Written by theMBIIIeffect
It’s December, and with Old Man Winter come the familiar criticisms of the Dallas Cowboys and the tradition of predicting their imminent breakdown.
Tony Romo can’t win the big games. Wade Phillips isn’t a strong enough coach to keep the Cowboys focused late in the year. The team is all glitz and glamor and the team folds in cold weather. Why should anyone think that this team should be any different?
It’s an easy prediction to make. Too bad it won’t come true.
This team is different enough-and good enough-to possibly run the table in their last few games and end their decade-long playoff drought.
At this point in the seasons, defenses start to take over. The Cowboys defense started planning for a late season run long before the season started. With the signing of Keith Brooking, the Cowboys gained a defensive leader with postseason experience. With the signing of Gerald Sensabaugh, the Cowboys filled a spot that had seen Roy Williams and other strong safeties become huge defensive liabilities. And with the trade of Anthony Henry, the Cowboys opened up a spot for Mike Jenkins, who is a much more physical cornerback than his predecessor. This defense, the second-rated scoring defense in the NFL, can keep opposing teams scores low in tight games. They’re also producing turnovers, which was hugely lacking last year.
On offense, the success of the team falls on the shoulders of the quarterback. Take a look at Romo’s stats. Through 11 games, he’s thrown seven interceptions, which is on pace for a new low mark in his career as a starter. He’s also taken 25 sacks, the most in his career as a starter. What Romo has learned in his fourth season as a starter is that taking a sack or throwing the ball out of bounds is a much better option than trying to force passes when coverage breaks down. The run game has also been much better than past years. The trio of Cowboys running backs-Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice-sits second in the NFL in yards per carry and sixth in total rush yardage. Because we’re deep at the running back spot, and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett has shown a commitment to the run, the Cowboys will be able to grind out tough yardage in poor conditions. As a whole, the Cowboys offense is much more balanced and productive, averaging over 392.1 yards per game, good enough for fourth in the NFL.
With such improvements on both sides of the ball, the Cowboys stand a good chance at winning four of the five games (@NYG, SD, @WASH, PHI) remaining on their schedule.
The one hurdle-and a high hurdle at that-comes on the Dec. 19, when the Cowboys travel to New Orleans to take on Drew Brees and former Cowboys offensive coordinator Sean Payton (did any of you watch their game against the Patriots and say ‘Gee, I really wish we hadn’t let Payton go?’)
This game is win-able. It’s the NFL, and no matter what commentators may have you believe, the Saints have shown signs of vulnerability.
They’re weak against the run, especially in the middle, and the defense has been known to give up plenty of points. The Rams (yes, the 1-10 St. Louis Rams who average just under 12 points per game) put up 23 points against the Saints. There are plenty of games on their schedule where the Saints defense allowed more points than they probably should have (DET-27, MIA-34, ATL-27).
If you should choose to take a look at their schedule, ask yourself this question: what good defense have the Saints played? I can’t find one defense on their schedule that really scares me. The Patriots don’t count anymore, having shipped out too much talent on defense over the past few seasons. The Giants started off well, but the Saints played them without safety Kenny Phillips, who is out for the year due to injury. The Eagles have a respectable defense, but who else impresses you on that schedule? The Dolphins? The Jets?
Winning against the Saints won’t be easy, and it’ll take a good game plan along with a big effort from the Cowboys. That being said, I’m sure that analysts will predict another win for the Saints on the 19th and the Cowboys will be underdogs in the Superdome.
The analysts should pick another Cowboys loss here. The Saints are a great football team, and ’tis the season for picking against Dallas.
That doesn’t mean that the Cowboys can’t spoil the Saints’ shot at perfection and save their reputation in the month of December.