The Dallas Cowboys are an easy target for ridicule. They are the NFL’s most recognized franchise and its most valuable. They play in a stadium that is the 21st century’s version of the Roman Coliseum. And yet every season, without fail, they struggle to live up to their owner’s inflated expectations, despite assembling a roster replete with individual talent.
Since Tony Romo became the Cowboy’s starting quarterback in 2007, it’s not just that the team has consistently lost, but it’s been the way they tend to lose—late in games due to mental mistakes—that has made the franchise seem so dysfunctional; so far removed from the teams that brought home five Lombardi Trophies.
The Romo era began in earnest in the 2007 playoffs with a botched hold on what should have been a routine 19-yard field goal, cost Dallas what would have been its first playoff victory since 1996.
It has continued ever since with the Cowboys, and Romo, consistently fumbling away opportunities. Two weeks ago, Romo threw three second half interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns against the Lions, allowing Detroit to comeback from a 24 point deficit and win a game they had no business winning. Romo is a good quarterback and a likeable guy, and at moments like that you have to wonder if he is cursed or just plain unlucky.
But this week, Romo and the Cowboy’s ineptness will be put on ice, at least temporarily. Dallas plays at New England in the FOX game of the week. And although the Patriots are favored by a touchdown according to some websites, I’m here to tell you that Dallas is going to pull an upset.
Dallas is a lot better than their 2-2 record. They have the league’s second highest rated defense. They have two of the most talented receivers in football—Miles Austin and Dez Bryant—who, due to injuries, have not been on the field together since the Cowboys season opener. Austin started the season in promising fashion, gaining 233 yards and catching four touchdown passes in the first two games, but an injured hamstring has kept him on the sideline since then.
Austin and Bryant, whose ability to out-jump and overpower defensive backs makes him look like a young Calvin Johnson, are a tough cover for any secondary. When you consider the fact that New England has the league’s worst rated pass defense. And that Romo also has the option of throwing the ball to the ever-consistent Jason Witten or checking down to speedy running back Felix Jones, it becomes easy to assume that the Cowboys offense will be able to put a lot of points on the board.
Of course, New England has the league’s top rated offense so if the Cowboys want to win, they will have to come up with a few defensive stops. That shouldn’t be too much of a problem. In the preseason, the Detroit Lions showed everyone the formula for slowing down the Patriots: play physical and rough up Tom Brady. In that game, Detroit’s defense only recorded two official sacks, but they rattled Brady, who finished with a 71.2 quarterback rating, by hitting him early and often.
First-year defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has installed an aggressive defense in Dallas that thrives on utilizing varied, unpredictable blitzes designed to confuse offenses and pressure the quarterback. Even when the Cowboys don’t blitz, opponents still have to contend with outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware, one of the league’s premier pass rushers.
When you factor in these various angels, it becomes apparent that Dallas is a bad matchup for New England. Dallas’ strengths—great defense and a potent passing attack—counter New England’s strengths and put them in a prime position to pull an upset.
The Patriots may end up with a better record and go farther in the playoffs than the Cowboys, but I expect Dallas to win and re-inflate the expectations that once again seemed too high following their 2-2 start.