Dallas Cowboys: I'll be your Huckleberry...
Last season, when the media and a complete set of fans thought that Dallas was on their way to their own destiny, I penned the following perspective:
This is the weekend that the entire alignment of the heavens align to slide the picture of Dallas to one of contender-legitimate.
With a pass defense that is ranked #31 in the NFL, a deeply injured offense with a starter now out, and a recovering quarterback having both Julius Jones as his 'workhorse' and a depleted receiver group...(against Seattle) I think that Dallas will have the game in hand by halftime. This should be that eighth win for the Cowboys. (Dallas did win this game by a score of 34-9)
Philadelphia, who should be motivated by Thanksgiving pride that shouldn't last long, and if you call their residence and receive a steady busy signal, that would be because they have mailed it in already. A loss here and they have been removed from contention for postseason.
Next, is the Giants/Redskins game, and that is what it is. Washington has a ton of injuries on defense, and against a strongly balanced Giant offense, that spells failure. This, although, could well be the start of a two-game blowout that spells finality to their playoff hopes as well...
That leads to the present competitors that are bunched up in a single conference. They will be playing against each other, and two of these will invariably slide down from being above the level of Dallas as well.
Take things in hand today, and Dallas may be heading into Pittsburgh in 10 days, with prospects of some sort of home field advantage in their own hands.
Well, we now have the storyline up to that point, and then, crushed, despite being in all but the very last game of the season against Philadelphia. The Eagles, although not the most talented team in the NFC alone, started their push towards a strong playoff run of it's own.
Dallas lost a closely contested game against Pittsburgh, 13-20. The Cowboys then took a tough contest against a downwardly moving Giant team, 20-8. And, in a crucial game against Baltimore, lost a final quarter explosion in a score of 24-33.
The final game against Philadelphia now became indicative of the functional problems on the Cowboy's team itself.
The destiny of that team had been missed, but as in all failures, they arise due to specific causes, but the storyline had been written for this team in 2008. The 'Fat Lady' could be heard strongly on stage now.
Now, seizing the gauntlet just recently thrown down by other authors—I shall assume the role of Val Kilmer, as Doc Holiday in the movie Tombstone, prior to joining Wyatt Earp in a gun fight.
Yes, I'll be your 'Huckleberry', and grab that tin coffee cup that had just been used for some gin, and twirl it about mimicking a real demonstrated gun displayed by an opposing villain, and flash some similarly demonstrated acumen of definition...but here, in true mimicking style, I shall start with definitions and then arrive at the appropriate word for their respective meanings.
See if you are able to see an underlying theme of relevance for us as fans:
1. A mental disorder characterized by separation and a personal withdrawal from thought and emotions with delusions and bizarre behavior.
2. One who plays fair and can lose without complaint or win without gloating.
3. A person enthusiastic about a specific sport, team, or player.
Now, the flash of comparison with the word originating each defined role:
As in the musical "Kismet", the hero reached a climatic point. He uttered towards the villain, here, a simile of reversed comparison. He uttered the tone setting climax of the storyline: 'Once having written, the writing hand moves on'. So be it.
The theatre has closed its doors on last year's production of the Dallas Cowboys. It has instead been replaced with a differing and also intriguing assembly of coaches, players, and opportunity as well.
To say that is to say this team is completely disjoint from the team that was early on declared a major accomplishment in talent, skill, and dominance. This takes a step away from the emotional withdrawal due to frustrations in the experience itself. It requires a rational approach as well as realistic analysis of some of the variables at work last season, as well as how they were addressed prior to Training Camp this year.
The majority of pot hole patrols have come up with two major areas of failure to last season.
First, being the wide receiver image following the departure of Terrell Owens. The media feeding frenzie has not even abated despite his departure. What the media did was remove the focus of the players on the Dallas team, but it did not alter what was the crux of the matter and what was being taken onto the field.
This should be viewed more accurately as a loss of production on the offensive side of the ball.
Let's start with TO himself. It is true and a valid observation that TO was among the top NFL producers over the three years he was with Dallas, in touchdowns scored.
That is a valid point, but not limiting as an indicator of what is involved with this aspect of analytical analysis. Stats are useful, but nowhere close to all inclusive in their limiting elements.
There is relevance to observing that TO deserves to be included in a future Hall of Fame status. That is part of the element that is seen by a fan. That although, does not transcend the progression of trends within the makeup of the team itself.
First, T.O. was the same No. 1 receiver that accumulated 20 percent of all of his success last season. Heck, Julius Jones hit upon some highlight specials in his career with Dallas as well.
Single game or even duplicate games does not make fullness in contributions by a player. T.O. was the same receiver who accumulated an average total yardage of slightly over 50 yards a game for the length of 10 games.
That is poor production for most No. 2 receivers through the league. Teams smacked their lips when they say the Dallas T.O.-oriented express arrive at their fields. T.O. was no longer able to come through in crunch time and produce those game changers that he had been able to previously in his career.
T.O. was more of the problem than the solution. His being the second highest dropped pass leader for the second consecutive year became a real factor.
He no longer went out of his way to go to where his quarterback threw the ball, but expected to be thrown exactly where his own window of opportunity suited him. Now, no longer was he even where he was expected to be able to catch a good thrown ball, or fighting to get balls in conflict.
These indicators speak louder than the total touchdown factor. This killed opportunity. Opportunities lost is what dispelled Camelot from view.
That is only a part of the issue on the offensive production. Injuries did play a major role here also.
First, the run production in the very center of the field, with the loss of Kyle Kosier and then Montrae Holland, meant that the team could NOT run a strong Red Zone offense. It had to then rely on an unreliable T.O. and a very injured Jason Witten. Although, Jason Witten was the team's 'Iron Man' and performed at a very high clip.
