Friday, July 30, 2010

Cowboys '09: Week 5 at Kansas City

Cowboys Chiefs Football

Well, it would have been nice if that game would have given us something to talk about, right?

As you may recall, I am a big believer in the idea that wins are darn difficult to come by in this league, and when you get one, it is bad form to be picky about how you went about getting that win.

But, even I have my limitations. That was stinking ugly in so many ways that I seem to be ignoring my own advice.

The Chiefs gave the Cowboys all they could handle yesterday. Or, closer to the truth, the Dallas Cowboys made every attempt at giving the Chiefs the game yesterday. Sloppy perhaps doesn't properly capture the way that this game was played. Penalties, turnovers, drops, more penalties, and various other elements conspired to keep the Chiefs in a game almost completely against their will.

We thought going into the game that the Chiefs were a very bad NFL team. They spent most of Sunday proving it, and yet, they remained in the lead for 57+ minutes because the Cowboys were compelled to repeatedly sabotage their own efforts. And then, just as the offense finally got its act together, the defense caved in. Similar to the Giants and Broncos games, the defense who had been solid all day long, picked just the wrong time to give up the crucial drive right down the field.

In the NBA, we talk about 2 distinct portions of any given game; The game leading up to crunch time, and crunch time. What teams or players do for the first 3 1/2 quarters is nice and important, but it pales in comparison to those who perform and dominate in crunch time. This may be the story that the defense is starting to write for itself. They have played pretty well overall. But, to this point of the season, they have had roughly 4 games where they needed badly to get a stop late in crunch time. Only in the Carolina game when Terence Newman picked off a pass did they actually close the deal. Otherwise, Eli marched the Giants right down the field, Brandon Marshall made the play of his career, and then inexplicably, the Chiefs learned how to move the football after Alan Ball made his most famous play as a Dallas Cowboy by being flagged for the unpardonable roughing call on 3rd and 26.

But, through it all, allow me to remind us of a simple truth: An ugly win is always better than a pretty loss. At playoff time, when the league counts up the wins, they never ask, "How?"; they ask, "How Many". And yesterday's win is worth the same amount as any other week's work they will perform all year. And for that very reason, if nothing else we should give the team full marks for the fortitude to get a result on Sunday, on a day when they seemed determined to do just the opposite.

Meanwhile, On Friday, I wrote this about Miles Austin and Martellus Bennett:
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.... Austin looked lost and clueless on Sunday. I need more. Especially with depleted depth elsewhere.

It would certainly appear Miles offered more to the Cowboys on Sunday. On a franchise that has featured Bob Hayes, Michael Irvin, Drew Pearson, Terrell Owens, and many other excellent receivers, Miles Austin set the all-time yardage record with 10 catches and 250 yards on Sunday. Despite that absurd production, he actually could have had as many as 3 other Touchdowns if you optimistically had him catching the circus attempt in the 1st Quarter, the sure drop in the 2nd, and then the 3rd down pass that went through his hands early in the 4th. The point here is not to take away from his career day, but rather to point out that even with those numbers, he could have had an even bigger day. On the other hand, if he makes those, he doesn't break Bob Hayes' franchise record for yardage in overtime, and we surely don't see the pile of Cowboys celebrating in the Arrowhead Endzone like they had just won the biggest game of their lives.

I have spent the last two years waiting for Miles to break out, and maybe we saw that yesterday. He is very, very talented. And his speed and elusiveness has now been on display for all to witness and it saved the day for sure.

The game was ugly. Some might even call it disgusting. But, on a similar Sunday last fall, the Cowboys went North to play a team in the Midwest who was among the league's worst. Late in the game, the Cowboys scored on another long pass play for a Touchdown after seemingly everything had gone against them all day. The trouble was, they were already down 34-7 at that juncture against the Rams last October. Seriously. The battle this team showed yesterday to stay alive and fight for their season, although you would hope unnecessary, should not be overlooked.

Other thoughts and notes from a most exhausting afternoon in Kansas City, the first ever win for the Cowboys at Arrowhead:

* If you are Todd Haley, and you are willing to run trick plays constantly and pretty much live the idea that 2009 doesn't really matter in the big scheme of the Haley/Pioli master plan, then why don't you roll the dice at the end of regulation on a 2-point play? I cannot think of a better time than after that game-tying Touchdown pass to Dwayne Bowe with about 20 seconds to play. If you have a chance to beat a team at your own stadium that has out-played you easily all day in just about every department, then why don't you take the 50/50 proposition of 1 play from 2 yards away? I fully expected him to put the entire game on a 2-point conversion, and I have to think the Cowboys were thrilled to death that he suddenly got conservative after his track record indicates that this year he is willing to coach like he has absolutely nothing to lose. And you know what? He has nothing to lose. Shocking decision in my mind. If you go to overtime, you can't like your chances to stop the Cowboys for long.

* Speaking of Haley, I would have loved to have heard what Jason Witten and Todd Haley said to eachother during their 1st Quarter crossing of paths. Haley didn't look like he was interested in explaining his position to Jason. You might also wonder what Jason was thinking by basically going over to the Chiefs sideline with the refs. Perhaps over-stepping the bounds of a Tight End?

* Before I go any further, I would like to nominate that game as the greatest performance from an Inside Linebacker since I have been following the Cowboys. Keith Brooking was somewhere between awesome and phenomenal. I love his passion. I love his ability. And while I know the Falcons made almost no effort to keep him (read: They think he is old), I have seen no signs of anything but quality play since he has put on a Cowboys uniform. Sorry Zach Thomas, but this is what we had in mind.

