Monday, December 14, 2009

The Morning After: Chargers 20, Cowboys 17



I am officially out of excuses. And optimism. And positive spins.

For those of you that look to me to offer you some "half-full" mentality, I might be letting you down this week. I just can't believe that they spit the bit again. I blame myself for thinking this season was different. I blame myself for trusting this organization to get it right at the moment of truth.

I mean, at some point, if you keep picking the coyote to catch the road runner and you are wrong repeatedly, do we blame the coyote or those picking him despite the ever mounting pile of evidence that says the road runner will always get away?

On Sunday at the new Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, the Chargers avoided any and all aspects of the "ambush theory" and did what good teams do in the month of December, waited out a reasonable performance from the inferior home team and then made all of the plays in the 4th Quarter to seal their 10th victory of the season. Meanwhile, the Cowboys followed their familiar December path, where the crucial moments of the game are all wrong, and despite doing a few things well, they leave with their 5th defeat and the sinking feeling that defeat #6 is merely 5 days away.

The Cowboys offense left at least 10 points on the field - and when you lose by 3, that is an enourmous number. The Cowboys defense surrendered scoring drives in the first half of 84 and 64 yards. Then in the 4th Quarter when it absolutely needed a stop, they allowed 2 stake-in-the-heart possessions of 75 yards and 73 yards. In "win" time, Dallas could not get a drive going, and the Chargers could; marching right down the field with 11:23 Time of Possession in the 4th Quarter alone.

The fact that really shows in a game like this is that you can see the fragile mentality of the Cowboys organization. I was asked last night if the Cowboys are "soft" and I think that is a difficult conclusion to draw when a team wins many physical battles over the course of a game and a season. But, do they possess the composure and the mental strength to weather a storm and emerge on the other side? Or, when adversity arrives on the door-step, do the Cowboys collectively collapse under the pressure? I think the evidence answers that question. They appear to be "mentally soft". You can wait them out. At some point, they will crack under the pressure. They will miss a Field Goal. They will let Vincent Jackson get behind them on 3rd and Long. They will give up a 15 play drive when they absolutely must get the ball back for the offense.

So, who do we blame? I suppose today will be one of those days on the radio where nobody will be free from the ridicule. And who should be safe? If the object of the game around here is to quiet the ghosts of past failures at the moment of truth, then these 2 losses in the last 2 weeks don't exactly accomplish that mission.

As difficult as it is to admit, the Cowboys franchise is merely following its same path that it has worn since its last Super Bowl victory in 1995. A path that often includes a hierarchy of relatively powerless men answering to an owner that promised us he would be involved in everything to "socks and jocks". He is keeping his word, and his results are there for all to see in the record books - nearly 5,000 days since the last playoff wins.

It would surely be easier to handle this team if they would not demonstrate their reasonable quality so often. They are not a bad team and they are not devoid of talent. They play hard and have many quality individuals. But in the end, they end up with what appears to be shockingly similar results. And, of course, what makes me angry is that I only get these moments of clarity after I realize how silly a win prediction on Friday truly was. Again, don't blame the coyote for being the coyote. Blame yourself for believing this episode he will actually catch the roadrunner.

Now, some random observations from the game that showed us 2009 will most likely not end differently:

* The best news to emerge last night from this loss was the report that DeMarcus Ware is out of the hospital and resting at his house. Ware, who was carted off the field with 11:28 to go in the 4th Quarter, appeared to suffer a severe neck injury during a pass rush sequence. At that point in the game, the score was 10-10, and the Chargers were going to face a Ware-less defense for a 3rd and 12, from the SD 47 yards line. Could the Cowboys hang in there without their best defender? Well, 2 plays, and 53 yards later, Antonio Gates is celebrating an easy Touchdown. My first thought is to acknowledge that losing Ware demonstrates his immense value to this team, and we should not be shocked that the results after he left were not positive. My second thought is that, once again, this shows the mental fragility of the team, that losing one guy can make the defense collapse like a house of cards when it needed someone to step up and make a play in Ware's absence. Ware appears to be suffering from a sprained neck, so his return in the next few weeks appears to be a real possibility.

