Sunday, October 24, 2010

Must Win III: for reals this time

Monday night the Dallas Cowboys host the New York Giants at the Death Star in what will be the third straight MUST WIN game for the trendy North Texas pre-season Super Bowl pick. The 1-4 Cowboys get their second crack at a division opponent of the year, and while it seems no one is quite ready to pronounce the season over for this squad, a loss to the G-men should represent the end of 2010.

Dallas has been close in each defeat, losing by 6, 7, 7, and 3 points in their four losses. But they are officially out of life lines.

People talk about waking up on the wrong side of the bed, and that's exactly how 2010 began with Alex Barron's holding penalty that negated the last-second game-winning touchdown in Washington in Week 1. It seems like life has spiraled out of control since that flag hit the turf at FedEx Field.

The Cowboys went on to get picked apart by Jay Cutler -- the same guy who thew four interceptions today -- in a Week 2 loss to Chicago. And any spark from the Week 3 win at Houston was extinguished during the ensuing bye week, kicking off a string of every game is a must win game for Dallas. And they are responding to that pressure about as well as Terrell Owens responds to not getting the ball. Then came a string of "must win" malfunctions...

Tony Romo threw three picks against Tennessee in Week 5 and cornerback Mike Jenkins was victimized throughout the game, committing untimely penalties and making various other mental mistakes as the Cowboys dropped to 1-3. A "must win" game the Cowboys didn't.

Same song, second verse one week later in Minnesota as Dallas took a football to the groin in another penalty-filled fiasco. Another "must win" with missed opportunities.

So what should we all expect from the Cowboys as they host a 4-2 New York Giants team that has been able to win on the ground and through the air? It could get ugly.

While Eli Manning is more than capable of turning the ball over (8 interceptions through six games this season), the Cowboys secondary isn't one to take the ball away, and will also provide plenty of flat out drops of those downfield heaves that double as would-be punts. But while the NFL's leader in dumbface does not always play crisp, he doesn't make the fatal mistakes that the Cowboys would require to beat the Giants. It's possible Eli could have a meltdown if the Cowboys front seven puts ample pressure on him, however Dallas must respect the Giants running game which is fifth in the NFL averaging 136.3 yards per game.

The Cowboys put up 400 yards of offense per game, which clearly doesn't systematically translate to points on the board because of turnovers and penalties. They can and do out-gain everyone on their schedule, but too often the hidden yardage that Bill Parcells used to speak of, coming on special teams and penalty yards called back -- two areas the Cowboys have struggled in mightily -- balances out everything this fantasy football style offense is capable of.

When you are third in yards per game offensively but 23rd in points per game as Dallas is, something is clearly wrong.

Also, don't forget the Giants are second in the NFL in total defense coming into this match up.

So what will the Cowboys have to do to win this game? Stating the obvious: no stupid penalties. That means no unsportsmanlike celebration penalties in the end zone, no pass interference calls on balls that the receive wouldn't have a play on. No jumping offsides to give the Giants free plays. No false starts at home, especially by tight ends and receivers. Frankly, if Dallas can limit itself to only five penalties or less and less than 50 penalty yards, they can and should win this game.

I'm just not sure if they are capable of that. That haven't demonstrated an ability not to point a pistol at their foot and pull the trigger yet this season. And they are fortunate to have avoided the bulk of media scrutiny, at least outside of DFW, thanks to the Texas Rangers run to the World Series. But regardless of if they are playing under a spotlight or a flashlight, it still seems to bright for their Bambi eyes in 2010.

If Dallas can do offensively what it does each week without the offsetting penalties or all-too-families miscue, their defense should be capable of limiting the Giants to 21 points, which may seem like a lot, but not when you figure that the Cowboys offense should be scoring 28 points per game if not for all the unforced errors, to steal a tennis term.

There have been enough "must win" chances already for Dallas. This is the last one. A 1-3 team has the deck stacked against it. A 1-4 team is working with a hand tied behind its back. And at 1-5, it's time to start renting out spare rooms in your North Texas homes to out of town sports fans who will be flocking to the metroplex to watch their team in the Super Bowl because Dallas won't even make the playoffs if they fall 3.5 games behind the Giants in October.

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