* Drive Stoppers all over the place this week. Penalties on the offense were going to be the lead story, until the defense took the headlines with all of the offside penalties in the 2nd half. This team has no issue with looking disciplined and prepared. We saw this against Carolina, too. Football is tough enough. You don't have to keep shooting yourself in the foot. But, the Cowboys constantly play with fire. Erasing good plays and making unreasonable down and distance scenarios is just not good football. This will haunt them if it continues.

* Joe Buck kept insisting that the Cowboys would not play the Dallas Texans with "the game that never was" theme. I was hoping he would elaborate further, because I had not heard this little fun-fact before. I am willing to hear someone's explanation in the comments section, because I am confused about how the Cowboys would work in this game amongst its NFL calendar. If an AFL team wanted to play them, I understand, because the AFL was all about publicity attempts. But, this isn't college where you can play anyone you want. How would they have scheduled the Texans? I guess I am confused. With the exception of College-All-Star teams from that era, I am not aware of NFL teams playing even exhibitions against non-NFL teams.

* DeMarcus Ware, it is good to see your sack dance again. I have been emailed plenty of theories about Ware's disappointing start to 2009. Some think he is still hurt from that Tampa Bay game, and others think that the contract situation is in his head, and he is playing to protect himself until he gets his deal done. I have no idea, but I have not seen him dominate much in 1-on-1 battles. But, he came out of the halftime lockerroom with a possessed look to his game, and helped turn the game nicely. I find it unlikely to assume he can make another run at 20 with only 2 through 5 games, but there is no reason he can't get to double figures. And there is surely nothing wrong with that type of production. 94 is all that seperates this defense from being ordinary many games, so they need him to do what he does as this season continues on.

* Larry Johnson looks really, really old. The prime of a RB is so short. By the time they get their 2nd contract, you can already see the grim reaper standing next to them. In 2006, he was dominating the league along with LaDainian. Of course, in 2005, Shaun Alexander was. And in 2007, Tomlinson was awesome. Surely makes you appreciate the longevity of Emmitt again.

* Troy Aikman indicated that Hudson Houck thought Tamba Hali was the best pass rusher they had played all season. Osi, Tuck, Peppers, and Elvis Dumervil all recommended Houck get his head examined. Seriously. Tamba Hali? Who does Houck think he is, Lou Holtz? Is this the best Navy team he has played in 30 years?

* That is another game with 0 interceptions and 0 takeaways. In 3 games this year (TB, NY, KC), the Cowboys have exactly 0 takeaways, and in another (Denver), they had 1 recovered fumble. It is really amazing at how little the Cowboys cause turnovers from their opponents. But since it has been going this way for more than just 2009, perhaps we could make the case that the Cowboys just don't have many guys who cause turnovers. Ed Reed, Troy Polamalu, Charles Woodson, Antoine Winfield, Darren Sharper, and Brian Dawkins are always around the ball and coming up with the ball. I don't think you would ever say that about any of the Cowboys' DBs.

* I am not trying to be a homer here, but if Alan Ball is called for hitting Bobby Wade in the head, could we call that when Jon McGraw nails Romo in the melon? It seems like they are both plays that were allowed for decades in the NFL, but if we are cracking down, could we always crack down? Especially if QBs are really being protected?

* Time for this week's edition of our obligatory mentioning how great Jay Ratliff is! This week, we feature his new-found specialty of blocking kicks. If you go back to 6:30 in the 3rd Quarter, when the Chiefs Ryan Succop hit a 38 yarder, you can see Ratliff jump over the gap between the Center and the Right Guard and just miss a block. Apparently, the Chiefs thought that was not a very big issue, because the next time, with 3 minutes to go in the game, they tried to cut him again on the 53 yarder. Again, he jumped over the cut attempt and this time, blocked the FG easily. Then, of course, offered his trademarked celebration dance and we all marveled at the fact that a 7th round draft pick can really dominate like this guy does every week.

* Any idea who's fault it was that Mike Vrabel was that open in the endzone? Tough to tell. Bobby Carpenter and Patrick Watkins are always candidates, but I have also heard it could have been Ware's guy. I will try to find out more today and let you know.

* I am happy the Cowboys won, because Dave Campo looked like his head was about to explode if they didn't. He was awfully intense on Sunday, and surely in a bad mood on that sideline.

* Fun with punt returns: Patrick Crayton's casual style finally bit him on the rear with a crucial fumble on a return. Honestly, it is days like yesterday that you wish he would talk less and focus more. But, they replace him with Newman for a return in the 3rd Quarter, and Newman lets a punt bounce behind him at the 20 instead of the fair catch, and allows it to roll all the way to the 3 yard line. I have no idea what Newman was thinking there, but it cost the Cowboys 17 yards and backed them up to the goal-line to start the 3rd Quarter.

* Tashard Choice certainly showed me that he is better than a solid #3 back. I still like him in doses, but he made some nice things happen yesterday, especially out of the "22" package again.

* And finally, Tony Romo's day. Steady. He missed Austin early for a touchdown, but then later, he put most balls right on the mark. Touchdowns were dropped and frustration was boiling, but he generally looked composed and confident about where the ball needed to go despite a lot of blitzing. This was a very lose-able game, and one interception might have been all it took. Instead, he put up 350+ yards and a rating of 113. Solid road win for the QB who can now take a breath during the bye week.

3-2. Could have been much better, but also could have been worse. They were just a hair from 2-3, or they were a Giants FG miss away from 4-1 and tied for first place. The bye week could possibly mean the return of a healthy Felix, Marion, and Roy. If that happens, the Cowboys will still have a fighting chance of staying in this race for quite a while. 13 days before they return to Arlington and actually play a day game in their new stadium against Atlanta.

Rest up, boys. You are going to need it.

No comments: