As I sit recovering from the flu (Tamiflu rocks), I thought I would muse randomly about the Cowboys, dole out some love where it was due and maybe hand out an award or two.
Sweet, sweet revenge.
It’s nice to be able to pull our first trifecta (3-game sweep in a single season) against the Eagles. I couldn’t have picked a better foe to set this team record against. In fact, I would say that as the story unfolded, Dallas put more and more distance between themselves and the Eagles. It’s funny to me that Dallas may have ended Donovan McNabb’s run as an Eagle. Truthfully, I am not sure I want to see him go, because I’ve kinda depended on him to be erratic in important games against us. Let’s face it, who wants to see the Eagles with an accomplished pocket passer throwing to Celek, Jackson and Maclin? Not me. Anyway, it took 3 games and an entire season for them to do it, but they have more than washed away the stink that was all over them since last year’s season-ending debacle. No, this trio of wins more than makes up for the pain we all felt.
In a post where I made clear my view of Romo and what he had to do to become an elite QB, Romo has answered the call and I would be negligent if I didn’t call out Terry for his unwavering support of Romo (heck, even Fighter15 was having doubts!). Clearly, it appears that his performance in the first giants game was the wakeup call that this guy needed. Not everyone is cut out to be a winner. Not everyone has the stones to take the criticism and turn it into actionable work on the practice field and in the film room. Regardless of how he plays on Sunday and beyond, Tony Romo has shown a great deal of maturity. His next goal? Lead the team through adversity against a tougher foe. Whether it is against the Vikes or someone else, Romo’s next assignment is to show he can bring the team back without falling back into his old wild, freewheeling ways. I think he can do it.
This season’s Most Improved Player award was a tough one, because there were four solid candidates; Miles Austin, Felix Jones, Anthony Spencer and Mike Jenkins. Austin is a pro bowler in his first season as a starter. Jones finally stayed healthy (for most of the season anyway) enough to have a huge impact down the stretch and was clearly a difference maker in the Philly game(s). Spencer seemed to be shot out of a cannon at mid-season and developed a solid pass-rushing resume to go with his already laudable play against the run. Jenkins battled back from a ton of scrutiny based on a whiff against a NYG running back last season and the strong play of Orlando Scandrick. BTW, Nick Folk wins the Most Disappointing Player (MDP) award for 2010 in a relatively close battle with Roy Williams.
The winner: Mike Jenkins. While Austin has the gaudier numbers, he had shown flashes in the past and was hampered by health issues. The same goes for Jones. Spencer’s rise to prominence has been heavily weighted to the 2nd half of the season. No one, from year to year, improved more than Jenkins in terms of how he was able to shut down the #1 WR for each team the Cowboys faced during the year. I have no doubt that his name will be mentioned in the same breath with Asomugha, Revis and Bailey next year if he continues to play at this level.
No more Winnie
I admit it. He’s earned the right to shed this moniker. I was the one saying that this team needed to play up to their capabilities and that, especially on defense where there were a ton of high draft choices, it was time to become an elite Defense and that Wade (okay, Winnie at the time) needed to make them that. Well, I’m happy to report that he did…and then some. And give him credit for bringing in one of HIS guys in Brooking. That was a brilliant move. The reality is that the face of the 2009 cowboys is the Defense. Regardless of how good or bad the Cowboys play from here on out, the coach of the Cowboys shall be known as just Wade. In fact, who needs a Defensive Coordinator anyway?
Don’t Forget Your Line
O-line, that is. As Dallas has had this late season turnaround, no group has been more important than the Offensive Line. Even I was having my doubts about Hudson Houck and whether or not the game had passed him by. However, in this surge, the line has allowed Romo to feel comfortable, handled the loss of Colombo without missing a beat and continued to open up nice holes for the RB’s. In addition, the line has been asked to get out on WR screens and to pull on running plays to the edge more than in previous years and they’ve done so with aplomb. All this and no wild snaps from Gurode (it’s got to be the makings of magical ending to a season of turmoil). High five’s all around to the O-line.
Red Headed What?
Maybe calling him a genius too soon was a death knell (for Mangini too) and maybe that term should only be used posthumously. Regardless, I heard a nice piece of sports analysis from Trent Dilfer and Merrill Hodge about how the Cowboys went through interesting phases this year. At one point, they suggested, Dallas was afraid to throw the ball. Later, they completely forgot about the run and threw on every down. But the outcome of playing at these two extremes allowed the Cowboys a chance to find out what it was their players did best. Now they are benefitting from that key learning. Say what you will about ESPN, but that is the kind of analysis that is insightful in a way that could only come from two of the game’s most cerebral players. Well done, guys. And while we’re at it, throw some bones to Jason Garrett, who has helped Dallas find balance in a way that has helped them get out early on teams and not wasted some big games out of the defense.
This team’s performance marks the first time that any team played better the following year after T.O. left than it did the prior year with him. Now, this offense’s passing game isn’t nearly as vertical as in the past and it relies more on WR screens, crosses and drags than it does deep posts and fly patterns, but so what? Many people on this blog decried the cutting of T.O. and said he was being made a scapegoat. Bull Puckey! Creating a team-first attitude has, in my opinion, helped this team deal with adversity in a way that ALLOWED them to break the curse of its late-season collapses. I truly believe it was Stephen Jones who finally swayed Jerry into this way of thinking and off of his prior “chemistry doesn’t matter” mantra. I said it before and I will say it again – Romo could not become the best QB he could be with T.O. on that roster. So there!
The whole “The Monkey is Finally Off of Their Back” thing is simply a euphemism for a decade plus’ worth of ‘playing below expectations’. Dallas has been a very talented team since Tuna (sorry Tuna haters) came to Dallas and helped start overhauling the team’s roster and its toughness. It seems the move to a 3-4 defense WAS in fact a good move. Guys like Romo, Austin, Witten, Ware, Barber and others were likely to end up on other teams if not for him. But even WITH him, the timing was wrong. The game had seemingly passed him by and, while we saw that manifest itself in further less-than-happy outcomes, we watched some great assistants leave and go on to have success elsewhere. But it is now, at this time, that this core group of players, bolstered by some 1st and second year players, has started to peak at the right time. In a season full of ‘surprises’, the biggest of these was the emergence of a TEAM who is performing at (or even above) expectations and playing the kind of hard-nosed, tough football that should make any Dallas fan proud.