Sep 5, 2012; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan talks with linebacker Sean Lee (50) during a time out in the fourth quarter at MetLife Stadium. Dallas won 24-17. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE

One Small Step For The Cowboys (One Giant(s) Leap for Cowboys-kind)


The Dallas Cowboys beat the New York Giants.  Those words are sweet, sweet music to my ears.  As I totally predicted, with no sort of built in caveat, the Cowboys defeated the Giants 34-21 on Wednesday night.  Ok, so maybe I got the score wrong, but the outcome is all that matters, right?

It didn’t take long for Giants fans to respond to their 24-17 defeat at the hands of the Cowboys with all of the subtlety and grace that fans of such a team can muster.  It’s not their fault – they were just born that way.

Side note:  One of the tweets I linked above from whiney Giants fans is from an MMA writer for SI.com named Jeff Wagenheim, who I really like.  If you ignore the NFL team he cheers for, he has some really insightful things to say about fighting.         

As a master of smooth and seamless segues, here are some of my thoughts on the game.

 Tony Romo is Tony Romo… still.

I haven’t exactly been secretive about my affection for #9, but I think some things bear repeating.  There was nothing ever wrong with Tony Romo, so all of this talk about demons and intangibles and how Romo is finally prepared to take his game to the next level – is all a bunch of poppycock.  You will have to indulge me and my use of the word, because you’d already read it and it’s too late to take it back now.

Anyway, my point is that he was already “next level” and had all the intangibles and absence of demons you could ask for.  The difference now is that he has a potentially very good team around him for the first time in a long time.  It is hard to win big games when you have a porous offensive line, an absence of a run game, and a defense with a propensity for 2nd half collapses.  Many of those facets appear to be markedly improved in 2012.

There was an (offensive) line drawn in the sand Wednesday night.

Newly acquired Ryan Cook was clearly one of many incredible stories of this game.  I’ve heard many fans talk about how relieved they were that he wasn’t a huge liability – which seems to me to be damning the 29 year old Center with faint praise.  We have to remember that this guy played after less than a week on this team and still performed remarkably well.  I’ve heard a few suggestions that his unfamiliarity with the team may have led to some of the false start penalties –which may very well be true, but his play can only improve with more practice time with the first teamers.

I have absolutely no concerns with the Tackles at all.  Tyron Smith is an All-Pro in the making and Doug Free is a very good RT.  We will have to see how the interior line works out, but I think this line can only improve as they get more time to become a cohesive unit.  They passed a very important test against an A-list defensive line in New York.

Rob Ryan’s defense gobbles the Giants Offense (or insert your own ‘Rob Ryan is fat’ joke here)

There is a lot left to be seen about the Cowboys’ defense and how it will perform over the duration of the season, but what we saw Wednesday night was very positive.  This unit got the generally prolific Giants’ offense off the field time and time again.  The fact that the game went into halftime seeing the Giants only score 3 points, especially considering the very-near pick 6 that Tyron Smith prevented with a horse collar, is a testament to this defense.  Smith’s savvy penalty set the table for the Dallas defense to eat all day…  I am so sorry.  I just can’t seem to help myself.

Anyway, if you compare the offensive numbers from the Giants on 1/1/12 Vs. Wednesday, the Cowboys allowed 168 fewer yards and two fewer Touchdowns.

     

The early signs are that the upgrades at CB are going to pay huge dividends for this team.  Mo Claiborne will have his struggles, but he is clearly a special player and is unquestionably better than his predecessors at the position.  On the other side, Brandon Carr continues to excel.

Outside of Ware and Lee, there were plenty of questions about the other two starting LB spots.  Wednesday night Bruce Carter and Anthony Spencer were beasts.  We’ll see if that high level play continues.

The world says in unison, “Laurent who?”

8 receptions, 114 yards, and 2 TD.  Wow.  This whole summer everyone was worried about depth at WR and it all seems a little silly now, doesn’t it?  It was amazing to see Kevin Ogletree step up and make enormous and desperately needed plays all night, but something struck me as I watched the game.  Isn’t it odd that two years in a row, relatively unknown or scarcely valued receivers have come up big when the Cowboys have needed another pass catching option?

Is it possible that the Cowboys talent evaluators are just that good… or could it be that we have an incredibly talented Quarterback that makes the pieces around him that much better?  Maybe Laurent Robinson catches 90 passes this year in Jacksonville, but something tells me he had it better in Dallas than he might have realized.

