Many of the headlines this week featured some version of “the Dallas Cowboys blow another close game”. I had similar feelings soon after the game, but I have had time to think about the game, and re-watch it. Perhaps surprisingly, I am actually now far more optimistic. There are teams in the league with better records, but this season has had so many close games that a lot of that is luck. Are you really going to tell me the 3-3 Jets are better than the 2-3 Cowboys? Or the 3-3 Bills? I could go on, but it seems unnecessary. Team records at this point in the season are not exactly a mirror image their ability. At 2-3 the Dallas Cowboys still have every chance of making the post-season. They are one of the most complete teams in the league. They can run it, pass it, defend the run, and defend the pass all to a reasonable level. Let’s look for a hole in the Cowboys armor:
1) Through four games the one major knock on the Cowboys has been that the offensive line is ineffective.
So what do they do? Come out and dominate Ravens Haloti Ngata and company. The run blocking by the Dallas Cowboys line was dominant. In pass blocking, they allowed a reasonable 5 pressures on 36 pass attempts for Tony Romo. Some may say, “the Ravens defense is awful”, to which I would say yes, yes it is. But we set a record for most rushing yards against the Ravens by any opponent. That is quite a feat. Plus, I still maintain the Cowboys offensive line was not as bad as most people would leead you believe through the first four games. The main problem they’ve had has been a lack of continuity. This can still be seen on stretch zone plays, where it is very important the o-line works as a group, and they do not always do this well. Still, this line is trending up. Give them more time and game experience to develop continuity and they will continue to get better.
2) The defense hasn’t played well lately.
The Dallas Cowboys defense hasn’t shown an ability to rush the passer the last two games, and their run defense has been average the last couple of games. Despite the collective mediocre performances, in each game it was different players making the mistakes. On the season, most of these players have actually played well against the run, so hopefully this is not something that continues. My main concern is the pass rush. It has been HORRIBLE the last two games. Consider this: against the Ravens the only player with more than one pressure for the Cowboys was Sean Lee with 3. Demarcus Ware had 1. Ware’s pressures by game this season is surprisingly low: 4, 1, 3, 3, 1 . I think his time may be coming soon, he’s definitely not the same player he once was. Jason Hatcher has gotten pressure intermittently throughout the season, and Spencer has had a couple nice games, but really no one has shown the ability to consistently get pressure. At this point defensive coordinator Rob Ryan may be forced to start blitzing more and relying on the cover corners Dallas Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones paid such a price for in the offseason. The coverage has been mostly solid, but with no pass rush, the secondary is vulnerable, much like the Ravens. Ed Reed isn’t going to help you much when the QB can sit in the pocket and go through his reads.
3) Dallas Cowboy Jason Garrett isn’t good enough as an offensive coordinator or head coach.
After the game I was very critical of Garrett for his time management skills, and I still think he made mistakes. All season the Cowboys offense has seemed to struggle to do basic things such as get plays in on time, know the route to run, and perform shifts according to the rules. It seems like on every play the offense stumbles around and only gets to the line with 10-15 seconds left. This is ok if Tony Romo likes what he sees, but if decides to “kill” the play and go the second play called in the huddle (the Cowboys always call two plays like this) it seems as though there is not enough time, which allows the defense to time the snap as it gets closer to zero, leaves Romo and the offensive line seeming flustered, and sometimes results in delay of game penalties. I have no problem with this strategy, just get to the line faster. There is no reason this should take longer than 10-15 seconds, if not less, leaving plenty of time to call audibles, run shifts/motions etc. This is a huge problem for the Cowboys, but it is very correctable.
Also, penalties have been a big problem for the Dallas Cowboys all year. Hopefully Jason Garrett can correct this. Regarding Garrett as a game manager – yes, he has been awful so far during his tenure, but this is also very correctable. Either study up on game management, or hire help to do it, or both. Some have suggested handing play calling duties over to Bill Callahan, which I think is an option, too.
So overall, the Cowboys have some issues yes, but so do most teams in the league. What the Cowboys don’t have, outside of an anaemic pass rush, is any back-breaking issues that we don’t appear to have the talent to fix, which many teams in the league do. The pass rush will be something to monitor going forward. One other thing to note was the lack of QB-receiver miscommunications which had been a recurring theme all season.
On to the Ravens game. Reviewing the tape for this game did little other than to highlight the obvious. The offense was excellent. Dez Bryant had a great game, as did the o-line (Costa was the pick of the bunch, having his way with Haloti Ngata on a number of occasions). Witten looks back to his best. Hanna showed signs of improved run blocking. Pretty much everyone except for Ogletree played really well. Ogletree had a drop and some penalties.
The Dallas Cowboys defense was where the tape was more interesting. Obviously the D wasn’t good, but who exactly was to blame? Bruce Carter had a horrible game versus both the pass and the run. Demarcus Ware’s only positive contribution to the game was the sack, outside of that he missed a tackle and had a couple poor plays in run D. Brandon Carr surrendered 5 catches, but at least most all of them were underneath with no deep bombs. Six different players missed tackles. On a positive note, Ratliff and Coleman had nice games against the run. None of these players have been playing consistently badly, so hopefully the defensive mistakes were anomalies.
Looking forward to the Panthers. With the offense in this kind of form and the Panthers defense being the Panthers defense, we should be able to score a lot of points at least. If our defense can limit Cam Newton and company, hopefully we can get the Cowboys can get a win.
Prediction: Dallas Cowboys 28 – Carolina Panthers 25