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It has been four days since the Dallas Cowboys officially hired Monte Kiffin to take over as defensive coordinator.
If you respect Larry Lacewell’s opinion—and a certain owner obviously does—you have reason for optimism. The former scouting director has told several reporters that Kiffin will have no trouble making his mark in Dallas.
Meanwhile, Rob Ryan will reportedly become defensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams. One of several reasons cited for the change in Dallas was that the defense under Ryan simply lacked discipline.
There will be plenty of time to debate the pros and cons of this move, but here are a few numbers to consider.
Age at the Beginning of the 2013 Season
Experience as NFL Defensive Coordinator
Kiffin: 15 years
Ryan: 9 years
Kiffin: 4-3 in a relatively simple system known as the Tampa-2
Ryan: 3-4 with a relatively complex system of blitzes and coverages
Number of Teams Coached (Before Dallas)
Number of Playoff Seasons While Defensive Coordinator
Number of Seasons with Winning Records While Defensive Coordinator
Number of Times Defenses Finished in the Top 5 in Yards Allowed
Number of Times Defenses Finished in the Top 5 in Points Allowed
No, these numbers don’t mean everything, but there is a good chance fans won’t have to put up with so much hype that surrounded Ryan.
The potential “big” news this offseason is Jerry Jones’ statement that he will consider making some significant changes. Involving someone. Or something.
Rick Gosselin says that Jerry needs to make dramatic changes.
We know what changes Jerry won’t make, though, so it’s hard to take this talk seriously at this point.
Think about this—the Cowboys’ current playoff drought is as long as the period when Dave Campo coached the team. Yes, the current team has done better than the five-win teams of 2000, 2001, and 2002, but has it really been better as a fan?
Well, not while we watch the playoffs without the Cowboys yet again.
Three teams that played on Sunday—Indianapolis, Washington, and Seattle—took major gambles this year, and each team had fantastic years given initial expectations.
Jerry keeps calling his team a Super Bowl team (tough without making the playoffs), but his gambles in 2012 (and 2011 for that matter) failed quite miserably.
1. Receiving Corps
Gamble: Hoping someone would emerge as a third receiver.
Backfire: Kevin Ogletree had one good game early in the season. After catching eight passes in the season opener against the Giants, he averaged less than two receptions per game for the rest of the year. Dwayne Harris and Cole Beasley showed some promise, but the Cowboys stuck with Ogletree for much of the year.
2. Loading Up on Corners
Gamble: Loading up on cornerbacks but not picking up a quality strong safety.
Backfire: Barry Church looked like a decent starter but missed the final 13 games with an Achilles injury. That left the Cowboys with plenty of corners and Danny McCray at safety. At one point, Dallas used $50 million cornerback Brandon Carr as a free safety on passing downs. Other safeties included household names like Charlie Peprah and Eric Frampton.
Speaking of those corners, they combined for a total of four interceptions.
3. Younger Guards
Gamble: The Cowboys tried to get younger by moving on from Kyle Kosier (34) and Montrae Holland (32) and signing Nate Livings (30) and Mackenzy Bernadeau (26).
Backfire: Although the middle of the line seemed to get better by the end of the season, Romo often faced pressure up the middle. Moreover, the team was abysmal running the ball, averaging less than 80 yards per game.
4. Swapping Tackles
Gamble: The Cowboys moved Doug Free to right tackle and Tyron Smith to left tackle. Both players would therefore return to their natural positions.
Backfire: Free was a disaster. By year’s end, the team often substituted Jermey Parnell at right tackle, ostensibly to give Free a “break.” Smith was better, but not much better.
5. Injury-Prone Young Stars
Gamble: In the past few drafts, the team found some budding stars in Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, and DeMarco Murray. However, all three came to the team with injury problems.
Backfire: All three have shown great promise but all three have missed significant time because of injuries. The team relied heavily on Lee as a playmaker, and his absence in the final 10 games hurt. Carter seemed to fill Lee’s shoes, but he missed the last five games. The result was that the Cowboys had to turn to Dan Connor and Ernie Sims late in the season, and it was no coincidence that the team could not slow down the Redskins in the season finale.
Murray looks like a lead running back, but he missed five games in 2012 along with the final three in 2011. And with Felix Jones showing next to nothing for most of the year, the team needed Murray for more than 11 games.
Roger Staubach led the Cowboys to two Super Bowls. He capped off his great career by leading the Cowboys to a win over Washington after trailing 34-21 in the fourth quarter in a regular-season finale with the NFC East on the line.
