Rare amongst regular season contests, does a team get to truly see what it's made of. Sure, there are "big games" littered throughout a team's schedule; when you size yourself up against the league's best. In interview sessions, players and coaches sometimes let slip how much they are gearing up for the game, how much blah blah respect they have for their upcoming opponent. It's all normally just a bunch of hoopla however, as there is a game the following week and most losses can be overcome and most wins can be negated. A Week 17 do-or-die match, though? This is the first chance for the 2011 Cowboys to truly be weighed and measured, and find out whether they are wanting or capable.
It's fitting, because at certain points of the season we've all had the varying opinions of what this team can do.
A rematch with the New York Football Giants awaits this edition of the Dallas Cowboys; a game to determine 9-7 supremacy or 8-8 mediocracy. The other two NFC East rivals have been found to be incompetent contenders to the throne and only these two remain. The fact that the game will take place on New Year's Day 2012 could be looked at from both angles. Either the team gains new life, amidst a tournament of 12 Super Bowl possibles, or they begin working on their next incarnation, planning for an off-season of needed improvement.
Follow the jump to take a look at the latest news as Dallas begins preparation for their first win-or-go-home game since the end of the 2009 season.
From the land of "well, what else could he say", Jason Garrett has no issue with Jerry on the sideline (ESPN Dallas). You could look at this two ways, Jason knows nothing good will come out of saying he has a problem with Jerry's first quarter appearance, or Garrett is resigned to knowing he has a meddling owner that thinks he's a pseudo-coach and nothing is ever going to change. For the record, it assaulted my sensibilities but I belong in the latter category. For the record, Jerry doesn't see what the big deal is.
The owner's appearance was prompted by the right hand injury to quarterback Tony Romo, who is slated to start his 16th consecutive game on Sunday. According to CBS Sports, his bear claw is returning to man-paw status. The worst injury news seems to be Dallas placing left guard Montrae Holland on injured reserve with a torn biceps, ending his season. The Cowboys resigned G Daniel Loper to replace Holland on the roster, although veteran Derrick Dockery is slated to get the start.
There is some hope on said injury front, as Sean Lee claims that his hamstring is fine. Felix Jones' hamstring passed an in-game test on Saturday as well. The Star-Telegram article also mentions that defensive coordinator Rob Ryan should regain some blitz package creativity with the return of Danny McCray from his high ankle sprain.
Just how much of a chance does the winner-take-all victor really have in making the Super Bowl? About a 10% probability according to Advanced NFL Stats website. Very interesting reading on the value of playoff seeding, including this tidbit sure to make Wade Phillips proud.
I hear talk about having home field advantage and having a week off to get healthy, but commentators seem to overlook the most important part of a playoff bye: It’s an automatic win in the first round. Maybe it’s overlooked because it’s so obvious, but those other considerations pale in comparison to the value of a free win. Right away, a bye practically doubles a team’s chance of making it to the Super Bowl. Doubles.
The article also mentions that since 2002, the fifth and six seeds are reaching the final game with more frequency than the lowest division winner. Fourth seed makes the big game 6% of the time, same as the fifth seed, but the sixth seed has made the Super Bowl 11% of the time. Ummm, what?
Just released were the Pro Football Focus grades for Saturday's game against the Eagles. I know, I know, the Cowboys went into "Almost Mode" as a tribute to OLB Anthony Spencer. Wait, what? That wasn't for him? Well, the Cowboys seemed to be almost trying but still incapable of controlling the couch-bound Philly guys. In PFF's Re-Focused look, they take a look at the worst game of rookie Tyron Smith's young career.
Uncharacteristic Bad Blocking
All season, we have been praising the play of right tackle Tyron Smith (-6.4). Prior to this game we had him ranked third in the Race for Rookie for the Year and we voted him to our NFC Pro Bowl team. Some of us might want to redo our ballots after watching this performance, as he allowed a sack, a hit, and three pressures. On the left side Doug Free (-4.4) didn’t fare much better, allowing a sack, a hit and six pressures. The Eagles line up their defensive ends further to the outside on some plays than most teams, which seemed to give the tackles problems. On the bright side Free has a positive run block rating, but was the only offensive linemen to do so. Typically, Dallas is above average in both run and pass blocking. Their poor play was possibly the biggest reason for the offensive struggles, and will need to step things up next week against the New York pass rush.
Ugh. Can't end the article on that note, now can I? OK, try this on for size, my video links helped guide us through the lockout, so with DeMarco Murray done for the year, I figured I'll get a jump. Man oh man, I can't wait for a offensive line with an off-season and DeMarco and Felix behind them.