Tuesday was effectively this short week's "hump day," wherein we feature a few scattered wrap-ups of the previous game's action and look ahead to the next opponent. So, that's what we'll do here.
Sturm's weekly "decoding Linehan" article focuses its microscope solely on Number Nine, and rightly so, given that he's such a difference-maker:
The Cowboys are a very, very different team with Tony Romo at the helm. He does things at the QB position that the replacement level QB's can't even imagine doing. Yes, there will be a "next one" after Romo - like Staubach and Aikman before him, he will eventually reach the end of the line and then the search begins that could take a decade - but the present tense of Romo is such that you should not be in a hurry to move on to the next guy.
Now, what is the big deal about Sunday? He only put up 17 points against the Dolphins! Well, it surely wasn't a hot knife through butter, but the big deal is that the Cowboys offense looked whole again with just the flick of his wrist. Yes, there is rust and inaccuracy, but that was Romo. The guy who defies Xs and Os.
Dixon argues that there's a lot of 2014 DeMarco in the 2015 Darren, and offers a case in point:
And the last Dallas possession was the closest thing to how the Cowboys looked while winning their division in 2014. Protecting a 10-point lead, they burned more than five minutes with 11 runs by McFadden in 12 plays, giving up the ball on downs with 1:04 remaining.
In a piece on the Cowboys' lead back, Archer reminds us that Run-DMC is on one of the best stretches of his career:
McFadden has not had a spell this good since 2011, when he had 111 carries for 610 yards in the first six games. Since taking over the Cowboys’ lead back role in the first quarter of the Oct. 25 meeting against the New York Giants, he has 122 carries for 494 yards.
Raf's game notes are a worthy read, which he concludes with some thoughts on the Cowboys' new (and I mean really new) back-up RB:
Turbin is hoping Dallas’ line gives him a chance to reprise Michael Turner’s career arc. Turner spent four years as LaDainian Tomlinson’s backup in San Diego while Tomlinson was in his prime. Turner got a big deal from Atlanta when he finally hit free agency and rewarded the Falcons with a 1699 yard debut season and two more 1300 yard campaigns.
Turbin may not have that type of peak in him, but if nothing else, he could be the best rotation back in town since Marion Barber was sharing the ball with Julius Jones not that long ago.
George with a nasty historical tidbit:
Saturday will mark two years since Carr last intercepted a pass in a game....Carr's last interception came Nov. 28, 2013 in the fourth quarter to help preserve the Cowboys' Thanksgiving victory over Oakland, 31-24.
George concludes an otherwise insignificant puff piece with a lovely moment of clarity:
No matter how much you want to believe Jones calls every shot at Valley Ranch, Garrett is the one who is with the players every day, knows the pulse of the locker room and has taken more control of the decision-making with the Cowboys after a strong 12-4 season in 2014 that led to his five-year, $30 million contract extension.
Because the short turnaround was a big story last year, it must be a big one again this year...
Moore reminds us that last Thanksgiving, when Romo didn't have enough turnaround time, he was sacked four times and his quarterback rating was a season low 53.7. That wasn't just his worst quarterback rating of the season; it was his worst since Week Two of the 2009 season. His head coach thinks it will be different this time around:
As Garrett pointed out, the quarterback is farther removed from the back injury the club wants to manage. Before he returned against Miami on Sunday, Romo had been out the previous eight weeks. The torque, the irritation and strain placed on the back by constantly throwing a football, was much less than it was at this stage one year ago.
The issue now is playing two games in five days after missing eight weeks of the season with a distal clavicle fracture.
During his seven game hiatus, Tony Romo got a head start on both Miami and Carolina. Here's what he has to say about it:
"When I was off, I checked out both teams for a little bit and just had some notes and some things that I did to kind of give me a little bit of a head start," Romo said of the Panthers and Dolphins. "Now I go back and refresh with some of the stuff I did earlier to kind of hopefully give me a little bit of a head start."
Thursday's opponent is the Panthers. Greg Hardy's former team is the Panthers. You do the math...
Panthers OLB Thomas Davis - you know, the reigning NFL man of the year - praised Greg Hardy the player when speaking to reporters on Tuesday:
"Greg Hardy is a guy that you flat-out want on your football team," Davis said Tuesday. "He's a guy that's a game-changer. He can go out and totally wreck a game plan if you allow him to. Of course we went and spoke up for him, trying to get him back.
