It's time to hand out game balls for the Cowboys' road victory against the Eagles! We've got one for a player from each unit: offense, defense, special teams. We've even got one for the coaching staff.
Tony Romo - As the Cowboys transition into a well-prepared team that strives to get better every week, their quarterback is also conforming into that mold. Both the gun-slinging mentality and the critical stereotype of being a choke-artist seem to be dissolving from the aura that is Tony Romo. If Sunday night's game is any indication of how he has grown as a player, then maybe we can begin to expect a more patient, less risk-taking Romo. With the defense steadily improving and a seemingly growing number of offensive weapons waiting to contribute, Romo can just focus on taking what defenses give him.
Leave it to the Eagles to break Romo's no-interception streak. Whether Jason Witten was looking inside or Romo just overshot him didn't matter for very long. It was forgotten, as all interceptions should be. Instead of piling on more picks like we've seen him do in past division games, he refused to gift wrap anything else for the pesky Eagles' secondary. And that pesky Eagles' blitz was on him early and often. Personally, his fumbles have irritated me more than his throws to the wrong-colored jerseys. I concur with ImpactNate, "Way to take that sack, Romo!"
Aside from those big passes to Miles Austin and Patrick Crayton, Romo made the most of the little passes too. It was great to see him connect with Kevin Ogletree on those screens. First downs for everybody, especially if your name is Jason Witten or Roy Williams. And I loved how that little hop-of-a-pass out to Marion Barber early in the first quarter seemed to foreshadow that he would be able to get away from the rush - enough to at least pick up some postive yardage.
21 of 34 for 307 with a TD and a win against a quality division opponent on the road. That's positive.
Honorable Mention: Jason Witten, Marion Barber
Make the jump to see who else gets a game ball.
Jay Ratliff - Double-team, double-team, double-team. No problem. Ratliff often just spins around them, or as we saw Sunday night, Coach Phillips will line him up at DE to terrorize the gap between the guard and tackle.
The Eagles had to have been wondering how they could continue double-teaming Ratliff when their rotating LTs were being harassed by DeMarcus Ware. When they didn't double-team him with a guard and a center, there he was disrupting running plays and leading the pocket collapses on passing plays. His pressure up the middle helped hurry McNabb on the Sensabaugh pick. And it was Ratliff crashing down the Eagles' line on that 4th-and-1 to allow Keith Brooking to fly over and prevent McNabb from sneaking out a few more inches.
One of the coolest things about watching the Cowboys now is how Ratliff roars to the sky, and then bashes his fists into the ground. In finishing the game with five solo tackles and two sacks, we got to see him do his signature move often against the Eagles (even though Stephen Bowen interrupted the completion of one). You can call it a sack dance or a celebration; whatever it is, is a precise representation of what Ratliff does to an offense: he wreaks havoc.
Honorable Mention: Mike Jenkins, Gerald Sensabaugh
Mat McBriar - On the season, McBriar is averaging 46.1 YPP (41.8 net) on 35 punts with only one of those being for a touchback. 20 of those 35 have landed inside the 20-yard line and 9 have been fair caught.
Against the Eagles, McBriar faced one of the league's best returners in DeSean Jackson. Because of his directional kicking and superb hangtime, Jackson did squat - being able to return just one of five punts for nine yards. For the night, McBriar averaged 42 YPP with three landing inside the 20 and a long of 57.
Honorable Mention: L.P. Ladouceur, David Buehler
Wade Phillips - A defensive-minded head coach should love the challenge of taking on a divisional offensive-minded head coach. That's what Coach Phillips did against Andy Reid. Phillips used both his stars and his situational players to shake, rattle, and roll Reid's offense to giving up four sacks and two interceptions. McNabb and the Eagles' blockers looked confused more often than not. The Dallas defenders stuck to their leader's gameplan and gave up no big plays - keeping everything in front of them.
Sure, the Eagles got in some of their patented HB-screens and TE Brent Celek succeeded in pushing off on Sensabaugh for a score; but the homerun-hitting WRs were simply shut down. Jackson caught two balls for a measley 29 yards, while Jeremy Maclin led the group with three catches for 44 yards. The longest gain for the group was by Jason Avant for 23.
This felt like an over-the-hump game for the Cowboys and Coach Phillips had his team prepared. Amidst all the drama leading up to this game, the team persevered. After the game, Coach called the players "selfless". On offense, four different players carried the ball, seven different players caught at least one. The entire defense showed up (both starters and reserves) to play all-out and held the Eagles to 16 points. I would agree that there certainly is some selflessness going on around Valley Ranch.
Honorable Mention: Jason Garrett, Todd Grantham
The Cowboys did what they needed to do: pick up a divisional win on the road. A lot of players made plays, and it can easily be seen as a team victory.
Who gets your game balls?