Sunday, January 17, 2010

Dallas Cowboys
& Zeroes
Divisional Playoff
Minnesota Vikings 34 Dallas Cowboys 3

So this is what happens when one team thinks it can win, and the other knows they will. Even though the game started well for Dallas, their inability to score when given the opportunities gave Minnesota all it needed to turn the tables and blow the Cowboys out. There is a lot of blame to go around, but before we get into that, I have to tip my hat to Brett Favre and his Vikings. They played a hell of a game and deserved to move on to the next round.

As for the Cowboys, not much can be said other than it was a fun season and a good run for them. They won the East and finally won a playoff game. I am optimistic that they are in a good position to compete at this level for a number of years and although I am disappointed by the way the season abruptly ended, I still consider this season to be a resounding success.


Anthony Spencer, Outside Linebacker -- Over the course of the season, Spencer went from being a first-round bust, to being perhaps the best defensive player on the team. He doesn't quite have the tools that DeMarcus Ware has, but he has turned into a real force to be reckoned with. Since both he and Ware are still young (He is 26 and Ware is 27), these two will hopefully be the foundation of this defense for years to come (along with Jay Ratliff and Mike Jenkins). Yes, the defense got pushed around today by a very good team. But there is no question this D has become a much feared unit, who should only get better with time.

Jason Witten, Tight End -- Early on, when it looked like the Viking defense was going to eat Tony Romo alive, Witten was needed as a blocker more than as a receiver. And aside for one play where he had to go man-to-man with Ray Edwards (who payed the game of his life today), he did a good job. But when it became apparent that the only chance the Cows had in trying to get back into the game was to pass, pass, pass - Witten became Romo's main target. For the day, Jason caught 10 balls for almost 100 yards. No one else on the team had more than 4 (Miles Austin).

Felix Jones, Running Back -- Minnesota has an outstanding front line and is very, very good against the run. But you could tell early on the value of a back like Jones. His speed and explosiveness caused all sorts of fits to the Viking defense. Of course, the turnovers by Tony Romo killed any momentum that the Dallas offense had (more on that in a moment). But this loss was not at all on Jones, who ran 14 times for 5 yard per carry average (69 yards). Of course, on the other side of the ball, he has become a real liability in kick returns.


Tony Romo, Quarterback --It's almost unfair to pin a lot of blame on Romo for what happened today. But if he gets credit for the win, he deserves blame when they lose - especially when they only score 3 points. To his defense, Romo was badly harassed all day and was forced into almost impossible situations. His offensive line was truly offensive and failed miserably in picking up Viking blitzes. But his three turnovers sealed the deal. Granted, one of the lost fumbles really wasn't his fault (maybe even the other one, too). Furthermore, when he had the time, he was able to hit his receivers. But the Vikings were outstanding in tackling and removing one of the Cowboys' biggest strengths (yards after the catch).

Gerald Sensebaugh, Safety -- One of the best free agent signings in a long time, Sensebaugh has really given the Cowboy defense a real strong presence this season. However, his misplaying Brett Favre's first touchdown pass to Sidney Rice, when he didn't bother looking up for the ball, set the tone and proved to Minnesota early that they could score on Dallas. In addition, Sensebaugh was a non-factor in tackling (one tackle and one assist - way too few for a safety). All in all, his lack of focus was a microcosm for the entire defense today.

Jason Garrett, Offensive Coordinator -- The Cowboys failures lie mostly with their inability to account for Minnesota's aggresive defensive line. It just seemed as if every time the team made positive yardage, the play calling that followed caused a negative play on the next snap. Nothing expressed this better than when they were still in the game (down 14-3) and on a second and 4, he called for a pitch out to Marion Barber that lost 7 yards. The problem was, while running a pitch out isn't a terrible call, running it with Marion Barber, who has been slowed because of a bruised thigh (which kept him out most of last week's game and all the practices this week), was doomed from the start. Minnesota's defense was attacking and only a very quick runner (Jones) could have made something from that play. Garrett has failed a number of times this year because he has called the specific plays with the wrong personnel.

Unlike 1991, when Dallas lost this badly to Detroit in the Divisional playoffs (after beating Chicago in the Wild-Card round), this Dallas Cowboy team is not "up and coming." They are a very talented group, but have beaten themselves on far too many occasions. It is likely that Jerry Jones will reward Wade Phillips with another year of employment, and based on winning last week, he probably deserves it.

But as well as they have played these past 6 weeks (excluding today), they still have a long way to go to be the best. In my next Cowboys post (year in review/report cards), I will talk about what I think the team must do to get over the hump. I will say this, if they do not improve - especially when it comes to causing turnovers and avoiding penalties, the team will suffer another losing end to the season. With all the talent this club has, that would be a terrible shame.

Next Weekend's Conference Championship Games
I am really rooting for New Orleans and the New York Jets here. I do believe that as agood as Minnesota was today, the Saints at home are better. The Vikings were unbeatable in the Metrodome (9-0), but they are beatable on the road (4-4). Meanwhile, whatever issues New Orleans had going into the playoffs, they washed those away by totally dominating the Arizona Cardinals.

In the AFC, I think it's hard to pick against Peyton Manning. I do think the Jets can pull it off. I just don't believe they will. But the way they went into San Diego and smothered Phillip Rivers today was a thing of beauty. In theory, defense wins championships and Minnesota and the Jets have the best D's of the teams alive still. Regardless, the games will be fun to watch.

Indianapolis Colts..................24
New York Jets.........................17

New Orleans Saints ...............34
Minnesota Vikings..................27

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