Monday, October 18, 2010

Morning After Observations: Vkings 24, Cowboys 21

Other Observations and Thoughts on the game in Minnesota:

*- We touched on this briefly last night, but I think it bears repeating. Akwasi Owusu-Ansah appears to be a player that might have a future in this league (although given the fate of many Cowboys picks in the recent past, he should likely be a good steward of his money at this point). But, I see almost no reason to continue to trot him out on kick returns when there generally appears to be very little threat of him breaking one. I have heard that he was legendary at Indiana (Pa) with his return ability, but on a team with Tashard Choice, Felix Jones, Dez Bryant, and several other weapons that I am not able to get enough touches for, it seems like a real waste to have this guy returning kicks unless he demonstrates a game-breaking ability. I am sure by typing this that I will no doubt see him return one next week for a TD on Monday Night, but through 17 returns he looks quite ordinary at the NFL level. We focus every week on the Cowboys unreasonable starting field position issues, and if their return men cannot do better than this, then I don't know why we don't look for alternatives. Starting Field Position on Sunday: The Dallas 21 yard line. Pretty much where Owusu-Ansah has ended most of his returns. And for the season? The Cowboys rank 32nd in the NFL for starting field position. Time to evaluate this spot on the team.

*- I don't mean to write about Roy Williams every week, but on an offense where there is not a ton of "players performing above expectations" I think #11 has joined #68 as maybe the only 2 who can say that. Roy would have been a very defendable release this off-season if weren't for financial considerations that would have made it silly. So, he was given 1 more chance to prove it wasn't the worst trade in Dallas Cowboys history (Joey Galloway) by doing anything of note in 2010. To suggest that I didn't see this coming is an understatement, as he has not only been solid, he has been making difficult catches in traffic and at his best in the red zone. I think anyone would have to admire a guy performing at his best when public outcry has been its loudest. I do however find some amusement at his loyalists demanding apologies about the commentary that has been aimed at him. Nobody deserves apologies when they play horrid football for 2 seasons at an exceptional salary and then figure it out in the 3rd. He put himself in this spot and now he is proving he can do something about it and rehab his public perception. The remainder of his 2010 will be fascinating because every week he is trying to make the decision to keep him or not in 2011 more difficult. But good for him for his start so far.

*- It is a shame that the Miles Austin day did not go as well as the Roy Williams day. Let's recount some of the key moments for Miles. An amazingly silly celebration penalty on the 1st Roy TD that may have demonstrated his exceptional athletic ability, but also demonstrated that professional athletes don't always respond to correction very well. Seriously, Miles? A 1st Quarter excessive celebration penalty the week after the same penalty cost your team a game? Then, a 68 yard Touchdown is cancelled out because of an offensive pass interference call that looked righteous but also looked like a play they allow to happen many times every weekend in this league. If it was cut and dried that every offensive push off when a receiver cuts is illegal, that would be one thing. But the truth is that this seems to be a case of selective enforcement. The play would have changed the game, but instead, it was one of those "minus" plays that kill a drive and set up a 1st and 20. After that, a 7-yard slant completion was his only statistical contribution in the 2nd half, but should get honorable mention for his handshake TD celebration on the Dez Touchdown. Surely, a wonderful way to mock the NFL policy on celebrations, but since it hit so close to home, I must admit I was amused. I would like to campaign for the gentlemen's handshake as the default celebration from this point forward. I would also like to think that there are more ways to use Miles Austin in a "must win" game.

