Today's linky-fest kicks off with a much surer boot than the one with which Dan Bailey commenced Sunday night's game...
There's something different about Tony Romo and the Cowboys - Thomas George, SBNation
In a piece that can only be described as an encomium - a song of praise - George (who has been covering the NFL for 32 years) asserts that Romo's presence within and across the Dallas franchise is at the rarest of levels:
Across the Dallas locker room, from his teammates, there is an affection and appreciation for him that is rare for any NFL quarterback. It was unmistakable on Sunday night after Dallas toppled the Philadelphia Eagles 38-27 to vault into first place in the NFC East and inch closer to its first playoff appearance in five seasons.
Romo has his hands and his heart all over that locker room...
There are only two quarterbacks I have seen who commanded this type of presence and established this kind of relationship from every close nook and every far-reaching cranny of their locker room. Joe Montana comes to mind. He was so good at his craft that his teammates stood in total awe of him - but he also treated them with humility. Warren Moon certainly fits. In his locker room during his playing days, his teammates trusted and adored him and he communicated with them with gratitude.
Don't stop here. Hit the link and drink in every word of this moving must-read piece.
Jason Garrett wants Dallas Cowboys players to be like bullfighters - Jon Machota, DMN
In the stirring video of Jason Garrett's post-game locker room speech to the players after Sunday night's victory over Philly, the Cowboys' head coach twice punctuated his remarks by wiping his feet on the ground. Here, Sabin explains the meaning behind the gesture:
"A lot of bullfighters do that before they get in the ring," Cowboys defensive end Jeremy Mincey said. "Just to remind each other they’re just as tough as a bull and that’s our mentality. We’ve got to be as tough as the bull. We get in the ring with a bull, we’ve got to be a bull. It’s got to be bull-on-bull and not human-on-bull because you get bludgeoned."
How one of franchise's worst defeats set foundation for Cowboys' turnaround - Rainer Sabin, DMN
In another must-read piece, Sabin argues that it was last year's embarrassing, gut-wrenching loss to Green Bay that inspired the Cowboys to become the tough-physical, run-first team we've seen in 2014. To wit:
The stunning setback wounded the organization, and its impact reverberated in the months that followed, carrying into the offseason and beyond. For those trying to understand the reasons behind the dramatic change in the team’s offensive philosophy, the decision to draft right guard Zack Martin in the first round last May and DeMarco Murray’s sudden rise, look no further than the defeat to Green Bay.
During the shocking collapse that unfolded over the second half, the Cowboys held the ball for only 14 minutes, 15 seconds while attempting 21 passes and only seven runs. On the Cowboys’ final two drives, quarterback Tony Romo threw a pair of interceptions and was sacked once.
Now, Sabin argues, this bunch is mentally tougher than the teams that preceded them. And, as DE Jeremy Mincey told him, "It’s hard to beat a team that just won’t quit." Amen, Brother Mincey. Amen.
From the Department of Schadenfreude, which always does a brisk business in the days following a win over the Eagles. You will particularly like this if you are tired of the media's silly Chip-Kelly-is-a-genius meme...
Cowboys expose crack in Chip Kelly's system - Eric Adelson, Yahoo Sports
Adelson puts it bluntly:
...the Chip Kelly revolution has run into some counterinsurgency issues...The Eagles have had three huge post-Thanksgiving games under Kelly that they have lost: in the playoffs last year against the Saints, and then this year against Seattle and Dallas. In all three games, opponents established the run and turned Kelly's fast-paced attack inside out.
The common theme in five losses - Dave Spadaro, Eagles.com
Spadaro reports on some common themes in Philly's five losses: giveaways, penalties committed and red-zone offense. Hit the link if you wish to revel in the nasty numbers. And you do, of course.
What's next for Chip Kelly and the Philadelphia Eagles? - Eric Marmon, Huffington Post
Marmon views the Philadelphia Kellys with a clear eye:
The Iggles will end this season an ugly 2-4 against winning teams (2-5 if San Francisco runs the table), and it is fair to wonder if Chip Kelly's magic has taken the team as far as it can go. They don't fall victim to trap games very often, and that is a credit to their strong coaching and better scheming. Beating the teams they're supposed to beat has kept Kelly's crew in the playoff conversation, but he doesn't seem to have a smoothie recipe capable of putting them amongst the game's elite.
Eagles' season is almost lost - Lew Bowen, Philadelphia Daily News
In a delightful woe-is-us piece, Bowen throws in the towel:
Absent the football equivalent of a last-minute reprieve from the governor, the Eagles blew it - the hundreds of hours of work they've put in since last spring, the 9-3 record with the division lead they took into December. What's left is little better than straw-grasping.
