This weekend was as painful for the Green Bay Packers and their fanatics, as the divisional playoff round was for Dallas Cowboys fans following the 2007 regular season. The New York Giants once again upset the number one seed in the NFC playoffs and may again meet the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.
Last season, the only team to play a competitive post season game against the World Champion Packers was the Philadelphia Eagles. After a tremendous off season, the Eagles were once again favored to win the division and anticipated to make a deep run through the playoffs.
It seems that the NFC East may still have its share of beasts despite an awful regular season by the Giants and Eagles in 2011. Both teams, however, exhibited strong finishes in the regular season.
As OCC noted in one of his responses to a previous post, Jimmy Johnson believed that Dallas needed to win the NFC East to meet its goals. In order for the Dallas Cowboys to once again become a playoff contender (no talk of Super Bowl around here until the Cowboys win a playoff game), Dallas needs to beat the Eagles and Giants.
Good luck with that.
The Cowboys were 0-4 against the Giants and Eagles in 2011. Worse yet, in the 4 losses Dallas suffered against teams outside of the NFC East, the Cowboys were outscored by 17 total points. In the four games against the Eagles and Giants, the Cowboys were outscored by a combined 60 points.
Yes...it really was that ugly. Maybe it is not too late to petition to join the NFC West. After all, Dallas was the only team to beat the 49ers in San Francisco in 2011.
Oddly, lifelong rivals can often answer questions that illuminate important facets regarding ones performance providing valuable insight during reflection and self-assessment. Who else would better know how to beat you than a long-time rival?
In this case, the 49ers also showed where the Cowboys need to improve in order to beat the Giants and Eagles. San Francisco beat New York (27-20) and won at Philadelphia (24-23) during the 2011 regular season.
The 49ers gave up an average of about 354 yards passing and 101 yards rushing against the Giants and Eagles. The Cowboys defense yielded an average of 318 yards passing and 140 yards rushing versus the same opponents.
Defensively, Dallas permitted New York and Philadelphia to gain 458 total yards per game, while San Francisco had the same teams average 455 yards per game on offense. The Cowboys sacked Vick and Manning 8 times and hit them 20 times in four games. The 49ers had 3 sacks and 7 quarterback hits in 2 games against those quarterbacks.
One of the biggest defensive differences was that San Francisco forced five turnovers (3 interceptions, 2 fumbles); compared to the 2 takeaways Dallas registered in twice as many games. Perhaps due to the turnovers, the 49ers only allowed 43 points in two games, while the Cowboys gave up 122 points in four games.
The greatest differences, however, lie on the offensive side of the ball. The 49ers were able to run for over 120 yards per game while the Cowboys gained an average of about 88 yards per game on the ground. Alex Smith was sacked 5 times (with 7 hits on the quarterback) in two games, while the Cowboys' quarterbacks were sacked 16 times and hit 26 times in 4 games.
In fact, Romo getting sacked in Dallas' losses was a trend in 2011. Cowboys' quarterbacks were sacked 28 times in the 8 losses. In winning efforts, Dallas yielded but 10 total quarterback sacks.
That difference does not exist on the defensive side of the ball. Dallas actually averaged half a sack more in the losses than in the wins. Considering Romo's mobility, giving up 28 sacks in 8 losses implicates the offensive line's performance.
Comparing teams with offensive lines that pass protect effectively, or are among the best in running the football, in games versus the Giants and Philadelphia, yields favorable results. Buffalo, which gave up the fewest sacks in 2011, beat Philadelphia and lost to New York by 3. New Orleans, which has an incredibly potent passing attack, ranked second in fewest sacks given up, and mauled the Giants 49-24.
New Orleans and Buffalo also rank 4th and 5th respectively in rushing yards per attempt. Both teams were also ranked 24th and 26th in total defense respectively during the 2011 regular season.
New Orleans is recognized for having a strong offensive line. That makes what San Francisco did on Saturday all that more impressive. The 49ers defeated the Saints' strength and earned the right to host the NFC Championship game.
As rabblerousr wrote earlier today (http://www.bloggingtheboys.com/2012/1/16/2711021/dallas-cowboys-wishlist-divisional-round-edition#storyjump), the 49ers have invested heavily on linemen and linebackers early in the draft and through free agent signings. Comparatively, the Cowboys have allocated their resources to receivers, running backs, and cornerbacks: the players furthest from the line of scrimmage.
In order to beat the Giants and Eagles, the Cowboys need to invest early picks on the players battling in the trenches. According to the teams that have the greatest success against the Cowboys' NFC division rivals, bolstering the interior of the offensive line is a solid investment. This strategy should be especially effective in a draft featuring two offensive linemen (DeCastro and Konz) that are rated among the best prospects entering the NFL.