Sunday, October 10, 2010

Plethora of Penalties: Ten 34, Dal 27

No, the Cowboys season isn't over, but the trendy pre-season Super Bowl pick took a catastrophic step backward in a penalty-filled and defensively-lacking game at Cowboys Stadium on Sunday afternoon. Dallas committed 12 penalties for 133 yards as the Tennessee Titans took advantage of continuous Cowboy miscues, dropping the Cowboys 34-27.

Dallas (1-3) had its chances to win, but much like their neighbors at the Ballpark in Arlington, they came up short and extremely disappointing. Perhaps the most glaring of what became a comedy of errors was Mike Jenkins nearly allowing a quick-strike touchdown after a Tony Romo interception in the end zone. Romo's pass off Martellus Bennett's fingertips finding its way into Michael Griffin's hands was fluky, but Jenkins failing to make sure he touched down Kenny Britt was a microcosm for the entire game.

Vince Young completed what appeared to be an 80-yard touchdown pass to Britt before the Cowboys successfully challenged that he was down by contact, with Jenkins placing a gentle hand into his back before clutching at Britt's jersey as he went to the ground. Jenkins then meandered on without any regard for Britt, who got up and sprinted to the end zone. Maybe Jenkins *just knew* that he had him down, but the fact that he stopped playing because he thought the play was over is basically what the Cowboys did all game, and frankly all season, long.

Dallas isn't playing it out, playing until the whistle, and now they are going to be playing from behind in the NFC East as they try to secure what will most likely be a wild card berth at best into the 2010 playoffs. Several Cowboys defenders bounced away on tackling attempts and failed to wrap up on too many occasions leading to plenty of extra yards for the Titans.

Tennessee intercepted Tony Romo three times, the final pick coming with less than a minute left after the Dallas defense made a late stop to give the offense one last-gasp breath to try to tie the game. The defense failed to take the ball away at all for the third time in four games this season, and at the times when Dallas came up with big stops to halt Tennessee drives, the Cowboys offense came up short going the other way.

Dallas is quickly going from Super Bowl favorite to playoff outsider before the season's midway point. They could potentially turn it around, but the spark required to start that fire doesn't appear to currently be a part of the organization in any way. There are no easy fixes; only hard work and added hustle can fix what the Cowboys are ailing from. Finish plays, maintain focus, and cut down on penalties, and maybe just maybe this team can play a few extra games in January. If not, Dallas can watch the playoffs pass them by as the Super Bowl makes it way to Arlington without them.

A few other thoughts on a game that increased the sales of Rogaine in the DFW area:

+ The excessive celebration penalty against Marc Colombo certainly hurt. While I don't agree with the call, the rule says that a player can't go to the ground and Colombo tumbled over after a poorly executed chest bump (seriously, the Cowboys can't even pull off a chest bump now?). The Titans used the extra 15-yards on the kickoff to avoid a David Buehler touchback, and Marc Mariani returned the ball 73 yards to set up the Titans game-winning touchdown.

+ Buehler will probably again face waves of criticism for missing a 44-yard field goal one play after Tony Romo took a seven yard sack instead of throwing the ball away after rolling to his right with no open options downfield. Buehler did make a 51-yard kick in the game. He also nailed a 26 yarder after the Cowboys failed to find the end zone to start the 4th quarter. Without the seven-yard loss, Buehler's 44-yard miss goes through the uprights and not over the right post and he's 3-for-3 on the week. He also had three touchbacks on kickoffs which helped limit Tennessee's starting field position.

+ Maybe the Cowboys are now running their offense based on criticism in the Dallas Morning News, but after two weeks of football pundits and fans crying for more Felix Jones, the former Razorback carried for a career high 109 yards on a career-record-tying 15 carries for a 7.3 yards per carry average. Regardless of if the media is controlling the Cowboys offense, or if Jason Garrett actually came to this conclusion on his own, it's safe to say the Cowboys have their new featured running back. If Jones isn't going to get the additional touches as a kick returner, the Cowboys are wise to use him as the primary running back the rest of the season. He also made one big block on the right side of the line during a fourth quarter play when Romo dropped back to pass. The third-year pro is ready to take the reins and run. Ride the thoroughbred often.

+ Miles Austin had another big game, but Roy Williams made what looked like it could have been the season-saving catch and subsequent TD reception as the 2nd quarter came to a close. Without Williams' 27-yard catch down the right sideline during which time he tiptoed the line to stay in bounds despite the DB's best effort to force him out, the Cowboys don't pull within a TD as the half draws to a close. If Dallas had been able to come back and beat the Titans, Roy Williams would have been a big hero in the process.

+ As for Austin, his 69-yard catch and run for an early second-half touchdown better rank Top 3 in SportsCenters' Top 10. Austin outjumped a pair of Titan defenders who clunked into each other leaving the speedy receiver with a clear path to the end zone. The play looked like it was headed for disaster and a sure interception from Romo, but Austin snagged the ball before it could pass him by and into the arms of an awaiting defender. He finished the game with nine catches, 166 yards and this long touchdown that showed he might be a better rebounder than most of the Dallas Mavericks front court.

+ Tony Romo played a solid game, but some of his throws seemed *off* at certain times. Not that his throws were off the mark all too often on this day, but on more than one occasion he would throw a third down pass to a target well shy of the line to gain. Romo looked sharp at plenty of times on Sunday, but too often he seemed flustered in the pocket. Maybe that's because the offensive line allowed five first half sacks.

+ Speaking of the O-line, kudos to the coaching staff for benching guard Leonard Davis has he struggled much of the first two quarters. Montrae Holland came in at right guard to replace him and held down the fort for Dallas. Davis whiffed on a few blocks which is fine for a tackle but not for an interior lineman.

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