Monday, August 02, 2010

Cowboys '09: Game 6 vs Atlanta

Falcons Cowboys Football

I have never seen, nor do I plan on seeing, the 1998 movie, "How Stella Got Her Groove Back". I assume Stella had a groove - lost it somehow - and then spent a great deal of time trying to figure out how to re-acquire this groove again. I will also assume that she found this groove by the end of the movie or the title would have been rather mis-leading.

I take you down this unlikely road to bring the conversation to Tony Romo. I think we can all agree he also once had a groove. In his first 25 or so games in the NFL, he was somewhere between amazing and unbelievable. Then, something happened where he hit adversity and we began to see the weaknesses in his game. And for the last 20 or so starts, he just has not been the same guy who seemed like he played the game with everything happening around him in slow motion. Was something wrong with him? Was something wrong with his coaching? What happened to a guy who seemed to have the NFL figured out?

Regardless, his play dropped significantly. Some of the stats were still good, but his ability to make something out of nothing started to go away. 2008 was filled with issues that seemed to cloud his head and take away his swagger.

September 2009 was not very good, either. After playing about his worst game against the Giants, he followed up with an uneven effort against the Panthers, and a flat-out lousy effort versus the Broncos. After that stretch of games, I recall being out of excuses and ideas for Romo - a guy I had such high hopes looked like he might never return to the form of 2007.

Then, Something happened in Kansas City. Something was different. I know it was the Chiefs, but in Kansas City, the game looked like Romo was in charge again. It looked like he wasn't rattled nor confused. It suddenly all made sense for him again. Combine the day in KC with yesterday, and Romo's numbers are 41-63, for 662 yards, 5 TDs, 0 INTs, and a QB Ratings of 126.6 and 10.51 YD/Att. Credit Miles Austin for much of that - 421 yards - but it is clear they are getting quality play from their QB again and that makes all of the difference in the world. Is it too soon to assume he found what he was looking for?

Is Romo back? Did they decide that the best way for Romo to play is to not be afraid to make a play? Will they continue to roll with this posture, or will they go back to trying to change him the second he makes a poor decision? We shall see. But, the throws he made yesterday were the plays he made for a long time as the Cowboys QB - and then, everything changed. If you are a Cowboys fan, I think the last 2 games provide you the reason for optimism that you have been looking for. As Troy Aikman said yesterday, if Romo plays well, the Cowboys can play with anyone in the NFL.

Did he get his groove back?

In other news, the Cowboys beat a good team yesterday. I have already heard the sports-talk callers attempt to paint the Falcons as a team that "is not very good". I disagree with a great degree of exclamation. The Falcons are a good team, and they will win plenty of games this year. This is a nice win, and it is a rare treat where it seemed like all phases of the Cowboys game were clicking properly.

Matt Ryan has looked composed all season long, getting comparisons to QBs like Tom Brady and Troy Aikman for his ability to see the field and make the right throws. He also had not been sacked since Week 1, and you will find that every single QB is remarkably worse when he is continuously hit. He was sacked 4 times, including 2 more for Mr Ware, and you saw that suddenly playing QB was not as easy when you have to pick yourself up from the field over and over again.

Pressure from your defensive line is the key to everything you do defensively in the NFL, and with the Cowboys unleashing some interesting blitzes at times they got legitimate edge rush pressure throughout. When that happens, the secondary looks better, the linebackers look better, the entire defense looks better - and gets turnovers! And as we have written here time and time again, if you can manufacture takeaways, then all of the sudden, you set your offense up with positive field position. They started their 11 possessions at an average of the 35 yard line, which is not really that amazing, but given the fact that the Cowboys never get the ball in that good of a spot, it is a step in the right direction.

The most solid effort of the season for the Cowboys was played yesterday in a very big spot. As we said, if they lost, they were on their way to 8-8. With a win, all of their hopes are still within reach. And, a nice spot now with the head-to-head tiebreaker with Atlanta, too. In fact, with the Giants loss, the Cowboys are even in the win column with the leaders of the NFC East. Yesterday could prove to be a massive launch point for the next stretch of games.

Thoughts and Notes about the big win in Arlington:

* One of the most under-discussed element of a RB's responsibility list is his ability to pick up a blitz and do what needs to be done - keep your QB clean. Well, yesterday, the Cowboys got that fixed as well. For several weeks we have seen Felix Jones and Tashard Choice struggle at times picking up bigger LBs or DBs and keeping them off Romo. I thought in the Atlanta game we saw a collective effort that was remarkable. At one point, Felix Jones had Chevis Jackson lifted right off the ground on a blitz. Well done. It won't get you impressive stats, but it will get you more playing time when you demonstrate you are not a liability in this very important role.

* The job the defense did yesterday is extra impressive when you consider how great the Falcons looked on their opening drive. 16 plays/80 yards/8:34 to start the game gave everyone watching from a Dallas perspective a nice upset stomach. Atlanta rolled down the field and then punched it in to take a 7-0 lead, and after that the Falcons spent the rest of the half with nothing to show. Again, after Halftime, Atlanta drove the length of the field to score on the first drive and did not score again until garbage time. The stats for the defense include 4 sacks, 2 Interceptions, 1 fumble, and 5 "3-and-out" drives. That is controlling a good offense. I would think in Atlanta this morning, there are questions being asked of that offensive personnel.

