A lot has been written about the way that Keith Brooking became the spur that drives the Dallas defense this season. Or of Miles Austin stepping up to fill in for TO. Or of DeMarcus Ware becoming the worst nightmare of NFL QBs. Yesterday featured two men on the roster who propelled the Cowboys to an unexpectedly mismatched victory over Philadelphia.
Instant Relief by Felix Jones
Felix Jones may have been a well documented threat for most of the season, but he was overshadowed by the Dallas pass offense and other running backs such as Chris Johnson of Tennessee, Adrian Peterson of Minnesota, or Maurice Jones-Drew of Jacksonville. Unfortunately, analysts have come to the conclusion that a rush-driven offense cannot motivate a team enough to the higher end of the standings and into the playoffs, and this approach has been correct in many cases: Until the departure of Brett Favre from Green Bay, the Packers enjoyed a distinct advantage over all of their opponents, whereas Peterson was able to lift the Vikings to division titles, but failed to be the spark that would drive them to their first Super Bowl appearance since 1976. Yesterday Jones charged down the field with 148 yards, and shredded the Philly defense. The Eagles showed during all three of their games against the Cowboys that their offense doesn't have the running depth to overcome the Dallas defense. The one-dimensional pass-heavy offense of McNabb is a fallacy that is often ignored by the analysts, but is in common with a number of other offenses, such as Chicago, Denver, and New England. The success of Jones has added a deadly dagger to this offense. Last year the Terrell Owens option was too obvious for opposing defenses, and the Bengals this year won many games more as a result of running backs Cedric Benson and Larry Johnson than because of the Carson Palmer-Chad Ochocinco combination. Jones this season has showed solid performance as a special teams kick returner, and the options that coordinator Jason Garrett has in his three half backs, Jones, Marion Barber, and Tashard Choice, have not just alleviated pressure on Tony Romo, they've safeguarded against the overworking of any one of those backs. The best example was during Barber's mid-season stint on the DL, when both Choice and Jones were able to give valuable contributions weekly.
Bradie James: the anti-biotic
At Left Inside Linebacker, Bradie James doesn't necessarily suffer from the same pressures as Jones or as the defensive backs like Mike Jenkins. Also, one has to consider that the players flanking him, such as defensive captain Keith Brooking, OLB DeMarcus Ware, and linemen Jay Ratliff and Marcus Spears have rolled the dice enough on opposing offenses. But consider the fact that James made twelve solo tackles in Week 16 at Washington, and leads the team in solo tackles and total tackles. James has five pass defenses over the course of the season, trailing Brooking and Anthony Spencer on the LB roster, but still ranking high in the league.
Neither player will be making the Pro Bowl, but it's easy to see that they add a depth that not every NFL team, nor playoff team can boast. Arizona and Philadelphia suffer from running games that haven't pitched in enough, Green Bay also trails at 13th in the league in rush yardage, Philly ranked 22nd, and Indianapolis ranks dead last in yards per game. I feel that Dallas' three-headed monster is one advantage it will definitely have against its next opponent, Minnesota, so that Romo can have less pressure from Jared Allen, while Bradie James and his colleagues will keep constant pressure on Favre, while containing Peterson.