* The Cowboys almost took the game over in the 2nd Quarter, with a phenomenal drive that was primarily that "power run" set domination. Felix Jones for 12, 12, 5. Barber for 8 and 5. Choice for 5 and 6. Jones for 7, Barber for 3 - down to the 1 yard line. The entire length of the field without a single pass completion. It was a thing of beauty- Physical strength and demoralizing results for the Chargers defense. And, then the game turned. 2nd and goal: nothing. 3rd and goal: nothing. 4th and goal: Less than nothing. When they had 3 cracks from the 1 with the season hanging in the balance, the Cowboys could not get the 36 inches necessary. What happened? Well, we could carefully analyze every block to see who got it done, and who didn't, but I will save some of that for Football 301. But, if I may offer a cheap 2nd guess, it would be three-fold about that 4th down call. First, if I have one run with my whole season on the line, do I run to the right behind the new guy, Doug Free? Or do I take it to the left, like I did on the goal-line in Philadelphia? Second, on the 1 yard line, when 11 defenders are on the line, can I afford to wait for the development of the pulling Kyle Kosier? Brandon Siler sure didn't wait. He shot the gap, beat Kosier to the point of attack, and blew up the play. And Third, don't I have Barber at Tailback, with Deon Anderson's thunder blocks in front of him, rather than trying to get cute and have Felix deep and Barber up front? Would the Chargers really believe that for the first time in his career, you would trust Felix Jones in a short yardage situation? Or, did the Chargers know, like we all did, that Jones was a decoy, and Barber was getting the rock again. Regardless, the game changed right then and there, and we will have all off-season to debate if any of those 3 issues have merit, or if we are all just second-guessing the result - that Barber was stopped at the 1-yard line; and the season might have been stopped, too.

* Nick Folk.

* I know that my vote is not the deciding vote in the Jerry Jones approval rating test, but I cannot tell you how nuts he makes me sometimes. From the role that his head coaches must take, to the assumption that he needs more Felix, to the idiocy of the bits in his new stadium, to the roof being closed when it is 68 degrees outside - the hits just keep coming. So, let me get this straight: It is arguably the biggest game of the year. One in which the crowd needs to make a difference and help will the Cowboys to victory. A game that is so crucial that many will lose their jobs over it if the result doesn't go the right direction. And with that all in mind, he thought it would be a great time to hand out 70,000+ 3D glasses to his fans, which effectively distracts his own audience from doing their job in the game? What is the point? What are we doing? Is the whole point of this new stadium to bring further glory to Jerry by proving we can herd well-meaning Cowboys fans onto a party platform 50-deep? Is it to show the silliness of the world's largest television - while ignoring the reality that it actually keeps your own fans from wanting to watch what is going on down on the field below? You cannot make this stupidity up! Why not issue XBoxs and cellphones to everyone attending so that they pay even less attention to the game? I can feel my blood pressure raise as I type this, so let me end this rant by admitting this stadium and I are never going to be on good terms, I don't believe.

* The Cowboys are 1-6 at home in December in their last 7 games. Amazing.

* The pass rush was ineffective again. I will readily admit that Philip Rivers was hit on several occasions as he delivered the ball, but the hits never seemed to affect the flight of the ball. He stood tall, took a hit, and moved the chains again. I was very impressed with his performance for much of the day.

* As for Romo, the numbers of efficiency were there all day. But much like the Cowboys, numbers are nice, but football comes down to scenarios and key moments in a game. During those scenarios and key moments, the offense has to cash in. And for whatever reason, they were 1-8 on 3rd down conversions. Not converting on 3rd down ends drives and turns TD opportunities into Field Goals (or missed Field Goals). A QB Rating of 111.7 was surely impressive, but unlike last week, you would have to admit he was the 2nd best QB on the field. Rivers had a lower QB rating (89.6) but converted several 3rd and long throws that kept his team rolling down the field, while going right after Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins. The corners for the Cowboys seem good enough usually, but clearly not anything that scares Rivers.

* I was asked by a few emailers to reprint my "end of another season" paragraph from last year's Baltimore game that I received so many compliments on. I hesitate to do so, because there are 3 games to go. The Cowboys can still save their skin (there I go, believing in the coyote, again). Regardless, your wish is my command:


As I was leaving a frigid Texas Stadium after the game, I was walking right behind a Dad and his boy. The boy must have been 7 or 8 years old and was crying about the result. Some people might roll their eyes, but I knew how the boy felt. When you are young, and you love a sports team, you believe the games and the seasons will all have the happy endings of the Disney movies that you watch. Guess what, son, if you are going to pledge allegiance to a team as it appears you have with the Dallas Cowboys, I want to welcome you to the fellowship of the die-hards. Understand, that once you do, you are not allowed out of this commitment, and you should also understand that most seasons are going to end in tears. A favorite team is the only thing a male human feels the same about when he is 5 and when he is 45 and when he is 75. You will change your mind on everything else. Girls, money, hobbies. But, you will always still feel the adrenaline rush of a win, and the gutting sadness of a horrible loss. I didn’t say anything to the boy, as his Dad was handling it (and he might not have welcomed my advice) but I felt for him. Welcome to sports, young man. Someday, you may live to see a championship or five, but most years will end with your guts spilling onto the floor. - December 21, 2008


Fellowship of the Die-hards or Fellowship of the Miserable? It is a fine line between the two.

