Sunday, October 04, 2009

A mile higher: Dal 10, Den 17

Everyone said Denver's 3-0 start was more of the result of a soft schedule than the Broncos actually being a good team. This was supposed to be their reality check against Dallas. Instead the Cowboys offense quickly faded after a fantastic first 15 minutes, and the Broncos rallied in the fourth quarter for a 17-10 win to drop Dallas to 2-2 with a fourth of the season now in the rearview mirror.

The Cowboys and specifically Tony Romo were wobbly ever since scoring a touchdown in the first quarter. No longer does the Cowboys quarterback emit any confidence on these fourth quarter drives to tie or win the ball game. Early in his career, when Romo dropped back to pass, there was sense that something good was going to happen. Now when Romo begins a fourth quarter drive, my entire body clenches as I wait for an ill-fated throw.

The Cowboys had a shot with 1st & Goal trailing by a touchdown, but the Cowboys chances ended when consecutive slant routes to Sam Hurd were broken up by one of the league's top cornerbacks, Champ Bailey. Bailey already had an interception on the day, and he came up with two deflections to solidify the Broncos' 4-0 start. How offensive coordinator Jason Garrett can call the same play twice in a row in an attempt to attack one of the league's top corners with the game on the line is absurd. It was not a situation where a premier receiver (like a Terrell Owens or Roy Williams) was going against Bailey. It wasn't even a situation where a serviceably average receiver (Patrick Crayton) was going against Bailey. It was Sam Hurd, who was only in the game for the final drive because Romo got Williams crushed when he sailed a ball over the receiver and a defensive back slammed into his ribs. So much for the big receiver being available late in the game when needed most.

Where was Jason Witten? Romo's supposed trusty sidekick in this whole thing was no where to be seen on the final drive. A Pro Bowl caliber tight end could surely run to the end zone, turn around, and box out any defender to his back. Why not try that? They didn't.

Running the same ugly slant play to Sam Hurd twice in a row was about as graceful as when Barry Switzer's Cowboys ran the same run play against the Philadelphia Eagles in 1995. That team had enough talent to get to the Super Bowl and win it, but the 2009 Cowboys are not even in the same discussion.

Dallas saw the offense start hot, very hot in fact. Just look at the first quarter.
The Cowboys were leading 10-0.
Dallas had nine first downs compared to Denver's one.
Total Yards: Dallas 124, Denver 23
Time of Possession: Dallas 11:28, Denver 3:32

The Cowboys offense held onto the ball long enough in the first quarter that would have kept Denver on pace to have the ball for less than a quarter of the game (14:04). But it didn't last. In fact, the Cowboys only gained 191 more yards while allowing 314 yards to the Broncos over the final three quarters.

That old Romo magic appeared like it might make a flash appearance on a 53 yard completion to Hurd on 4th and 3 late in the fourth quarter. Maybe that completion was why Garrett was go Hurd-happy on the Cowboys final two plays taking the shots to the end zone.

It was the second failed fourth quarter drive for Romo, who went two straight games without a touchdown pass for the first time in his career. The Cowboys did a great job to hold Denver to a field goal in the fourth quarter when Orlando Scandrick sniffed out a 3rd and 6 pass to the flat. With the score tied, 10-10, Dallas took over with roughly five minutes left in the game. No confident late-game drive to put go-ahead points on the board. Instead the drive stalled shy of midfield, the Broncos take over, and Orton hits Brandon Marshall just over Terence Newman's head, Marshall runs circles around the secondary before escaping to the corner of the end zone for a touchdown. 17-10 Broncos.

After the first quarter, the offense didn't have it. Over the course of the game, Dallas went 3-of-14 on 3rd down conversions. And despite the Broncos trying at many different points to give the Cowboys a chance to get back in front, the Cowboys were unable to make the necessary plays when it mattered most.

The Cowboys are now 2-2 with two losses to undefeated Denver and the New York Giants. The two wins are over the winless Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. What does this mean? It means the Cowboys are most likely just another middle of the pack team without the pure talent, coaching, or character to establish quality wins over sound opponents. Plain and simple.

A few other notes from the Mile High miscarriage...
+ The great Dallas running game that dominated the last two weeks came up incredibly short of what we'd been billed. Tashard Choice and Marion Barber combined for 25 carries for 74 yards (3.0 yards per carry). No one had a run longer than 11 yards. Each of the backs were able to turn screen passes into 20+ yard gains, but other than that, the Cowboys never really established a running game.

