Just sitting around today just thinking about something that has been on my mind lately, amongst other things. One thing that I will just touch on briefly is when will the Cowboys get to start the season with a home game again? Haven't had one since 2007 against the Giants. Although it kind of balances out a little as in another rarity we avoid almost any elemental extremes this year that we may need to play in (cold/snowy conditions). After playing @WAS in Week 11 (and any home games are always favorable conditions of course), we are @ARI, @TB and finish @NYG. We finish the season with our only REAL cold weather game on the schedule and NY isn't that bad anyway. So kind of a little twist we have in this season. Might be a cause for concern going to the playoffs if we have to play on the road in extreme conditions though...
Onto the main thought. There were a lot of rumblings on this site as well as others and just general talk about the new defensive scheme. I think everyone was optimistic and excited about the changes, intensity and swagger that Rob Ryan was going to bring to Dallas as the new Defensive Coordinator here. Although with the suckitude that was the NFL Lockout, there was a lot of pessimism about how long it would take for the defense to actually take hold without much time to implement such a complex scheme. Well, we now have had the opportunity to see what this defense is all about and I think everyone around the nation, Cowboy fan or not, is impressed with the defensive improvement that we witnessed in the first week alone.
Now even with a lockout, it would still take a while before this defense truly reaches its full potential that it can amass under the tutelage of Rob Ryan. Normally it takes a couple seasons for that to take hold. That is because it involves a culture change whenever that happens as well as some personnel changes that just simply cannot be done in one season. It takes a couple drafts and free agency periods to truly find the players that fit this scheme and mold it to the way it needs to be. Although I think a lot of that might already be present, which may be why we are a little further along than expected.
Even so, it is still expected that this defense will take some time and might not be truly moving along until about halfway through the season. Well my thought is this, we sort of came out on the better side of luck or whatever you want to call it with the way the schedule played out this season. We don't truly face an offensive Juggernaut until we play the eagles in week 8 (about halfway through the season). Bear with me as I expound on this and break down our opponents leading up to that game.
WEEK 1 - @ JETS
The game has been played and everyone around the nation, even in a loss and last minute meltdown, was very impressed with what the Cowboys were able to do. Even known "Cowboy Basher" Marshall Faulk was singing praises to the Cowboys and ESPECIALLY Tony Romo for the performance. He gave Tony Romo a B+ rating on the "No Huddle" show this week and said it was the best game he had ever seen from Tony Romo. But let's look at who they Jets are. What is the strength of this team? Defense, defense, defense. After the defense i would say their special teams is the next best unit and then comes the offense where they are more of a running team than passing. They rely heavily on the running game, averaging around 160 yd/game last year on the ground. We held them to under 50 yards rushing total and the only reason they scored touchdowns at all were because of some lucky pass plays, especially after Scandrick came out of the game. LT leaked out of the backfield for a big gain on one. On another series in the second half, Plax got away with a cheap shot on Jenkins and took him out of the game briefly. I am pretty sure there are rules saying that you cannot blindside a player and hit him in the head on a block, which he clearly did. He would later score a touchdown on that same drive against our 4th and 5th corners and a backup safety playing corner. There was a lot of confusion on that drive (why we didn't call a timeout I don't know) but Jets got into a hurry-up offense and we just couldn't get lined up right. Outside of those two, we owned their offense and the offense was only able to get them into even field goal range once (yes once, the second and final field goal they were in range of coming off the Revis interception as they only gained two yards offensively afterwards). That was a favorable game for our Defense no matter how you look at it.
WEEK 2 - @ 49ERS
Here we travel to San Francisco. Who are they? Offensively, almost the same thing as the Jets, and even have a former Jet on their team (Braylon Edwards) to boot. They got some decent receivers but no one that I would really call a game changer. Their QB isn't great but if he has a good running game and his defense holds up he'll play pretty well. Put everything on his shoulders though and he may fold. We showed that we can stop the run vs. one of the best running teams in the NFL in the Jets. Our secondary is still riddled with injury and, until proven otherwise, still suspect. Although our pass rush is much better than last season as we had four sacks against one of the NFLs best offensive lines last week. Once again, nothing overwhelming here.
