The opening weekend for the Dallas Cowboys is particularly painful to reflect on. Less than 54 seconds into the game and it was clear that it was going to be one of those days for the 'Boys. By the time the first quarter came to a close even the most die-hard kool-aid drinkers were looking for something much stronger to drown their sorrows, but even in the most dismal of times there is the potential to find a ray of sunlight if one looks hard enough.
In the first quarter two important points were obvious. First is that the new found commitment to the ground game appears to be more than just lip service. New play caller Scott Linehan was not shy in letting DeMarco Murray and the trio of first-round workhorses up front pound the rock. It was clear that they had the ability to run the ball with success and that the coaching staff was willing to take advantage of the opportunity. The one exception was the early game goal line snafu that BTB's editor-in-chief, Dave Halprin, examined in detail. A different play there might have changed the tenor of the whole game.
The defense, while not spectacular or even good, was at least competent. Expectations were that they would be much worse than that this season. Rolando McClain looks to be playing the game with a passion, and although it will take some time for him to get fully in to the swing of things, the former first-round draft pick is showing the potential to be the player that the Dallas front office thought he could become. Rod Marinelli and his staff have a baseline to build upon in the coming weeks, and it is higher than what many expected it to be.
The Dallas offense, even though they proved that they could move the ball effectively, displayed a tenancy to shoot itself in the foot. Tony Romo shoulders a good portion of the blame with his three interceptions early, but there is plenty of responsibility to be shared. There were mental errors from Pro Bowl caliber tackle Tyron Smith and future Hall of Famer Jason Witten. Terrence Williams is still trying to catch the ball with his body, and DeMarco Murray had a critical turnover on the opening series. The offense cannot afford another outing where it does not get in sync early. Even though the defense looked better than expected, Romo and Company are going to have to have to establish Cowboys dominance early and often for Dallas to experience success.
The Cowboys dominated the the time of possession in the first quarter. They held the ball for, if my memory is correct, over 13 minutes. Sometimes that is good, it means that the offense is moving the ball and putting points on the board. At other times it means that the opponent's defense is scoring or giving their offense a short field where they can strike quickly. On Sunday the San Francisco defense was doing both. The Cowboys ability to to make the Niners' depleted defense look better than they actually were dug the team a hole that they could not escape. By the time the game's second stanza began, the fat lady was tuning up and getting ready to sing. Take away the first 15 minutes and Dallas played well enough to have at least been in the game. As it was, there way too much ugly for them to overcome.
Like everyone else in Cowboys Universe I am saddened by what we saw on Sunday. Unlike many I am also taking away some positives. The team is a work in progress but I saw enough to believe that they can be more successful than many expect. It will take work, and plenty of it, but this can be a decent season. The first thing that must happen is the team needs to stop beating themselves. Everything revolves around that. The Dallas Cowboys are not good enough to play ugly and win.