*- Perhaps they found a proper role for Marion Barber. He was very good on short yardage situations on Sunday. 3 times he was handed the ball on 3rd Down and short and all 3 times he got the fresh set of downs. And if you go back and examine those moments, a few of them are all about Marion finding the sticks pretty much by himself. Yards per carry are used to measure the ability of a RB, but it doesn't do him justice if he gets the ball in short yardage situations. In those situations it is a matter of convert or not. And Barber went 3 for 3. With that in mind, we are left to 2nd guess the fateful decision on 3rd and 1 in the 4th Quarter of a 21-21 game. Romo ends up throwing the pick on this play as the Cowboys thought the Vikings would be sitting on Barber a 4th time. But as many have pointed out, why don't you try to hold the linebackers with some sort of play action fake? There is no attempt to fool EJ Henderson with a fake to Barber and Henderson gets his drop into the passing lane of Romo who thought he saw a wide open Witten. I would really love to understand the logic behind no play action fake to a guy who has already gone 3 for 3 on 3rd and short - assuming you don't just give him the ball in the first place. That play, more than any play in the game, was the definitive moment. Convert, and you are driving for a winning score. But, turn the ball over and the Vikings take over in field goal range. You win or lose on one play.

*- Last week we wondered how you roll up 500 yards and lose. This week we will wonder how you concede just 188 yards and lose. The Vikings still have big offensive issues. Brett Favre was beaten up and did not find much downfield either. Adrian Peterson was held in check. But they scored 4 times on Sunday without ever having taken a snap in their own territory. The 1st Touchdown was off the 1st Romo interception at the Dallas 16. Then the kickoff return for the touchdown from Harvin. Then, the Drive that started from the Cowboys 49 after McBriar punted from his own endzone that ended up with a Peterson TD to make it 21-14. And finally, the Henderson pick that resulted in the winning FG on a drive from the Cowboys 30. When we say the Cowboys beat themselves most weeks, this is what we are talking about. The Vikings won without ever mounting a drive. The defense could almost not be asked to do more. Except cause the occasional takeaway. Sorry about me, the broken record.

*- I hope you saw Gerry Fraley's item on Jason Williams yesterday. As was feared by the coaching staff, if Williams played, there was a chance that he would blow assignments at crucial times. The top pick in that disastrous 2009 draft is not helping his reputation and the belief by some in the know that he could be next to be voted off the island if things don't shape up in a hurry. With few snaps to stick out, two blown assignments on crucial plays will not allow anyone to place more trust in Williams.

*- Dez Bryant has been wonderful as a rookie, but if there was ever a time to not exhibit "alligator arms" and bail out of a slant it is 3rd and 5 with under 3 minutes left in a game in which you are trying to keep a drive alive. He doesn't have a reputation of fearing contact so I will cut him some slack, but I need a better effort even if you do hear footsteps coming your way from inside. Sometimes making the play will hurt. Ask Michael Irvin. That was a very damaging play to the Cowboys efforts.

*- Mike Jenkins is in quite a slump. You can feel a confident player's confidence leaking when he is called for 4 Pass Interference calls in 2 games. In fact, the 4th - which was that most crucial 3rd and 6 play with 2:18 to play in which the Cowboys looked like they had forced a punt - appeared to be called partly because the refs are now not allowing him the benefit of the doubt. In fairness to the refs, Jenkins also appeared to have a handful of Greg Lewis' jersey. It is Greg Lewis. Make him beat you, Mike. But, partly because the refs are watching, partly because Brett Favre gets a lot of 50/50 calls, and partly because Jenkins was too physical, the call was made and the game was over. That is a shame because the defense really did play their hearts out again and deserved better.

This is what happens when you play with fire too frequently. You can go to New Orleans and Houston and play well with your back against the wall. But, going back to that well too often is dangerous. If you always have your back against the wall, then one of these times you are not going to escape. This was that time. 1-4 and not much hope remains in 2010. Another somewhat self-inflicted loss that will no doubt further erode any cohesion that might have existed in the room.

As wonderful as it seems to be a Rangers' fan right now, it is quite the opposite for the Cowboys' fan. This is the type of "rock bottom" that makes you re-evalute every thing about the way the Cowboys do business. From the top to the bottom, nothing should be safe or sacred from examination.

In a results-oriented business, they know that these results will not be near acceptable.

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