Tony Romo has led the Cowboys to one playoff win. He is well-remembered for dropping a snap on an easy field goal that might have given the Cowboys a win over the Seahawks in the playoffs. He also led the Cowboys to a 44-6 loss to the Eagles to end the 2008 season; a 34-3 loss to the Vikings in the 2009 playoffs; and 31-14 loss to the Giants when the NFC East title was on the line in the season finale in 2011.
We may not remember Romo for those failures, though, thanks to his final interception of the 2012 season.
Dallas trailed 21-10 with less than 7 minutes remaining. Dallas finally forced a Washington punt, and Dwayne Harris returned the ball to the Washington 31. A facemask penalty moved the ball to the 16.
Three plays later, Romo hit Kevin Ogletree for a touchdown. A two-point conversion cut the Washington lead to 21-18.
The defense forced another stop. Dallas got the ball back with 3:33 remaining. Romo moved the ball to the Dallas 29 on a pass to Jason Witten.
And then he threw another pass. He lofted a ball in the left flat towards DeMarco Murray, and the ball seemingly hung in the air like a short punt. Murray didn’t catch it. Redskins’ linebacker Rob Jackson did.
We fondly remember Staubach hitting the likes of Tony Hill, Butch Johnson, Ron Springs, and Preston Pearson in that 1979 finale against the Redskins. We may spend years remember Romo lofting a ball to the flat and into the waiting arms of a Washington linebacker.
Another 8-8 season. No playoffs.
Dallas barely stopped Alfred Morris all night, and Morris ran six times on the ensuing drive. Dallas might have forced a field goal attempt, but Jason Hatcher hit Robert Griffin III‘s helmet on a third-down play and drew a penalty.
Romo finished the night with three interceptions, having thrown two in the first quarter. He redeemed himself with a touchdown pass to Jason Witten to give the Cowboys a 7-0 lead in the first half, but the Cowboys gave up a touchdown run by Morris later in the quarter.
When Griffin scored in the third quarter, Washington took a 14-7 lead. That meant the Cowboys trailed in every single game this season. Moreover, the Cowboys held halftime leads in only 3 games. No wonder the team finished 8-8.
The makeshift defense gave up 200 rushing yards to Morris, who eventually scored three times. Murray finished with 76 yards.
Dez Bryant and Miles Austin both left the game early with injuries, forcing the Cowboys to play Ogletree, Harris, and Cole Beasley. Those were the receivers in the game when the Cowboys started their drive that ended with Romo’s last interception.
So, we have about 116 days until the NFL Draft. The Cowboys will pick 18th. I’m not the least bit excited about anything.
Tony Romo said during the week that if the Cowboys were down by 10 or 14 points in the fourth quarter, they would find a way to win the game.
Until lately, this was a laughable thought. The Dallas team was better known for blowing 10- to 14-point leads.
With just under 10 minutes remaining on Sunday, the Cowboys were down by 14 and had to punt. On the previous drive, the Saints had marched 98 yards on 10 plays to take the 2-touchdown lead.
New Orleans moved the ball to midfield but were unable to move further. The Saints punted the ball, and Dallas took over with just under 5 minutes left.
On a 2nd-and-2 play from the Dallas 28, Romo found Dez Bryant, who added to his monster game with a 41-yard reception. Three plays later, Romo hit Dwayne Harris for a touchdown to cut the lead to 31-24.
Dallas needed and got a stop, forcing another punt with less than two minutes left.
Romo drove the team back inside the red zone but faced a 4th and 10 from the New Orleans 19. Romo bought some time and lofted a pass to the right side of the end zone. Miles Austin was there and caught the pass, tying the game and forcing overtime.
From there, it was all Saints. Dallas received the kickoff but could not pick up a first down. The Saints took over after the Dallas punt at the Saint 26-yard line.
The first play was a 26-yarder to Jimmy Graham to move the ball into Dallas territory. Five plays later, Drew Brees hit Marques Colston, who fumbled. However, the ball rolled forward more than 20 yards, and Graham recovered. Referees upheld the play on review, and one play later, the Saints kicked a field goal to win the game.
The loss ruined a career day by Bryant, who finished with 224 yards on 9 receptions. Romo had four touchdowns along with 416 passing yards.
As it turns out, the Cowboys are still in the playoff hunt. The Giants lost to the Ravens, meaning that the winner of the Cowboys-Redskins game next week will win the NFC East. This is the fourth time since 2008 that the Cowboys have faced a division foe on the final week of the season with either the division title or a playoff berth on the line.
