It's time for Dallas Cowboys fans to put the gastric-distress-causing New York Giants game behind them and start looking to the upcoming trip to play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. To help make the transition, here is my weekly Football Forecast where I try to figure out what the issues are going to be for the Cowboys going into this match.
Oddly enough, despite the loss and a couple of areas where there are obvious concerns, there are also some parts of the team that actually have me feeling a little better. Part of that is undoubtedly influenced by the fact that the Bucs may be the most inept team Dallas has faced this year. I have already gone through the video of the game for my review of the last Tampa Bay game, and it was just sad. Dallas matches up well across the board. If they don't win this game (and a bizarre upset is never impossible in the NFL), I don't see how they can possibly win the last two.
But more on that in the appropriate article. For now, it is time for some navel gazing as I try to sort out where the Cowboys are likely to see struggles, and where I would expect them to excel.
If you haven't been paying attention, or worse, have been totally ignoring my pithy and incisive analysis before now, my forecast percentages are like the chances of bad weather you see in weather forecasts. The higher the percentage, the more likely it is for the Cowboys to have a collapse in that area. Low percentage means they should do fine. No 0% or 100%, because there is no certainty in football.
My carefully considered guesswork after the jump.
Quarterback Tony Romo is not why the Dallas Cowboys have lost the last two games. He has been one of the best quarterbacks in the league the past two weeks in every aspect except the win-loss columns. His numbers against the Giants were absurdly good. I don't remember him coming close to an interception. The only concern here is that Stephen McGee is next up if anything happens to Tony. McGee is an unknown quantity, but certainly he would represent a drop off from the level of play Tony has shown of late. With Jon Kitna being placed on IR, the team has signed Chris Griesen to the practice squad. Which doesn't exactly solve anything.
CHANCE OF QB BEING A PROBLEM: 20% Last time: 20%
Running Back Well, if you want a worst case scenario, DeMarco Murray going out for the year is about it. There are only three other players whose loss I think would have a bigger impact, and my primitive, superstitious self refuses to mention them by name. But the good news is that Felix Jones came in and had an excellent game against the Giants. He certainly seems committed to playing hard, but with Phillip Tanner also going on IR, the Cowboys have had to resort to signing veteran (and I mean reallllly veteran) back Sammy Morris to provide the only depth they now have at the position. If Felix can stay healthy for the three (and hopefully more) games they need him, I think the team will be fine. But his history sends a cold shaft of fear through my heart. I put the odds of him getting hurt at close to 50/50, which is exactly the chance of there being issues here. (Don't try to make the math work out or anything based on the number of games and stuff. Just go with it.)
CHANCE OF RB BEING A PROBLEM: 50% Last time: 30%
Tight End/Fullback A deep, philosophical question has arisen for the Cowboys (well, as deep as football questions get). Is the rushing game more dependent on the back carrying the ball, or on the fullback lead blocking into the hole? The answer, based on simple observation, seems to be that the key for them is fullback Tony Fiammetta. When he is available for the game, the Cowboys usually have a 100-yard rusher. When he is out, they don't. I know it is a small sample size and all, but I am not the only one who thinks this is real. If he continues to play like he has so far, he will likely be considered the best Cowboys fullback since the Moose himself, Daryl Johnston. I am going to assume that his inner ear problem has indeed been fixed.
At tight end, John Phillips is starting to have some impact on the games, with that nifty screen pass for a touchdown. Martellus Bennett is back in practice (I am counting that as a good thing). And Jason Witten is the best tight end in football. Still.
Again, barring future health issues, this may be the strongest unit on the team.
CHANCE OF TE/FB BEING A PROBLEM: 10% Last time: 30%
Wide Receiver Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, and Laurent Robinson are one of the best three deep wide receiver groups in the NFL. They combined for 250 yards and 3 touchdowns, even though the Giants kept Dez out of most of the game with coverage. That just goes to show that you can only stop part of the receiving corps, not all of it. At this point, the only thing they need is for Miles to get all the rust knocked off from his prolonged time off the field. And Jesse Holley may be an effective possession type receiver in case one of the top three has to sit out. Meanwhile, after the latest personnel shuffle, there are now seven wide receivers on the Dallas active roster. Don't know how long that will last.
CHANCE OF WR BEING A PROBLEM: 20% Last time: 20%
Offensive Line If there is one area of the team that my opinion of tends to go through mood swings big enough to make me wonder about whether I have hormonal issues a man should not have, it is our beloved/anxiety inducing Yuglies. Like the fullback position, there is a question here with a suggested but not yet proven answer: Did losing the starting center make the unit better? Kevin Kowalski came in for the injured Phil Costa, and Killer graded out slightly better (see OCC's always excellent weekly post on the PFF grades). I have wondered for some time if he has more upside in the middle than Costa. It was not based on any hard analysis, just on the fact that he had acquitted himself well in his limited exposure, and on how Phil kept alternating good and bad weeks. I also have wondered if Phil would be a better guard than center. Maybe now we will find out, since Costa's status with his concussion is questionable for the game.
