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Sure, there's room for improvement, but chill out: there's no such thing as a moral defeat, either

Tim's picture

Whenever Dallas loses, I like to repeat that "there is no such thing as a moral victory." With all the local talk about how the team's play against 2-5 (now 2-6) Seattle, a far from dominating performance, proves that they are mediocre, I had to turn off all the post-game chatter last night so I could enjoy the win. And in case you have forgotten, it was a win.
 
I don't want to build up Seattle to be more than they are, but Tarvaris Jackson had thrown for over 300 yards last week, and Seattle's defense had not previously allowed a 100 yard rusher. They beat the Giants in New York three weeks ago, and one of their two previous losses came with their starting quarterback on the bench. And, as we all know, "on any given Sunday, and team in the NFL can beat any other."
 
Only Dallas won. Just like they were supposed to.
 
Having said all that, there still are some pretty obvious areas for improvement on the team. Before I get lost looking at trees, though, let's take a look at the forest. Dallas was at home, with their backs against the wall, trying to claw back to .500 after a humiliating defeat by a division opponent. I expected the Cowboys to come out playing clean, sharp, aggressive, dominating football on both sides of the ball. That's not what I saw. I saw sloppy, confused, penalty-prone play from the opening whistle. I saw a good team that really could be better.
 
I saw bad coaching. There, I said it. I'm not exempting players for execution, but Wade Phillips wouldn't get away with this kind of stuff. Two false starts in three downs on your first possession? Barely miss a 12 man penalty on your first defensive series?
 
I like Jason Garrett, and that is just a yellow flag (for now,) but I don't think we can overlook it. Jimmy Johnson said recently he thinks Jason Garrett needs to hire an offensive coordinator and just focus on being the head coach, and I wonder if he's got a point. We are sixteen games into the Jason Garrett era, half of them played without the starting QB, and with no off-season program to establish the new staff. And the record is 9-7.
 
Back to yesterday's game...
 
At the end of the 2008 season, Tashard Choice started four games, averaged 5.2 yards per carry, and racked up season highs against some of the toughest run defenses in the NFL. I still think he can be a good running back someplace, and wonder if he could have been one here if we hadn't sat him back down and sent Barber back out on the field. There is really no question that Demarco Murray can run the ball extremely well. The TV crews always like to point out "look at that hole the line made," but aren't there a few creases when Jones or Tanner are running? Part of being a good back is vision - seeing those holes, even before they are all the way open. This is three straight weeks Murray has lit up an opposing defense (yes, even in Philly, where he got 74 yards on just 8 carries.) I have not observed him in pass protection much, but he does drop too many passes. Still, when Felix heals up, he needs to go back to his ten touches per game - hit some home runs.
 
I don't want to go too far with this. The fact is, Holland added some experience (and weight) to the line, and the addition of a fullback has really helped. Both of those changes happened to coincide with Murray's breakthrough. Still, he seems like a more consistent back to move the chains at this point, especially with the continuing durability concerns with Felix.
 
I have another role for Felix - one he's performed well at in the past: kick returner. Right now, Kevin Ogletree is a terrible, terrible kick returner. He needs to be replaced by somebody, and I vote for Felix.
 
Of course, "red zone troubles" are leading a lot of the conversation about the game, so let's look at the two goal-to-go situations.
 
First and goal from the eight: On first down, Tanner is in for Murray, who is taking a breather, and he picks up three yards. Second down, incomplete pass, way over Austin's head. Third down, pass play, everybody covered, and Romo picks up a couple on a scramble.
 
First and goal from the one: Pass incomplete to Phillps. Murray tackled for loss. Pass incomplete to Witten.
 
On a day when your running back is punishing the defense nearly every time you get the ball, you pass on four out of six plays inside the ten? I'm all for being creative, but I think I might've taken my chances running three times from the one yardline yesterday.  At least play-action on the passes. I know, I know: when the play works, it was the right call, when it doesn't, it was the wrong call. SO let's take a look at another series:
 
First and ten at the Seattle 13: First down, Murray for eight. Second down, Murray loses one. Third down, touchdown pass to Robinson. So the run set that up, right? Not really. Romo was in shotgun, facing a three man rush. He had a full four seconds (aided by his movement in the pocket,) to find Robinson running across the back of the end zone. I am just about certain his first option was Jason Witten, who was covered by an alert DT Alan Branch, who dropped back into coverage. There was no threat of a run on the play.
 
If the call works, it's the right one, but I really do scratch my head sometimes. How about you? Are the red zone problems primarily execution, or primarily play calling? I am leaning towards play calling, mainly because both the passing game and running game seemed to be pretty solid up and down the field.
 
Which brings us to the defense. Was that #1 ranking against the run a mirage all year? The Eagles are a good running team, so, embarrasing as last week's defensive performance was, at least you could explain it. Seattle posed no such threat coming in, but they still averaged over 5 yards per carry, and were still running the ball late in the game when they needed more than one score. For two weeks now, we've been seeing front seven unable to come off blocks - the same problem we saw in preseason. Maybe that's why Barry Church played some linebacker - to get a little more playmaking ability close to the line.
 
And I understand that Seattle doubled up on Ware a lot - everybody does. That's not the problem. The problem is that nobody else up front steps into the void. Spencer got a sack (on nearly the last play of the game,) and made a spectacular play to block a field goal, but mostly he was just close on every opportunity. We've seen this too often from Spencer.
 
Let's end on a positive note: earlier in the year, I pointed out that one of the biggest problems in the running game is that the Cowboys cannot run in obvious running situations, such as milking the clock late. Well, yesterday they did it. On their last possession, leading by ten with just over six minutes on the clock, Dallas ran six straight times, picked up two first downs, forced Seattle to burn their last time-out, and using more than four minutes. They punted from midfield, pinning the Seahawks deep.
 
That is winning football.

Danny Smith
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Good assessment as always.  The only mirage in the run defense is the existence of Sean Lee - a glass of cold water in the desert that is Cowboys inside linebacker play. Lee was hurt for most of the Eagles game and did not play at all against Seattle of course.  Keith Brooking is BAD - and I mean BAD - in his run defending technique and even worse in passing situations. He takes bad, over aggressive angles, has little to no speed in pursuit and once he is blocked he stays blocked.  Bradie James is only marginally better. 
 
Sean Lee was making this defense a good run defense and pass defense. I see some good signs that Bruce Carter may be a good pass defender but he also looked very bad on run defense. We need to get Lee back on the field quickly if we have any hope of resuming our status as a solid defense.  We also need a replacement plan put in place for Keith Brooking immediately.

Danny Smith
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