The Dallas Cowboys may have quietly ended their traditional December slump.
This is a team that has not swept its December games since 1993. Recent failures will live in infamy.
This simply was not the kind of game the Cowboys usually win, especially late in the year.
With three minutes remaining, the Cowboys forced the Steelers to punt. Dallas got the ball at its own 12 but could not pick up the first down. Dwayne Harris caught a third-down pass short of the first down, forcing a Dallas punt.
Brian Moorman‘s kick took a nice roll for Dallas and moved the Steelers back to their own 20. The Dallas defense had done a good job containing Pittsburgh up to that point, but a penalty on DeMarcus Ware on second down moved the ball to the Pittsburgh 46.
This would be the spot in previous years where Dallas would give up a long pass that would put the Steelers in field-goal range.
The Steelers punted, and Harris managed a huge return to the Steelers 49. However, the Cowboys missed the opportunity and ended up having to punt. When Pittsburgh sat on the ball, the teams headed to overtime.
During the offseason, the Cowboys spent $50 million on a cornerback named Brandon Carr. He has been fine but hardly the shutdown corner fans expected.
On the second play of overtime, Carr became the hero. He stepped in front of a Ben Roethlisberger pass intended for Mike Wallace and returned the ball all the way to the Pittsburgh 1. Dan Bailey’s short field goal gave the Cowboys the win and an 8-6 record.
The game marked just the second time this season that the Cowboys did not trail in the first half. Dallas led 10-0 with 11 minutes left in the first half thanks to a Dan Bailey field goal followed by a touchdown pass from Tony Romo to Jason Witten.
The Steelers, though, were able to tie the game. With 47 seconds left in the half, Roethlisberger dropped back and avoided the Dallas rush for nine seconds before finding Heath Miller along the sideline. Miller scored to tie the game at 10.
The Cowboys took a 17-10 lead in the third quarter when Romo found Dez Bryant on a 24-yard touchdown. However, the Steelers scored the next two touchdowns, and with 10 minutes left in the game, forced a Dallas punt when Pittsburgh still led 24-17.
Nevertheless, Antonio Brown fumbled the punt, and John Phillips recovered. The Cowboys then drove 44 yards, and DeMarco Murray capped off the drive with a three-yard touchdown to tie the score at 24.
Dallas held the ball for more than 34 minutes and outgained Pittsburgh 415 yards to 388. The Cowboys also won the turnover battle thanks to Carr’s interception in overtime.
Until 2006, the Cowboys managed to have two receivers hit the 1,000-yard mark in the same season once. That occurred in 1979 when Tony Hill and Drew Pearson passed the mark.
Since 2006, the Cowboys have have four pairs reach 1,000 yards. This included Terry Glenn and Terrell Owens (2006), Owens and Jason Witten (2007), and Witten and Miles Austin (2009 and 2010).
It is possible that the Cowboys could have three receivers surpass 1,000 yards this year. Dez Bryant already has 1,028 yards. Witten has 880 yards, while Austin has 819. There are three games remaining, and two of the defenses (Saints and Redskins) are not especially good at defending the pass.
Below is a list of the 1,000-yard receivers in team history.
If the Cowboys appeared distracted on Sunday, it was for good reason. It would be impossible for the team to concentrate fully on the game while the death of practice squad linebacker Jerry Brown was fresh on everyone’s minds.
Even before the accident occurred, many had doubts about the Cowboys’ chances. Just before the game started, a radio commentator with ESPN said he thought the game would come down to the Cowboys needing a defensive stop. He didn’t think the Cowboys would get one and would lose the game accordingly.
Until the 6:35 mark of the fourth quarter, it was hard to argue with him. Until then, most were just hoping that Jason Garrett would stop Rob Ryan from coming onto the field after the defensive coordinator was called for unsportsmanlike conduct, extending a Cincinnati drive early in the third quarter. (More on the bone-headed move below.)
The Dallas defense indeed made that critical stop, which gave the Cowboys a chance to drive for the game-winning field goal in a 20-19 Dallas win.
Thanks to the win, the Cowboys are not dead in the playoff race. However, wins by the Giants, Seahawks, and Redskins did not help the Cowboys’ chances. At 7-6, the Cowboys are going to need help to take either a wildcard or a division title.
Back to the game.
This Dallas squad just isn’t a first-half team, whatever the reason may be. The Cowboys have trailed at some point in the first halves of 12 of 13 games. The only exception was the Atlanta game, which was a 6-6 tie at the half before the Falcons ran away with the game.