A Chip in the armor - Sam Donnellon, philly.com
Donnellon asks the question Eagles fans don't want to hear: is Chip Kelly actually farther from a Super Bowl level team than Andy Reid was at the same stage of his Eagles tenure? The two men have much in common, Donnellon reminds us:
Kelly has either bet that he can make Foles elite, or that he doesn't need elite to win it all. Either way, it smacks of ego, not entirely unlike Reid's perennial confidence that his pass-oriented, West Coast offense did not need a consistent running game.
And, finally: may I suggest a visit to WIP, Philadelphia's sports talk station, where you can listen to hours of podcasts in which Iggles broadcasters and listeners try desperately to rationalize Sunday night's loss. Check out Angelo Cataldi's broadcast from the Monday morning after the game; they're instant classics.
Although lingering over Philly's demise is awesome, it's time to look at the next "nameless, faceless opponent." This time, it's the Colts. Who have a name.
Scout's eye: more weapons for Indy in the matchup than just Luck - Bryan Broaddus, The Mothership
Since "Luck" is capitalized, I'll assume the headline means Andrew Luck rather than good fortune, both of which the Colts have enjoyed in the last several seasons. Here, The Broad One engages in his weekly look at the opponent, with a three-fold focus: T.Y. Hilton (weapon); Andrew Luck (nemesis); and S Mike Adams (under-the-radar). Here's his take on Adams:
When you talk about safeties that not only can cover with range but handle assignments one-on-one, then you have a rare player. The Colts scheme calls them to play a lot of man-on-man coverage, and this is right down the alley of what Adams can do. He is more of a smart player than a great athlete. His real strength is in his positioning and his ability to play the ball.
Colts Coach: Murray or not, Cowboys still have "Nightmare" and "Houdini" - Nick Eatman, The Mothership
In his presser with scribes from the opponent's beat, Indianapolis head coach Chuck Pagano described Dez Bryant as "a nightmare" and said that Tony Romo has "still got that Houdini in him." Nightmare and Houdini sounds like one of those 1980s buddy films - you know, with Mel Gibson and Danny Glover. More to the point, here's what Pagano had to say about Dallas' passing duo:
"Obviously (Dez) and Tony are on the same page, much like Tony and Jason (Witten) are and have been on the same page for years and years," Pagano said. "It’s a heck of a challenge to Vontae (Davis) and Greg (Toler) and our entire secondary. It’s going to take all hands on deck to just try to contain (Dez) and make sure that he doesn’t wreck the game."
Marinelli report: the blueprint for Cowboys to beat Colts, Luck - Bob Sturm, DMN
The Sturminator's weekly peek at Marinelli's charges focuses on turnovers. He begins by offering this persuasive compendium of stats:
The Cowboys, incidentally, are 7-0 when they win the turnover battle and 2-4 when they lose it. The wins against the Seahawks and Texans were both games in which they actually lost the turnover battle. Under Jason Garrett, the Cowboys are 26-5 when they win the turnover battle (84%), while 6-26 (19%) when they lose the turnover margin.
Then, with the above in mind, he asks: how does a team generate more turnovers? His answer, in part:
Well, fumbles are generally technique issues, unless it is of the sack/strip variety where your blindside hit knocks the ball loose (like what happened to Romo on Sunday). But interceptions happen more when 2 things are happening: 1) the team throwing the ball is behind and/or 2) the team throwing the ball is facing 3rd Down and long.
On Sunday night, Dallas built a late lead that forced Mark Sanchez into precisely this kind of bind, and took advantage.
This week, practice reports will garner more attention than usual, I'd expect. So, here goes:
No pads doesn't mean easy practice to Jason Garrett - Todd Archer, ESPN Dallas
According to league rules, teams are allotted 14 padded practices during the season, eleven of which must be held in the first 11 weeks of the regular season. Over the final six weeks of the season, teams can have three more padded practices. Today’s practice marked the first time the Cowboys have not worn pads during a Wednesday workout, as their last padded practice came last week in preparation for the Eagles.
Instead of donning pads, the Cowboy focused on tempo. The scuttlebutt out of the Ranch is that they had one of their best practices of the season.
Cowboys practice report: DeMarco Murray participates two days after hand surgery - Drew Davison, Star-Telegram
Despite the headline's focus on Murray, Davison rightly notes that:
More concerning at this point, however, has to be the offensive line for the Cowboys. Right tackle Doug Free and right guard Zack Martin did not participate. Both are dealing with ankle injuries and their status for Sunday’s game is unknown at this point.