+ Barber seemed to be doing a lot of flopping, twitching, flipping, and really just extra flailing around the field at the end of his runs. If he put the kind of effort into some of those runs that we saw after the fact, he might have finished with more than 41 yards on the ground. His 1-yard TD run was nice (thanks in part to many large lineman shoving the pile forward), but other than that, he wasn't the same.

+ Anthony Spencer had a rough game. Instead of a drive-killing interception in the second quarter, the Broncos get on the board when the ball passes through Spencer's hands like some sort of haunted pigskin in a haunted football field. Maybe it's the Halloween season upon us, or maybe he just doesn't have as fast of hands as he needed to make the play. A horribly dangerous throw by Orton somehow became seven Denver points. Spencer finished the night with a pair of tackles and a 15-yard face mask penalty.

+ Barring an iffy would-have-been block in the back call, Patrick Crayton's punt return that never was would have been the Cowboys biggest play of th-- correction, it would have been the Cowboys only big play of the season so far. We haven't seen anything like momentum changing in a game for Dallas yet. Sure the blocked field goal in Tampa Bay looked nice, but considering their kicker didn't make his first field goal of the season until this week, Week 4, it's not that impressive anymore. Alas, the ball landed on the goal line, clear as day, and the Cowboys took over at the 20 yard line. Dallas moved to their own 34 yard line before being forced to punt. End of drive.

+ The Dallas defense kept things interesting late in the game as the offense settled for punts and turnovers and more punts to end drives. With the Cowboys up by 3 points and the third quarter drawing to a close, the defense stopped Denver on 3rd and 1 and then again on 4th and 1 on the Cowboys 30 yard line. How did the Cowboys offense respond? Three and out.

+ Punters Mat McBriar and Brett Kern combined for 12 punts (six each) for 601 yards. Some might call it a battle for field position. Personally, I saw it as two offenses that couldn't get out of their own ways for most of the game.

+ The Dallas defense put up three sacks for a second straight game. Bradie James, Marcus Spears and Stephen Bowen each took down Orton once. Not bad to see the pass rush getting back into the swing of things.

+ Roy Williams finished the game with three receptions for 35 yards. And this is a better option that Terrell Owens how? Look, I get it that the guy didn't know how to be a teammate at times. But for 14 touchdowns a year, I can look past petty squabbles, accidental overdoses, and teary-eyed press conferences. The guy is a true number one receiver who is now in exile in Buffalo the same was that Randy Moss wasted part of his career with the Raiders. It's a shame for TO now, but it's the decision that was made. I didn't like it at the time, and I'm really not liking it after four games this season.

+ I must say, the Broncos fans getting the whole stadium chanting "IN-COM-PLETE" after each pass that hits the turf, pretty solid shtick.

+ Both teams did their best to give the opponent plenty of free passes with bone-headed penalties. The refs missed on several calls in each direction, but when the teams combine for 17 (accepted) flags for 151 yards, something is wrong. The Cowboys got called for another tripping/leg-whip type of penalty -- this time tripping on center Andre Gurode. If you can't beat 'em, de-cleat 'em, I suppose.

+ Two quarterbacks played in this game. One has been selected to multiple Pro Bowls. The other was considered a punch line before the season. One of those quarterbacks completed 20 of 29 passes for 243 yards and 2 touchdowns (117.5 rating). The other went 25 of 42 for 255, an interception and a fumble along with taking five sacks. A lot of people give Kyle Orton a hard time for being a care-taker quarterback who "won't win you the game" but he sure didn't lose it for Denver either. He did exactly what Romo did last week against Carolina, just managed the offense around him. Except he did it BETTER. It's Kyle Orton!

Romo has now gone good game, bad game, good game, bad game. This sort of up-and-down level of play will never allow the Cowboys the opportunity for offensive consistency. It is, however a formula for an 8-8 season and a fired head coach. If that does happen, I only hope Jerry Jones doesn't turn the headset over to Jason Garrett.

Next up, the 0-4 Kansas City Chiefs in Arrowhead. The Cowboys are 2-0 against winless teams. If they lose to the Chiefs, heads will roll.

1 comment:

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