Sunday’s game against the Bengals followed a typical pattern. Dallas moved the ball a little bit early but could not punch it in.
An early 3-0 lead became a 10-3 deficit. Cincinnati led 13-10 at the half as the Dallas offense struggled.
The third quarter should have belonged to the Bengals. The Cowboys had three possessions but could only manage 42 yards with no points.
Had the Bengals not made some critical mistakes, including several drops, Cincinnati’s 19-10 lead may have been much worse.
The Cowboys trailed by nine when they took the ball at their own 32 with 9:47 remaining. Things looked bad again when referees called Doug Free for holding, setting up a 1st-and-20 at the Dallas 35.
On the next play, though, Romo hit Kevin Ogletree on a 23-yard play to give the Cowboys a first down.
Three plays later, the Cowboys faced a 3rd-and-10 from the Cincinnati 42, but Romo was able to find Miles Austin for 15 yards.
On the next play, Romo hit Dez Bryant over the middle for a 27-yard touchdown pass. Dallas suddenly had life.
Cincinnati took over with 6:35 remaining. This was the spot where the Cowboys needed a stop. After one first down, the Bengals stalled. Anthony Spencer had the best play of the day on defense by sacking Andy Dalton on a 3rd-and-4 play, forcing the Bengals to punt.
The Cowboys took over at their own 28 with 3:44 left. They managed to convert three third-down plays on the drive and moved the ball to the Cincinnati 22. Dan Bailey nailed a 40-yard field goal as time expired to give the Cowboys the win.
* * *
It may not be hard to tell that I’m not a Rob Ryan fan.
Yes, the defense helped to win the game today, but this was the same defense that could not generate a pass rush until the very end. Had several Bengal receivers not dropped some critical passes, the game may have been out of reach by the fourth quarter.
Here’s the scenario on Sunday: Cincinnati led 13-10 and had driven inside the Dallas red zone. The Bengals faced a 1st-and-15 after a penalty.
Andy Dalton faced almost no pressure but ran to his right to extend the play. As he moved to his right, Ryan (and other coaches) were already on the field screaming. Here’s the shot:
Maybe Ryan had every right to be mad. However, he continued his rant by shouting some variations of a word that starts with F at tackle Andre Smith.
I’ve now seen Ryan shout f-this and f-that into his headset. I’ve seen him yell at an opposing team’s tackle. I have yet to see Ryan yell at a member of the Cowboys’ defense.
* * *
As for the playoffs, the Cowboys needed the Seahawks, Giants, and Redskins to fall today. Instead, the Seahawks beat the Cardinals 58-0, the Giants beat the Saints 52-27, and the Redskins beat the Ravens 31-28 in overtime.
Because the Cowboys will lose tiebreakers to the Bears and Seahawks (and even the Redskins, depending on a few scenarios), the Cowboys’ best chance may be the division title and not the wildcard. It’s not looking good.
The Cowboys usually begin their nose dive when they reach December. Since 2008, Dallas has won its first game in December only once—an overtime win at Indianapolis in an otherwise forgettable 2010 season.
Since 2006, the Cowboys have an overall record of 13-19 during the months of December and January, including the playoffs.
Thus, when the Cowboys fell behind to the Eagles by a score of 14-3, it was easy to think this did not look good. When the Eagles took a 24-17 lead in the third quarter after the Cowboys had tied the game, things did not look good.
On the final play of the third quarter, the Cowboys faced a 4th and 1. DeMarco Murray ran up the middle, and the original spot was short of the first down.
The Dallas defense was poor for much of the night, and the Eagles were able to drive back into Dallas territory. A 43-yard Alex Henery field goal gave the Eagles another lead with less than 10 minutes to play.
The Eagles had a chance on the next drive, especially once rookie quarterback Nick Foles avoided DeMarcus Ware and completed a pass for a first down on a 3rd-and-8 play.
Combination of: (1) Bryce Brown is really good; (2) this Dallas defense is pathetic tonight.
Moments later, Josh Brent knocked the ball out of Brown’s hand. Morris Claiborne picked up the ball and ran 50 yards for the touchdown.
The game should have ended at 38-27, but the special teams unit somehow gave up a 98-yard punt return. Fortunately, the Cowboys recovered the onside kick, ending the game.
Murray had 83 yards and a touchdown in his return to the lineup. Bryant scored twice, giving him 8 on the season. His 98 receiving yards gives him 978 on the season.
Witten had 108 yards, while Austin had 46. It is possible that Bryant, Witten, and Austin could each finish the season with more than 1,000 receiving yards.