Witten was severely injured almost the entire season. He could have been much stronger towards the end of the season, if not for quite a few limiting injuries. He would have been off the charts if not for these injuries.
Next, you have Tony Romo, who missed a very crucial consistency period that opened the door for poor executions, adjustments, and further injuries to accumulate. His three games off the field and Brad Johnson's mockery to the position were only a part of the effect of Romo's injury.
Romo had stitches in his chin early in the season, and then had a cast on his hand an additional three game injury stint. A player such as Romo played through pains, but it did have a detrimental affect as to throwing habits, ball release, and time of delivery as grip on the ball was very prominently being affected.
As breakdowns in the adjusted and much weaker offensive line, now with an injured Flozell Adams on the outside and a very weak Procter in the interior, Romo now no longer was able to set his feet properly in a collapsing pocket. Opponents adjusted their attacks to attack Romo and take advantage of hesitancy between Adams and Procter.
Additionally, roles became blurred as Miles Austin, Hurd, and then swapping of roles between Patrick Crayton and Roy Williams further blurred team consistency and productions.
Not only this, but the running back group lost Felix Jones and his ability to provide explosive elements to an attack. This changes the fabric of opponent's game plans drastically.
Dallas could not pound Marion Barber inside, as that area of the offensive line was not dominant as Barber was injured for most of this past season. They could not go wide, as the speed of Jones was on injured reserves and it was Procter doing the pulling.
The element that was shown was that when Holland or a healthy Kosier was in the interior line the team could both run inside and outside. It was also shown that Tashard Choice, Jones, and Barber are a dynamic group that can make Red Zone efficiency a reality now.
Red Zone scoring diminished last season from the previous season for one reason...Dallas was not able to run the ball there. This was more indicative of scoring relevance than the loss of a diminishing effective T.O. in the Dallas offense.
Now, without T.O. in the lineup, Dallas has a better chance of being efficient than it did from the Seattle game onward last season.
Then one has the defensive side of considerations. Here, an observation should begin with the picture of DeMarcus Ware.
Ware is presently the most dominating player in the game. He is even more devastating than the newly-acquired Washington Redskins defensive tackle, Haynesworth. He has averaged over 10 sacks a season for four full years. He has also been an All Pro for three of those four years and is the present signature of this defense.
Frustrations around the persona of T.O. have clouded the real picture of Dallas and its coaches for too long now. It not only is unfair, but intensely inaccurate as well.
Once Wade Phillips started grabbing the reigns back, just as Bill Parcells had done at various times in his past times as head coach, the team started to excel at a higher level.
Critics have pointed at the failure of the cornerbacks instead of the real culprits in the ineffectiveness of this secondary unit. The safety play was at question from the start of the season.
Roy Williams mercifully was injured and not able to be the brunt of ridicule and scorn. Although, he had deteriorated, even in an interior only role as teams would force him into coverage and then without fail outmatch him to large gains. You just could not hide him enough.
That would not have been fatal, but 'Killer' Davis and Pat Watkins were even worse in backup roles. Add onto this the fact that Anthony Henry was no longer able to catch up in deep developing plays and his effectiveness on short passes deteriorated excessively this season. He no longer possessed catch up speeds and wasn't nearly as effective even on short passes. This combined to put the whole safety group on islands.
The spiral down over the end of the season, was directly related to the degree that a very inferior group of safeties affected opponent's ability to sustain drives and take advantage of that very group. As with T.O.'s departure, the loss of Roy Williams, Davis, and other members of a poorly functional safety group elevates this section as well.
Gerald Sensabaugh's addition improves coverages greatly. The playing of both Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick improves the catch up and thus single coverage ability of this defense. Instead of being a weaker point of contention, the whole secondary is BETTER able to maintain realistic coverage, as it continues to add to the improvements in the secondary group as a whole.
The secondary's pass defense, ranked eighth in the NFL, was MORE related to the additions of Scandrick and Jenkins than the loss of Williams and Henry. Again, things are getting better on defense.
Now, strictly on the departures and additions, this Cowboys team has more depth that is adaptive as well as more dynamic than what was put on the field last season.
Numbers were down last season on Dallas turnovers. This was indicative to the drain that the ineffective strong safety and a diminished skills Henry were adding to that group.
It is stronger, despite losing the veteran experience, than it was last season. That Alan Ball and Courtney Brown are looking more adept at free safety and cornerback just adds to the running and coverage abilities of this group.
The center line of the entire defense has become harder to achieve against. Brookings moving in at weakside interior makes the ability to defense the run better. Adding a strong safety who doesn't have to break his neck in coverage of tight ends and running backs, only makes him easier to support the run defense as well as be used in blitzing situations as well.
Then one has the Wade Phillips' effect to consider. If anyone still feels that he is anyone's fool in the matter of defense, he just hasn't considered a very strongly supportive body of works there.
His defense is just now starting to hit stride as to application of technique, principles, as well as experience to be able to adapt to styles of play. This team will inch up in aggressive play as well as ability to stop opponents.
Wade is directing a very aggressive defense now. It is strengthened by players with familiarity with current members of the Dallas coaching staff.
Campo has previously worked with Sensabough and now, Ken Hamlin. Campo has been around Terrence Newman and was prominent in the quick development of both Scandrick and Jenkins.
Igor Oshanky should prove to be a strong asset against the run. If this run defense becomes even better, then it will open the door for a more integrated and functional secondary.
This in turn will allow the 'dogs' upfront to be even more aggressive from a NFL leading point from last season. Now, Wade Phillips' effect is just starting to be seen, and should shortly be felt as well.
Now, to this fan, the assembled chorus seems to be warming up for yet another production...and to my ears, some of that intermingling warm up, sounds sweet received. I can only project what this dictionary word might evolve towards...
CCBoy is a Sports Jabber contributor.
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