The great thing about beating the New Orleans Saints is that it shows us all that the Dallas Cowboys are capable of playing well, and beating a quality opponent in a game that matters. Put another way, that game proves that the Cowboys are a good team.
The bad thing about beating the New Orleans Saints is that you have to play again this week and prove that last week wasn't the same concept as a "broken clock is right twice a day". Could you imagine? Could you imagine beating the Saints and restoring the hope of a difference-making playoff run, and then backing it up with a loss to the Redskins who are playing out the string in one of their silliest seasons in years (the Skins have a chance to go 0-6 inside the NFC East with a loss on Sunday - something they have not done since the 1994 season of great comedy when Norv, Heath Shuler, and friends finished 3-13).
One nice aspect about playing a bad team like the Redskins is that because it is the Redskins, you are less likely to assume they are going to roll over and play dead for you. Of course, the opposite is also true for the opponent, which suggests that there is no way the Redskins can back up their "give-up" routine with the Giants on Monday night with a similar performance on Sunday against the most hated rival, the Cowboys.
On the other hand, you have a lame-duck coach, a potential lame-duck QB, and who knows how many other members on this team are packing their bags. For crying out loud, they have assistant coaches interviewing for the head coaching job, while serving a head coach who hasn't been fired yet! You cannot write stuff this good.
The Redskins have hired a new GM in Bruce Allen. Human nature would suggest that players would play with all of their might to impress their new boss. Of course, this is a silly assumption based on the idea that NFL players know that every single play or practice rep is filmed and scrutinized for all to see their entire careers. Having Allen in the press box won't impress these guys. They either have pride or they don't - and that effort on Monday night speaks volumes.
With 2 weeks to play, the Cowboys can still win the division with 2 wins, and they can still miss the playoffs quite easily, too. This is no time to screw around with the Redskins - although we should understand that since they came to Arlington a month ago, the Redskins took the Eagles to the 59th minute, had the Saints beat but let them off the hook (thanks, Shaun Suisham!), buried the Raiders in Oakland, and then Monday Night.
|17||PHI||@ MIN||@ DAL||@ ARZ|
ON OFFENSE:Last week, I am proud to say our timing was pretty strong in noticing the virtual disappearance of the deep ball on the offense. As we mentioned during Football 301 this week, I believe Jason Garrett may have worked his finest performance in 24 months.
This week, let's spend a moment on this unreal job the "Romo Friendly" offense has done when it comes to taking care of the pigskin. Here are some numbers for you.
(1) - The number of Multiple Interception Games from Tony Romo this season. That game was in Week 2 in the Cowboys Stadium opener. 1. Amazing job. Last year, Cowboys QBs had 5 multi-pick performances, including 3 by Romo.
(12) - The number of Giveaways the Offense had in December of 2008. 12 turnovers in 4 games (including one game where they had 0 - so 12 in 3 games!) is the recipe for utter disaster. In 3 December games this year, the Cowboys have 1 giveaway - the Marion Barber fumble before Halftime in New York.
(3) - The number of teams in the entire NFL with fewer Giveaways than the Cowboys offense's 17. Green Bay, San Diego, and Minnesota. There is your entire list. Well done.
(8) - The number of games this season where the Cowboys won the Turnover battle. In the entirety of 2008, they won only 5 games in that department.
With that in mind, let's visit a gameplan:
1) - Continue to listen to your Identity - The Cowboys have been doing this for 14 weeks and surely, by now, they have proven to Norm and anyone else who did not believe it that they are a top-notch power football team that plays its best football with Romo under center and the threat of a run. This threat may or may not be real, but it is present. From there, they can do so many things and spread the ball in so many directions. There are times (Green Bay, December 2008) where they forget this identity and attempt to switch to the Saints/Patriots offense. But, this is who they are. This is what they do.
2) - Protect Tony Romo, Protect the Football - Tony Romo has been sacked 31 times this season. This is not anywhere near the best mark in the league (Peyton Manning, 10), nor is it anywhere near the worst mark in the league (Aaron Rodgers, 49). It is pretty much right smack in the middle. But, the good news is the Cowboys and Romo are in a 4-way tie for the fewest interceptions thrown by any team in the NFL with Green Bay, Minnesota, and Jacksonville. Usually, these two numbers are connected, but it is still the job of the QB to keep sacks from resulting in interceptions. Aaron Rodgers has done the best job this season at avoiding this, but Romo has been phenomenal.