WEEK 3 - REDSKINS
Back to Mike "Shenanigans". It finally looks like he may have the team going in the right direction, but still no offensive juggernaut. He still doesn't have a QB, or a reliable one anyway. A game manager just like the Jets and 49ers. Take away the running game (which did well week 1, but against a depleted Giants defense) and then force it onto the shoulders of Rex Grossman OR John Beck and you have a QB that isn't really trusted to take an entire team on his back and lead them to victory. Also still no real legitimate threats at receiver for them either. Sure, Santana Moss seems to do well against us for some reason, but I think with better pressure now, that will be a little less of an issue. Another favorable defensive matchup for us.
WEEK 4 - LIONS
Now here is a team with some real legitimate threats offensively. I think Matthew Stafford is a Pro Bowl Caliber QB in the Making. If he stays on the field this year and plays the whole season, I think this could be a pretty good team. Now, do I think he is good enough to carry an entire team on his back yet? No, I think he might be next season though. He hasn't had enough experience on the field and in game situations in the NFL to do that. Plus his Offensive line is still pretty suspect as far as I am concerned. A really nice target to throw to in Calvin Johnson though so this could be a pretty good team, but no offensive juggernaut that is a threat to put up 30+ points on any given sunday, or beat you solely through the air for that matter. Jahvid best is good but I think our run defense will be what it needs to be to slow him down. By the way, it may only be after one week, but go to NFL.com and tell me how nice it feels to have a defense ranked in the top five anywhere at all (ranked #3 in run defense right now).
WEEK 5 - BYE
WEEK 6 - @ PATRIOTS
Ok, now here is some legitimate concern, and this obviously does come before the week 8 matchup @ Eagles. I don't think I need to explain anything for why this team is a offensive juggernaut, especially through the air. Tom Brady (MVP and #1 of Top 100 Players), along with Wes Welker and a great group of young tight ends and we'll see how Chad Ochocinco fits into it all (I thought he said he was changing his name back to Chad Johnson?). However, this is my reasoning that you might not have to worry too much about this game. 1) We have a bye week right before we play them so we get some chance to rest up and get in some extra game planning. 2) They DO NOT have a bye and instead will have to play the Jets (although a home game), a tough team AND divisional rival. There are reasons to believe that they may get a little worn down by the Jets and not be 100% when we play them the next week. So that leaves some reason for some optimism and a reason to give this game a pass, although we will have to see. Never discount a team led by Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.
WEEK 7 - RAMS
Now I don't believe in calling people the next Peyton Manning or Tom Brady or anything like that. Each player is unique and you aren't going to be like them. Nor do I anoint such a tag to someone in their second season. However, Bradford has shown that he is a pretty dang good QB and will be in the future. However, still inexperienced in the NFL and also have never had to face a defense like with so many different looks like what he will have to face against us. Also, no real legitimate threats at WR once again. We will see how many people even step on the field for them against us as well, as a lot of people were hurt in week one. i haven't seen the injury reports for any of them but they were getting a little depleted in that week one game against the Eagles. Not because the Eagles are tough, but because the lockout has EVERY team suffering early injuries this season in the games. I think the Cowboys and Jets game was the only one that didn't result in any SERIOUS injuries of note.
WEEK 8 - @ EAGLES
Here it is, the first team that we will face that I consider an offensive juggernaut, and a division opponent at that. Although I call their Oline suspect at best and to mention their defense, I think teams will have field days against their suspect front seven by running the ball. Steven Jackson doesn't get hurt week 1 and plays the whole game, Eagles don't win that game. He was hurt on his first run from scrimmage, which he took 40+ yards to the house. Too bad he "blew a tire" in the process. No one hit him, just a bad tweak that he got while running, just bad luck for the Rams and good luck for the Eagles. What to do with this game though. Play deep and be physical over the middle. This offense is either EXPLOSIVE or IMPLOSIVE. If they aren't getting those 40+ yard bombs in the game, well, you've seen what happens...
So there you have it. Schedule is pretty favorable for us by the time that we get to that Eagles game. With a bye week to implement more stuff and get a better understanding of the defense AND to prepare for a true offensive juggernaut, with some slightly above average offenses mixed in along the way, it gives us a good warm-up for our defense leading up to the Eagles game. The schedule seems to be in our favor this year, especially in breaking in a new DC and defensive scheme.