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Cowboys-Bengals Game Notes

December 13, 2012

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Last week the Cowboys beat the Eagles to keep alive their playoff chances yet I wrote an article that was highly negative. The reason was that I didn’t see anything impressive in beating a team that was on a long losing streak, had a rookie quarterback starting, and most of their best players out for the year. This week though the Cowboys won against a team in the playoff hunt, on the road, and did so in impressive fashion. It’s probably the team’s best win since the season opener against the Giants and makes me legitimately think this team has a chance to make the playoffs. It’ll be a difficult task due to all of the injuries this team has had this season yet I saw a heart and resolve in this team that I haven’t seen in a Cowboys team in quite awhile. Don’t get me wrong, the Cowboys did get quite a few nice breaks in Cincinnati which kept them in the ballgame. Yet in previous seasons Dallas would get similar breaks and do nothing with them so it was impressive to see them seize a game in the 4th quarter and wrestle it away from the home team that had outplayed them the previous 3 quarters. Early in the game the Cowboys run defense was embarrassing as they allowed a big run up the middle, a 37 yard end around, and an 11 yard end around for a TD on one drive where there often wasn’t a defender within 5 yards of the ball carrier for much of the play. Announcer Brian Billick, who called an awful game by the way, pointed to the Cowboys missing their starting NT (Jay Ratliff), backup NT (Josh Brent), starting left inside linebacker (Bruce Carter), starting right inside linebacker (Sean Lee), and starting SS (Barry Church) as reasons for that but this was worse than in previous games and was against a team in the Bengals that was middle of the pack in most rushing stats for the season (12th in ypc, 14th in total rushing yards). Thankfully the Cowboys were able to fix some of those run stopping issues and held the Bengals offense to only 6 points in the 2nd half and none in the 4th quarter. Some of that was of course luck though as AJ Green had the worst game of his short career with 2 key drops to end drives, Lavelle Hawkins joined in with a drop of his own to end another drive, and Terence Newman dropped two interceptions that surely would have changed the outcome of this game (so happy to see those stone hands playing for someone else). The Cowboys got numerous breaks in this game but even with them it still was impressive to see this team battle like it did and the win required two impressive drives late in the 4th quarter. Due to their inability to start a game off well the Cowboys have become quite adept at making late game runs and once again Romo took control of the offense and engineered a quick scoring drive almost solely with his arm and legs. He led them on an 8 play 68 yard drive that involved him for all but one run by DeMarco Murray for 2 yards. I know Romo had 3 almost interceptions and 1 actual interception in this game but he was the linchpin for this win and he looked night and day better than Andy Dalton. I can only imagine how good Romo would look if he had a truly elite talent like AJ Green to throw to yet he’s done his best recently with the inconsistently great Dez Bryant and unfortunately Romo might not even have him going forward due to a ligament tear in Dez’s finger that likely will result in season ending surgery. If that occurs Dez will join the cast of injured Cowboys that includes Sean Lee, Jay Ratliff, Bruce Carter, Barry Church, Phil Costa, Josh Brent (legal issues), and Orlando Scandrick. The season only has 3 games remaining and the playoffs still appear to be a long shot yet at least fans can be happy to know their team is still fighting and working as hard as ever to make the postseason. There still is a lot of work to do before this team can be considered dominant but at least we know there’s still some fight left in them.

Other notes from the game:

DeMarco Murray: His numbers (21 carries 53 yards 2.5 ypc) were pretty poor yet just on the eyeball test he passed again with flying colors. Murray had numerous key plays in the game yet none were more important than on the final drive where he converted a 3rd and 5 with a last second lunge for the first down marker before his knee hit the ground. It’s that “never say die” drive of his that really separates him from Felix who is far too finesse of a runner in my opinion. Murray is clearly not 100% and his yards per carry (4.4 before the injury, 3.1 in past 2 games since coming back from the injury) show that yet he has been a huge reason for this team’s 2 game winning streak and adds to the what ifs of this season. What if Dan Bailey had hit that 51 yard FG as time expired to beat the Ravens? What if Dez Bryant’s pinky hadn’t been out of bounds and they had beat the Giants? What if DeMarco Murray was healthy for a full season? What if the Cowboys had a different head coach? Okay that last one is more a joke than anything but I feel like this season has been such a strange ride in getting to 7-6 that it’s difficult to not consider the what ifs.

Brian Billick: He officially replaces Matt Millen as the announcer I most despise as his call on this Cowboys-Bengals game was just pathetic. When Dwayne Harris noticeably wasn’t down on a kick return he never saw it or mentioned it and only after a commercial break did it get one comment. When Tony Romo had his helmet nearly ripped off him on a blatant face mask, after the whistle by the way as that play could easily have been called for unneccesary roughness as well, Billick had to see multiple replays before he even could guess why a flag was thrown. Add to that his lack of knowledge when it comes to helmet to helmet hits and it became a rather difficult task to avoid the mute button during the game. The worst though was when he constantly berated the Bengals for not running the ball more often. Yes the Cowboys had injuries up the middle of their defense yet it’s pretty easy to make a case that the bigger mismatch wasn’t in the run game but in the passing game. The Cowboys last week put Orlando Scandrick on IR, joining Barry Church there, and in the middle of the game lost Morris Claiborne to a split lip. That left them defending Pro Bowl caliber tight end Jermaine Gresham with the overmatched Danny McCray who has been horrible all season and left them often times defending All Pro candidate AJ Green with Sterling Moore who had been with the team for only 10 days. Also when you looked at the Bengals offense you saw a throwing offense based around Pro Bowl candidates Dalton, Green, and Gresham which made Billick’s insistence that Cincinnati run the ball even stranger. Sadly the Bengals looked to have the upper hand when either running or passing against Dallas’ defense so no matter how they attacked the Cowboys they would have had favorable matchups. It just typified Billick’s lack of talent as a broadcaster which has become more prevalent by the day as ESPN and NFL affiliates have turned their broadcast booths into a home away from home for fired coaches. No other profession so happily embraces failures from previous jobs like the media surrounding the NFL and unfortunately this bias continues to hurt the production value of quite a few games. Brian Billick is terrible in the broadcast booth yet he’s not alone in that regard and it will only get worse until these well paying jobs aren’t automatically given to every recently fired head coach in the NFL.

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