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Worries Of A Dallas Cowboys Fan

I didn't get to watch the Cowboys play the Dolphins live last night.  I also didn't participate in the live threads, but I read quickly through them before I watched the replay.  It was kinda depressing.  A lot of people were very focused on the problems, particularly with the defense, and the results of the totally unscientific poll it provides are that the team is going to have a very hard time doing any better than 9-7, with 8-8 more likely.

I get how people feel.  I go from eager anticipation for the new season to dread that the defense is going to resemble wet tissue paper while Tony is running for his life behind the new line.  Uncertainty is not the easiest thing to deal with, and if there is one thing this team has plenty of, it is uncertainty.  That makes some things just jump out.  And last night, there were three things that really made me personally feel glum.  First, there was the huge downer of the Raymond Radway injury on the last play of the game.  Then the third quarter interview with Jerry Jones (I will admit, listening to him for more than about 17 seconds makes me feel vaguely nauseous under the best of conditions).  And finally, the overwhelming evidence that Dallas placekickers have been cursed for some unknown reason by the football gods.  Of course, having an emotional reaction to these things is one thing.  The question is, do these things really mean anything for the coming season?

Trenchant analysis after the jump.

You have to feel so sorry for Radway.  To suffer major fractures on literally the last play of the preseason, after having generated a lot of excitement with your play, must be absolutely spirit-crushing.  A lot of people had him as a pet cat, and the irony of him basically getting hurt because of a crappy sixties style dual-use field is doubly galling.

But this was not a big blow to the team as a whole.  Realistically, he probably had little chance of making the team this year, but looked like a lock to make the practice squad.  A year of work with the coaches could have made him a real contender next year.  Now, he has to heal and see if he can recover his speed.  

As for the rest of the team, it got through the preseason in pretty good shape.  Martellus Bennett is the biggest injury, and he is the second tight end.  With John Phillips and Martin Rucker on the roster, the falloff should be minimal until Bennett can come back.  The only other injury of note is the one rookie LB Bruce Carter came to camp with, and he should be able to play once six weeks have passed.  And as badly as we feel for Radway, at least he can go on IR, which will keep him on the team for this year.  If he comes back healthy, he will be a player to watch next year.

Of course, next year is not exactly the thing most of us want to think about.  We are concerned about what is going to happen on the 11th when the Cowboys visit the New York Jets, and the weeks after that.  We have been following training camp and the preseason games avidly, hoping to divine the future of this team with all the changes that have happened.  Now, the reports out of the team have dried up, and as Dallas fans, we are largely left with the unique experience of listening to Jerry Jones, who has the amazing ability to talk entirely too much and always leave you more confused than you were before he started gabbing.

Oh, you do get the occasional nugget of information, like his apparent assertion that Philip Tanner is going to make the team.  But even that is couched in Jerryspeak, where he sidles right up to the point of saying Tanner is definitely on the squad, but dances just short of actually making a simple declarative statement.  There are times when I think Jerry just wants to make sure people understand he really is still in charge, even if Jason Garrett is making the final decisions on players.  For the most powerful man in the NFL, and perhaps all of sports, he still seems strangely insecure in some ways.

By far the most uncomfortable part of listening to his "interview" during the third quarter was his tight jawed response to the sideline interview with Mike Jenkins.  He made it very clear he was unhappy with Jenkins and Terence Newman sitting out the entire preseason with injuries.  You could almost see him stomp on his own brakes as he realized how he sounded, and then he tried to walk the statements back, but if I were one of the projected starting cornerbacks, I would be a little bit nervous.  Orlando Scandrick just got an eight figure pay raise.   And the team has shown a willingness to shuck veterans and roll with young, hungry players.  TNew especially would seem to be a possible target for Jerry's wrath, and Mr. Jones made a point of talking about how he would sit down with Jason Garrett and Jerry's son Stephen to make the final decision on which players will make the final 53.

I'm not saying Jerry is wrong to have concerns.  I don't think there are very many regular readers on this site that don't have some uneasiness about Jenkins and TNew not playing a down so far.  But did he have to go into that in front of the cameras?  It struck me as something that Jerry should be talking about with Jason, Rob Ryan, and Dave Campo, along with the team doctors.  Mike Jenkins was dressed and appeared quite sincere in saying he wanted to play last night, which I would assume meant that the coaches and training staff put a halt to it.  So when Jerry talks about being overly cautious, I start to worry that there is a little disagreement between the owner/GM/CEO/spokesman/self appointed football genius/grand poobah and the coaching staff.  The good news is that it appears the coaching staff won.  The bad news is that Jerry still signs the checks and seems a bit miffed he isn't getting his way.  When Jerry sits down with Jason and Stephen to make the final cuts, I wonder just how animated the discussion may be.  And I am very glad Stephen will be there, because I don't think Jerry would fire him in a fit of pique.

Evidently, Jerry does not see that his extended ramblings about the team have the effect of undermining his staff.  It is not a problem with his football judgment or talent evaluation, although those can be questioned.  This is just a problem with his management/leadership style.  He tends to talk out of school, as the saying goes.  It is the opposite of Jason Garrett, who refuses to hash out his personnel issues or much of anything else in public.  It is one of the areas in which Jason comes off looking very good.  I just worry about Jerry continuing to give Jason the authority he needs if the team struggles early on this year.  And that is a possibility.

So far, Jerry has not had any negative impact on what Jason is doing with the team.  I may be reading too much into Jerry's ramblings, but when I listen to the way he says things, I can't help worrying that he may try to start grabbing the reins back.  I am watching this one closely.  I don't know where it is going, but if JG can just keep his head above water this season, I think JJ will restrain himself.  (With a little help from Stephen Jones, who seems to be a moderating influence.  Maybe we can get Jerry to start taking Stephen with him when he talks to the media?)

The kicking battle continues to madden me, and that is not a reference to a video game.  Nothing seems to work.  Convert your kickoff specialist?  Nope.  Bring in a rookie?  He's hurt.  Sign some veterans with good resumes?   They all seem to forget that the idea is to kick the ball between the uprights.  I am beginning to think that the coaches will wind up hanging pictures of all the kickers on a wall and having Chris Boniol decide who gets the job by booting a ball at them blindfolded.  And I don't know that the results of that are likely to be any worse than whoever they pick tomorrow.  Can you put two or three kickers on the practice squad?  At least then we could call the next one in line up when we have problems.  But come to think of it, the ones who get cut are not likely to be signed by anyone else anytime soon, so they'll be available anyway.

The worst part is looking around the league and seeing the failed Cowboys kickers who suddenly uncover David Beckham like skills when they sign with another team.  Nick Folk, Billy Cundiff, Shaun Suisham - all melted down in Dallas and went on to be successful in other cities. 

Of all the issues facing the Cowboys, this is the most frustrating, becasue all you can do is try kickers until you find a good one.  The team is trying - it just isn't finding.  I think an exorcism at Valley Ranch and the stadium is the next thing to try.

There.   A little therapy in confronting your issues.  Those were just the three bad vibes I got from the preseason game.  KD has an excellent post on who is looking to make the roster, and I didn't feel I could add anything unique to that discussion.  And the more I thought about the game, the more I just wanted to put these items out there.  Random injuries, Jerry Jones, and kicking.  The thing is, there is nothing the coaches or players can really do about them.  All we can do is hope they work themselves out.

I still think this is the Season of Hope.  Until proven otherwise.  I am a fan, and I will believe, until I have no choice - er, option.  We'll find out if we have a Choice tomorrow.

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