3 games to go. Anyone believe in the coyote?

21 comments:

Marlon said...

We've got to face facts. The offensive line works as a gimmick but as regards to man on man beating your guy, the offensive line as it is constructed cannot do what is necessary to win games. I'm not gonna steal from your boy Rafael Vela, but a lot of what he says makes sense about the offensive line. This is NOT a power running team. The problem is they don't have an identity. They need to draft OL and DL and a playmaking free safety. I would suggest trading one of the running backs for maybe another 2nd round draft pick which I think is possible, maybe Barber.

desispeed said...

there's not much you can say about the December woes for this team...I would like the cowboys franchise to do what the steelers are doing if they lose to the saints and that is announce coaching staff changes before the season even ends. Please start with Wade!

Rafael said...

I'm gonna take my crack at your 4th and goal question.

They didn't run it behind Doug Free. Dallas ran a dive, with its biggest back behind Leonard Davis, its best run blocker.

Bigg whiffed. Watch the replays. He's on the ground while his guy is standing up Barber.

When you can't trust your biggest, baddest blocker in a one-on-one, money-on-the-line matchup, well, you don't have to go much deeper into analysis, at least I don't.

Rafael said...

Marlon,

If the Bengals want to revisit the Martellus Bennett trade, I make it in a heartbeat. If they really offered a 1st, I'd see if they want to do it again. They might, if they feel it would open up their offense.

Rafael said...

Bob,

I will answer your 4th and goal query. The Cowboys didn't run behind Doug Free. They ran a dive with their biggest runner, Marion Barber, behind their best run blocker, Leonard Davis.

Bigg whiffed on the block. Watch the replays. He's lying on his back on the goal line while his guy is standing up Barber at the one.

If you can't count on your alleged best in a one-on-one, money-on-the-line situation, well, it's time to go looking for another Larry Allen.

John said...

If a team with enough talent can overcome mediocre coaching (Cleveland Cavilers?) and a team with good coaching can overcome mediocre talent (Early Parcells - Quincy Carter), what is the case with these Cowboys?

Is this a case of the Cowboys having some good, but certainly not transcendent players, and some good, but certainly not transcendent coaches; and therefore the Cowboys muddle along in mediocrity, good enough to beat bad teams, but not good enough to beat good teams?

And can we now safely say that Jerry's number one priority is his bottom line, and as along as he can get people into the stadium, he really doesn't care what comes out of there mouths as much as what comes out of their wallets?

Sean Schniederjan RKC said...

I thought the same thing about the Ware injury. It happened. Now how would this team react? There was no question in my mind that the defense would completely roll over. There is no reselience to this team, there is no character, there is no leadership. Just some talented individuals.

I wonder if anyone on that team even attempted to rally the troops, to inform them that this was the defining moment for this season. All I saw was heads looking down. I can understand how scary it is to watch a fallen comrade, but it was obvious from Ware's girations he was going to be OK.

BTW, I also thought the Westside gesture jinxed the entire thing. C'mon Demarcus, you are playing a team FROM the Westside!

The Saints have got to be licking their chops...they've got a wounded team to feast on at home on Saturday night in December.

oraclenude said...

correction in the second random observation: "36 yards" should read "36 inches"

not necessary to publish. ok to discard.

Rafael said...

Sorry to double post. I thought I had messed up the original comment and it didn't go through.

Sean,

I take a different take on the defense, and I've had a lot of people disagree with me but I think the defense did as well as could be expected. They held San Diego to 20 points. Nobody had held them under 21 all year. They were averaging 34 points a game the last month.

You saw why. Their timing is superb. You remember playing the Steve Young 49ers in the '90s? Did you ever think they could be held to 14 or 17 points?

No, you played to keep them around 20 and counted on your offense to get to 24 or more. And when Dallas beat those 'Niners teams, that's what it did.

Yesterday's defense did the same. You *hold on* against and offense that good and hope to control them. The D did. The offense bunged two big scoring chances when the game was in its hands.

Bringing in a new coach may be necessary, but if a guy like Mike Shanahan comes in, say, he's still got this same again, flawed o-line. You think they won't fade in December on him too?

southwick said...

Some silly part of me thought that Ware going down would fire them up, and they would win this one for Ware!

How foolish I was.

Luis said...

I knew it was going to be a loss once we couldn't get the short TD and when Folk missed the field goal I turned off the tv and put on call of duty to shoot something and to try to feel better. I have a big feeling we will win on Saturday and we will once again believe in the coyote and then lose the last two games of the season....

