Just like after the Bears' debacle, I'm more optimistic about the Cowboys' chances this year after the Ravens game than I was before the game. The reason is that there was significant progress in the way the team played.
Before the Bears and Ravens games, everyone, especially me, thought the offensive line would sink the team's chances in 2012. Why hadn't we devoted more resources to the line than signing castoffs Nate Livings and MacKenzy Bernadeau?
Well, I thought the offensive line pass blocked very well during the Bears game. Doug Free, who had been a turnstyle before, held his ground amazingly well. Smith, Livings, and Cook also seemed stout. The one slacker was Bernadeau, and he didn't get torched in the pass rush all that much.
But the line's run blocking still left a lot to be desired. We were worst in the league rushing the football, with most of Murray's runs stopped for losses.
Then there was yesterday. After a bye week, it looks like Coach Callahan has finally started to pay some dividends. His guys blocked the crap out of the Baltimore Ravens, dominating them physically in a way even the Jimmy Johnson O-lines would have been proud of. 227 yards, mostly between the tackles. Four different running backs. That was awesome. Sure, some other D-lines will be stouter than Baltimore's, but this was not torching the Rams. The Ravens were a 4-1 team at home with some defensive pride at stake. And they stacked the box all day. They still couldn't stop us. The line even accepted the return of Phil Costa at center and still looked great. The pass blocking was also good, holding up against a few blitzes. Ironically, the only sack came on a 3-man rush.
This is absolutely critical to having a strong Dallas Cowboys offense -- an offensive line that can open holes and protect Tony Romo against stunts and blitzes. Without it, the team is doomed. With it, the Cowboys can play with anyone in football.
Sure, it was not all rosy yesterday. There are still a lot of things to clean up.
- Penalties. These lost the game as much as anything. There was the penalty on our second drive that negated a Felix Jones first down run inside the Ravens 20 and led to a FG instead. We might not have gotten the TD, but we also might have. We were dominating them at that point. Even worse was the hands to the face penalty that gave Baltimore it's first TD, when without the penalty they would have been forced to kick. That's 4 points right there. I think there were some other penalties that stalled drives and turned TDs into FGs, but these are the two that stand out.
- Turnovers. We were much better than the Bears game, but Romo's one pick led to a Ravens score right before the half when we might have either gotten a FG ourselves, or at least run out the clock. The lack of turnovers against them is another problem that needs fixing.
- Mistakes. 1) Dez's drop. I'll put the dropped 2-pt. conversion pass on Dez Bryant here. He didn't drop balls otherwise, but when he absolutely needed a catch, he got the dropsies again. Blaming the officials was a mistake. It was a very catchable ball.
- 2) Bailey's missed FG. I'll also put the missed FG on Dan Bailey. I don't really blame Garrett, the clock, or the play calling. Bailey had plenty of distance, and a few yards wouldn't have made any real difference. Bailey just needed to make the kick like he makes all the others.
- 3) Baltimore's KO TD. We can't afford letting Baltimore take it to the house on a kickoff. Period. People want Joe D fired, and I would be okay with that. But it's not happening until after the season. Garrett needs to make sure this just isn't repeated. We also need more from our return game.
I believe these things can be cleaned up. Why? Because of the number of things that have been cleaned up already. Jason Witten isn't dropping the ball anymore. Dez's drops went from several down to one. The offensive line can now pass and run block.
Of course, this doesn't mean that the team will right the ship and start winning these games. But if the team dominates games like they did yesterday, I believe the wins will start coming. The key to me remains the O-line and Coach Callahan. If those guys continue to play like they did, and clean up the penalties, the rest of the team will do just fine. That's the way it was during the Jimmy Johnson era. The O-line took care of it's job, allowing Troy, Emmitt, and Michael to do theirs.
There are no tougher places to win than Baltimore left on our schedule.