This marks the first time since 2009 that the Cowboys have swept the Eagles. In 2011, the Cowboys only managed 7 points in both losses to Philadelphia. In 2012, the Cowboys scored 38 in both wins.
The simulations do not think the game will be close. Notwithstanding the Thanksgiving performance, the sims have the Cowboys winning by about a touchdown. In some cases, the spread is more.
The story of the Madden sim:
Remember when all the Eagles talk revolved around the words “Dream Team” and “Dynasty”? Talk about a team that couldn’t walk the walk. Philadelphia loses another one this week, scoring only 13 points against the rival Cowboys, while never really being able to get on track on either side of the ball. Tony Romo stars for Dallas in the win, throwing for 283 yards and two touchdowns in the 27-13 victory.
* * *
The Saints’ loss to the Falcons helped the Cowboys’ playoff chances just a bit, but those chances are still rather poor. At 5-6, Dallas is a game out of the second wildcard position. The Cowboys also have the same record as Washington, which would win the head-to-head tiebreaker at this point. The teams involved:
Seattle (6-5): Beat Minnesota and Dallas and have a relatively easy schedule in December.
Tampa Bay (6-5): Beat Minnesota but lost to Dallas and Washington.
Minnesota (6-5): Lost to both Seattle, Tampa Bay, and Washington.
Washington (5-6): Has wins over Tampa Bay, Minnesota, and Dallas.
Dallas (5-6): Beat Tampa Bay but lost to Seattle and Washington. Any loss from this point out may all but kill the Cowboys’ chances.
New Orleans (5-7): Beat Tampa Bay but lost to Washington. Saints’ chances are nearly hopeless.
First, we knew that Dallas tends to win in November. A win would have given the Cowboys a 3-1 record during November this year.
Second, we knew that the Cowboys tend to beat the Redskins. Dallas had a 6-1 record against Washington since November 2008.
Third, we knew that Dallas tends to win on Thanksgiving. The Cowboys had gone 6-1 on Thanksgiving since 2006, and Tony Romo had never lost on Thanksgiving Day.
Even better news for the Cowboys was that Dallas previously had a 6-0 record against Washington on Thanksgiving Day.
Then Robert Griffin III returned to Texas. It looked like the Cowboys came to play in the first quarter, but RGIII exploded for three touchdown passes in a 28-point second quarter for the Redskins.
The final score of 38-31 suggested a decent game, but the Cowboys were only barely in a position to make a game of it.
One would think that Rob Ryan might have accomplished something to deserve so much air time. His current defense had absolutely no idea what to do with Griffin. After RGIII found Aldrick Robinson all by himself on a 68-yard touchdown play early in the second quarter to give the Redskins a 7-3 lead, Washington never trailed again.
Pierre Garcon and Santana Moss made some nice plays on touchdown receptions that extended the Washington lead to 28-3 by halftime.
In the past six games, the Cowboys have managed a grand total of 32 first-half points. They have been outscored during the first halves of those games by a combined score of 84-32.
Yes, Dallas has played some good football in the second halves of those games, but it is no wonder the team has gone 3-3. The team is facing a constant uphill battle.
Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, and Felix Jones made some decent plays when the team was fighting that battle in the second half on Thursday. When Romo bought some time out of the pocket and found Bryant crossing the field, Bryant turned the play into an 85-yard touchdown. At that point, the Cowboys trailed 28-13.
Of course, a defensive stop would have been nice, but Dallas could not do it. RGIII drove the ball into Dallas territory, and facing a 3rd and 1, he faked a handoff and found tight end Niles Paul wide open for a 29-yard touchdown.
From there, the Cowboys cut the lead to 35-28, thanks largely to an interception by reserve safety Charlie Peprah.
But when Dallas needed a stop yet again to stay in the game, Griffin drove Washington into field-goal range. The Cowboys weren’t about to overcome a 10-point deficit late in the game.
* * *
I didn’t think the Cowboys were going to make the playoffs, but I thought they would beat Washington. This team is going to have a tough time having a winning record in its last five games, let alone making some sort of playoff run.
I hope Rob Ryan accepts a head coaching job somewhere. Or just goes somewhere else. I am very close to hoping he hires Jason Garrett as his offensive coordinator.
Sure, there are some key injuries, but this team’s starters are making some of the most boneheaded mistakes. Moreover, there is simply no excuse for repeated penalties for too many men on the field, delay of game, and so forth.
The Cowboys get a rematch with the Eagles on December 2.