OK, starting with the review after three games. The Cowboys have a respectable record of 2-1. Not too bad. Now let’s evaluate the team. The offensive line still has the biggest issues, so let’s look at them first.
Many have weighed in on the struggles of the offensive line. Of the theories I am hearing, the prevalent one seems to be our lineman just aren’t any good. What I am not hearing much about is that the Cowboys have gone from a man blocking scheme employed by former line coach Hudson Houck to a zone blocking being implemented by new coach Bill Callahan.
Like any change, it takes time to implement a new blocking scheme and that implementation was compounded by injuries to the offensive line during training camp. So, as was the case with the Cowboys defense last year, it is being taught on the run during the regular season.
My expectation is that they will get better as the season goes on. However, don’t be surprised, once Phil Costa returns to the lineup, if you see current center Ryan Cook move over a spot and replace one of the current starters at guard.
Quarterback: Tony Romo has accomplished a lot when you factor in how lousy his protection has been and one thing is certain, if the line does not start protecting him better, Kyle Orton will be the quarterback finishing the season because Tony is going to be hurt.
Running back: The million dollar question is whether the running game is struggling because the line is, or is it just that Lawrence Vickers is not as good as Tony Fiametta. My perception is that, of course, if the blocking from the line were to improve, it would help the running game.
But I also believe that Fiametta was much better at spotting the guy that needs to be blocked, based on where he thought DeMarco Murray was going to run, and that Vickers is more of an assignment blocker. Vickers may block the guy he was assigned to, but he misses the guy that is the most immediate threat to Murray making good yardage when he’s handed the ball.
Wide receivers: This is one of the deepest positions on the team. I am sure many would agree with me that, if pressed into service Dwayne Harris and Cole Beasley would both do well. But is a concern to me that the big cornerbacks in Seattle were able to take our starters out of the game with their press coverage. And we all know that other opponents will try to do the same. Fortunately, when it comes to that kind of coverage, size matters, and most corners we will face are not that big.
Tight ends: Jason Witten has had an uncharacteristic year so far. If we believe that, as Jason says, the injury is no longer bothering him, then it has to be a timing issue due to the time he lost in training camp due to the injury. I am not on Witten’s case about this at all, but I would like to see John Phillips and James Hanna targeted a bit more.
On defense, the safety position has been discussed a lot since the season ending injury to Barry Church. Fortunately for us, there is more depth on our defense than on offense. This is Danny McCray’s chance to shine. I believe he will do well enough to keep Brandon Carr at the spot he is most valuable, cornerback.
Cornerback: What a luxury for Mike Jenkins to still be on this team. I am not the first to say that the move they didn’t make, in regards to Jenkins, is better than any move they could have made. But I agree with it. Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne are every bit as good as advertised.
Linebackers: We are seeing, with our top rated defense, that the theories expressed before the season began about how better coverage can increase opportunities to sack the quarterback were valid. Based on what we have seen so far, Anthony Spencer might have more quarterback sacks this year than he has had in any previous year.
It appears though that Spencer won’t be playing tonight, so look for Victor Butler to do some good things in his place. DeMarcus Ware should have another stellar year when it comes to sacks. Our starting middle linebackers, Sean Lee and Bruce Carter, are second to none and are among the fastest in the NFL. They both excel at stopping the run and the pass.
Defensive line: When we talk about defensive depth, you need to look no further than the line. Jay Ratliff is one of the best defensive lineman in the game, yet all the Cowboys have done in his absence is compile the type of results to allow them to be rated as the best defense in the NFL.
OK, now on to the preview of tonight’s game against the Chicago Bears. This is an interesting matchup in that both teams have trouble protecting the passer. In this scenario, the team that can run the best will likely win. I am not sure that Matt Forte will play or not, but if he does, he won’t be 100%. It won’t be the same if they have to rely solely on Michael Bush.
So, I give the edge in the running game to the Murray and the Cowboys. It won’t be easy, but if the Cowboys don’t fall behind and have the ability to play their game, Murray will have big runs late in the game.
I expect the Cowboys defensive line to put more pressure on Jay Cutler than the Bears line will be able to put on Romo. We have all seen Tony spin out of trouble and Cutler just does not possess that kind of ability and mobility. Advantage Cowboys.
I believe that the Cowboys have the better receivers of the two teams and that will provide another Cowboys advantage.
It won’t be easy, but Cowboys win tonight 21-13.