Gregn said...

I think Nick Folk should be inactive on Saturday. David Beuhler is "inconsistent"? Folk is consistently bad. I want him back for training camp next year and see if he can get it back, but he's lost the right to do it this year.

Another season down the drain, time to start breaking down the Mavs.

marls.traille said...

Cowboys are done, let's move on to the Mavs. The Mavs may be better than I thought. They actually have a lot of talent. Dirk, JHo, Marion, Kidd, Terry. If Jason Terry is your 5th best player, that means you're probably pretty good. I don't see how they can overcome the Lakers but at least get to Conference Finals and see what happens.

Jack said...

Shanahan wouldn't be tied to this OL....and with the likelihood of a capless year, we could easily rebuild this team in the mold of any coach we brought in.

Say goodbye to Adams, Colombo and Davis. Free, Gurode and Kosier probably fit in a Shanahan offense. So two new players and you have your OL. This isn't brain science.

On defense, with about three different players we could be running a 4-3. So goodbye to Hatcher, Siavvi and Spears. Draft another DT to pair with Ratliff and Ware, sign a free agent DE and you are good to go. Let Hamlin walk and Crapenter walk.

There is no reason to think a new coach couldn't revamp this team in one year.

Josh said...

An interesting statistic for you, Bob:

The Cowboys offense has a points-to-yards ratio of .058 pts per yard (296 pts / 5084 yds)

The NFL average is .063 pts per yard (277.5 pts / 4336.1 yds)

Do these guys suck at productivity or what?

SalScott said...

I ask again....how the he'll does Jerry not make Wade take a southwest flight home last year after the eagles game? Jerry, you are the issue here, and I am not smiling when I say that.

vee gee said...

Ditto on the o-line, they HAVE to win the battle at least one of the tries. The win that duped us into thinking they could beat a good team was Philly on the road. After that we knew this was a different Cowboy team. They can beat the Giants in NY...and then they lost to the Giants. We made excuses: they played decent, Romo looked great, it was in the Meadowlands, we'll be ok, just wait until we beat the Chargers! Then those ESPN and NFL Network guys will see what the real 2009 Cowboys. We saw the real 2009 Cowboys: they try real hard, play as a team, they have no distractions but they just aren't good enough.

Shawn said...

It's the lines.

Could we use ball-hawking secondary - yes. Could we use pretty much any other wide receiver but Roy Williams on the field - yes. But will that change December - no.

The problem is the lines. First, defensive line. You can cry all you want about the secondary not getting enough takeaways, but that's not who this secondary is. Terrence Newman is not a takeaway machine. You can cry about the round peg not fitting into the square hole all day long, but this is a cover secondary, not a takeaway secondary.

What this secondary is supposed to do is cover up the receivers long enough for the line to get to the quarterback. The defense's identity is pressure and sacks. The defensive line is not getting it done. We bring pressure and no one gets there. Oh, we'll almost get there but 'almost' loses ballgames. The Lions have lots of things they 'almost' did in a game. In the offseason we have to figure out how to get to the quarterback.

The offensive line is a 3-month terror that can't keep it up. From August to October they are fierce. But they don't have the stamina to keep it up in December. This is a years-old problem. They couldn't get it done at the goal line last week. Go back to the playoff game in 2007 against the Giants. What happened in the 4th quarter of that game? Was it Romo just being terrible? No, it was the offensive line letting anyone and everyone get right trough. Oh, but they put together a great 99 yard run drive, right? Yes, against the 21st ranked run defense. We aren't talking the Vikings or the Steelers here, and make no mistake, they would get their lunch eaten by those defensive lines.

The team's doctrine this year especially revolved around controlling the line of scrimmage. We were a power-run and sack team. That was how we were going to win. We didn't win because the lines didn't get it done.

I know it's sexier to talk about cornerbacks and quarterbacks and wide receivers and who the best running back is. Those are fun. But at those positions we had enough to make a run, we did. We had enough to make a run if the lines would have held up their end of the bargain - they didn't.

Phil K. said...

After listening/reading all of this, and just reflecting on this one game, I've determined that San Diego is good and we got beat by a better team. Why is all this analysis necessary? We got bleeping beat folks...by a really good team. What more can be said?

Jay said...

Some optimism, it ain't over til it's over. Let's wait this thing out, there's only 3 more weeks and this thing is likely not going to be decided til late. We can worry ab their chances in the playoffs if/when they make it. There will be plenty of time for post mortem talk but I'm not willing to bury this thing yet.

Michael said...

I am ready to try Igor Olshansky at guard on short yardage. At least he's stronger than any of our current O-linmen and he can stay on his feet past the line of scrimmage.