Sometimes lost in the hoopla over the coaching change, the changing culture, and the praise heaped on Jason Garrett, is one simple fact - Jon Kitna is doing a hell of a job replacing Tony Romo. Having a competent backup quarterback in the NFL is a challenge. The quarterback position is very challenging in itself, it's hard to find just one good one. So far, it appears the Cowboys were justified in thinking they had two. Admittedly, Kitna got off to a slow start in the Giants game, but he rallied the team to make it a somewhat close finish. In the Jacksonville game, he was victimized by some poor pass catching which led to tipped interceptions - he put up a ton of yards, but would probably say he didn't play his best in that game. The Green Bay game? Well, that was team disaster. But in the past two weeks, under Jason Garrett, Kitna has sparkled. He's thrown six touchdowns against only one interception.
Another problem with the quarterback position is that in addition to finding someone who is good at it, the quarterback has to be a leader on the team. Kitna certainly fits that bill. Jay Ratliff confirms.
"They say attitude reflects leadership," nose tackle Jay Ratliff said in the Cowboys' locker room following Sunday's 35-19 victory over the Lions. "He's a leader," Ratliff, a defensive leader himself, said. "He's been in this situation (being on a losing team with Detroit). A lot of us haven't. He's definitely got to lead us out and I think he's doing a great job of that."
Kitna, exhibiting some of his leadership skills, naturally puts the praise on his teammates.
"Guys allowed me to lead before I started playing," Kitna said. "I had a great relationship with guys last year. I had a great relationship with guys this offseason, in training camp and the beginning of the season."
I said before he has thrown for six touchdowns in the previous two games, but I failed to mention he's also run for a touchdown. The Cowboys bootleg on fourth-and-1 was probably designed to get two yards, but Kitna took it to the house.
"With the defense they were running and the way we designed it, there were pretty high odds," Kitna said. "Not because I could do anything special, but because they probably weren’t going to have anybody over there, just like they didn’t. Then you get an extra bonus with the fact that Doug Free’s guy ran over to block the running back, so he was able to go block the safety."
Being the competitor that he is, Kitna almost wishes Doug Free hadn't been down there to throw a block.
"I would have liked to have seen what would have happened if I was one-on-one with the safety."
His teammates were impressed with the aging-veterans running skills...sort of.
"He's got some wheels," Austin said. "Some Model T wheels, but hey, he's getting the job done."
After months of complaints about the Cowboys running game, we're finally starting to see signs of life. The turnaround in the run blocking has been evident, and the Cowboys are taking advantage. Dallas racked up 134 yards rushing on 30 carries, finishing with a 4.5 yards-per-carry average. Of course Kitna's Model-T wheels accounted for some of it, but Garrett stuck with the running game throughout. Dallas had 30 rushes compared to 24 passes for Kitna. Garrett gives his thoughts.
"The biggest thing with our running game is we've been closer in games," Garrett said. "We've been behind two or three scores and having to score more quickly. The game has been more balanced and you get to use the whole arsenal of your offense. We've been a physical running team in the past. We were among the best running teams in the league last year, and if we keep the games close or ahead we can continue to do that."
Sean Lee was brought in with very promising expectations. He looked like he could play, the Cowboys coaches gushed about him early on, but injuries and other problems have kept the rookie off the field for a good part of the season. He's finally getting some playing time, and he finally made a big play by causing a fumble that Jason Hatcher recovered. Needless to say, Lee is happy he's finally contributing.
"It was good to get out there and give Bradie and Brook a rest," Lee said afterward. "They're playing a lot of plays. It was good. I wanted them to have confidence in me where I can go out and make plays, and I think I made a few today. I still need to improve, and I'm getting better."
"I've been rotating in at a bunch of different positions," Lee said. "I'm trying to learn both the nickel and dime positions, and I'm playing the weak side, the Mo position. I've been trying to learn a lot and as I've been getting more practice time and playing a little bit better, they're putting me in."
The Cowboys defense has taken on a new philosophy. No longer blitz-happy, the Cowboys are requiring that the pass rushers create pressure on their own, without a lot of help. This has allowed Dallas to play a little deeper, get into more zone coverage, and allowed help in the secondary. If you play like this, giving the opposition the underneath stuff, then you must tackle. Early in the year, the Cowboys defense couldn't tackle anything. That's gotten better. Bradie James sums it up.
"We wanted them to drive the whole field," linebacker Bradie James said. "If they drive the whole field, then they've earned that touchdown."
One guy has a little extra-motivation to create pressure on the quarterback, DeMarcus Ware. His half-sack wasn't enough for the outside linebacker, who recently welcomed his second child into the family. He wants to give him the gift of sacks.
"I've got to get him some more next week," Ware said.
We can't do a What They're Saying, without hearing what Jerry Jones is saying. Still apologetic for the first half of the season, Jones is cheered a little by the recent turnaround.
"I want to say it again: no fan should think I'm happy with the way things are," Jones said. "I'm happy having these two wins, but this has been real sad as far as our season is concerned. And we've got a lot of steps to make here but this gives us a good feeling going into Thanksgiving."
The last word goes to coach Jason Garrett, who is riding a perfect 2-0 mark.
"It certainly wasn't pretty in all areas today, but what we're finding out about our football team is that it has a lot of fight."
Reminded that there is a short week this week, Garrett was fast to remind us about one thing.
"It's quick," Garrett said. "I told them the world champions are going to be here at 3:15 on Thursday."