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Cowboys-Falcons Game Review

November 5, 2012

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Well I have to admit that the Cowboys definitely make their games interesting. Despite being one of the most maddening teams I’ve ever encountered in any sport and despite the fact that I was 100% sure they were somehow going to lose I still was cheering them on when they began their improbable comeback and I still was screaming at the television when the comeback came up short. It was essentially the same script as the one that played out against the Ravens and Giants the previous few games yet the Cowboys still mixed it up just enough to keep it entertaining. Instead of Dez Bryant being the hero and goat in the same game he was all but ignored as the first 8 passes of the game went to other players and he ended up with the same number of receptions (one) as fullback Lawrence Vickers. In his place as goat was the $28.2 million man Orlando Scandrick who missed a key tackle on one 3rd down and followed it up 3 plays later with a dumb holding penalty. Due to those two errors as well as a Danny McCray missed tackle a few plays later the Falcons were able to slowly move the ball down the field, run the clock down to 17 seconds, and end any chance Romo had at a comeback when their field goal extended the lead to 6 points. While the defense could be looked at as the scapegoat for this game it’s missing the point as with 7:40 remaining in the 4th quarter the Cowboys had scored a grand total of 6 points yet were somehow still in the game due to the outstanding play of that same defense. Both in the Giants game and in this game the Cowboys offense was non-existent until the final moments of the game and when time ran out on a thrilling comeback the 4th quarter fireworks left fans forgetting how atrocious they were earlier in the game. Once again the same problems were evident on offense as Kevin Ogletree and Miles Austin dropped passes on 3rd down and tackle Tyron Smith and guard Nate Livings had penalties negating big plays. Also once again Jason Garrett looked to be more of a problem than a solution as he sought to slow the game down and bleed the clock on each drive in the first 3 quarters despite all evidence pointing to the fact that the Cowboys are much more lethal when in hurry up mode with Romo in control of the play calling. Even color analyst Chris Collinsworth (who last night continued to show why he’s the best in the business) discussed this after a terrible draw play lost yardage for the Cowboys and put them in another 3rd and long. It’s become abundantly clear that for Jason Garrett is more of the problem than the solution for this team and I think he’s even accepted that he can’t fix the offense this year. He’s slowing down the game, he’s running more than he ever has before, he’s relying on his defense in key game management situations, and he seems to be comfortable knowing that the Cowboys are a defensive team first. That might sound find but considering he was hired as an offensive guru and that the Cowboys have been built to be an offensive juggernaut (big contracts given to Romo, Witten, Austin, Free and 1st round picks spent recently on Tyron Smith, Dez Bryant, and Felix Jones) the fact that he has all but admitted the Cowboys will live and die by their defense is an admission of failure. At 3-5 the Cowboys will have to go 6-2 or 7-1 the rest of the way to even have a chance at the playoffs and, while their 2nd half schedule is much easier than their 1st half, it appears like the loss Sunday will prove to be the nail in the coffin of the 2012 Dallas Cowboys.

Additional game notes:

Bruce Carter: When Bruce came out of North Carolina last year I was a big advocate of the Cowboys drafting him. He was a 2nd round player on my board and with Jerry Jones swinging and missing on so many 2nd and 3rd round draft picks in recent years it’s cause for excitement when the Cowboys take a player at a spot of relative value based on my draft board. The things I liked about him were his elite speed, his length, and his aggressiveness. He isn’t the strongest player and struggles at times at the point of attack but he’s one of the best coverage linebackers I’ve ever graded and has elite speed to track down players from sideline to sideline. All of those strengths were on display last night as he had a deflected pass on a crossing route, a huge hit on Jacquizz Rodgers on an inside run, he showed off his great speed for a 2 yd loss on an outside run, he had a big hit on a dump off pass to Jason Snelling, and somehow caught Julio Jones on a 48 yd catch and run. His game Sunday night was comparable to anything Sean Lee has done in his career and next season when the Cowboys get them both back fully healthy they could have the best inside linebacker duo in the league outside of the 49ers.

Rob Ryan: Sometimes stats are extremely deceiving and there’s no better example of that than the Sunday night game as it’s hard to see how the Cowboys did anything right at all on defense considering they allowed a 300 yard passer, a 100 yard rusher, and two 100 yard receivers. Yet Rob Ryan had an outstanding game plan against one of the best offenses in the league and held them to a season low 19 points despite the high yardage totals. Part of the yardage came on the final two drives when the defense noticeably got tired, and why shouldn’t they have as the offense was doing 3 and outs regularly in the 2nd half, yet part of it was based on the “bend don’t break” style which gave them yards but forced them into field goals instead of touchdowns. The defense numerous times got free rushers to the quarterback due to Ryan’s schemes and the players really rallied for a game that saw them missing their 2nd best player (Sean Lee) for the entire game and their 4th best player (Jay Ratliff) in the 2nd half. Ryan’s ability to handle the adversity given him by injuries (Lee, Ratliff, Dan Connor, Mike Jenkins earlier this season, Barry Church) and an offense that continually puts him in bad spots makes me wonder how the Cowboys would look under Ryan as head coach. It’s probably a fantasy as Rex Ryan is on the verge of being fired in New York and Rob has never held a head coaching job in his life yet it still intrigues me.

