* Every week, Garrett rolls out a new wrinkle. I really enjoy trying to predict what it might be, but this week, it was the mutiple looks with Kevin Ogletree. His 2catches were helpful, but I really think they were trying to spring him for a deep TD early in the 3rd Quarter and Romo just didn't have enough time to hit him so he checked down to Austin (who dropped the pass). Even Sam Hurd made a rare appearance late.

* We had to like the way the ball was run in New Orleans, too. They really set the tone and were physical throughout. Marion ran over Darren Sharper in short yardage, showing us that he is not the guy we saw at the goal-line against the Chargers. Felix showed bursts as well in certain situations and always looks like he is about to break one. I thought Bigg Davis played one of his better games of the recent stretch.

* Flozell looks very old. I think Left Tackle better be looked at very closely this offseason. And no, I don't think Leonard Davis is the answer, nor Doug Free.

* If there has been one guy who has certainly showed his quality as this season has gone along, it would be Mike Jenkins. But, if there have been 2 guys, we should add Anthony Spencer. I needed him to bust out, and while it might have taken him until nearly Thanksgiving, I now see his ability each week. He is not just "some guy" opposite DeMarcus. He looks to be very imposing, and difficult to deal with. That sequence where he had a sack disallowed by a Scandrick penalty, only to get one on the very next play was lovely. Of course, sacks are easier to get when you are not blocked.

* 2 potential plays of the game happened on 3rd downs in the 4th Quarter for the offense: #1, 3/4 at the 46, Romo puts one right on Roy Williams in stride which would keep the drive alive - but he drops it. #2, 3/7 at the 23, Romo again finds Austin in the face of a blitz and Austin sprints for 32 more and seemed to seal the game (thanks, Folk). But, overall, the telling stat for the Cowboys offense seems to be 3rd Downs. In Philly and in New Orleans, Romo and the offense made those plays. Against the Giants and Chargers, not so much. Must make the plays in the money scenarios.

* Today,my friend, Doug, notes, the Cowboys world must cheer for the Steelers, 49ers, and Redskins? Strange bedfellows for sure.

So, tell me, was this the aberration? Or is this the start of a 3 game winning streak heading into the playoffs with a division crown on their head and a home playoff game on tap? I wish I had an idea one way or the other. The good news is this thing is still now very much alive. The bad news is that the 2008 Cowboys won their 14th game against a top NFC foe, only to hit the wall in a ball of flames in games #15 and #16.

Is 2009 different? Only the final 2 weeks will tell us.


Marlon said...

Werent' the Cowboys good against the Gints on 3rd down? That game was a weird one because they won the TO battle, time of possession, total yards, and 3rd conversions and still lost. I think the Cowboys are already thinking ahead to the Redskins. I think they are starting to realize that every single game going forward is a big game so I'm not expecting a letdown.

Rocky said...

Thanks for the point on Williams, everyone is justifiably calling for Folk's head for sure. But I suspect if you tally the drives killed by Roy you'd see that he's just as much a problem if not more so. 9 mil or so a year for a receiver with such pedestrian performance is something we haven't seen since, oh... um, last year.

Pei said...

The "but details in the notebook" stuff-- I hope someone on the staff ends up paying attention to that. Those brain freezes and penalties kill you, particulary in bigger games. And are a big reasons the fans just don't trust this team.

Is Roy Williams nearing Nick Folk-tyoe concern? That drop was huge and the look on Romo's face- "I'm done with you. You are not trutworthy."

Great stuff as usual, Bob

The Great Bambino said...

Great stuff as usual, Bob. Do we think Roy will see diminished playing time as a result of yet another crucial drop? Maybe it was just my imagination, but I believe we saw Hurd and Ogletree slightly more after that 3rd down drop by Williams. Roy should only get minimal playing time at best. There is enough evidence from last year and 14 games this year to now justify it.

Bill said...

As a diehard Eagle fan, I am worried about today's game against the Niners. Just like the Cowboys playing the level of their stagium, the Eagles play to the level of their competition. After a great win against the Giants, I can fully see them tanking like they did against the Skins and Raiders. Because of that inconsistency, Cowboy fans should have great hope about the playoffs after last night's win. Still don't know if they'll win a playoff game, but I think they're in great shape to at least get in.

John said...

Great job on the reverse jinx Bob, maybe you should be picking against the Cowboys every week.

TheJAT said...

I almost have no reason to read "mainstream" media with Sturminator's Blog. Great stuff, Bob - insightful and much more in depth than other coverage out there. It was a big win. Now we'll see if the Cowboys can be as consistent as you over the next 2 weeks.

wdj03 said...


I'm sure you'll look at this more during the upcoming week but I couldn't help but notice the details of the TD to Austin. 22 set, unbalanced line, Barber & Anderson in the backfield. A total power run look. But then we show play action and go deep. Great stuff.

Then you add in the commitment to the running game even when NO started to slow it down in the 2nd half.

