Sunday, October 11, 2009

Miles to go before I sleep: Dal 26, KC 20

Did anyone have Miles Austin in overtime with an elusive 60-yard touchdown?

While the Cowboys piddled along most of the game, seemingly without a Clue, backup receiver Miles Austin made the most of his first NFL start, setting a new franchise record with 250 receiving yards, and propelling the Cowboys to a 26-20 win over the now 0-5 Kansas City Chiefs.

Arguably, Dallas didn't play well enough to deserve to win, but when you see a team dogpile in the end zone after such a back-and-forth game, it's clear this was the type of hard-fought win the Cowboys need in order to build a foundation for the season ahead. The Cowboys, now 3-2, haven't had arguably the most challenging schedule through five games, but wins like this will give the team some form of resolve when they find themselves slugging it out with the rest of the NFC East later this season.

Tony Romo passed for 351 yards with 101 of those yards coming to people not named Miles Austin. The other 250 and a pair of TDs both went to a guy who was probably an unknown around the NFL until today's breakout game. A pair of late-game scores by Austin came on breakaway runs where the receiver slipped out of the grasp of defensive back Maurice Leggett. And all of this because Romo threw too high last week in Denver and got Roy Williams crushed over the middle.

Williams sat out, and now let the speculation begin of whether Austin deserves a shot at a regular starting spot. He might have a case after the foot-stuck-in-a-bucket performance by other wide out Patrick Crayton. Crayton's four receptions for 44 yards were overshadowed by ugly miscues. Early in the game, he caught a break on a fumble that was negated by forward progress, and he muffed a punt that allowed the Chiefs to take the ball in Cowboys territory.

With a receiver controversy at the wideout spot, the Cowboys also might have a debate behind Romo as to who will be the primary ball carrier for the Cowboys. The numbers from today's game:

Tashard Choice89211.5136
Marion Barber III15533.5017

This is not the Cowboys former "dilemma" of an aging Emmitt Smith versus Darren Hambrick. This is pretty clear cut. Choice is running much better than Barber who is still not showing that he's 100% healed after a quad injury three weeks ago. Until Marion Barber can show that he is the back he used to be before being injured, perhaps Choice should see a few more carries, a la Choice and Barber splitting time the way Julius Jones and Marion Barber split time in 2007. Let MB3 get the 4th quarter carries to pound the ball. This should also take some of the pressure off Barber while he continues to heal.

A few other thoughts on Sunday's throwback game between the two franchises who used to each call Dallas home:

+ Loved the throwback jerseys of the Kansas City Chiefs Dallas Texans. Seeing those old unis and "Dallas Texans" across the cap of Todd Haley gave an optimistically nostalgic feel to the game. Can't imagine the Chiefs were too happy wearing "Dallas" but the Game That Never Was turned out to be a fun show. That being said about the Chiefs throwback uniforms, I can't stand the Cowboys original look, and I assume I'll be forced to cringe yet again come Thanksgiving.

+ How a team wins a game when they commit 13 penalties for only 90 yards and losing the turnover battle (-2) is beyond me. Somehow the Cowboys pulled it out. During that series in the third quarter that saw seemingly a never-ending trail of offsides, the Cowboys looked like a guy playing Madden who didn't care anymore. Four offsides in eight plays. Seriously, outside of video games, have you ever seen more offsides so frequently?

+ Romo bounced back after two weeks and 123 passes without a touchdown and threw two against the Chiefs. Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett worked plenty of short passes for Romo early to get him into rhythm. It worked as Romo completed his first eight passes for 81 yards. His first incompletion was the ball that was just off the outstretched fingers of Miles Austin in the end zone for what could have been a Dallas touchdown. If only we knew just how many more of those chances there would be.

+ Speaking of Romo, the Cowboys QB did seem to take much better care of the football this week. No interceptions, no fumbles, and none of those throws where you're holding your breath as a defensive back drops a should-be pick. In fact, Romo was dare I say good? More than good?

+ Neither team was great when it came to penalties at the line of scrimmage. Plenty of offsides and false starts prompting this text message from my brother:

"So basically, neither of these teams understand that the play starts AFTER the snap."

+ An overtime game with four possessions is pretty rare in this league (an ugly game between Cleveland and Cincinnati notwithstanding). Dallas lost the toss, and Kansas City had two chances in the extra period, but the Dallas defense was able to hold the Chiefs to a key three and out after KC took over shy of midfield.

+ What can you say about Tashard Choice? This guy has really stepped up the past two years when injuries have slowed down Marion Barber and Felix Jones. When the Cowboys have all three backs healthy, this team doesn't need to be more than a running team. Believe it or not, many many teams have won Super Bowls relying heavily on the run. Choice's 36 yard burst up the middle had me leaping off my couch and extending my arms to spell "T-C" in celebration. This young man might be the future feature back of the Cowboys as Barber ages and Jones is sidelined. I'm not saying he's Emmitt Smith or Tony Dorsett, but who is, really?

+ Back to Miles Austin for a bit (hey, he did have 250 yards and 10 receptions, so we can come back to him). Perhaps the most telling character of his big receptions today was the fact that he had to fight for each of the big gainers. Not only did he spin out of a tackle on both long touchdowns, but he ripped a 50-50 ball away from defensive back Brandon Carr for a 34-yard gain. The Cowboys went on to tie the game, 13-13, on the drive.

