I apologize for the delay in posting, as this loss was a difficult one to swallow. Despite never losing a game when up by 14 in the fourth quarter (246-0-1), the Cowboys managed to quickly blow that lead against the Jets last night. According to Advanced NFL Stats’ win probability formulas, Dallas had a 96 percent chance of winning the game at one point. In a period of two minutes and 31 seconds in the fourth quarter, the team’s odds of winning dipped from 91 percent to just 36 percent.
Starting the season 0-1, especially in the fashion in which the ‘Boys did so, is never okay. I do not believe in “moral victories,” and I would much rather see the Cowboys play like garbage and get a win than outplay their opponent and lose. Having said that, there are a few things I saw which should provide Cowboys fans with a lot of hope in 2011. Here are some of my thoughts, good and bad...
Tony Romo didn’t lose the game for Dallas, but his fourth-quarter play was unintelligent. The interception to Darelle Revis is one thing, but the decision to run the ball on 3rd-and-goal and dive short of the end zone was a poor one. Romo fumbled the football and, instead of potentially going up by 10 points with a field goal, the contest remained a one-possession game. We’ll see how Romo responds next week, but I’m really disappointed in his decision making down the stretch.
A lot of writers have criticized Garrett’s call to throw the ball on Romo’s 3rd-and-goal fumble, but those criticisms are unwarranted. The Cowboys will be far more aggressive in 2011 than in past years, as should be the case. If you don’t trust your players to throw the ball on a 3rd-and-goal inside the 10-yard line, you have a problem.
I realize a field goal puts you up two scores, but intelligent aggressive play is superior to passive play. The problem came in Romo’s decision to dive and not protect the football, not in the decision to throw the football.
A large part of the blame for Romo’s interception can be placed on Dez Bryant, who remained on the field despite being obviously detrimental to the offense. An even larger portion of blame can be placed on the coaches who left Bryant out there. Someone has to see Bryant’s lack of explosion and pull him, whether he wants to come out of the game or not. Bryant at 90 percent is fine. Bryant at 50 percent is not.
Jason Garrett’s biggest task as a play-caller is going to have to be getting plays in faster. The offense allows the play clock to run down to one second on just about every play, allowing defensive players to pin their ears back and anticipate the snap. This has been a problem in Dallas for a few years, and it stems from the fact that the team calls two plays in the huddle.
Whenever you hear Romo yell “Kill,” he is alerting the offense that the first play he called is dead, meaning they will run the second play he called. All of that verbiage takes time, however, and Garrett will either need to speed up his calls or start providing Romo with just a single play to run. I would prefer the former option, if possible.
Phil Costa snapped the football early on multiple occasions. I always thought Andre Gurode simply went brain dead from time to time, but perhaps there is something flawed with the offense’s shotgun snap signals. For a coach who prides himself on his attention to detail, you would think simple things like snap counts would be worked out (whether the system or the players are at fault).
I was really impressed with Tyron Smith. He played very well, allowing a few pressures but generally thwarting his man. Even more impressive was his toughness to come back from a hyperextended knee he suffered just a few days prior to the game. When you combine that with Smith’s versatility to overpower defenders, get to the second level and recognize blitzes, you have to be really excited about what the Cowboys may have found in him.
How about Sean Lee? From the run game to the interception to special teams, it was a hell of a night for the second-year player. He looks far more comfortable on defense, flowing well to the football. Again, be excited about what you saw out of Lee last night.
Felix Jones is obviously going to be the workhorse in the backfield this season. He didn’t quite display the explosion he showed in the preseason, but he’ll be fine.
I knew we would see a lot more innovative looks from Dallas than we saw in the preseason, but the abundance of unique blitzes, twists, alignments (plenty of one-down lineman looks) was surprising. Like I suggested in my Cowboys-Jets preview, Rob Ryan manages to maintain aggressive play without sacrificing safe coverages.
The largest improvement no one is mentioning is the tackling. Aside from a horrible tackle attempt from Alan Ball, the tackling on defense was outstanding. Even Mike Jenkins got into the act.
DeMarcus Ware was DeMarcus Ware.
Danny McCray really surprised me. I knew he is perhaps the team’s top special teams player, but his sack and forced fumble play was outstanding.
The Cowboys didn’t lose the game because of injuries, but you have to think their chances would have been a lot better with Terence Newman, Orlando Scandrick and Mike Jenkins healthy for the entire game. Bryan McCann made some plays and Alan Ball wasn’t atrocious, but you lose a lot of flexibility in the secondary with just two cornerbacks left unscathed.
I’ve long been a proponent of David Buehler remaining on the roster due to his strong leg, but if he isn’t generating touchbacks on nearly every kickoff, what’s the point?
Romo’s fumble, his interception, the injuries...there are a lot of things which could have changed the outcome of the game had they gone differently, but the most obvious one is the blocked punt. That was an assignment error and obviously cannot happen. One of the things which I was looking forward to most with Garrett as coach was the reduction of mental mistakes and superior special teams play. For at least one play, those things disappeared...and so did the win for Dallas.