Unlike Sunday, this was an absolute fine case of "Taking Care of Business". Instead of using all 60 minutes of the clock to secure a victory, the Cowboys seemed to put their Thanksgiving opponents to the sword well before halftime. The Raiders seemed to cooperate, but let's give the Cowboys full credit for accomplishing their top 2 goals.
1) - Figure out how to turn 2-2 into 8-3 by the day after Thanksgiving. This would put you in a great spot entering a very formidable December schedule. As they say, "make hay while the sun shines", and they did. Full marks to the Cowboys for getting through October and November with a record that can certainly be used to allow a small amount of wiggle room in the final 5 games.
2) - Enter December with a little momentum from the offense. Again, it was just the Raiders, but to get 10 explosives (plays of 20+) and nearly 500 yards of offense was a spectacular show of force, and now they can rest for 10 days knowing what they are capable of. The alternative would have been to head to New York to play the Giants with the complete lack of momentum from the Green Bay and Washington games and try to fight through that doubt in the back of your mind against a desperate Giants team. I have to believe the assurance that Miles Austin, Jason Witten, and Felix Jones are all prepared to make a game-breaking play puts them in a confident spot for December 6.
The offense is the big story from Thursday, and the big story inside the big story is the fact that Miles Austin did it again. When you have 7 catches for 145 yards and it is only your 3rd best performance of the year, you know you have an elite Wide Receiver. We have been around this discussion plenty this year, but let's all admit that contracts, fantasy football draft position, jersey sales, and national reputation do not a star player make. The only thing that makes you a star player in this league is making plays again and again and again. Despite the first 4 games where he was a complete after-thought in this offense, Austin now is almost assured a 1,000 yard season (he needs 176 more yards in 5 games) and has proven that he can get open and make a play. To think that this guy was only a "prospect" 60 days ago is a tough thing to wrap your arms around. He has taken the job and run with it, and I don't think it would be too soon to find a way to pay that man to insure his future his secure as a Dallas Cowboy.
And then there is that running game. Balance is a nice thing, right? Obviously, you would like to play the Raiders every week, but let's remember their defense is not really that bad. The Cowboys ran for 195 yards on 25 carries - a staggering 7.8 yards per carry. Again, not to get too demonstrative here, but I really feel that anyone that doesn't think the Cowboys are a "power running team" is ignoring a building mountain of evidence. It is truly staggering how devastating a run team they are, and equally staggering to me that they have only not had success on the ground in 2 games - 1 in which they never really tried to run it (Green Bay) and 1 in which they had only 1 healthy RB (Choice in Denver). When the Cowboys run the ball from a power posture (multiple TEs and/or a FB) there has been almost nobody who has stopped it. It was their 8th game of running for over 100 yards, and their 4th game of running for more than 150. They can run the football right at you, and you cannot stop it - a very valuable trick in December if you can remember it, Jason.
8-3 required no real slips along the way after losing 2 of the first 4. But, the Cowboys did a nice job of taking care of their business and then were given the added bonus of the 5-0 Giants turning into the 6-5 Giants. They enter December in the driver's seat in the NFC East and now they can cast history aside and get after the true meat of this meal.
Other notes and observations from a Thanksgiving game that will not become an "instant classic" but was truly effective:
* Anthony Spencer had his first 2 sacks of the season! I have been watching this guy very carefully over the last month to make sure he is pulling his weight despite his 0 sack total through 10 games. I must tell you that I feel that he is flying around the ball and causing problems. I think Anthony Spencer has played very well in many departments of his game, and for this reason, I have had no problem with his performance beyond the pass rushing results. Even there, Spencer has had as many hits on the QB as anyone, but still 0 sacks. Yesterday, he had 2, and almost had 2 more, so perhaps he is starting to take off and get some results. His 1st sack of the season was exactly the way we saw him getting 8 or 9 sacks this season in our preseason projections - 94 flushes the QB right into 93's arms. It shouldn't take 11 games for this to happen.
* The Roof was open. Amazing. I know I should not take any credit for it, but for some reason, I felt satisfied with the change.
* In the 1st Quarter, the Raiders started the game with quite a few big running plays; Fargas +21, Fargas +12. McFadden +12. In the first 6 carries, they had gashed the Cowboys for 58 yards. The, on 2nd and 6 from the 46 on their 3rd drive, the Cowboys rolled out the 3-5 package. I cannot tell you how many times they ran it, but it was clear that once they saw the Raiders were running with success, they rolled out Ware-Brooking-Carpenter-James-Spencer all at the same time to snuff that threat out - while only playing 3 DBs. Raiders running backs were 15 for 36 yards the rest of the game.
* Sebastian Janikowski did not step on the field until the 2nd half kickoff. Not sure it pays to have an elite kicker if you are the Raiders.
* When did it become ok to field punts inside your 10 yard line? Did I miss the memo or did both teams violate one of the most basic edicts of special teams multiple times?
* I like the Cowboys deciding to use a little play action, including the Red Zone touchdown to Roy Williams. One critique: When using the play action fake, make sure the RB runs in the same direction as the fake handoff. A fake to nobody is not nearly as convincing to the defense.
* If I were to predict one of Norm's "5 plays that affected the game that you might not remember" for today, I would say the safe money bet for #1 would be the mark of the Miles Austin catch on 3rd and 11 early in the 2nd Quarter. It was the Cowboys 4th drive and they enjoyed just a 3-0 lead. It was 3rd and 11 from their own 10 yard line, and Austin made the catch and then had to twist and fight for the final few yards. I thought he was short, but he got the favorable spot and made the 1st down by a link of the chain. 2 plays later, there was a 27 yard catch to Austin, and 1 play after that Felix Jones broke a 46 yard touchdown run. 10-0 Cowboys, and the Cowboys had taken off offensively. If that was a 3-and-out, the offensive frustration could continue and the boo birds might make an appearance.
* Keith Brooking, Jay Ratliff, and DeMarcus Ware all need trips to the Pro Bowl. I am confident that Ratliff and Ware will both be there, but will Brooking? That needs to happen.
* What offers less insight than putting a microphone on a coach and the entire audio segment features him yelling "nice run! nice block!". Pointless at best.
* I don't want to get into Roy Williams again, but 2 catches for 15 yards does not change his role in the offense in my mind as we head to December. One thing I was very happy to see from the Cowboys offense was finding Jason Witten down the seam. It used to be a wonderful staple of this offense, when Witten finds a LB mismatch, and the Cowboys gain an easy 37 yards. Apparently, the Raiders are not going to let the rest of the league's philosophy of covering Witten with a safety affect them. I liked it, though.
Rest now for the banged up Cowboys. 5 Games to go, with the most oppressive element of this stretch is attempting to tune out the questions and conversations about Cowboys historical failures in December. Keith Brooking reminded the media that those teams have nothing to do with this team. I agree with his premise, but that won't keep the stories from being written. Prepare for the stretch.