Meanwhile, Tyron Smith is now the second best tackle in the NFL. If he continues on the trend of improvement, he may end the season the absolute best tackle in the league, at least according to PFF.
Oh, and happy birthday, Tyron. You are now old enough to drink.
I think these guys have a good week against Tampa Bay. Still some issues, but I also think they are getting better as a unit.
CHANCE OF OL BEING A PROBLEM: 30% Last time: 70%
Defensive Line I am becoming increasing disillusioned with these guys. There just seems to be a lack of push up the middle. Jason Hatcher is the only one who seems to consistently do well, with even Jay Ratliff having a bit of an off week. One thing I keep puzzling over is that Sean Lissemore keeps having some of the highest grades even though he has limited snaps, and he looks good on the old eyeball scale, as well. I keep wondering why he is not on the field more. Does he not know the full playbook so that he has to be limited in what packages he is used in? Do the coaches not see the same things those of us watching from the outside do? Or does Josh Brent's unavailability mean that they have to save Lissy to spell Rat at the nose position?
I am not making a change in my forecast for them, but that is because of who they line up against this week. Next week may be a very different story.
CHANCE OF DL BEING A PROBLEM: 40% Last time: 40%
Linebacker The linebacking corps has a bona fide superstar in DeMarcus Ware, although he did not have one of his best games last week. They have a budding superstar in Sean Lee, who got yet another interception while displaying some amazing reflexes. They have Anthony Spencer, who is either very good at what he is supposed to do or a disappointment at helping DWare bring pressure. And they have the geriatric Keith Brooking and nearly as limited Bradie James. Victor Butler seems to be a good backup, but not good enough to supplant Spencer. Bruce Carter does well on special teams, but just is too limited by being out so long. I once thought this was one of the most solid parts of the team, but that weakness up the middle and the inability to get consistent pressure on the quarterback is not at all good. Again, the best thing going for them this week is the opponent.
CHANCE OF LB BEING A PROBLEM: 40% Last time: 40%
Defensive Backs Sometimes I get the forecast percentages wrong. This week, I think it was about right. There were some good plays, but way too many mistakes, and I think it is becoming obvious Rob Ryan is trying (unsuccessfully) to cover for them with his blitzing. Mike Jenkins plays well when he can play, but he is spending time every week on the bench with his latest ding. Great heart, but the body is not keeping up with the desire. Terence Newman is just looking worn out. And with Barry Church going on IR and Danny McCray a bit uncertain for the game, depth is once again a concern.
I don't think they will cost us the game this week. I do think they will look bad at times.
CHANCE OF DB BEING A PROBLEM: 60% Last time: 70%
Special Teams The Cowboys still aren't getting anything out of the return game despite all the different moves. Mat McBriar had a shank at the worst time. And the line was unable to stop Jason Pierre-Paul from blocking the kick that would have sent the game into overtime. The only positive is that Danny McCray still looks good (so I hope is does play this week) and Bruce Carter seems to get at least one good hit every week on kick coverage.
CHANCE OF ST BEING A PROBLEM: 40% Last time: 30%
Coaching I thought things were handled about as well as they could be, given the failure of certain players in key situations to make plays. But there is another question I have seen circulating around the threads this week that is the crux of this area.
How much of the seeming lack of toughness late in games is on the coaching staff? Is there a holdover from last season, or does the team just have a bunch of players that only have about 55 minutes of play in them? Is conditioning a factor?
From the beginning, I have been a fan of the new culture that Jason Garrett has been trying to install. I still think he is taking the team in the right direction, and am glad to see that Jerry Jones came out and said exactly what I expected him to say about JG's job security. And it doesn't seem that he has lost any of the team. If anything, the team seems to feel they are letting him down, at least according to this statement in that same article.
"I can't speak for everyone, but I'm a pretty good judge of our locker room and where my guys are. I feel like we're 100 percent in with Jason," veteran linebacker Keith Brooking said Tuesday. "I think he's done everything in his power as a head coach to put us in position to be successful. He inspires the hell out of me.
"I think that Jason's going to be here for a very long time. We've let him down. We've let our coaches down. And we're not making the plays we need to make when we've needed them. That's the bottom line. I don't think that has anything to do with Jason Garrett."
Keith may be at the end of his effectiveness on the field, but I like his football smarts and he is unquestionably the Right Kind of Guy outside of his loss of skills. I would be happy to see him wind up with a coaching job for the Cowboys. And he obviously knows about a million times as much about football in general and the Cowboys in particular as I do. So I am going to believe him.
CHANCE OF COACHING BEING A PROBLEM: 30% Last time: 60%
Jerry Jones As I said above, he said exactly what I expected about JG, and I think it was what needed to be said. More than just the words, his nonverbal cues seemed very sincere. This was not the vote of confidence just before the axe falls, I think. This is really what JJ thinks. And, a little frighteningly , I think I agree with him completely.
CHANCE OF JJ BEING A PROBLEM: 20% Last time: 20%
It's down to crunch time. The Cowboys do not have to win this game to still be able to win the division, but I think they need the win in more than just the sense of standings and tiebreakers. Here is hoping for the performance they need.