* Mike Jenkins played his best game as a Cowboy. I will readily admit that my ideas that Orlando Scandrick is a better option needs to be retracted. Scandrick will compete, but now that Jenkins seems to understand where to stand and what to do a bit better, there is no comparison of their raw abilities. Jenkins looks the part of a top-tier CB in making. We shall see if he fully develops, but I think we have to be pretty pleased with his '09 for the most part.

* Miles Austin's 421 in the last 2 weeks trails just 3 players since the NFL-AFL merger for most yards in 2 weeks. Chad Ochocinco had 450 in 2006, John Taylor had 448 in 1989, and Jerry Rice had 442 in 1995. And that is it.

* What is not so great about that 421 for Austin is that Roy Williams has 428 yards TOTAL since becoming a highly compensated Cowboys WR 16 games ago. I hope he is still hurt, because if that was a healthy Roy looking like he had a case of "alligator arms" on that first target in the 1st Quarter, he shouldn't be out there. I understand that the job calls for a bit of self-preservation on occasion, but Roy needs to be making plays in a very urgent manner these days. And yesterday did not help his standing with the Cowboys one bit. In fact, I actually heard Deion Sanders claim that the Cowboys benched the wrong guy last week, and that Roy should be the 3rd until he starts doing something. And you know something, it doesn't seem that crazy anymore. And this business that he needs to be used more looks like nonsense if you see the numbers. He may only have 31 catches as in Dallas, but know that he has been targeted 73 times. That 42% close rate on targets is not even close to impressive. As we always say to the WRs, make a play.

* I guess the sun will be an issue at the new stadium. Who would have thought windows on the end of your stadium could be a problem when the sun begins to go down in the west?

* When Marcus Spears overpowered Harvey Dahl at the line and then smashed Matt Ryan to the turf for his 1st Quarter sack, I assume that is what everyone had in mind in the draft room in 2005 when they picked him in the 1st Round out of LSU. Despite being a disappointment for his career so far, I think he is playing some of his best football in '09, and based on the Chris Canty contract of last spring, I assume that Spears is about to make a ton of money as a free agent.

* Terrence Newman had a very uneven day, but in the end, Roddy White did not kill the Cowboys yesterday. Playing well for a CB means you got it mostly right, and you weren't burned too often. Overall, he was decent, with his best moments happening in the 4th Quarter. That is better than the alternative.

* Did you see the Cowboys run 2 plays with an unbalanced line yesterday? Both in the 3rd Quarter, Mark Colombo was outside Flozell Adams at Left Tackle, leaving only Jason Witten and Leonard Davis on the right of the ball at snap. Both plays were a huge success in a 32 yard pass to Austin, and a 13 yard run for Marion Barber, his biggest run of the day.

* Who leads the NFL in touchbacks? Why, David Buehler of course, with 13 (actually, Stephen Gostkowski also has 13 for New England, but they have played 1 more game). Add to that the Patrick Crayton punt return for a Touchdown to ice the game and we may be able to consider referencing the special teams as something that resembles special.

* I think I have gone long enough without mentioning the Romo Touchdown pass at the end of the half to Patrick Crayton. You know, the Cowboys had no timeouts left, and many of you have pointed out that if Romo is sacked during that absurd play that the half ends, and the Cowboys have wasted a scoring opportunity in the worst fashion possible - carelessness. Romo made one of the most remarkable plays you will ever see a QB make, but in order to do so, he had to flirt with disaster. Just like the play he pulled out of his hat in Denver on 4th and 3 when Sam Hurd had the catch and run for 53 yards, there is no way you plan things like that. That is just that QB's instinctive ability to make something up as he goes. And it worked. And you loved it. But, what if it didn't work? Would you still love the effort? See, that is the definition of the pressure a QB for the Cowboys lives with. In each play, he is asked to weigh the possibility of success with the consequences of failure - while guys are trying to break his neck. And if, as a Dallas fan, all you want is the successes without any of the failures, you may ask the impossible. I guess my point here is that if you appreciate and enjoy the miracle play he pulled out yesterday and the play in Denver and the countless other absurd plays (the scramble against the Rams '07, the TD to Tony Curtis without seeing him at the Meadowlands '07, the crazy TD against the Steelers '08, etc) then you have to be willing to take some of the bad that goes with it. My advice is to appreciate having a QB that can pull rabbits out of hats rather than trying to change him into Trent Dilfer. But, then again, it is easy to say that the morning after he has a QB rating of 140.

* Keith Brooking is turning into my hero. I would be most interested in hearing the Falcons brass explain what he wasn't doing there. Of course, the change of scenary theory may be in play, too.

Nice Win, and it opens up more opportunities down the road. Seattle is next in 6 days, and they are coming off a bye, so let's make sure you consume yourself with them before you start pondering the date in Philadelphia in 13 days. 4-2, and still right in the mix.

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