They say you learn more from failure than success. Of course, failure in the NFL means losing games, so as fans of the Dallas Cowboys we really want to avoid that. Maybe the next best thing is to almost fail, only to pull out the win in the end. In that case, the come-from-behind 29-23 overtime victory against the Philadelphia Eagles was a perfect learning opportunity. Here are some things we absorbed along with the sweet, sweet taste of beating the Eagles.
Jason Garrett has grown up as a coach.
One of the most consistent complaints over the early years of his career about the head coach of the Cowboys was that he was cautious, playing to not lose rather than to win.
If you still think that, you must not be watching the games at all. All this season, Garrett has shown a willingness to take risks when the reward was right, and his new gambling side emerged no less than three times during the Eagles game. First, Chris Jones took off on a punt fake that netted 30 yards and led to a field goal (on a night when the Cowboys would need every point they could muster). Then Cole Beasley pulled up after taking a backward pass and lofted a throw towards Terrance Williams that was just out of reach, but would have been a big gainer if not a touchdown. And finally, he opted to go for it on fourth and one in overtime to end the game rather than kick a field goal that would by rule give Philadelphia a possession to tie the game or win it with a touchdown. And if you have the slightest doubt as to whether that was Garrett’s decision, just give it up, as the moment was captured on video.
It takes a little lip reading, but there is definitely a “Let’s go win the game” in there.
This is largely a matter of Garrett maturing in his job. He is coaching with confidence, both in his players and staff, and in himself. It probably doesn’t hurt to know that his seat is anything but warm right now. The risks he takes are not foolish, either, but done for a reason. There are times when it is smart to roll those dice, and the head coach has a great feel for when to go Gamblin’ Garrett.
Dak Prescott is a rookie - a very good one, but still a rookie.
The Eagles were successful in disrupting Prescott for most of the game. He looked confused at times, and completed less than 50% of his passes. Many consider his recovery at the end to get the win a prime argument for Tony Romo to remain on the bench, but if the team has serious intentions of making a splash in the playoffs, they need to find out if Romo still has it, because there is good reason to believe he is more reliable in a pressure situation that Prescott.
All of you that are close to a coronary event as your blood pressure skyrockets need to relax now. Because while Prescott showed his flaws and shortcomings, he also showed that he is the future for the Cowboys. There is a much used saying about people being young but having an old soul, and Prescott is the football version of that. He is a rookie in experience, but has a veteran’s composure (I’m really trying to find other terms besides “poise”, which is used with him so much it loses its impact). Prescott shows every indication that he will be able to lead this team into the playoffs one day, and would probably make a valiant effort if called to do so now. It is just that Romo brings more to the table, including playoff experience. It was not any fault of his that the team’s 2014 postseason run ended in Green Bay.
No, the game Sunday night is an argument that Romo should and will at some point regain the starting job.
But there is zero pressure to bring Romo back until he is completely ready - and maybe a little past that.
There is good reason to think that Romo came back too early in 2015 in a vain attempt to salvage something from the season. Now, with Prescott continuing to show he is able to carry the load, the team may actually wait a week or two extra just to make sure. Based on all the comments coming from the brain trust, particularly Jerry Jones, that is precisely the thinking. And that may actually buy Romo another season or two. Really, the team has until 2019 until they absolutely have to make a call on Prescott replacing Romo, with the concomitant investment in a new or extended contract for him. If retirement should beckon earlier for Romo, or if (knock on wood) injury should dictate the move be made earlier, that will work as well. The “window” for Romo is now irrelevant, and has been replaced with a new one for making the transition.
It is simply the most incredible story in the NFL this year. Dallas has wandered its way, partly by accident and a good bit by spotting the potential in the rookie from Mississippi State, from having no answers for the end of Romo’s career to having a great solution in place whenever they need it.
Bend but don’t break hasn’t broken yet.
The Cowboys yielded the most points all season against the Eagles, 23 (they also gave up 23 to Washington in their other divisional win). That is a significant number, because over the past several years, 23 is about the average points score by all NFL teams in games. If you can hold your opponent at or below that number, and stay above the average yourself, you will win most of your games, which Dallas has of course done.
The #Cowboys currently have the 7th ranked scoring offense and 7th ranked scoring defense.— Jordan Ross (@CHQ_Jordan) October 31, 2016
That, ladies and gentlemen, is a great formula for racking up the wins.
The defense was seen as the weakness of this team even before Romo was injured in preseason, but now they are solidly in the top 10 in the only statistic that really matters, points scored by the opposition, while maintaining the same high ranking in their own production offensively. And while the injuries to Barry Church and Morris Claiborne are certainly major concerns, Rod Marinelli has shown he is somehow able to get just enough out of his defense, particularly at crucial moments, to get the job done week in and week out. While we are justifiably concerned about the ability of the Dallas defense to generate sacks and turnovers, there is this: Against what is almost certainly the best defense they have faced this year, the Cowboys were even in takeaways at one apiece, and won the sack battle three to two. That was possibly the real difference-maker late in the game as Prescott was able to avoid the pressure down the stretch and Carson Wentz could not. Marinelli will have to continue to work his magic, but so far, so good.
In the year of the super rookies, don’t forget a couple of seasoned veterans.
Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott have garnered most of the press coverage, but against the Eagles, two veterans really stood out. Sean Lee was a force on the defense, as recounted in the earlier Game Ball piece. Without his emphatic tackle of Darren Sproles in the fourth quarter, this would likely have not been a celebration for Cowboys Nation.
And when the time came to put a finish to the game, who was standing completely and totally alone in the end zone but Jason Witten? He now is tied for the all time leader in games started for the Cowboys, and he is just as deadly to opposing teams in crucial moments as he ever was. The celebration at the end of the game was incredible to behold, and a fitting tribute to him, as was the game ball Jason Garrett gave him in the locker room afterward.
There are still nine games to play, but so far, this has been a special year for the Cowboys, and they are doing it as a real team. The ride has been fantastic, and it does not look like it is going to end any time soon.