Remember when much of the worry about this Cowboys team surrounded the offensive line? All offseason, the transition from Flozell Adams to Doug Free at left tackle grabbed many a headline. Week 1's loss to the Redskins confirmed those worries from a depth perspective, as backup Alex Barron struggled mightily in his attempt to fill in for an injured Marc Colombo.
With Colombo back and Montrae Holland playing adequately enough at guard to backup the oft-injured Kyle Kosier and rotate in for an ineffective Leonard Davis, the worries about the offensive line have taken a backseat to a number of other team issues, including penalties, poor secondary play, and awful special teams play.
Seeing Too Much Yellow
The penalty situation seems almost to the point where it's out of the coaches' hands. We've heard how players were sent to the locker room during practice after committing a foul. Bringing in college or high school officials to watch over this team's practices is pathetic, but could be necessary. The players know the rules, yet they continue to break them. At least we can shed our worry about seeing yellow after touchdowns, as the Cowboys have banned all end zone celebrations.
Lost somewhere between Dallas' last two losses to the Vikings is the fact that Mike Jenkins is in a slump. In last season's divisional round, Sidney Rice respectively beat Gerald Sensabaugh, some ghost defender (most likely one of the safeties) and Jenkins for touchdowns. Who can make a play in the secondary? Right now, nobody can.
The perception is that teams are throwing right at Jenkins. He's confident and plays the corner physically, which makes him prone to pass interference penalties. On Sunday, the 23-yarder he was flagged for put the Vikings within scoring range. Fortunately, DeMarcus Ware sacked Brett Favre for a loss of 12, which knocked them out of field goal position. The PI call on Jenkins late in the game on 3rd-and-6 allowed the Vikings to run most of the time off the clock.
Whether Alan Ball is an upgrade over Ken Hamlin is debatable. The idea for the switch there was that Ball could provide some cornerback-like coverage abilities to allow Phillips to blitz more with the front seven. Ball can probably produce big hits in the open field, but seeing him in on goalline packages during obvious running downs is a headscratcher.
Dallas will have to lean on veterans Terence Newman and Sensabaugh while Jenkins and Ball start making more plays than they give up. As for Orlando Scandrick, the Giants are coming to town. Keep your fingers crossed.
Kick, Tackle, and Block!
It's getting tougher not to describe the special teams units as "not-so special". Because of their weekly failures, that joke has already achieved cliché status. Maybe this will make you feel better: It's a league-wide thing! The number of returns for touchdowns is on pace to break 2007's record of 25.
Well, at least Percy Harvin won the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week Award for his TD return coming out of halftime. Not trying to make excuses for Sensabaugh's missed tackle, but Harvin is one of the best in the biz. It's not the first time he's won that award.
MISSING: David Buehler's leg strength on kickoffs. Now what? He has to learn to angle them like Folk had to? Joe DeCamillis and Chris Boniol have got to have something up their sleeves. And when the offense faces a third-down around the opponents' 30-yard line, you can just feel the see-sawed decision-making on the sidelines: "If we don't make it, should we send in Buehler? Or should we just go for it on fourth?"
DeCamillis has seen this happen before in a kicker.
This transition reminds DeCamillis of what Brad Daluiso went through when he was with the Giants. "He was a great kickoff guy who ended up having to kick field goals, and it definitely hurt him for a period of time," DeCamillis said. "Now, did it hurt him to the point where he couldn't kick off anymore? "No. He got through it and became a dominant kickoff guy again, too."
This transition reminds DeCamillis of what Brad Daluiso went through when he was with the Giants.
"He was a great kickoff guy who ended up having to kick field goals, and it definitely hurt him for a period of time," DeCamillis said. "Now, did it hurt him to the point where he couldn't kick off anymore?
"No. He got through it and became a dominant kickoff guy again, too."
On returns, Akwasi Owusu-Ansah doesn't look half bad. He's averaging 21.6 per return right now, and it seems he could potentially break one. Just don't run right into that wall, AOA! Easier said than done, I'm sure.
We know that Dez Bryant is capable anytime of breaking off a long punt return. When he does, though, it's tough to enjoy the moment while keeping an eye on the corner of the TV in fear of the network's yellow flag indicator. Refs will think twice about calling against the 'Boys if that block on the side brushes a rear deltoid.
Back to the O-Line
From an overall team perspective, this may no longer be the Cowboys' weakest link. Certainly, it's the offense's weakest link. Kyle Kosier (achilles), who by the way Coach Phillips has not ruled out for Monday night even though he is wearing a boot on his right foot, is in and out of the lineup. As mentioned before, the play of Holland has yet to show any significant dropoff there at left guard.
On the outside, Colombo is still a very physical blocker and Doug Free is quick to get out and block on screens and sweeps. While most of the power runs have favored the right side (100), more of the team's rushing first downs hit to the left and up the center--13 each compared to 5 on the right side. Marion Barber's efficiency last week in short-yardage situations was encouraging for both him and this unit.
As for pass protection, the O-line has allowed 7 sacks and 30 quarterback hits. The sacks allowed are tied for third lowest in the league, while the QB hits tie for 7th.
Oh, in case you missed it, the team did get Robert Brewster back. He ended up clearing waivers and was signed to practice squad earlier this week.
Each of these areas are certainly still concerning and the team has to improve each simultaneously. Lots and lots of work to do still. Whereas many foresaw the offensive line's struggles going into the season, the special teams and defensive breakdowns are somewhat surprising.
Through five weeks, in which area of the team are you most disappointed?