With seventeen weeks and sixteen games in the books, it's do-or-die time.
Defensive end Jeremy Mincey played in Super Bowl XLVIII last season for the Denver Broncos and Sterling Moore went to Super Bowl XLVI with the New England Patriots. Moore speaks to the finality of the playoff tournament:
"It’s just the realization that you can be one and done," Moore said. "You’ve got to go out there and put everything on the line. Literally every play could be that play that changes your season."
The Cowboys' offense? In a word: awesome.
The Sturminator's weekly dosage of awesome eschews analysis of the Redskins game in favor of a "state of the union" for the Cowboys' offense. One of the sections that caught my eye:
But, the reason I think the Cowboys have as good an offense as anybody is that they are not 100% reliant on a QB just performing a magic trick or two to succeed. That may seem like an insult to Romo, but it is not. He is part of a machine right now, in a way that is frankly a bit eerie to what Troy Aikman once was. He is not being asked to carry the team to victory with 45 passes. He is simply being asked to plunge a dagger into the opponent at several precise moments of the game and is throwing into favorable secondaries who have been allocated fewer troops because of the run. Then, he is killing them.
Ya think? Archer backs it up with some numbers:
Excluding their kneel-down series against the Bears and Eagles, the Cowboys enter the playoffs having scored on 26 of their last 44 possessions....They scored 165 points in the month of December, the most in the NFL. The New York Giants were second with 123 points.
Of course, that Lions' defense is no joke...
Broaddus' weekly look at the opponent looks at three Lions in particular: WR Calvin Johnson (weapon); QB Matthew Stafford (nemesis); and DT Andre Fluellen (under-the-radar). Here's what he has to say about Fluellen:
What I especially like about his game is how quick that he is off the ball. The Packers offensively had a hard time, when he came into the game, containing his ability to get up the field. When you watch him play, he is very similar to how Terrell McClain plays for the Cowboys. Like McClain, Fluellen can line up at a couple of different spots along the defensive line. He has seen time as the under-tackle but is also capable of playing the nose with equal skill. He does a really nice job of playing on his feet and staying active.
Jason Garrett did not get carried away on Monday when news of Ndamukong Suh's suspension broke. Archer writes that his is because the Cowboys' head coach firmly believes the team needs to focus solely on the Cowboys. It’s part of the nameless, faceless approach he has instilled each week. If they can be their best, it doesn't matter whether Suh plays or where he lines up.
According to Romo, Sunday’s matchup with the Lions will probably be better than any other unit his Cowboys have seen all year:
"Yeah, they’re outstanding. I think they’re going to be as good a test as we’re going to have all season," Romo said of the Lions defense. "The game in a lot of ways may come down to our ability to…that matchup up front. I think it’ll be a great test for our guys and I think they’re up to the challenge."
Lane's weekly smorgasbord of random factoids features a couple that gesture to Sunday's face-off between the unstoppable force and the unmovable object:
- The Lions have given up just 17.6 points per game, tied with Kansas City for second-stingiest in the NFL. When scoring 18 or fewer points this season, Dallas is 0-4, while the Lions are 9-2 when they hold their opponents to 18 or fewer points.
- The Cowboys defense actually leads the league in drives ending in turnovers at 16.8 percent. However, just 9.5 percent of Lions drives end in turnovers, sixth-lowest in the league.
Watkins points out that nine of Detroit's defensive linemen have recorded at least half a sack this season and the Lions are tied for third in the NFL in tackles for loss on running plays with 26. Travis Frederick says the Cowboys O-line has its work cut out for it:
"It's really hard to specifically double one person because they’re so talented across the board," Frederick said. "You put two people on Suh and there’s Ansah coming of the edge, and you put two people on him and maybe you [Jason] Jones on the other edge. You really need to trust in the protection and trust in the system and hope everything works out."
On Sunday, we'll see strength on strength. Should be fun to watch.
Cowboys news: a collocation for your delectation...
Our own Sir Thomas covers the story, offering some evidence in support of Romo's winning the award:
Even more impressive is this: His passer rating of 133.7 is the highest ever for the month of December. Ever. During the month, he was playing out of his mind, throwing 12 touchdowns and only one interception (although he did get lucky a couple of times when defenders dropped easy picks).
Wait, isn't this the guy that can't handle the big December stage? The choker? Hmmmmm...might it be that this old meme has been utterly destroyed by Romo's performance in this, the cruelest of months?
Here's The Broad One's general assessment:
Veteran player that has more game experience than guys like Cam Lawrence and Keith Smith. Has been a starter in this league for several years, which gives you stability at the linebacker spot. Appears to be in the mold of the type of linebackers they current have on the roster in their ability to play a couple of different spots. Is the type of player that is not going to make huge mistakes to cost you an opportunity to win. Capable of making plays.
The offensive line is a tightly-knit bunch:
"The feeling that we have together is really important for us to have to be able to play cohesively," Frederick said. "I think it would be much harder to play if we all didn’t like each other and just kind of did our own thing."
And here's their coach:
"It’s a brotherhood in a lot of different ways," offensive line coach Bill Callahan said. "They care about each other genuinely. They work hard for each other. They don’t want to let each other down."
Timmy Mac reports that the Cowboys want to exact a fair measure of revenge on former Seahawk Golden Tate for his "dirty" blindside hit on Sean Lee in 2012's second week. To wit:
"That was the dirtiest shot I've ever seen," Church said during his weekly radio show on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas. "We were talking about it on the way back from Washington, me and Sean. He was just like, 'Man, I wish I could play so bad in this game just to give a little payback for what he did in Seattle.'
"Obviously he can't play, but we're definitely going to keep our radar out for [Tate] because that was a dirty shot. We're looking forward to seeing him. We'll definitely get him back after that, but it will be within the rules, within the rules."
On our most recent podcast, my podcast partner Landon McCool, came up with the notion of the "kill list": the compendium of teams or persons who have hurt or humiliated the Cowboys in recent years. They have been exacting revenge for those humiliations all season: Saints? Check. Seahawks? Check. Bears? Check. Eagles? Check.
Both the Lions and Golden Tate are on that list...
Good news: @AnthonyHitchens said his ankle is feeling much better and he says he will be ready to go on Sunday. He did not practice on Wed— Clarence Hill (@clarencehilljr) December 31, 2014
NFL Nation reporters granted anonymity to coaches, players, scouts and team personnel to break down the NFC playoffs. They had several things to say about the Cowboys, including this tidbit on defensing Tony Romo:
"You're trying to overload a side or bring it up the middle, and if you bring it up the middle, you want to give guys 5-0 protection so it's man on man and you have more air to run in. And if you run outside, you don't want them to slide that way. So it was big for us to wait until after both [center Travis Frederick] and Romo give their protection calls. It was such an emphasis in practice and the meeting room, and we were able to pick up on his snap count early in the game."
Since Romo was 12-3 this season, it looks like your understanding of the snap count didn't help so much, did it?
Spencer is just one of six players left on the Dallas Cowboys roster from their last playoff appearance in 2009. Comparing the two division champions, he says of this year's squad:
"No one expected it," Spencer said of this year's run. "It was more us against everybody else that type of mentality. With other teams we had a lot of hype going into the playoffs and into the season. This season it's been completely different. We stuck to each other and worked for each other, that's the way it's been and it's been paying off for us."
Let's hope it ends differently, too. In 2009, the Cowboys went out not with a bang but with a whimper. In 2014, if and when they go out, I hope it's with a bang.