In addition, defensive players Rolando McClain, Dekoda Watson, and Josh Brent sat out Wednesday's practice.
Cowboys DeMarco: practicing with broken hand - Mark Lane, Cowboys HQ
The DeMarco watch has begun! Lane offers a moment-by-moment synopsis of his participation in Wednesday's practice. A snippet or two:
*Murray then participated fully in footwork drills (you can see our video and discuss here) and then took snaps in a few more drills before, according to CowboysHQ sources, giving way to Joseph Randle for some of the full-time work.
*The Cowboys will publicly note Murray as a "game-time decision’' for the Colts, but all they really need to see from Murray to keep him in the backfield is some functionality of the hand. They are seeing that now.
Tony Romo expects DeMarco Murray to do all he can to play - Todd Archer, ESPN Dallas
During the portion of practice open to the media, wearing a glove fitted with a hard plastic shell to protect his surgically-repaired left hand, Murray took handoffs and caught several passes. His quarterback thinks Number 29 will play if at all possible:
"I think you've all seen how special DeMarco is as a player. He's had a great season," quarterback Tony Romo said. "I think he's going to do everything he can to play. We're just going to do what we do and go from there."
Cowboys ready if "next man up" is needed - Todd Archer, ESPN Dallas
If three injured Cowboys, DeMarco Murray, Doug Free and Zack Martin can't play, then the Cowboys will call on the next man on the depth chart - Joseph Randle, Jermy Parnell and Mackenzie Bernadeau, respectively. This is standard procedure, according to the head coach:
"The mentality is, if you're on the football team, you have a responsibility to be ready to play and you have to prepare as such," coach Jason Garrett said. "And that's your job. You're a pro football player and everyone's counting on you. So the accountability thing is huge to your teammates and to your football team. So it starts with the preparation."
Ryan Williams waiting patiently for his chance - Charean Williams, Star-Telegram
the Cowboys could call Ryan Williams up to the 53-player roster this week if DeMarco Murray isn’t able to play. Citing from the Book of Garrett, Williams told reporters:
"Every day is another day. I haven’t been pulled up yet, so as of now, I’m just doing the same thing I’ve been doing all season, and that’s just getting ready for the next day and trying to prepare myself for the next day."
Bryant wins weekly NFC award - Drew Davison, Star-Telegram
In the wake of the big win in Philadelphia, this story has somehow gotten a bit submerged, but it's still quite noteworthy: Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant was named the NFC offensive player of the week for Week 15, the first time he's received the honor in his five-year career.
Good on ya, son.
J.J. Wilcox showing steady signs of improvement - Jean-Jacques Taylor, ESPN Dallas
In the first game against Philadelphia, J-JT writes, Wilcox played with too much emotion, and was too often out of control and out of position as a result. On Sunday night, however, he played under control, with positive results:
His sensational juggling interception off a deflection on the final play of the third quarter set up the touchdown that pushed the Cowboys’ lead to 35-24...Wilcox's forced fumble in the fourth quarter set up a field goal that gave the Cowboys a two-possession lead, while burning three minutes off the clock.
Not bad for a dude who didn’t starting playing safety until his senior year at Georgia Southern. Each game remains a learning experience for him.
Decades before moneyball, the Dallas Cowboys used advances stats to win Super Bowls - fivethirtyeight.com
A computer programmer and statistician named A. Salam Qureishi, who grew up in India and knew nothing about football, helped the Dallas Cowboys overhaul their scouting system in the 1960s, replacing hunches with hard numbers. The folks at FiveThirtyEight and ESPN Films’ digital shorts series Signals has put together a fascinating look at Qureishi and how the Cowboys employed his computer expertise to help map their draft strategies, entitled "The Cowboys and the Indian." Hit the link to check it out; it's fascinating stuff.
Get your picks in for the BTB Pick 256 Challenge!
If you haven't yet submitted your picks, now would be a good time. Here's the link to the entry form.
If the link above doesn't work for whatever reason, use the following alternative, which does not autofill your BTB user name into the entry form.
Alternative Pick 256 Entry Form
As of this morning, we had a solid 170 votes logged, but that still leaves lots of room for more participants. In early voting, the Cowboys are favored over the Colts, with 94% of the picks coming in for the Cowboys. Clinching the division early doesn't look to be in the cards for the Cowboys, as the Eagles currently have 68% of the vote over Redskins.