Dallas Cowboys: Judgement Days Ahead
By Christian Blood – Bleacher Report (Great Site)
Since the firing of Wade Phillips as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, a season that saw a 1-7 record has now evolved into a season of possibilities.
Interim head coach Jason Garrett is trying to finish the second half of the 2010 regular season like he did the second half of his first career start as Cowboy’s quarterback on Thanksgiving, 1994. Having attended that game personally, let me just say that things did not look too good at the half with starting quarterback Troy Aikman nursing an injury.
See, the 1994 team had the high expectations of becoming the first team in NFL history to win three consecutive Super Bowls. But to start off the second half, Kevin Williams turned in a huge kickoff return to set up a first and goal and the Cowboys were off to a surprising 42-31 rout of Green Bay.
Whether the 2010 Dallas Cowboys, also aiming for a bit of Super Bowl history, can rally like that remains to be seen…but it’s about to be seen.
Adding to the irony of the looming holiday season, the Cowboys’ next two games should offer a much better take on what this team might be capable of. I stress what they might be capable of.
Dallas plays two games in the next 12 days against both of last year’s Super Bowl participants; playing at home against New Orleans and then away at Indianapolis on Dec. 5, the Cowboys have the opportunity to measure themselves, if you will, against last year’s best two teams.
Now, in today’s NFL, one season has absolutely nothing to do with the next. Nonetheless, the Saints and the Colts are both contenders for postseason play even if they are not considered “The Best Team” as both have been in the recent past. These two teams know a thing or two about very strong starts in the win column.
As long as Peyton Manning is lining up under center for Indy, the Colts are an eminent threat to go deep in the playoffs. And the Saints proved a year ago that they were no fluke, even as they began to struggle over the last few games, beginning with one in particular all Cowboys fans should remember vividly. New Orleans hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy for goodness sakes!
Today the Saints are 7-3, unlike a year ago when they would have been 10-0 and still weeks away from meeting Dallas at the Super Dome. But that week did come and it was easily the biggest game of the year for both teams.
The Saints and their fans wanted to beat Dallas not only to beat Dallas, but to remain undefeated at 14-0. The Cowboys, on the other hand, were desperate to save their rapidly evaporating season and snap their near lethal two game losing streak
This was supposed to be Wade Phillips’ last game as head coach, or at least ensure that Mike Shanahan would become the new head coach of the Dallas Cowboys in 2010.
Remember all that talk? After all, Dallas again was amidst another obvious free fall in the month of December, an issue that had plagued this team going all the way back to the Parcells era.
But much like those 1991 Cowboys who also rode a two game losing streak into a seemingly impossible game against an undefeated rival late in the year, Dallas played their best game of the regular season and won, in rather convincing fashion.
Last year the Cowboys exposed the Saints offense as a smallish finesse unit that didn’t seem to play as effectively against a big, physical defense that could definitely rush the passer. I still believe the lack of height possessed by Drew Brees caused some problems for the eventual MVP of Super Bowl XLIV.
With their backs firmly against the wall, the Cowboys jumped out to an early lead by getting the ball down field and taking the life (and noise) out of the most enthusiastic home crowd on the schedule.
The 24-17 victory did not seem as close as the final score indicated even though the Saints were in position to tie the game in the closing seconds thanks to Nick Folk’s last missed field goal as a Dallas Cowboy.
In that 2009 showdown the Saints were favored just as they are for Thanksgiving Day’s 3:15 pm CST matchup with the defending world champions. But the result won’t likely reverse this time just because Dallas has such an inferior record.
The NFL is a “What Have You Done For Me Lately” kind of league. Lately, Dallas has been pretty good in winning their first two games under Garrett as head coach. And these were not exactly “escape” victories like we have seen the New York Jets chalk up lately.
These wins looked more like what we saw in 2009 from the New Orleans game all the way to the playoff win against Philadelphia. With the exception of the cataclysmic collapse in Minnesota, the Cowboys were sharp, ran the ball better, got the ball deep to their play makers in the passing game and otherwise handed the game to their volatile pass rush.
The defense, a unit hearing more and more criticism following losses to the Giants and San Diego Chargers to begin December were looking dominant as they closed to the regular season with back-to-back shutouts.
As I said before, last season’s victory over the Saints means little, if anything, to the next meeting. But it does mean those long arms of Jason Hatcher, Jay Ratliff and Stephen Bowen are going to be in the face of Brees all afternoon. Last year’s hero in New Orleans, DeMarcus Ware, will be there again too, and that looks no better to the Saints offensive line than it did last season.
Let me also point out that Jon Kitna is not playing like he did in his first three appearances in relief of the injured Tony Romo. Kitna is quickly developing chemistry and timing with wide receiver Dez Bryant, as this year’s first round draft choice is becoming an established weapon in Garrett’s offense.
Like last year, covering the Dallas vertical threats could be the same kind of issue for the Saints’ defense. On defense, the Cowboys are calling more zone coverage in the secondary which could also be an issue for Brees who has thrown more than his share of interceptions as of late.
First point is this: A game that just a few weeks ago was thought to be impossible to win is definitely a question mark now. Dallas could definitely win this game. And this time they are at home. Cowboys’ fans should remember the environment that awaited them in the “Crescent City”.
A win on Thanksgiving really sets the stage for Dallas in a game that also fits the “winnable” category, perhaps more than the Saints game. The last meeting between the Cowboys and Colts, last year’s AFC representative in the Super Bowl, came in 2006.
It was the first and only meeting between Peyton Manning and then fifth time starter Tony Romo. Indianapolis would go on to finally win the Super Bowl they had been expected to win for several seasons, yet they suffered their first loss of the season that day in Irving 21-14.
As was the case in 2006, the Colts do not sport the most dominant of defenses. Indy currently ranks 30th in the NFL in run defense while in that championship season of ’06 they finished dead last in the league. The Dallas offense has been running the ball better as of late and the defense did rough up Manning that day.
While DeMarcus Ware and Jay Ratliff picked up the only two sacks of the game, Manning was never really allowed to get too comfy in the pocket and threw two interceptions in the contest.
I don’t know that the Colts are a better team, at 6-4, than they were last season. Maybe they are maybe they are not. I do believe that this is another game that seems to be “doable” should the Cowboys continue to play with the urgency that they did not seem to have prior to Phillips’ departure.
This may present a rather optimistic view of a team that is 3-7 and just now hitting its first winning streak so deep into the regular season. And obviously, two wins over these next two quality teams certainly will not clinch a playoff birth or guarantee anything.
But if you have watched these Cowboys the last two weeks there is clearly a difference. This team does have the talent to win both games.
This is yet another example of just how quickly things can change in the National Football League.