I would love to see Ogletree continue this kind of production, but the logical part of my brain says that we will see his contributions normalized.  I still think we’ll see a Wide Receiver by committee approach depending on the situation, but seeing that Ogletree can come up big in big games is extremely heartening.

 DeMarco Murray won my heart in a hurry. 

I could watch this run over and over and over again.  There are legitimate questions as to why he cut inside, when he very well could have scored if he followed Dez’s block… it’s still amazing.  If – and boy oh boy is this a big if, he can stay healthy for 15+ more games, this offensive unit is going to be extremely difficult to cope with for any defense in the league.  Tony Romo is dangerous enough without a run game, but adding an extra dimension to his game, which subsequently makes the passing game even more effective, is mind boggling.

Everyone knows that Murray has a history of leg injuries, dating back to his college days, which is probably why he fell to the Cowboys in the 3rd round of the 2011 draft.  To me, his injury last year doesn’t count because there’s really not anything you can do to prevent a broken ankle in that situation.

We can only hope that the limitless medical and training resources now available to him as a pro will help prevent any significant injuries this season.  Hopefully Tanner and Dunbar can provide quality and sufficient backups for him, because at this point, it sure doesn’t look like Felix Jones is going to be of much use.

What does it all mean?

The Week 1 win over the New York Giants has justifiably caused quite a clamor among the NFL world, and as always, the opinions are extremely polarized.  Some are saying that this means that the Cowboys are ready to take the next step and have earned the right to start talking postseason.  On the other side of the aisle, people are saying that it’s a fluke and that the Cowboys will ultimately shake their death rattle somewhere around Christmas time.  Still others say, “Meh.  We’ll see.”  My position in all of this doesn’t quite fall into either camp, so I commissioned a graphic artist to produce a Venn diagram to illustrate this more clearly.

As you can see, the graphic artist totally ripped me off.  Also, I am not quite ready to anoint the Cowboys with anything, nor do I think the win is meaningless.    This team has all of the tools to go as far as they will themselves to go.

I didn’t include a section about Jason Witten in my notes above, because I’m still trying to wrap my head around exactly what I think about the decision to play him.  He clearly was not himself, and though he was medically cleared to play, I can’t help but feel that, as far as the tangibles involved in the game, the risk may have outweighed the gain.  Thankfully the game ended with no exacerbation of the injury and the risk factor became moot.

What we have yet to see is if Witten’s decision to play has long lasting intangible qualities.  I do think it’s clear that Witten’s toughness served as an inspiration on Wednesday night, as he himself has been recently inspired.

During training camp, Witten visited with Navy Seals and gleaned the following quote:

“I will never quit. I persevere and thrive on adversity. My team expects me to be physically harder and mentally stronger than our competition. If knocked down, I will get back up every time. I will draw on every remaining source of strength to help my team and to accomplish our goal.  I am never out of the FIGHT.”

I do not normally consider myself sappy or prone to emotional responses from inspirational quotes, but something in that quote does it for me.  Maybe it’s the application of its message from a football player and man that I admire, or maybe it’s because I realize how much it resonated with his teammates.

If this team can make that “culture change” and couple the determination and grit that they’ve seemed to obtain with their overwhelming talent, who is to say that this team cannot compete for a championship this season?

Then again, it’s only one game, and there are a lot of difficult teams coming up.  It would be very easy to overlook a team like the Seattle Seahawks, but that would be very foolish indeed.  They have become a stylish pick to compete with the 49ers for the NFC West division crown.

Wednesday night was divine, but now it’s time to take it one game at a time.

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Tags: Dallas Cowboys DeMarco Murray DeMarcus Ware Jason Garrett Jason Witten

  • mattyk

    Venn diagram, love it, as it epitomizes both our hopes and fears! Definitely lean more towards this being a very very positive step — you don’t make it to the playoffs unless you believe in the folks around you and this game provides a great belief for our team on both sides of the ball. Go to the tape, internalize the learnings and now put the same effort towards the Seahawks. Go ‘Boys!

  • californy

    I look at the game again the other day. I came to the conclusion that Cook had the best game of all of the OL, not base on what he did, but base on what he didnt do. I only recalled 1 mistake by him in a game where I reviewed 2/3 of the game again. The Cowboy OL is terrible especially the play of Living and Tyron Smith. The OL doesnt create whole they only plug them. If it were not for the great vision of Romo or Murray we would of lost this game.
    The RR 4-5 man defensive line along with the press man coverage is the key to this team early success on defense.

  • californy

    Ogletree targeted 11 time connected on 8. With those number it easy to see why he was a factor.