All right. Knock off the moaning and groaning. It's time to start with stop with the negative waves, Moriarty. The Dallas Cowboys are moving on and making preparations to right the ship in the upcoming game with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Just because some of you may think that the team has lost all chance at rising above the .500 mark does not make it so, or even all that likely. After all, look how wrong the opinion here can be at times.
Let's take one concrete example regarding an under-the-radar but unquestionably bright spot for the Cowboys so far this year. Remember back when the team elected to let Mat McBriar go and keep Chris Jones? The general opinion here was that the team was being foolish. They were letting a two-time All Pro (and not just on Geico commercials) punter walk just as he was showing signs of recovering from his foot problem, and going with a player who seemed to be having difficulties not beaning people on the sidelines in training camp. McBriar was an acknowledged special teams weapon, and the Cowboys not only did not sign him, but saw him wind up in camp with the hated Philadelphia Eagles. This decision was bound to come back to haunt us, right?
Well, maybe not. After signing McBriar to a healthy one year contract in July, the Eagles cut him on August 29th, and he is still a free agent. The Cowboys will not have to worry about him when they face Philadelphia.
And how about Jones? While I must once again repeat the caveat that it is still very early, he is unquestionably one of the best punters in the league so far in 2012.
Numbers and stuff to prove my point after the jump.
As I mentioned in an earlier post this week, Dallas has been having a problem with field position. With having to start so often deep in your own territory, that means that they also have to call on Jones to bail them out when they cannot get the offense going and have to kick it away deep. Now, we all still have the horrific image of that blocked punt against the Seattle Seahawks seared in our minds like the Kathy Bates hot tub scene in About Schmidt, but that was not the punter's fault. The team was set up for a directional kick, and it was on Dan Connor and the others playing on the line to give Jones space to make his punt. Outside of that, Chris has been pretty danged outstanding.
The key stat with a punt is net yardage, not total yards, of course. It doesn't matter if you have a guy (or Guy) who can boom it 55 or 60 yards every time, if you let the other team return it 30 or 40 yards. The important thing with punting is how far away from the line of scrimmage the other team winds up starting their possession. Through the first two games, Jones has a net average of 46.4, second best in the NFL.
This depends to a degree on the coverage downfield as well, but Jones does an excellent job with those directional punts. He puts balls out of bounds inside the 20, and also puts the ball where the returner cannot get much of a run, or has to fair catch the ball. Jones has only had two punts returned this season, for a total of 12 yards. And that included facing Leon Washington of the Seahawks, who is a dangerous return man.
Yes, I will concede that having to go to the punter to find something positive to say about the Cowboys is a digging a little deep. But the real point here is that you cannot rush to judgement. Again, remember how most of us felt about the McBriar situation? We all thought it was rank idiocy. As it turns out, it was the right move to make.
Now a deep pall of despair hangs over many of us. All the questions of old are again staring us in the face. Is Jerry Jones incapable of building another winner? Does Jason Garrett have what it takes to be a head coach? Can Tony Romo lead this team to the playoffs?
But we have all been wrong before. It is two weeks into the season. While there is no guarantee that things will get straightened out, there is also scant reason to abandon all hope. All that really matters is the next game. That's one thing Jason Garrett has right. Win against Tampa Bay, and the sun will shine brightly and the birds will sing. It's the way things go.