Sep 22, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray (29) runs the ball against the St. Louis Rams in the first quarter

Cowboys' Seasons Diverge - Eating Crow

For the record, I hate crow.  It definitely does not taste like chicken.  But, I’m more than happy to be eating it this week!  Here was my prediction for last week’s Rams game:

” After watching two very different performances from this Cowboys team so far this season, I have no idea what to expect this Sunday.  On paper, this is a game that should go down as a ‘W’.  The Rams are vulnerable to the pass so you would expect Dez Bryant to have a big day and lead the team to a victory.  We don’t have a running game and this isn’t necessarily the week to game plan one in.  But, nothing this team does offensively seems to make any sense.  Expect the Rams to have a big second half as they abandon their own ineffective run game and exploit our soft secondary.  Pains me to print this – but I think the Cowboys jump out to a lead and the Rams come back to win a close one at the end.  Rams 20, Cowboys 17.  Cue the hate mail…”

I could not have been more wrong and I don’t mind owning that.  Finally!  The Cowboys dominated a less talented opponent and put them away early.  So far, this season seemed eerily similar to 2012.  We opened with what felt like a big win against the Giants (who are a really bad football team right now) and followed that up with a road loss in week 2 to a team that everyone thought we should beat (and almost did).  In 2012, it was the Seattle Seahawks who no one knew were going to be as good as they were.  This year it was the now 3-0 Chiefs.  So, following that script, week 3 should have been a messy, disappointing home game where the Cowboys under performed but still managed a win.  Not this year!  This is the point where hopefully we leave the frustration of the last two seasons behind.

Other than fumbling the first punt and seemingly giving the Rams a chance to jump out on top, the Cowboys dominated this game at every level.  What a strange feeling to actually enjoy a game that much.  It has been far too long since fans have been able to relax and enjoy a game like this – too many games have been the ones that weren’t decided until the very end and typcially with the Cowboys on the short end of the score or wins that still counted as wins but left you empty knowing that this team still had a lot of issues.

Based on the overwhelming reaction of the fan base, the Cowboys have now solved all their issues in one fell swoop.  Make reservations for New York!  Not so fast, my friend.

Watching the Rams game again, it starts to sink in that they are a really bad football team.  Their offense consisted almost entirely of short dump-off passes over and over again, a lot of punts, a ton of penalties, and way too many dropped passes.  Beating a team like this the way the Cowboys did is a long overdue result.  This team tends to play down to the level of its competition way too often.  But, let’s not start printing Super Bowl tickets just yet.

The Cowboys gashed the Rams for 194 yards rushing – all but 18 of those yards coming from DeMarco Murray.  Not sure why he waits for the Rams game to do it every couple of seasons, but DeMarco is going to have to do it more than once for me to be convinced this team is capable of running the ball when it must.  Poised to go up 14-0 in the first quarter with a first and goal at the Rams’ 6, the offense couldn’t finish the job failing on two run attempts before throwing an incomplete pass and settling for a Dan Bailey FG.  Against better teams, that inefficiency in the red zone will cost them (as it did against the Chiefs just last week let’s remember).

Then, there is DeMarco Murray himself.  I hate to criticize a guy who just had 175 yards rushing in one game, but here goes.

Murray had a great game, but the offensive line was noticeably better and some of the holes they carved out were gaping.  Still, time and again, Murray would run right into the back of the blocker or cut right when the obvious open field was left.  I’m starting to wonder if there is something wrong with his vision.  At other times, he seemed to be going half speed.  DeMarco is a smooth runner and has deceptive speed, but he just seemed slow at times on Sunday.  There were numerous occasions where a 14-yard run – fantastic when all you’ve seen for most of two seasons is 1-yard scrums – could have been turned into much more.  There didn’t seem to be a sense of urgency.  And, his touchdown didn’t appear to actually be a touchdown even though it was reviewed.  I thought the inside of the pylon counts as part of the goal line, but on Sunday it apparently included the back of the pylon closest to the out of bounds.  I’ll never argue against a call that goes the Cowboys way, but that was dangerously close to being fourth down and another Dan Bailey FG.  Murray seemed to easily have the corner but took his time and was caught when the Rams’ corner broke off the James Hanna block.  And, that reminds me that Murray rarely makes a guy miss in the open field.  Take a look at the film.   My intent here is not to bash DeMarco – I just want to see him run like it matters to him.  I’m not seeing that despite his nearly 5-yard per carry average.

The other thing to keep in mind is that the Cowboys have enjoyed leading the NFC East a number of times in the last 2 seasons.  But, they’ve never proven they can hold that lead.  Remember the 2011 season when the Giants were all but written off before getting hot and beating the Cowboys twice in 4 weeks to win the division and ultimately the Super Bowl?  Having a lead now is great but still a lot of football to be played and the Giants are never more dangerous than when people start thinking they’re done.

So, here we go in week 4 heading to San Diego.  Another game that scares me a bit.  Coming off a big win, there is the opportunity for this team to have a let down.  And, despite their 1-2 record, this San Diego team has the ability to beat the Cowboys.  The Chargers have been in every game they’ve played losing the season opener at home to the Texans 31-28, beating the Eagles in Philly 33-30 (thank you!), and losing a hearbreaker last week in Tennessee 20-17.  Phillip Rivers is completing 70% of his passes and has only given up one interception so far this season.  Danny Woodhead has become his “Wes Welker” slot receiver with a team-leading 17 receptions but only an average of 6.4 yards per catch.  This offense will have their hands full with the Cowboys defense but they can move the ball and score points – just not more than the opponent.

The Cowboys offense should be able to score at will against the Chargers defense ranked near the bottom in almost every category.  But statistics can be unreliable with only 3 games to judge.  This is a bit of a trap game and the Cowboys better be prepared to play.  The Cowboys enjoy a 6-3 advantage in the all-time series with the Chargers but have lost 2 of the last 3 games against this team in the “Rivers era”.  It’s a fantastic opportunity for this team to prove the Rams game was no fluke.  DeMarco Murray should have another big day.  He must.  This is a different team when we’re able to run the ball.  Get it done ‘Boys!  Go Cowboys!

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