3) - Prove You Can Cash In - Of course, this means score Touchdowns when you get the chance, rather than settling for Field Goals - something they did pretty well against the Saints until they settled for 3 late in the game and ended up with 0. But, this does provide us a chance to discuss the addition of Shaun Suisham to the squad and the exit of Nick Folk that made all of this possible. Through 12 weeks, Suisham was 12-12 in Field Goal attempts. He missed only 3 kicks his entire year (18-21), with 2 against the Cowboys in Arlington that likely cost them that game, and then an extreme chip shot (23 yards) against the Saints, which surely cost them that game, too. He, replaces Folk who missed a 24-yarder, also against the Saints, and kicks against his old team - the Redskins. One of my colleagues suggested that Suisham may have quite an advantage since he knows how to kick in Fed Ex Field, but I think my colleague is nuts, since Suisham got fired since he obviously did not know how to kick in Fed Ex Field.
4) - Roy Williams, Please Stand Up - In Week 11, the Cowboys got an ugly win. So, ugly, in fact, that Laron Landry was comfortable assessing Roy Williams after the game: "Scared," Landry said flatly. "Yeah. I know he was. Y'all can quote it, too. Y'all can tell him right now, tell him I'm sayin' it. I can say it right now: yeah, he was scared, I think. I told him he was scared." I know we often times ignore quotes from guys who are always running their mouths, but since Roy Williams had his ribs pounded in Denver, hasn't he looked scared in quite a few scenarios? I cannot swear he dropped that crucial 3rd Down in New Orleans because he was bracing for a hit, but I also cannot rule it out. Fact is, he needs to fight for his honor. If he doesn't show up big down this stretch, I would give serious consideration to saying goodbye in the offseason. He is no better than Patrick Crayton right now, and he is miles behind Miles.
ON DEFENSE: In the Cowboys 9 wins this season, they have 25 sacks (2.77 per game). In the 5 losses, they have a grand total of 9 (1.8). Sometimes it is tough to tie results to particular stats, as footballis far too complicated...But, against the Giants, the Cowboys got no pass pressure (1 sack which was late, late in the game) and the Cowboys lost. Against the Chargers, the Cowboys got no pressure and lost. And against the Saints, the Cowboys got to Drew Brees 4 times, and won. Not saying it is everything, but there seems to be some level of connection between the Cowboys getting results and their pass rushers getting to the opposition.
Against Washington in November, the Cowboys could not get to Jason Campbell. They also couldn't stop him on 3rd Down. In games where the Cowboys cannot get off the field on the money down, they struggle, but I suppose that is like saying when you fall in the water, you get wet.
1) - The Anthony Spencer Show - The good folks at ProFootballFocus.com, tell us that of the 71 QB Hits from the Cowboys defense, 25 have been from Spencer. QB Hits are basically "almost sacks". The rest of the Top 5: Ware 14, Brooking 7, Ratliff 5, Bowen 5. So, as you can see, 25 is strong. I am about ready to declare that Anthony Spencer is working his way off the "Bust Watch List". This guy can play. After 0 sacks in 10 games, he has 3.5 in his last 4. But, more importantly, he passes the eyeball test. He is always around plays. He just needs to make a few more of them.
2) - Don't let that Running Game Breathe - Have you ever heard of Quinton Ganther? Apparently, he went to Utah. Well, it appears it is up to him and Rock Cartwright to screw up the Cowboys drive to an NFC East division title. If they get that done, the Cowboys really are a team in need of a heart transplant. Ladell Betts and Clinton Portis are one thing (or Terry Allen or John Riggins), but Quinton Ganther? Flood the box, and make them pass quickly.
3) - Takeaway, Takeaway! - What is this? 5 Takeaways in the last 2 road games? DeMarcus Ware stripping the ball from Drew Brees when he goes in for the sack? Mike Jenkins grabbing another interception? Football gets so much easier when you get pressure and takeaways. If they continue to average 2.5 takeaways per road game, this team can go on a Super Bowl run. I am dead serious.
4) - Prove that you are Real - Here is the question we all want to know the answer to. Are the Cowboys really capable of playing that way defensively on a semi-regular basis? Can you trust the Cowboys defense to actually play to their paper? To get a stop when you truly need one? To win a game on its own merits? Numbers are nice, but like we always say here, football is about money downs and particular scenarios. When the chips are in the middle of the table, are they the defense that allowed the Chargers to do whatever it wanted 2 weeks ago, or the defense that did not allow the Saints anything 1 week ago? I don't think we will ever get a full conclusion on the quality of a "Wade Phillips Defense" until they win something. A division title would mean a home game in the playoffs. And that would likely lead to the first franchise playoff win in nearly 5000 days. That would be something.
SUMMARY: The Redskins are trying to prove they aren't quitting dogs. The Cowboys are trying to prove they can get on a roll in December. It is possible last Saturday turned the fortunes of this organization. But, it is all based on beating a bitter rival, in a cold weather (not too bad according to the forecast, but a chance for snow and temps around freezing), prime-time affair.
I think the Cowboys should anticipate a strong push from Washington, but a game that should be there for the taking after halftime. For some reason, a Shaun Suisham kick would seem extra poetic, but I don't figure the Skins can hang in there for that long.
Cowboys 31, Redskins 17
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