The scriptwriter William Goldman summarized Hollywood with the dismissive remark, "nobody knows anything."
Which Delhomme will appear? The one who fed the Eagles a handful of turnovers in week one, prompting his WR Steve Smith to tell him (mockingly, Smith now claims) that, "I never liked you as a quarterback." Or the one who threw for over 330 at Atlanta last week?
Dallas wonders which incarnation of Tony Romo will show? The big-play machine from Tampa Bay or the turnover dispenser from last week?
The biggest question in my book involves the pass defense. The run defense made a strong showing against the Giants but the secondary played like it couldn't get its eyes and collective mind off the new cage dancers up in the Cowboys Stadium rafters.
The game lines up this afternoon as a Rorschach Test of your fandom. What you see is likely what what you want to see. If I show you an ink conception of the defense's play weeks one and two, and you're bullish, you'll wave it off. If you're ready to show Wade the thumb, the patterns represent the splattered remains of your hope.
Either way, plenty of examples and counter examples exist to feed your hope or your paranoia. Ponder this team's two weeks line:
- Week one -- Loss -- 45 points allowed; 478 yards allowed; 4 TD passes allowed
- Week two -- Loss -- 35 points allowed; 368 yards allowed; 3 TD passes allowed
- Average -- Loss -- 40 points allowed; 423 yards allowed; 3.5 TD passes allowed
Team X was winless and had by far the worst defense in the NFL, much, much worse than even the '09 Cowboys. It was playing rookies and backups and seemed doomed. Then a funny thing happened. The defense found its heart, won a close divisional game and turned the season around.
Figured out Team X yet? It's the '07 Giants. The Super Bowl champion '07 Giants. Their defensive stats were ugly, but I doubt they would swap their ugly stats and their rings for your team's prettier numbers.
Does this mean the Cowboys will replicate this? Absolutely not. But it does mean they can. The NFL of the mid salary cap era has become the land of split personalities, where no team is what it seems. Ask the Titans. They had the best secondary in football last year and they're now 0-3. How about the Champs? The Steelers?
They gave up 273 total yards to Chicago last weekend. The Bengals could only muster 275 yesterday. The Steelers again have pretty stat lines. But they also own a two-game losing streak, because Chicago's last two drives of their game produced the game-winning 10 points. The Bengals last two drives yesterday were grinding touchdown drives which gave them a last seconds win.
Wade's defensive history offers little to go on. In '07, the D gave up huge yards in weeks one and two. The numbers then got progressively better. Last year, the defensive stats were glowing after week one, but led to a three game patch of mediocrity, which culminated in that ugly loss to Washington.
All I can tell is that the offense has carried Dallas to a 7-1 September record the past two years and if Dallas is to post another strong start Jason Garrett's guys will likely have to carry it early again.
Will the pass defense go the Tennessee route and fail to show? Maybe. Will it parallel the Giants, who shook off 251 yards rushing and almost 400 total yards against last week to hold Tampa Bay to 82 yesterday? I would like to think so. Will the D play whack a mole, and have the pass defense show while the rush defense regresses against the Panthers talented duo of Steward and Smith?
Nobody knows anything. Not the players, not the coaches and not any of us. That's why they play the games and that's why we watch.
Matchups of Note:
- Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins vs. Steve Smith. Smith is a much better short and intermediate receiver. He's been the most devastating receiver in football in these zones. But he IS Carolina's deep attack, so he'll test the Dallas corners vertically. Newman has won their recent duels, but his performance last week was one of his worst ever.
- Jordan Gross vs. Demarcus Ware. Want that big extension, Mr. Ware? A good showing against the very good LT Gross will help your case.
- Anthony Spencer and Marcus Spears vs. Jeff Otah. Spencer has struggled rushing against tackles Otah is a road grader on run downs. Spears and Spencer will need to win their share of duels to keep the game on Delhomme's shoulders.
- Kyle Kosier, Andre Gurode and Leonard Davis vs. MLB Jon Beason and the Carolina DTs. Beason is a beast when he's covered, but Carolina's DT ranks have been thinned by injuries. Dallas won't have Marion Barber but they'll nonetheless test the middle of Carolina's D, especially after gashing the Giants repeatedly last week.
- Wade Phillips vs. Jake Delhomme. The blitzes have been absent. The run defense showed the lane discipline it lacked in Tampa so Wade may finally turn his linebackers loose against Delhomme. The sackless Cowboys need early pressure to build their confidence and ruin Delhomme's. Jake is streaky and putting him in a sour early mood, as Philadelphia did, would set a good tone for the game.
I want to see the roof closed tonight. What's the point of building a stadium with a roof and air conditioning if you won't use it on a hot, muggy September night? I know Jerry wanted his record last week, but I want a win. This team practiced all August in a dome and played its two home preseason games under a closed roof.
I'm not saying Dallas would have won last week with a closed dome, but if you have control of the weather you owe it to the players and fans to provide the best football conditions possible. Tonight's Metroplex forecast is again hot and muggy. Keep it cool, Mr. Jones.