Doing a football forecast has one thing in common with doing a weather forecast: The more information you have, the more accurate you can be. My previous forecasts were lacking one crucial thing: I had no real game data to apply.
Well, that excuse is totally out the window now.
I certainly wish I was making this forecast based on a better result against the New York Jets. But I can only look at what did happen.
There are some things I was certainly off on in last week's forecast. But that is why I never predict either 0% or 100%, because the most unexpected things have a tendency to crop up at the most inconvenient times.
One thing to note: This forecast is made before I take a look at the 49ers' game last week, so I am not yet comparing the Cowboys' units to San Francisco's. This is just my attempt to figure out where the problems are most likely to be, and why. For those who may not have read these before, my percentage is a probability of problems happening. Low numbers = good, high numbers = oh, crap.
Find out my
guesses expert prognostications after the jump.
Quarterback I did not expect to see this number jump up. But there were three crucial plays that cost the Cowboys the game against New York, and two of them involved Tony Romo. I cannot look at the situation and ignore that.
The problems here are not because of lack of talent or ability, which he has in abundance. But Tony is not expected to be a short yardage running back, so the fumble is a bit understandable. What is not is that he tried to run it in the first place. This is a mental issue, in my mind at least, and the blame to be assigned to Tony on the interception, is also a question of his focus and decision making. Being an NFL quarterback requires many skills, not the least of which is the ability to put a bad performance behind you and come back to play a better game the next week. I'm hoping Tony can show the mental toughness to do that and eliminate the cerebral flatulence he showed in this game. But I don't assume it.
Tony was good for most of the game. He has to be good all of the next one.
CHANCE OF QB BEING A PROBLEM: 30% Last time: 10%
Running back The running game was not a big success against the Jets. Part of that was, I think, a coaching problem. Why was Felix being sent between the tackles? I never saw him have a good gain until he got outside more. And yet, the calls kept him driving into the middle for two or three yards. Hopefully that will not continue. But my forecast is not based solely on how the players were used last game. This is more about the capabilities of this unit and how it performed in light of them. And what I saw in the Jets game raised two related questions: What can the Cowboys do about having that short yardage banger? And what exactly is the value of Tashard Choice?
During the preseason, I thought Phillip Tanner showed the skills you need in a short yardage specialist. He was quick and decisive to the hole and not at all afraid to lower his head and fight for the yards. He is not as fast as the other runners, in my observations, anyway, but he runs strong. But I did not see him on the field against the Jets. I have not been able to track down a 45 man roster, so I don't even know if he was available. But his running style just seemed suited for short yardage work.
We did see Tashard on the field. Basically, he and DeMarco Murray are playing the same role, to come in and spell Felix for a bit. They had similar limited results. Choice had three runs for 4 yards and one reception for 5 yards, or 2.25 yards per touch, and Murray rushed twice for 0 yards and had one reception for 13, or 4.33 yards per touch. Since Murray is clearly a running back of the future and seems to offer roughly equivalent value to Tashard (based on an admittedly small sample size), I have to wonder if the team could get more out of having Tanner active and making him into that short yardage specialist instead of having Choice available. Just saying.
(Note: Some tweets from Tashard since I drafted this are making it look like he may not be with the team for long. He has sent out "thanks for the support" and "change is coming". - Tom)
Overall, I did not like the fact that the team only got 64 yards rushing. I think this must be improved. Again, get Felix outside more. Cats are not that fond of crowds, get this one in space.
CHANCE OF RB BEING A PROBLEM: 30% Last time: 20%
Tight End/Fullback The Cowboys are back to having four TEs and no true fullback. Not that it matters. Jason Witten was Jason By God Witten again last game, with only a questionable call against him late in the game as a negative. And John Phillips had a good night. snagging both balls that came his way. The only issue here: Where does Martellus Bennett fit in when his ankle gets better? This is now the strongest unit on the team, at least for me.
(4:30 pm CDT - Saw news reports Martin Rucker waived to make room for CB Frank Walker - still leaves this the strongest unit IMO. Also, as of about 5:00 pm, FB Tony Fiammetta has been resigned. - Tom.)
CHANCE OF TE/FB BEING A PROBLEM: 10%. Last time: 20%
Wide Receiver My only question here is how bad was the leg injury to Dez Bryant? Before he got hurt (on a punt return, which will be mentioned here again), he was tearing it up. After that, he was obviously not the same. Miles Austin had a good night, including the great catch he flat out took away from Antonio Cromartie. And Kevin Ogletree caught two balls with no drops, including one when Darrelle Revis was on him. The question here remains depth. If Dez can't go, who is the third WR?
CHANCE OF WR BEING A PROBLEM: 30% Last time: 20%
Offensive Line It may be premature, but I am saying it anyway: The experiment with the offensive line has succeeded. Tony Romo got sacked four times, but only one was obviously a mistake by the line - and that was on Kyle Kosier, the lone graybeard left. Tyron Smith was highlighted by Chris Collinsworth to show how well he was playing his position in his first ever NFL game. The Yuglies were not perfect - just a competent NFL offensive line, and improved from the worn out front the team had last year. They should only get better. Going with the youth movement up front may be the best coaching decision of the season.
CHANCE OF OL BEING A PROBLEM: 20% Last time: 40%
Defensive Line The line play seemed good. New York did not have much success running and certainly did not have any of the big gashes up the middle I saw in preseason. There was pressure on Mark Sanchez most of the night, and the D line was part of it, although they didn't get any sacks. But the success of this unit is not told strictly by numbers. My basic eye test said they got their jobs done.