Here's the title-generating soundbite:
"Greg is a great teammate, contrary to popular belief," Newton said. "He is a person that came in and worked hard, gave everybody everything that he had and a person that you love to watch on Sundays. Any time you've got a person like that, it's always great to watch. I'm wishing him the best."
Various previews of the upcoming opponent:
Big Rob with the Carolina preview. Here are two critical, inter-related stats for your degustation:
The Panthers’ 29.9-point scoring average, ranked third in the league, is their highest through 10 games in team history.
Perhaps the most telling stat about the Panthers’ undefeated start is their plus-13 turnover differential, tied for first in the league.
Typically The Broad One waits until later in the week to release his preview of the upcoming opponent, but with the short turnaround, we get an accelerated schedule. Here, he ponders his "Under the Radar" player, Panthers WR Devin Funchess:
He’s not a special route runner – a long strider without much initial quickness. He will, however, use his size and hands to fight off the press. He will go and high point the ball down the field and can adjust. Will go high across the middle to get a ball. He catches the ball well on the move. Can get some separation in his routes. Simply put, he’s not the smoothest route runner but surprisingly he finds ways to get open.
The Broad One, part II: key match-up edition. Here's where the Cowboys only injury of note might bite them on Thursday:
If Morris Claiborne was playing in this game, I believe we would be seeing Byron Jones traveling with Greg Olsen. With Claiborne out they are going to need Jones to line up on the left side of the field and play there. I asked Jason Garrett in his press conference about defending Olsen and his answer was not surprising – an all hands on deck approach is often necessary.
What makes Olsen so difficult to defend is that he lines up all over the formation and he is able to run routes from all those spots. His inline routes are just as deceptive and dangerous as the ones when he is flexed. His initial quickness and burst gets him up the field in a hurry. Even when he appears covered, you see him find ways to separate. Olsen plays with outstanding football intelligence. He knows how to work himself open -- no matter what the coverage is.
Toddzilla's weekly "Five Wonders" piece asks about Robert Turbin, offensive creativity in Romo's absence and next year's Thanksgiving opponent. The titular wonder is one that I've been wondering about myself:
I wonder if the Cowboys will spy Cam Newton with a linebacker Thursday. In the past, that job would have gone to the uber-athletic Bruce Carter. He might be in the top-five athletes the Cowboys have had since I’ve covered this team. His speed was tremendous. But I’m not sure I see a linebacker with the ability to stay with Newton at this time. Rolando McClain has the size to handle Newton, but he’s not as swift. In the last two years against the Seattle Seahawks the Cowboys have used a mush-rush to contain Russell Wilson, telling their defensive linemen to stay disciplined and keep Wilson in the pocket. The Cowboys could use the same strategy on Newton, even if he is bigger.
The Romo-led Cowboys are 2-0 against undefeated teams with at least nine wins. Can they do it again? It's gonna be tough...
Romo is going full-on public cocky:
"In the past, we've played against a few teams that have been undefeated," Romo said, per NFL Media's Jeff Darling. We'll try and look back to some of those times and see what we can do.
"And what I mean is ... We've beaten a few teams that have been undefeated."
The Duckman's weekly "Five Reasons" piece - which had been wrong for seven consecutive weeks. But he, like the Cowboys, is off the schneid, and is ready to start a new streak. Here's why he thinks Dallas will emerge victorious on Turkey Day:
Defensive Resurgence – The Dallas defensive unit played closer to their preseason expectations against Miami on Sunday. Cowboys middle linebacker Rolando McClain has begun to regain some of the form he showed in 2014. After offseason knee surgery and missing the first four games of 2015 due to suspension, he has put solid efforts together the last two weeks. On Sunday he recorded his first interception returned for a touchdown against Miami.
With RoMac leading the way, and weak-side linebacker Sean Lee fully healthy, the Cowboys Defense looked like the unit many predicted back in training camp. The front seven were able to slow the Dolphins run game and the secondary locked down the Miami receivers. Throw in three sacks from defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli’s rushmen and you have a recipe that Dallas would like to repeat against Carolina on Thanksgiving Day.
It doesn't matter if history or the DFW media say the Cowboys won't achieve the impossible and make the playoffs. The Senator knows the only thing that matters:
"We believe," tight end Jason Witten said. "It's not my job to convince you or anybody else that we can do it.
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.
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We have 150 participants who've already submitted their picks for Week 12, and this is how the vote is trending in the NFC East:
80% like the Cowboys over the Panthers
66% like the Redskins over the Giants
If you haven't submitted your picks yet, you still have until 12:30 pm EST on Thanksgiving to submit your picks, but why wait so long and risk missing the deadline?