Heroes & Zeroes
Heroes & Zeroes
Dallas Cowboys 34 Philadelphia Eagles 14
Well, it wasn't another shutout, but it may as well had been. For the fourth straight week, the Cowboys looked unbeatable. Aside from the fact that Wade Phillips has saved his career (winning just his first ever playoff game), the team was ready and fired up to play - clear signs of good coaching. On both sides of the ball (and special teams, also), the Cows dominated the Eagles in the same way they did a week ago.
Early on, when the game was still tied 0-0 (at the end of the first quarter), few in attendance, or on TV, felt the Eagles stood a chance to win this game. Even after Michael Vick's brilliant pass to Jeremy Machlin (it was a gorgeous throw), and then the almost interception by the Eagles' Sean Jones, you still felt that they only way the Cowboys fall is by their own hand.
But since the win over New Orleans, this team is far different from previous years. even though as a team they committed 14 penalties - although in defense of the team, referee Ed Hochuli is known for throwing the flag often - this team seems to easily overcome the mistakes. In years past, they may have simply laid down and faltered when faced with those challenges.
Tony Romo, Quarterback -- I don't believe there is a QB still active in playoffs playing as well as Tony Romo is right now. I can always tell his intensity by how often he smiles during the game. Last night, I didn't see a grin from him until late in the 4th quarter (he's been like that since New Orleans). He did make two bad throws, however, and he's lucky the two passes weren't picked off. But aside from that, he was nearly flawless and peaking at the right time. He always talks about improving and it leads me to wonder just how much better he can get. He already holds most individual team season records. He wins a Super Bowl or two and you can carve his name up there with Aikman and Staubach. But he has to win those first.
Felix Jones, Running Back -- In a game where starter Marion Barber re-injured his thigh, the Cowboys needed Jones to come through. Boy, did he. By rushing for 148 yards (on 16 carries - an average of over 9 yards per run), the 2nd year back from Arkansas had the third best rushing day in Cowboy playoff history. Plus, he also caught a pass for an additional 30 yards, to boot. With Tashard Choice filling in as well, the Dallas offense gassed the Philly defense early on and set the tone for the victory.
Bradie James, Inside Linebacker -- I could have easily chosen anybody from the defense and felt comfortable doing so. But Bradie James is an unsung hero of this team. Once again, he led the team in tackles and also, he created a fumble and recovery which basically killed any chance for an Eagles comeback. He is the "quarterback" of the defense and gets overlooked by the likes of DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer, Jay Ratliff, Keith Brooking, Terrence Newman and Mike Jenkins - all of whom, along with Bobby Carpenter (finally) deserve praise for their performance.
Ken Hamlin, Safety --Ken Hamlin is an aggressive player. He isn't as fast as he once was, but he plays the safety position far better than anyone else this team has had since Darren Woodson. That being said, it doesn't surprise me that he occasionally gets called for personal fouls. However, Hamlin was called three times and perhaps should have been ejected for at least one of them. It's one thing to be aggressive, it's another to be stupid. Hamlin is rarely stupid, but he was on Saturday night. That can not continue if this team is going to get past the next round.
Felix Jones, Kick Returner -- So how does someone become a hero and a zero in the same game? Jones, as mentioned above, was a big reason the Cowboys dominated the Eagles the way they did. But as a kick returner, it was a completely different story. Last year, Jones flashed his speed (and reckless abandon, which is necessary for a kick returner) and made a believer out of the coaching staff. But since returning from injuries, he appears too timid in the return game. It was so bad, that the team replaced him with Kevin Ogletree on the Eagles last kickoff.
Jason Witten, Tight End -- Jason Witten is perhaps the most complete tight end in the league. As Tony Romo's best friend (so is reported), he and the quarterback share a tremendous on-field chemistry, which has enabled them both to perform at such a high level. However, as I've noted in the past, Witten has become a penalty machine. In the last three weeks, the All-Pro has committed 8 penalties (usually false starts) and last night, he had three - one wiping out a Felix Jones' 14 yard run and another killing the Cowboys first drive, following a 16 yard pass to Ogletree that was downed at the Philly 1-yard-line. Obviously, you take the bad with the great. But in the playoffs, where every yard is precious, he must be more careful.
The 2-game manhandling of the Philadelphia Eagles was a surprise to everyone except the Dallas Cowboys. There is a tremendous amount of confidence running through this team, which is a huge advantage going forward. For a team that was considered dead in the water, just five weeks ago, they have become the team to beat in the NFC.
One of the most beloved legends in the NFL is that defense wins championships. That is often very true (but not always). The Cowboys defense is right now he most feared in the league. On top of that, the offense looks unstoppable. The only think that can defeat this team is themselves. For the first time in a number of years, the coaching has been tremendous, as the team seems to finally understand Wade Phillips' scheme. On Offense, Jason Garrett seems to once again be head coaching material. But the soul of this team seems to be Joe DeCamillis, the special teams coach. DeCamillis was badly injured during training camp, when the roof of the practice facility collapsed. Then, right before the Washington game a few weeks ago, he suffered from appendicitis and was forced to follow the game from his hospital bed. But he has completely changed the ferocity of the special teams unit and given the team as a whole a spiritual lift.
So now it's on to Minnesota, where Dallas will face old foe (really old) Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikes have been terrific this year, but have faltered a bit down the stretch. They run a similar style offense as did the Eagles, but have better weapons - including Favre and Adrian Peterson. They also boast rookie of the year Percy Harvin, the explosive wide receiver who, along with Sidney Rice, make the team forget all about Randy Moss.
If Dallas plays the way they have been playing, the Cowboys win this game with no problem. If they revert to the mistake-laden ways of the past, it will be a Viking cake-walk. My money (if I had any) is on Dallas.
Next Saturday's Divisional Playoff
Dallas Cowboys ...............27