Non-Cowboys related notes from last week that I’m publishing late:

James Harden trade: It’s always interesting to me to see reactions to trades as rarely do I feel that the public understands the meat and bones of most trades and solely goes by “I know this guy and not that guy so it’s a bad/good trade.” That was the case in the James Harden trade as I felt it was a very fair trade for both parties. Houston gets the top 20 player they’ve been seeking, and anyone doubting Harden was a top 20 NBA player isn’t likely doubting it now that he went off for 37 pts and 8 assists in his season debut, while Oklahoma City already had not one but two top 20 players and could afford to send off their 3rd best player to improve the supporting cast around Durant and Westbrook for years to come. One argument I heard recently against the trade in the eyes of an Oklahoma City fan was that they were one of the 3 top teams in the league and you don’t make trades that benefit you in the future when you’re a favorite for the title. To me that is absurd as their roster is and has been built to succeed now but down the road. Every year there was a free agent that seemed to fit the Thunder’s needs and every year they passed on that veteran as they didn’t want to overpay and they didn’t want a veteran to minimize the minutes of one of their promising young players. They had a plan to build through the draft and haven’t strayed from it at anytime. No matter how big the roar was in 2011 to sign Tyson Chandler they didn’t do it and no matter how big the roar was in 2012 to trade Russell Westbrook they didn’t do it. They understand that Kevin Durant recently just turned 24 years old and their “window” to win a championship has another 8-10 years left in it. Understanding that they weighed the benefits of keeping James Harden for one more year, as they knew they would lose him in free agency if they didn’t give him a max contract, versus the benefits of trading him a year early. Naturally they felt that as good as Harden was, his services for one season weren’t equal to Jeremy Lamb for 4 seasons, two first round picks, and a second round pick. I think this is a perfect trade for both parties as Houston get’s their top 20 player they’ve been seeking for the past 3 seasons and Oklahoma City restocks it’s cupboard of draft picks and cheap young players to build around the nucleus that is Durant and Westbrook.

Andrew Luck: While Robert Griffin has been receiving all the accolades among rookie signal callers, and deservedly so, Andrew Luck has a chance to set a record himself. At 4-3 the Colts are in the thick of the AFC playoff race which is literally unheard of among rookie quarterbacks taken #1 or #2 overall. In the past 40 years no team drafting 1st or 2nd Overall (aka very very bad the year before) took a quarterback, played them from day 1, and made the playoffs. Not only that but no team in the past 40 years even has had an 8-8 record or better in that scenario making Andrew Luck’s 4-3 record that much more impressive. In last year’s draft I had Andrew Luck as the clear #1 Overall Player on my board as he showed a rare combination of size, running ability, and intelligence. He played the collegiate game like an NFL quarterback as he had polished play action fakes, looked off safeties and linebackers with his eyes, and showed maturity beyond his years. While his statistics have been far less impressive than RGIII his record is superior, despite being on a team that in my opinion has less talent than the Redskins, and if their records continue to diverge I could see the Rookie of the Year voting begin to even out a bit. (Update: His stats have evened out a bit after his rookie record 433 yards passing vs. the Dolphins as he’s now tied with Peyton Manning for 3rd in the NFL in passing yards at 2,404! The win Sunday also put him at 5-3 and with remaining games against Jacksonville, Buffalo, Tennessee, and Kansas City he has a good change to make the playoffs and is almost a lock to go at least 8-8. The ROY voting is definitely beginning to even out.)

Rookie Quarterbacks: I’ve never focused as much on cumulative stats as most people as I find that they often aren’t as good as efficiency stats at determining the best players in the NFL. Yet when I saw that Brandon Weeden was 4th in the NFL in pass attempts it definitely caught me by surprise. Add to that the fact that the other 4 quarterbacks in the Top 5 were Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford, and Aaron Rodgers and it intrigued me even more. I did some research and if he stays in the Top 5 in pass attempts it will be only the 2nd time in the past 10 years (2010-Sam Bradford) that a rookie finished in the Top 5 in pass attempts. It just continues to show that every year the learning curve for rookies is smaller and smaller as RGIII is on pace to be in the Top 5 in QB Rating, Brandon Weeden is on pace to be in the Top 5 in pass attempts, Andrew Luck is on pace for a winning record, and just last year Cam Newton broke a number of rookie passing records. These all are historic occurrences by rookie quarterbacks yet considering they are happening one after another it speaks less to the talent of the rookies, in my opinion at least, and more to how the game is evolving. Whether it’s the proliferation of the spread offense in college, the 7 on 7 camps as Junior High and High Schoolers, or some other factor it’s very clear that the rookie quarterback is more ready to go than ever.

Blaine Gabbert: While the rookie quarterbacks this year are playing very well one 2nd year quarterback continues to struggle. Last year Gabbert was 32nd (out of the 32 starting QBs) in Total QBR, 26th in passing yards, 32nd in yards per attempt, and 32nd in QB Rating, . With a year to improve his stats are now 29th in Total QBR, 30th in passing yards, 32nd in yards per attempt, and 28th in QB Rating. It’s pretty easy to make a case that Blaine Gabbert has been unequivocably been the worst QB in football the past two seasons and the question now becomes: When will he be replaced? Right now his job seems secure as the Jaguars are 1-7 and any shot in the arm a Chad Henne would give this team would only reduce their chances at the Top 5 pick they need to find a suitable replacement. While some don’t have him this high I think Geno Smith is an elite prospect and will join Matt Barkley in the Top 5 in next year’s draft. It’s interesting to note that Gabbert essentially has his own fate in his hands as if he can improve and get the Jaguars to end with a 4-12 or 5-11 record I could see the new owner giving him one more year to improve yet if he continue to struggle in the second half of the season the team will be 2-14 or 3-13 and in line to pick one of the two elite signal callers next April. Either way he will have no one but himself to blame.

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