As we move on from the Jets game and start to focus on the San Francisco 49ers, fans are starting to get over their rage at the way the Cowboys lost. The team, after all, did many positive things as the stats bear out. Still, a loss is a loss and as such, questions emerge as to what the Cowboys could improve on in the next coming game. Questions tend to rattle around in my head throughout the week (insert amount of space jokes here), and I plucked three out of it and am throwing them into the webisphere.
1 - I know who's with me, but who's got their back?
When I was doing the play-by-play for Sean Lee, it was actually my second re-watch of the Cowboys defensive performance from Sunday night's game against the Jets. The first time I was watching for a situational substitution (for a post tomorrow), but each time I watched I noticed something more and more. The defense that Rob Ryan was deploying had absolutely no shot of stopping the Jets running back if he leaked out. Now, as I noted in the Lee play-by-play, LaDanian Tomlinson is one of the more crafty running backs. He's a legitimate threat in the passing game and has been for a while.
Regardless, the Cowboys scheme seemed more than content to just try to limit Tomlinson from getting big gains. Lee did his best, and as was noted in the comment section by BTB member 'starbury_to_s-jaxci2000', if it was Bradie James in there, things could have gotten ugly. There was even a play when Jason Hatcher tried to cover Tomlinson. It would have been funny if it wasn't the Cowboys.
So entering the San Francisco game, I wonder if the Cowboys will have a problem with this play the entire season. Was it part of the game plan, specific to anticipating the Jets pound and ground attack, or is it a weak link in the Rob Ryan armor? Although Cleveland's defense was average in pass coverage against running backs in 2010 (14th), they were next to last, 31st, in 2009. This is something I'll be watching closely over the next couple games.
2 - Get Your Weight Up, Player
The Jets are a great run defense. Elite even. The screen pass is just as good as a run and we rock at it. I get that too. But as O.C.C.'s post on individual and unit grades showed, the Cowboys pretty much sucked when it came to pounding the rock.
The line struggled in run blocking as evidenced by the Cowboys 2.5 yards per rushing attempt, the lowest rate in the NFL after week one.
Tyron Smith (+1.5) was the only lineman that graded out 'well' in Pro Football Focus' cumulative scores in the run game. Doug Free was just below that line, on the top end of average (+0.9), While Center Phil Costa (-0.6) was on the low end of average. Kosier (-1.2) was slightly below average and Bill Nagy (-5.2) seemed quite over matched by the Jets defensive line.
One of the major joys Cowboys fans experienced over the off season was bringing Strength and Conditioning coach Mike Woicik back into the fold. He trained six Super Bowl championship teams, you know. The lockout robbed the team of OTAs, mini camps and team supervised workout regiments. Even with the freakish athleticism of Tyronosaurus, who here doesn't think the Yuglies would have benefited from an offseason? The talent is obviously there, but I wonder if they will be strong enough to allow Felix Jones the breakout season he deserves?
3 - Dude, I'm telling you. Bet on 22.
Shout out to the best number in the world, my lucky number of 22. It's my birthday for one (Go Virgo, it's ya birthday), and has also brought me favorite players Will 'The Thrill' Clark in baseball, and some football playin' dude named Emmitt Smith. Maybe you've heard of him. There's really no way I can recount for you the number of times 22 makes an appearance for me. As soon as I see two two's I'm all in (which, ironically, doesn't always serve me very well in Hold'Em.)
I'd love to extend the luck I have with this number to the 22 players on the field for the Cowboys, but alas, each team has the same number of starters. This team needs some kind of help though, as 2010 just seemed so damn unlucky. Things just always seemed to go wrong last season, sometimes inexplicably.
There was one other factor, though, that had a huge impact on the Cowboys’ win-loss record: luck in close games. The Cowboys were 3-8 in games decided by a touchdown or less, including an incredible 0-6 start to the season in such games. A virtually identical roster went 11-8 in those games from 2007-09, and history suggests that the Cowboys should regress towards a .500 record in such games in 2010...
Consider the first of these losses, the 13-7 defeat by the Redskins in Week 1... remember that the Cowboys were in a position to win the game on the final play. Down six points with 13 yards to go for a touchdown, Romo hit for what looked to be a game-winning score, only for the play to be taken off the board by a game-ending holding penalty on backup tackle Alex Barron. Of course, the holding penalty was the right call, but there are plenty of game-deciding plays that see holding go uncalled. That same exact performance from top-to-bottom would have earned the Cowboys a win with a more conservative set of officials on the final play. When the difference between winning and losing is the referee’s call on one play, giving a team a 1 or a 0 for their performance isn’t the best measure of how they’re playing.
--Football Outsiders 2011 Almanac
*(FO listed wrong receiver here)
Is this team going to be unlucky again? And no, I don't account any of the three major gaffes from Sunday night as unlucky, except for the fans that had to witness it. Week one saw the Cowboys headsets go out at crucial times in the game. And we're still talking about referee calls.
There were several plays where I thought the Jets offense moved before the snap, some pointed out by Cowboys players, and no false start was called. Ever. Not once.
On a couple crucial plays of the fourth quarter, the refs made the incorrect calls. Plaxico's push off of Bryan McCann to score a 33-yard TD was a big one. Alan Ball jumped a route after the Revis interception and would have had the pick if Derrick Mason doesn't clearly grab him around the waste to impede his progress. No offensive pass interference there either. Cowboys get the ball back with 27 seconds and a chance to do some damage? A bogus completely arbitrary offensive pass interference 'pick' call on Jason Witten. Arrrgh!
“That’s my route, that’s not a pick route,” Witten said, per ESPN Dallas. “That’s not the design of the play. I don’t know. I probably need to bite my tongue right now. That’s all I’m going to say.”
We'll say it for you, Jason. That was a hometown cooking call.
I've said on many occasions that luck is when preparation meets opportunity, and I still think that about personal luck. In reality though, that thing called luck really pertains to how variables that are out of your control play out. The way a referee calls the game easily falls into that category. Now don't get me wrong, the loss falls on the mistakes the team made. However I wonder if the Cowboys will be lucky enough to be assigned refs that call a fair game this Sunday.