Then you add in the plays to Phillips, Hurd & Ogletree.

Who is this new offensive coordinator? Where was he the first 13 weeks? Do we get to keep him?

Seriously, though.. Great work by Garrett. This is the stuff that we've been begging for all year.

Charlie Stern's Brother said...

Solid stuff as usual Sturminator. What do you think about moving Colombo over to LT and keeping Free at RT. He did not have a very good game last night but Free has been a serviceable RT. Thoughts?

Jay said...

No Bobby Carpenter notes? He officially has been replaced my Folk as the goat and Folk is going to get cut. Unfortunately BC may somehow be on this team next year which I would not be a fan of but let's concede this one point, BC can cover TE's.

Please cut Folk Cowboys. Other than that I am starting to feel optimistic. said...

I don't think the Cowboys miss MartyB all that much.

The Pants Down Explainer said...

More "details in the notebook"...Cowboys facing 3rd and 9... sort pass underneath t
o Witten... he has running room... 3 smaller Saints gathered at the forst down marker...and Witten flops 3 yards short of the forst down in lieu of initiated contact to try, you know, to get a first donw?!

I know Witten mainly gets a pass in these parts, but, jeez, he has become awfully finesse, especially for a guy that goes 265+

Robert said...

So who is your pick for available kickers? Elam?

Shawn said...

If the Cowboys play like this, they can get to the superbowl. Norm has asked the question all year of whether the Cowboys are a team of 9-7 talent and we're just too close to the team to recognize it. I think this game demonstrated an emphatic NO! This is a 13-3 talent team, this is a deep playoff talent team. When the coaches do their jobs right, this team has the talent to play with anyone in this league.

So let me say hats off to the coaching staff this game. Wade's defense really dialed up the perfect plays all night. They did an excellent job of take Colston out of the game and forcing Brees to throw to out ball-hawking Jenkins. The pressure FINALLY showed up, that's what our defense is built around, we need it.

Garret did a great job with the offensive play calling. In the first drive how hee dialed up an unbalanced line '22' formating and called a deep ball to Austin for the TD blew the Sants secondary up. The run/pass mix was excellent. The passing plays were called very well, it seemed almost every passing play the play-called gave Romo a chance to make a play. A good offensive coordinator can't make Roy Williams catch balls, but he can give his quarterback and at least one reciever a chance to make a play. And that's what Garret did all day long.

T33PO said...

Finally dicovered the greatness that is Bob's blog!

Very good points all around. My comment is about the special teams play by the boys. Everybody's been hailing this new coach but really what has he done? The coverage teams are inconsidtent, allowed a big return when the game was close to getting out of hand. Nick Folk!!! The punt team doesn't pin teams down well, sure Macbriar can boom for sixty yards but can't make a solid directional to pin opponents at the 10 or less. Beuller is a bright spot.

The point of this ramble is that let's get away from the kool-aid until the playoffs/division are wrapped up. This team is still inconsistent in every phase of the game at cruch time to be champs.

Go Cowboys!
Go home Nick Folk!

trebla said...

great stuff as usual, really glad to have found your writing since living in El Paso these days has stripped me of valuable Ticket time. A couple of thoughts:

-The crowd, which is overwhelming at times, just wasnt a factor. Did years of the Aints leave behind a huge 'Boys fan base or did a few too many Texas natives give themselves an early Xmas vacation and help our Boys out? Thought it was interesting the place just wasnt shaking as usual. Early leads help out too.

-Can we agree that as gifted as he is, Williams doesnt have that umph that makes a guy a "playmaker". You got to give it 110% out there and this guy just isnt doing it while Crayton and Ogletree do absolutely anything they can every time they have a chance. Make him feel the pine for a game and maybe he can re-evaluate t-rex arms and the fear of getting hit while running a slant down the middle. Are we really scaring the other teams starting him opposite Miles, I guarantee Crayton, Ogletree and Hurd would be more than willing to make the best of a few more snaps.

-You hit it about Folk. Think the guys great, but something aint right and we cant be afforded another loss when 'tis the season for close games coming down to a FG.

Great stuff, lets hope they dont decided to lay down the next two weeks after such a great performance.

SalScott said...

I came away thinking Phillips actually offered a facet that neither Bennet nor Whitten soon as he catches the ball, he moves North/South.
Ogletree is a mini Crabtree....this guy has to take reps from the exposed Roy.

Shawn said...

"Can we agree that as gifted as he is, Williams doesnt have that umph that makes a guy a 'playmaker'."

I can't. I don't think he's gifted at all. I think he's one of the worst 2nd recievers in the league -- that's not talent. I think he is a mediocre player that's playing mediocre.

Why do people think he's talented? Because we're paying him $9 million a year? If you pay $9 million for a house that's falling apart, that doesn't make it a mansion - it means you got screwed.

Josh said...

Is it too early to call for Ogletree to completely replace Roy at flanker? Ogletree isn't afraid to make a big play. Roy is too busy thinking about a trip to the OC in early January.