The VRR: The Return of Colombo and Other Cowboys Playoff Notes

Since Aaron is on a mini-vacation this week, I'll be filling in as your humble VRR moderator.

Usually, I'd greet this kind of news with joy. Marc Colombo is apparently healthy again and will start this week against the Eagles. I love Colombo's work, not just on his hit detective series all those years ago, but because he's settled a right-tackle situation that had been in flux until his arrival. Also, he's the enforcer on the offense. If there's an after-play scrap or some defensive players acting like knuckleheads, you're sure to find Colombo getting mixed up in it. But, the play of Doug Free has been a revelation. The offense is getting it done and Free has been an integral part of that. Witness his downfield block for Felix Jones' TD last Sunday.

Still, it's Colombo, the man has earned it, and it's good to see him back. At least we know if anything goes wrong, Free is right there to step in.

Says Colombo:

"It seems like forever," Colombo said. "I started doing on-the-field stuff two weeks ago. And I had sort of mini-practices last week, three in a row to kind of build up my stamina, and we're going at it this week pretty good. . . . I had a target date of the last game of the season or first game of the playoffs. There wasn't one point when I said I don't think I'm going to make it, it just worked out just right."

On Free, Hudson Houck likes what he sees. I've been counseling patience on the guy, at training camp I thought he had the goods, he just needed an opportunity to show it. The Cowboys should have big plans for Free in its future.

"Doug's played excellently, I think his play speaks for itself," offensive line coach Hudson Houck said. "I think he'll be a starter in this league. He's proven that, he started for a number of games and did extremely well, we're very pleased with what he's doing."

The Cowboys have three quality running backs, but that high number of starting-caliber backs has caused problems in terms of who gets the carries and when. The subject has been debated to death starting all the way back in the offseason. It appears the Cowboys, and Jason Garrett, have finally found their happy medium with the distribution of carries.

The Cowboys have scrapped rotating by the series. And they don't exactly rotate the backs in every other play. But how's this for some common sense? Why not just rotate them whenever they need a break? And basically, that's what they've done.

Now, I'm sure it's a little more to it than that - but not much. Marion starts the game and runs a few plays, and then they mix Felix in there. On third downs, Choice still has a role. And that's how they do it. There's no set order. There's not a snap count that anyone has. It starts with Barber and when it's time to go with Felix or Choice, that's what happens.

As long as it works, no need to change. And the Cowboys running game has been on an upswing recently, they've been much more efficient. Now, about those short-yardage situations...

Doomsday? I didn't say it, but Pat Kirwan did over on NFL.com. After mentioning this defense in the same breath as the famed Doomsday defenses, Kirwan adds:

In fact, in the last seven weeks, Dallas is giving up just 11.5 points a game. Against the Eagles, the Cowboys had four sacks, denied Philadelphia a run of more than 8 yards and contained DeSean Jackson. It's way too early to anoint this Dallas defense, but it made another big impression on me this weekend in a must-win situation. Can the Cowboys do it again next week, when those Eagles come back in playoffs?

I know this one has been mentioned several times already, but I couldn't let it go totally. Donovan McNabb on the Cowboys defense:

"The Cowboys are a great defense," said McNabb. "They have a lot of players who have made a lot of plays throughout their careers and guys that are on the rise. But I look at it more that we stopped ourselves. The opportunities that we've had we didn't capitalize on. The mistakes that we made really cost us."

The Eagles offense is the best defense in the NFL. They can hold themselves to 0 points! Seriously though, every team has opportunities that are missed in every game - Romo just missing Ogletree for instance - but if you're going to sit there with a straight face and pretend the Cowboys defense didn't dictate terms in that game, and that they were 99% of the reason the Eagles offense put up a big, fat goose egg, then I got nothing for you. Your delusions are too full-blown.

Coach Wade Phillips thinks this year's edition of the Cowboys is different.

Critics scoffed, but they're silent now as Dallas cruises into the playoffs with an impressive three-game win streak after recording the first back-to-back shutouts in franchise history and establishing a single-season team-record with 6,390 offensive yards.

"Didn't win in December or something," Phillips said, poking fun at reporters. "Who knows? Gee. I just don't believe in those things. I just think each team's different."

I agree.

When I came across this article talking about the Cowboys and this year's Super Bowl, my brain immediately channeled the great Jim Mora.

Super Bowl? Don't talk about Super Bowls. Are you kidding me? Super Bowls? I'm just hoping we can win a game, another game.

Or the first rule of Fight Club comes to mind. But, since it's out there, reason #5 of why the Cowboys will win the Super Bowl is the best one.

 5. It’s not cliché, it’s fact: Defenses that do not give up points win championships.

If there was one guy from the Eagles who was getting under my skin last game, and not-coincidentally was getting open, it was TE Brent Celek. While the game was still close, Celek started borrowing Miles Austin's first down signal after catches. Admittedly, Austin borrowed it from numerous players in the past, but it sure felt like Celek was doing an imitation, trying to goad the Cowboys and fire up his own team. Turns out, Celek did have Austin in mind.

"I'm a very competitive player," Celek said. "I channel it and use it to my advantage. It fires me up and keeps me in the game even more. I like it when players on the other team get fired up because it keeps my blood flowing."

Like Cowboys wide receiver Miles Austin?

"You could say that," Celek quipped.

This is a problem area for the Cowboys, the interior linebackers are not that good in coverage. Specialist nickel-backer Bobby Carpenter has been getting beat regularly over the last few weeks. The Eagles will certainly try to do more to take advantage of that aspect of the Cowboys defense on Saturday.

Another strategy the Eagles might try? The insertion of Vick. The Cowboys were preparing for it last week, but Vick was inactive. This week, he's supposed to play, but Dallas feels confident they are ready.

Reid said Vick would play in Saturday's playoff game. That won't change the Cowboys' preparation, coach Wade Phillips said, since they prepared for Vick to play last week.

"It's a little bit different when he gets in the ball game," Phillips said. "You have to be aware of what they're trying to do with him. It's a little bit different than what they do with their normal offense."

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