How bout them Cowboys?
Oh, I'm sorry people in the back, a little louder?
HOW BOUT THEM COWBOYS?!?!
Ah, that's better. 6-1, leading their division, best record in the league. Life is good in Cowboy-land. Here are five quick thoughts from the Cowboys most recent victory over the New York Giants.
1. To Boldly Go Where No Man Has Gone Before: DeMarco Murray has now started the season with seven straight games with 100+ yards, something no running back has ever done. Those seven 100+ yard games also doubles Murray's 100-yard games for his career, over the past three seasons he has totaled seven such games. Seven games into the season and Murray is a little under 200 yards from matching his previous single season high. He has 371 more yards than any other back in the league, leads the league in touchdowns, attempts, and is tied for first in rushes of 20+ yards.
It's not just volume stats either. Murray is the 8th ranked running back in yards per attempt at 4.9. That's higher than any other back ranked in the top 15 in attempts, and only one other back in the top 30 has a higher average.
This level of dominance is amazing, but it shouldn't be surprising. The talent has been there all along for Murray. This is actually his 2nd lowest YPA, season, in both 2011 and 2013 he averaged over five yards a carry. I wrote in the offseason that Murray would be one of five players who would make or break our season.
What is amazing is that we are learning that this has been the plan all along. Bob Sturm has done a good job showing that even before Linehan got here in the offseason, Dallas was transitioning towards being a running team last year. Recent reports have come out showing that the plan has always been to focus on rebuilding the line; the individual players picked may not have been the plan, but the focus on the line and the running game always was. What we're seeing now is the fruits of a long term process, and those fruits are sweet.
2. Well, Nobody's Perfect: But in the 2nd half, Tony Romo was about as close as you can get. Let's look at the stat line shall we?
Actually let's not. Let's talk to Giant's CB Prince Amakumara, and inform him that Tony Romo didn't throw an incompletion in the 2nd half of the game!
"No [bleeping] way. I didn't know that," cornerback Prince Amukamara said. "Heck, yeah [it's frustrating]. It's definitely taking a shot at our DBs as a whole. Definitely take it personally. You can't let a quarterback do that."
Okay, now let's look at some stats. 9/9 completions, 146 yards, (so a little more than 16 YPA), and two touchdowns. That ladies and gentlemen, is a pretty good half of football. I don't think any of it would have happened though, without one seemingly insignificant play in the 2nd quarter.
3. There's No Place Like Home: Right after the Giants scored their second touchdown the broadcast cut to Dez Bryant, who was sitting by himself staring intently at the field. When the Giants scored, he just dropped his head. And why shouldn't he have? He was having a bad day, dropping several catches that he usually makes, and it was his tripping that lead to the interception that lead to the Giants go ahead score.
The Cowboys offense was starting to struggle some. The announcers even mentioned it saying, "all of a sudden the Giant's are becoming stingy against the run". The pass game wasn't working, we had just ran it twice for minimal gain. 3rd and 6.
And then Dallas lines up in a 3WR set and Dez runs a little slant. Prince Amakumara has great coverage on Dez, but Romo throws it low and inside, Dez makes a great catch and it's a first down. Dallas would go on to score on the drive.
That slant route should be and has been Dez's bread and butter, but, for whatever reason this season it just hasn't seemed to be working. But on a crucial 3rd down conversion at a point in the game where the Giants seemed to have all the momentum and Dallas was looking like the Cowboys of 2013 Tony and Dez decided to go back to the basics. There were more exciting plays in the game, but few were more important.
4. Mother of Mercy is This the End or Rico? That's what some were asking after Tyron Smith gave up his second sack of the game to Jason Pierre Paul. People were talking about Tyron's terrible season. Mutterings of last week's holding call began creeping in. Who could blame the doubters? Didn't we go through the same thing with Doug Free who played great at left tackle but wilted as soon as he got his big contract?
Well let's slow that horse down a little. Tyron Smith is not having a terrible season; he's just not having an all-world season. There's a big bit of real estate in between, and Smith is nestled firmly in the "good" chunk of it. He struggled in this game against JPP yes. But Tyron has been bothered this week by a hurt ankle, and JPP is one of the most athletic pass rushers in the game. There's no denying he had a bad game, (he was the only offensive player PFF graded in the red this week), but Smith's game has always been more about athleticism and footwork than power. Let's give him some time to heal up before we make any judgement.
Greed is Good: And right now we're all greedy for a few more sacks from our defense. As we should be. But it really wasn't pressure that was the problem against the Giants; who have recently moved to a West Coast offense based on getting the ball out quickly. The problem was coverage, particularly from our linebackers.
Last week we all saw the game clinching interception by Rolando McClain who ran step for step with the TE down the seam. Textbook Tampa 2 linebacker. For whatever reason in this game it was Durant who was typically charged with covering linebackers down the seam, and he was horrible at it. On the Giants 2nd touchdown you can see Durant about 2 yards behind the play, desperately trying to catch back up. The reason the TE was so open was that Durant had bit hard on the play fake. This was a game where the impact from Bruce Carter's injury was really felt.
It wasn't just the linebackers though, our corners were pretty bad as well. Brandon Carr got burned several times by rookie Odell Beckham, including on a touchdown. And playing in zone wasn't the issue, Carr played man most of the game. Actually Brandon generally had really tight coverage, and that was part of the issue; Beckham was like silk in and out of his cuts, and Carr was generally on him so close he couldn't recover in time.
More troubling to me at least was the play of Sterling Moore. I tweeted early in the game that I was not a big believer in Sterling Moore, but that he did a good job knocking balls loose. And he does. But that's also indicative of the problem; he is knocking a lot of balls loose because receivers are catching a lot of balls on him in coverage. Moore is a gamer and he makes plays, but he's not a natural in coverage. Right now he's got a catch rate of 64% according to PFF. Compare that to the much maligned Brandon Carr, whose catch rate is 54.1%, while generally going against the other teams top receivers. My main critique of Sterling Moore remains unchanged, he may make a lot of plays which is great, but he allows way to many completions.
Well those are my thoughts BTB. There was some good and some bad to take from this win, but in general things are going well for the Cowboys. What do you guys think? What stood out to you in this week's win?