Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Cowboys '09: Game 8 at Philadelphia

It was a "Show Me" game for the Dallas Cowboys. One to show those who want to see them do well and to show those who want to see them fail that the 2009 Dallas Cowboys may not be cut from the same cloth as the 2008 Dallas Cowboys. A chance to return to the scene of possibly the most painful day in modern Cowboys' history just a little over 10 months ago and attempt to make something right. A chance to show you can beat a quality opponent at their place under the scrutiny of a national television audience.

And your Dallas Cowboys did not waste this chance. In fact, they impressed by making key plays on offense and defense in the 4th Quarter, and left Philadelphia a frustrated city of Cowboys haters.

I said on Friday that I couldn't just pick the Cowboys to win on blind faith. At some point, they needed to step up and do what they claim they are capable of against a top opponent. They needed to prove it. We can debate whether the Eagles are elite, just as we can debate whether the Giants or Cowboys are, too. But, Sunday Night looked alot like two great rivals who have great players trying to knock eachother out in the center of the ring. It was a man's game, with players being asked to take a tremendous beating with injuries all over the field. To withstand that test and to kill the game off where you did not run a meaningful play after the 2 minute warning was impressive and important. The Cowboys are no longer under the radar of the NFL. At 6-2, they find themselves in a wonderful spot. And given that they have won 4 straight since that ugly day in Denver, I would submit they deserve to be right where they are.

Let's detail the 4 plays that closed the deal for Dallas in the 4th Quarter in Philly:

1) - 10:49, 4th and 1, McNabb on the keeper. Keith Brooking meets him at the top, and according to the referees, Donovan did not make it to the marker. Honestly, I am amazed at the spot and the result, but even replay couldn't review the mark. A big 4th down stop by the defense, which reminds us that the Cowboys defense isn't too shabby in these 4th Down situations with key stops in Pittsburgh and Denver, as well.

2) - 8:13, 3rd and 13, from the Eagles' 49: Cowboys look like their drive is over, but they are going to take a shot here. Eagles bring 6 in a blitz, but Witten and Choice help it get picked up. Romo has time to throw a pump fake to Miles Austin which gets Eagles CB Sheldon Brown to take the bait and step up. Austin keeps running right past him, and Romo puts the throw on the number. Austin then cuts across the defense and ends up in the end zone with a huge Touchdown.

3) - 5:19, 3rd and 10 for Eagles, from Dallas 33. Cowboys decide to bring pressure, and flush McNabb out of the pocket to his right. It sure looks like he might be able to scramble for a first down and keep the very important drive alive but out from the pack of humanity emerges #57, Victor Butler, who is only in the game because of an injury to Anthony Spencer 3 plays earlier. Butler, gets just a small piece of McNabb's foot, but enough to trip him down for a loss of 2 on Butler's 3rd sack of the season. The result of the play is forcing Andy Reid into an odd decision to kick a FG to cut the score to 20-16, and the Eagles would never see the ball again. Because,

4) - 2:02, 3rd and 3, Cowboys with a play from their own 46. Dallas is forced to run a play right before the 2 minute warning (more on that later) and they go to the bread and butter play, a swing to Witten who then fights off Quinten Mikell for the first down and he picks up 5.

How about that? 4 plays that went 4-0 in the Cowboys favor to close the deal in the 4th Quarter. 2 plays by the offense, 2 plays from your defense. A total effort from guys from all over the roster who stepped up at just the right point of the game to beat a division rival at their place.

More thoughts and observations from the big night win in Philadelphia:

* Adam Schefter had a few stats on his twitter page that I thought you would enjoy: All those Tony Romo bashers should note that on third downs last night - only third downs - Romo compiled a passer rating of 149.1 and,then this one: On third down, where Dallas won the game, Tony Romo was nine-of-11 for 140 yards, one touchdown and that quarterback rating of 149.1. I thought Romo continued his trend of remarkable play, and Schefter's stats are quite revealing. 3rd Down is where the Eagles bring the noise on the blitz, and Romo handled it well last night.

* Victor Butler is a remarkable development. Entering last night's game, Anthony Spencer had been on the field for 449 plays and had 0 sacks. Victor Butler has played 43 plays this season and has 3 sacks. Now, before we get carried away, you should know that according to at least one stat resource, Spencer does lead the Cowboys with 13 QB hits, but 0 is still 0. We should also remember that there is far more to being a LB in the NFL than just sacks. However, it is a very interesting talent to have, and it suggests that the Cowboys need to figure out how to get him on the field more in passing situations.

* Felix Jones appears to be protecting himself on his kick returns. He is not running into holes with reckless abandon. Just something to keep an eye on.

* Apparently, Romo is 4-0 with his hat on forward, and also has decided that sleeves under his jersey make sense in cold situations. A dramatic departure from short sleeves in Pittsburgh last December.

* The Eagles blitz package certainly did cause some protection issues, but as the game went on, the Cowboys bought Tony a little time. Kyle Kosier had his worst day of the season, and Trent Cole certainly turned the corner on Flozell. But, all in all they were able to hang in there in adversity and that is a tough thing to do. I am not sure what sort of blocking/protection works when they blitz both "A" gaps on a run play to Barber (2 plays before the Austin TD). I think that is just the right call to make a running play look bad.

* Mike Jenkins is really close to being this team's #1 closer. Cris Collinsworth said "Jenkins has come a long, long way since Week 2" and I couldn't agree more. I am quite impressed with his progress and as you know, I was wondering if Orlando Scandrick was better in September. Now, I cannot even consider entertaining the conversation. I have no idea what clicked, but give Jenkins, Dave Campo, and anyone else involved big credit for his breakout, which is no less important than Miles Austin on offense. Your kids must grow up fast for your team to have success, and the Cowboys look like they have a 1st Round CB opposite Terrence Newman.

* Now, about that home-town clock operator: I was suspicious of the 40 second clock operator with 2:42 or so to go when the clock started the second that Marion Barber was tackled. I really didn't think the Cowboys needed to run another play before the 2 minute warning, but the clock reset so fast, that it was clear they would have to. Then, I became convinced of the 40 second clock operator wearing a throwback Harold Carmichael when right after the 2 minute warning he used the 25 second clock instead of the 40 second clock! 1 mistake is possible, but 2 in 1 minute both against the Cowboys? Foul!

* The Cowboys really, really needed that Butler sack. The Eagles ran 26 plays in the 2nd half without a Cowboys sack before Butler got them on their final offensive play of the game. The Cowboys pressure had run out of gas after the intermission.

* No Westbrook was a very big deal. LeSean McCoy has potential, but there were quite a few spots where you knew that Westbrook would have made that catch or made something out of nothing. He is special, and McCoy is just a kid. Advantage to the Cowboys.

* Mat McBriar did a very nice job, I thought. He is very solid and underappreciated.

To be at 6-2 is to be in a great spot. On top of the division all by yourself as you head to Green Bay. A reeling Packers team could be setting up an ambush, but with a solid pass rush, that is a winnable game. Then the Redskins and Raiders? Dare to dream, Cowboys fans. You could be 9-2 as the calendar turns. If that is the case, this team will be poised to break on through to the other side.

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