CHANCE OF DL BEING A PROBLEM: 20% Last time: 30%
Linebackers DeMarcus Ware: Four tackles, two sacks. Anthony Spencer: Three tackles, one sack. Sean Lee: Eleven tackles, or twelve, depending on which box score you look at. One interception. Some moves on the return that may one day get him on Dancing With the Stars. Many more games like this from Sean, and DeMarcus will not be the automatic choice for best defender on the Cowboys. Only the depth issue keeps this from being 10%.
CHANCE OF LB BEING A PROBLEM: 20% Last time: 40%
Defensive Backs The concerns here are almost entirely centered around depth. Mike Jenkins came back and fought hard, but was in and out of the game. Terence Newman of course missed the game and is still questionable for this week. And Orlando Scandrick is out for an unknown amount of time, pending a final diagnosis on the ankle. Having said that, the patched together secondary held its own. There were shaky moments, but overall they actually exceeded my (admittedly low) expectations.
I did get word from someone I correspond with that Orlando is trying to utilize a trainer from the Mavericks to augment his rehab, including possibly using the Mavs facilities. It will be on his dime, from what I understand, and seems a very intelligent move, since the Mavs staff is a little underutilized now, and likely to be so for the foreseeable future. And he does have a little extra coin nowadays, so he can afford it.
(Late word that the Cowboys signed CB Frank Walker to help with depth. - Tom)
CHANCE OF DB BEING A PROBLEM: 50% Last time: 60%
Special Teams I was disappointed that Tony had some crushing lapses down the stretch. I was stunned and amazed that the punt team broke down like that. If I had listed all the phases of the game in order of where I expected to see something get really screwed up, the punt team would have been next to last, just above the kneel down formation. That completely and totally sucked. Joe DeCamillis has a great reputation, but sometimes it seems to me like special the teams are too often victims of sudden and unexpected breakdowns. Maybe it's all the young players, and it will get better over time. Still, I have a sneaky suspicion that Joe is staying away from Rob Ryan this week. This kind of stuff has to stop.
CHANCE OF ST BEING A PROBLEM: 40% Last time: 30%
Coaching Looking at the coaching, the Big Robowski did the best job, hands down. The Dallas defense played good enough to win the game. I was like most people, expecting the offense to have to carry the D early on, but it almost went the other way. As his d-backs were falling around him, Rob managed to get the secondary back on track, and Alan Ball almost salvaged the whole game going for an interception that clanked off his hands.
Now, Jason Garrett faces his first challenge of the regular season. He has to keep the team focused and not let it start pulling apart. The media is putting the blame for the loss pretty squarely on Tony Romo's shoulders. Jason has to stand behind his quarterback while still holding him accountable and coaching him up to not have those moments of brain failure. He also has to make sure Rob's temper does not vent itself at the other units, especially Joe D, as I mentioned above. (I don't think Rob going off on another coach is likely. But it is not unimaginable.) Jason has to be able to show the team that the Cowboy Way is just as valid when things go wrong as when they go right.
I'm not dropping the forecast here, partly because I still have faith in the coaching staff, and partly because Rob's performance impressed me. And there is one other little thing. The same guy that told me about Scandrick trying to get some extra rehab help above also gave me a little insight last week. Back when everyone was in a panic about Tyron Smith and Mike Jenkins hurting their knees and missing the game, he told me that the feeling on the team was that they would both start, and the reports about Tyron not being in pads at the start of practice might incorporate a little subterfuge. My e-mail correspondent has some history around the NFL, and he said that he knows of cases where the media saw a player out of pads and reported it. Then once the media was gone, the player would go get his pads on and go full speed for the rest of the session. Given that Smith, Jenkins and Phil Costa were all listed as questionable before the game, but lined up to start, I think that might be going on in Dallas. Discrete coaching skullduggery is a plus.
CHANCE OF COACHING BEING A PROBLEM: 30% Last time: 30%
Jerry Jones Jerry gets a better forecast this week, based on this one observation:
Owner/general manager Jerry Jones strongly hinted that he didn't want Bryant to be used on returns anymore, noting that Bryant's rookie season ended prematurely when he broke his ankle on a kickoff return
"I'm just saying he's getting hurt on returns," Jones said. "He got knocked out last year and got limited in this game on a punt return."
I don't like Jerry stepping in and trying to tell Jason Garrett what to do. But if ever there was a hint that needs to be taken, this is it. I did not like the idea of putting Dez Byant in to return punts, where he got hurt last year, and I still don't like it now that he has been hurt doing it this year. How many times does it have to happen?
CHANCE OF JJ BEING A PROBLEM: 40% Last time: 50%
Finally, I want to say it is still the Season of Hope. This was not the same kind of failure as the opener last year. That was pretty bad from start to finish, and this was a great performance getting shredded by some key late errors. In addition to the fumble/punt block/interception trilogy of horror, the Cowboys had seven penalties, and they tended to come in groups. That needs to be fixed. But in some ways, the team is further ahead than I had imagined it could be, particularly on the offensive line and in implementing Rob's new defense. Next game against the 49ers is now big, because the team needs to turn this around and regain the mojo they had for three quarters against the Jets.
But then, the next game is always the most important one. That is the Cowboy Way.
That's it until next time.