+ Earlier in the game, I noticed Jay Ratliff hopping over the middle of the Chiefs O-line on field goal attempts. The big mans hops paid off in the clutch when Ratliff blocked a go-ahead field goal in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys now have two blocked field goals this season (Gerald Sensabaugh blocked a kick in the season opener).

+ DeMarcus Ware finally got a sack. Two actually. Still a long way to go to match his 2008 total of 20, but it's a start. Four sacks in total for the Cowboys defense.

It's easy to dismiss this Cowboys victory as another win over another team who is at the bottom of the barrel of the NFL. The Cowboys have yet to defeat a team that has a victory coming into the game. The three teams the Cowboys have beaten are a combined 1-13. The Giants and Broncos -- the two teams the Cowboys have lost to -- are a combined 10-0. Not quite sure if this means the Cowboys are a quintessential .500 team or if it's all just too early to tell. But today's game is an overtime comeback win that the Cowboys were clearly in need of (judging by the post-game jubilation). Wins like this give teams confidence, and that's something that has been called into question in recent weeks. If the Cowboys can build on this going into the bye week, this season might result in a playoff berth yet. To be determined, of course, but as ugly as this win can be called, it's a much better game to have in the win column than not.

New Meaning of "Hard Headed"

Someone didn't tell the Seahawks that helmets are to be worn, not bashed into your own skull for fun. Congratulation to Owen Schmit, you are ready for Halloween!

Stuck on you

Players on the Colts and Titans get their helmets tangled. I assume this is the NFL equivalent to those junior high parties where kids wearing braces got stuck together when making out. How cute...


Matthew said...

I'm not sure anyone would have predicted 250 yards and 2 TDs, but I think the Cowboys were hoping that Austin would have a big day. He's a guy they need to step up and make big plays, especially with Felix nursing his wounds.

The game may have been hard fought, but it's a game that should have been a walk in the park, not an overtime thriller.

The Cowboys went out of their way at the beginning of the game to let the Chiefs get on a roll. Anyone else feel like the Cowboys really do play to the level of their opponent? Against the Giants, it's 33-31 at the buzzer; against the Chiefs, it takes overtime to win? You can't play down to bad teams, then play up to the level of good teams and expect to perform down the road. You need to play to a high level consistently to build yourself towards success down the stretch.

Taking off my pessimistic cap and returning to the optimist I normally am, there are some good things to take away from that horribly undisciplined performance. It's good to win a game by playing well at the end. The defense once again gave up a big drive at the end of regulation, but when the Chiefs started OT with the ball on the 50, they came up big on 3 straight plays with no yards ceded.

Moreover, it's great to see Romo look like his old self. With the recent string of negative media attention, Romo appeared just down-right sad on the sidelines the past couple games.

That's not typical Romo. Today, there was energy and intensity. And when he has that positive emotion running in him, he plays his best. If he keeps it up, the Cowboys can certainly count themselves back into the discussion.

Barber didn't have the best of days, and he still looks like he's not at 100%, but he also busted out a few nice runs. When he's healthy, he's still our number one. I don't mind seeing Choice and Jones getting carries though. You really can't go wrong with that trio.

Cowboys pull the game out despite -2 on Turnovers and 13 penalties because the chiefs just aren't very good. You won't beat anyone that matters when you muff punts, botch snaps, and jump offsides every time the QB breaths.
(Seriously, What the HELL was that about!?) Ever seen a puppy try to guess which why his owner is about to go? That's what that looked like. If you keep guessing and jumping, eventually you'll get it right...

Nothing like facing the most sacked QB in the league to get your D-Line (and D-Ware) rolling. The Cowboys need that momentum to carry over through the Bye Week.

Matthew said...

Now that I've added my 2 cents to some of your thoughts Josh, here is a little something else to chew on:

It may just be me, but it really seems that the Cowboys have more depth to their offense than any other team in the league. No one can boast three such quality running backs. We have arguably the best Tight-End in Witten with what appears to be a great second option in Bennett (despite it not panning out so far). It may be true that we don't have the True #1 receiver, but Williams, Crayton, and now Austin seem to make up a great spread. Add Romo to that mix and everyone seems to wonder where the Cowboys offense is all day...

I see two problems.

The first is clearly miscues and turnovers. The mistakes are being made way too often. Whether it's a Romo INT, or botched snap, or fumble, these mistakes are killer. Some things in the NFL, you should just be getting right without excuses. Fix those and the Cowboys look a lot better.

The second really revolves around how the offense is managed. I don't mean to knock Garrett because I think some of the blame falls on Romo, too. With TO, there was a constant pressure to get him the ball. Without TO, I feel like Romo feels the pressure to spread it around. In the Giants and Broncos losses, he was forcing the ball to people just to get them involved, not because they were open. Similarly, we might pass just to get the passing when we it's clear that the run is what is available. Onus land on both Garrett and Romo for this.

Today. Those miscues were still there. Thankfully, we overcame them.
We overcame them because Romo and Garrett took exactly what was available to them: Miles Austin. There weren't any weird forced ball to Crayton or Hurd just to get them involved. Romo only hit Witten a handful of times. Nothing looked forced. Everything looked like it was the offense taking advantage of what was given.

If the Cowboys keep doing that, with their depth, their offense should roll.

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