It must be true. The Dallas Cowboys hate me. It’s personal. That’s the only explanation for the way this team chooses to play just when you think they are about to get over the hump. There was a tangible buzz among the fan base last week after the team finally put together a complete game and dominated the Rams. They had rediscovered a running game, the offensive line was protecting Romo better than ever, Dez Bryant was dominating, and they enjoyed a 2-game lead in the NFC East over both the preseason-favorite Giants and Redskins – both winless. Despite some key injuries, the defense was playing well and their no-name defensive lineman were filling in admirably. But, it was more fool’s gold.
Jerry and the team jetted over to sunny San Diego and proceeded to lay a giant egg. They overcame a slow start both offensively and defensively and managed to jump out to a 21-10 lead after Sean Lee ran back a pick six late in the first half. From that point on, the defense couldn’t make a stop. They surrendered a late first half FG to cut their lead to 8 points and proceeded to let the Chargers score 17 more unanswered points in the 2nd half.
In so doing, the Cowboys’ linebackers coverage weakness was exposed. Danny Woodhead – yes, Danny Woodhead – was apparently uncoverable as he scored two touchdowns. Antonio Gates reminded everyone – including the Cowboys coaches apparently – that he is an elite TE. In total, the Cowboys registered one sack against a patchwork offensive line – including one player who had been signed to the team that week. DeMarcus Ware should have had a field day. Instead, you hardly knew he was there except for an offsides penalty in the 4th quarter when the Cowboys were desperately still trying to make you believe they would find a way to squeak out a win.
The final straw was the fumble by rookie Terrance Williams who decided somehow that he could reach over the goal line from 3 yards away. Tears or not, that was unforgivable and he has a long, long way to go to prove he was worth his 3rd round draft selection. But, I don’t blame him as much as I blame Miles Austin’s hamstring that simply cannot make it through a single season. I work with a guy that used to be a fireman, but he has a bad back. He had to retire and find another line of work because his back was undependable and he couldn’t afford to have it go out in an emergency. It could have cost someone’s life. This is just football, but Miles Austin and his hamstrings for the past couple of seasons have contributed to the demise of this team. Maybe he just needs to find another line of work if he can’t stay on the field.
One thing is certain – you can’t blame Romo so far this year. He hasn’t put up the spectacular yardage numbers he did last year, but he has been a much better game manager. Through 4 games, he has thrown a total of one interception – and that one was clearly the fault of wonder boy Terrance Williams running the wrong route. He has a QB rating of 105. Sorry Romo haters! About the only thing you can blame Romo for is that he’s developed a tendency this season to just fall down when he thinks he’s going to get hit. I understand his previously porous line has trained him to expect to have his ribs broken once or twice a year, but you shouldn’t be curling up in the fetal position anytime you see a missed block. At least wait to actually be hit. Romo is much improved, but our old friends, “inconsistent play”, “head-scratching play calling”, and “losing to an inferior opponent” are still here to make us feel welcome.
With DeMarco Murray getting good gains on the ground – he averaged 5 yards per carry for the game – Bill Callahan tricked everyone by choosing to throw the ball 40 times versus only 16 rushing plays. Of course, some of that was dictated by falling behind by 9 points, but the run-pass balance was already out of whack before that. After Murray ripped off a 10-yard run on the first play of the game, the Cowboys threw the ball on three straight downs – one sack and two incomplete passes – and had to punt. Their next possession started with consecutive gains of 5 yards and 3 yards by Murray. But, faced with a 3rd and 2 – what could be considered a running down – the Cowboys threw an incomplete pass and punted again. The third possession of the game for the ‘Boys was three straight passes again and another 3 and out. “Remind me who that #29 is again?”, Callahan was overheard saying from the press box.
Last but not least, what is wrong with Mo Claiborne? He looks awful and is easily being outplayed by Orlando Scandrick. This guy was a #6 overall pick? He’s no Patrick Peterson which is what the Cowboys and their fan base thought they were getting. Jerry Jones made the decision to trade up and draft him so he’s in no danger of losing his starting position. So, get used to seeing Claiborne get toasted trailing the receiver as he runs into the end zone. He’s actually regressed from his rookie season – and don’t tell me it’s because he injured his shoulder. His problems have nothing to do with a bum shoulder.
So, here come the undefeated Denver Broncos. Oh boy. With the likes of Wes Welker, Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, and Eric Decker along with that Manning guy, this could be a game that is out of reach before the end of the first quarter. Peyton has been almost flawless and has yet to throw an interception and is sporting a 138 QBR. If the Charger game did nothing else, it exposed a vulnerable secondary including linebackers that have coverage challenges. Fantasy football owners that have Peyton Manning in their lineup must be licking their lips.
But, hold on. If the Cowboys follow the script they’ve unfortunately written for themselves the last decade or so, they will actually keep this game closer than most people expect. They tend to play up or down to the level of their competition more often than not. Remember the 2009 season when the Cowboys reeling from two straight losses had to travel to New Orleans to play the then undefeated Saints? No one gave them much of a chance then either, but the Cowboys came away with a 24-17 win. Then, again in 2010 facing these same Saints on Thanksgiving Day sporting a 3-7 record and a then interim head coach Jason Garrett, they came within a late Roy Williams fumble of upsetting the heavily favored Saints.
The Cowboys will make this game competitive – at least for longer than most people expect. Can they win? Of course. They have a lot of talent on the roster and I expect this coaching staff to correct the many mistakes that occurred in San Diego. On any give Sunday, right? I’m traveling to Dallas to be at the game live. But, maybe I shouldn’t let the team know that. They hate me. But, anyway, Go Cowboys!!