Sunday, January 10, 2010

Wild Card Win: Dal 34, Phi 14

Stop counting.

The 4760-day streak between playoff wins is over.

The Cowboys blitzkrieged the Eagles for the second straight week to win the franchise's first playoff game in 13 years, 34-14. Dallas dominated early by controlling the clock and scoring consistently with five consecutive scoring drives in the second quarter. Dallas opened up a 27-7 lead at the half and led in time of possession, 22:53 to 7:07.

And while the Cowboys offense didn't do much in the second half, they didn't really need to. Wade Phillips' defense suffocated the Eagles for the third time this season. Dallas outscored Philly 78-30 in three meetings this season. All talk of how difficult it is to beat the same team three times only applies when one team doesn't flat out own the other. And this season, as Al Michaels said during last night's broadcast: "In the NFC East this year, the Cowboys have owned the Eagles this season. The Eagles owned the Giants, and the Giants owned the Cowboys. And everybody owned the Redskins."

Yes, it's true. The Giants may have owned the Cowboys in 2009, but they aren't in the tournament. Dallas faced Philadelphia again, and the results were the same.

And after decisive wins against the Saints and the division clincher last week against the Eagles, this playoff win now takes the place as the biggest win of Phillips' and quarterback Tony Romo's careers. For now.

Off the top of my head, I can't think of the last time the Cowboys scored on five straight drives like they did in the second quarter on Saturday night. Just as devastating to Philly is that while the Cowboys were scoring, the Dallas defense, dubbed by the Morning News as Doomsday II, held Philly to just nine second quarter plays after the Michael Vick touchdown throw. Meanwhile, the Cowboys had 28 plays in the same span.

Statistically, it was a blowout. However there are plenty of teachable moments for Wade Phillips' defense. Mike Jenkins has been a top cornerback in the division this season. His emergence solidified a secondary that desperately needed balance opposite Terence Newman. He nabbed an interception late in the game but fumbled the ball back to the Eagles on an ill-advised lateral attempt. Tony Romo finished the game without an interception on the stat sheet, but thats more because of a good challenge by Wade Phillips instead of Romo's flawless decision-making.

The Cowboys did make mistakes. They just did a better job of masking them.

Dallas ended it's playoff drought by not only being a better team but playing like a better team. They are now on a four-game winning streak and are heading to the Vikings to take on a quarterback that moves around more in the offseason than in the pocket. If the secondary can limit the number of open targets, Brett Favre will face the heat from the Cowboys pass rush. And while he will take chances to force some throws, that's when the closing speed of Newman, Jenkins and Gerald Sensabaugh comes into play. Against Philly, each had a leaping breakup of a Donovan McNabb pass.

And while it's not as simple to extrapolate run defense data from the Eagles game to the Vikings game -- last night, Chris Collinsworth did say at one point, "for Eagles fans who don't know, that was a run" -- the Cowboys should be able to contain Adrian Peterson on the ground while sticking with Favre's strong options in the passing game. For the Cowboys to keep winning, it will be because of their defense.

Now for a few more thoughts on the first Cowboys playoff win since ... my Bar Mitzvah (geez, this has been too long!)...

+ Defense
If defense wins championships, Dallas honestly has to like its chances. The Cowboys defense has been on fire even since the loss to San Diego. Keep in mind the Cowboys held the Chargers to a season-low 17 points. Potential rematch? Well, I'm getting ahead of myself. Since that game on Dec. 13, however, the Cowboys have been holding opponents to season-lows on the scoreboard. The Saints put up only 17 points and the defense came up with the game-winning strip of Drew Brees on a last-ditch-effort drive. The Redskins and Eagles were shutout in consecutive weeks to end the regular season. And Doomsday II forced four takeaways in a playoff game to earn a trip to the Metrodome.

Again Anthony Spencer brought heat opposite DeMarcus Ware. They combined for three sacks of Donovan McNabb. There were nine other QB hits of McNabb by the defense. The outside rush of Ware and Spencer was nice, but at least one of the defense's four sacks was a coverage sack as McNabb had nowhere to throw.

How good is the defense? Even Bobby Carpenter made a play. And, no, I'm not talking about frantically waving his arms in a desperate attempt for more crowd noise. I mean like a real football play. Two of them actually. Carpenter recovered a pair of fumbles that helped turn the tide in this game. It doesn't mean you can defend his first-round selection, but if he keeps this up do you reconsider him as a late-blooming asset? Geez, what am I saying? Considering "Barbie" Carpenter as a worthwhile commodity? You know the defense has been doing something right.

+ Offense
The offensive equivalent of Bobby Carpenter's coming out party was on display as another high-priced acquisition played to expectations. Roy Williams caught five passes for 59 yards, his second-highest reception total of the season. Most important of Williams' five catches were the two catches he had on the opening drive, forcing the issue of Eagles defenders having to at least pay attention to him, something they didn't need to do last week when Williams was held without a catch for just the second time this season. Of his five catches, three went for first downs and two of them came on 3rd and long. Productivity. Nice.

It wasn't just Roy Williams getting the job done on 3rd downs. Dallas was 9-of-16 on 3rd down conversions. They kept drives alive in that pivotal runaway second quarter, so it's not shocking the first play of the period was a Romo to Miles Austin 12-yard pass to convert on 3rd and 8. Here's what the Cowboys did on their 3rd downs in the second quarter:
3rd DownPlayYardsResult
3rd & 8Romo pass to Austin12First Down
3rd & 9Romo pass to Crayton18First Down
3rd & 7Romo pass to Williams17First Down
3rd & 10Romo pass to Williams17First & Goal
3rd & 8 (Goal)Romo pass incomplete
to Roy Williams
04th: FG
3rd & 4Romo pass to Ogletree5First Down

When a play needs to be made, offensive coordinator Jason Garrett is putting the ball in Tony Romo's hands, and the franchise QB is making the right decisions. In the second quarter, he was 5-for-6 for 69 yards on third downs. And while the Cowboys only had one 3rd down that couldn't be considered 3rd and long, Romo picked apart the Philly defense to move the chains.

On the ground, Felix Jones had a breakout game after Marion Barber was limited after just four carries with a knee injury. Jones carried 16 times for 148 yards and a 73-yard touchdown run. Tashard Choice got in on the action, carrying 14 times for 14 yards and a touchdown. The Cowboys handed the ball off 33 times and ended up with 198 yards on the ground. Barber has built up a strong reputation as a bruiser, but the Cowboys didn't hesitate to follow the game plan of running, running and more running despite Barber missing most of the game. The three-headed-monster running back carousel doesn't have to have all three backs churning it out to be successful, just a simple majority.

As far as the offensive Pro Bowlers, Miles Austin caught seven passes for 82 yards while Jason Witten had 4 for 27. And in regards to the two lineman who made it, Andre Gurode and Leonard Davis, well, just look at the nearly 200 yards rushing.

+ Special Teams
Shaun Suisham kicked a pair of field goals and four extra points. Perfect. That's all we need. Make your kicks and go about your business. The field goals, of 26- and 48-yards, were not wobbling orbs out doubt that fluttered around before settling between the uprights. They split 'em. For the first time in too long, I felt comfortable with the field goal mechanism.

David Beuhler continued to kick the crap out of the ball, with a trio of touchbacks on eight kickoffs (well, seven if you don't count the squib to end the first half). Speaking of field position, punter Mat McBriar didn't give the dangerous DeSean Jackson much wiggle room on punt returns. He field 2 punts for a total of 9 yards, which wasn't much better than his receiving stats (3 catches, 14 yards). Great coverage on kicks by the Cowboys special teams unit.

Next up, the Minnesota Vikings. The last time the Cowboys played the Vikings (Oct. 21, 2007), Dallas won 24-14. That was in the pre-Favre days (heck, he was still with the Packers). Tavaris Jackson was at quarterback for Minnesota that day, and rookie Adrian Peterson ran 12 times for 63 yards and a touchdown. Later that season, the Cowboys knocked Brett Favre out of a game against the Packers in a showdown of 10-1 teams the Thursday after Thanksgiving. Dallas has done all right against the Vikings and against Favre in the past. Next week, they have a chance to continue the trend at the Metrodome.

1 comment:

Matthew said...

Cowboys held the Chargers to 20 points in the loss (not 17). The Chargers previous low for the season was 21.

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