2009 Season

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Can the Cowboys Learn from the Mistakes of 2008?

Jerry Jones today confirmed what most already knew—that Wade Phillips will be back next year and probably longer.

In three seasons under Phillips, the Cowboys have gone 13-3, 9-7, and 11-5, the latter of which produced a playoff win. Former Star-Telegram columnist Jim Reeves (now with ESPN) and many others believe that by bringing Wade back, the Cowboys have ended their Super Bowl-or-else expectations. I don’t agree, because I think next year is a Super Bowl (at least appearance)-or-bust season.

How that might happen depends on whether Phillips and the Cowboys can find a way to have the regular season success of the 2007 season and the late-season success of the 2009 season. Dallas also has to learn how to win more than one playoff game, which the franchise hasn’t done in 15 years.

For Phillips and the Cowboys to accomplish all of this, the team not only has to find areas to improve to get over the hump, but the team also has to avoid pitfalls that derailed the 2008 season. Here are some thoughts:

1. Don’t Forget About the Backup Quarterback

It’s easy to assume that the Cowboys are solid with the backup QB position, given that Dallas signed Jon Kitna last year. He didn’t play a down, meaning that nobody knows what Kitna might bring to the table. In 2007, Brad Johnson threw a total of 11 passes, and it wasn’t clear to the Cowboys—somehow—that he didn’t have anything left until Tony Romo went down with an injury. Johnson was 39 in 2008, while Kitna will be 38 next year. If Romo misses any time in 2010, the team can’t afford to give away losses if Kitna isn’t the answer. It’s possible that Stephen McGee could develop during the offseason, but that’s a big if.

2. Someone Needs to Complement Miles Austin

The emergence of Miles Austin certainly saved the Cowboys’ season, but when teams have been able to shut Austin down (Green Bay, Minnesota), the Cowboys don’t have a great second option other than Jason Witten.  Dallas has chosen not to go after receivers in the past several drafts, and some of the players available in those drafts have emerged as stars. This would include Syndey Rice (2nd round, 2007), DeSean Jackson (2nd round, 2008), and Steve Smith (2nd round, 2007). The Cowboys have a serviceable Patrick Crayton and a completely unreliable Roy Williams. The team’s second-round pick in 2008, tight end Martellus Bennett, showed little improvement in 2009.

What I wish will happen won’t happen, but here it goes: release Roy Williams, take a chance and draft a receiver late in the first round (or second round at the latest), hope for further development from Kevin Ogletree to provide a spark early in the season, and hope the rookie develops into a threat later in the season.

3. Continue to Worry About Offensive Line Depth…and the Offensive Line in General

The Cowboys were very lucky that Doug Free came through as a capable backup to Marc Columbo in the second half of the season, because during the preseason, it did not appear that the Cowboys had a viable backup tackle at all. Dallas fortunately did not suffer any injuries at the center or guard positions, but I don’t think the team can expect such great fortune every year. And I don’t think anyone wants to see what would happen if Cory Procter got back on field in 2010 to the extent that he did in 2008.

The Cowboys should get to see what Robert Brewster can do when he returns from injury in 2010, but I’m not sure that he provides any sort of answer at guard. Duke Preston may be an option, but he spent the entire season on the inactive list. Even with these players, though, the team can hardly afford injuries to Andre Gurode, Leonard Davis, or Kyle Kosier.

Even if the offensive line stays healthy, there’s still this matter of wondering whether the line is as talented as we’ve been led to believe. Against the Eagles, the line looked dominant in both pass protection and the running game. But against the Vikings and in some of the previous games, the line tended to look old and slow, failing to give Romo time or failing to give Dallas backs a chance on short yardage. This team isn’t going anywhere if the Minnesota game is any kind of reflection of the line’s true ability.

4. “This is What We Do. You Can’t Stop Us.”

Something stood out to me in watching the Jets perform against the Chargers. On several occasions near the end of the game, it appeared obvious to me that the Jets were going to run the ball right up the gut. What happened was that the Jets ran the ball right up the gut. This was against the same San Diego defense that stuffed Marion Barber on the goalline on three straight plays in a big game in Dallas in December. Unlike the Cowboys, the Jets kept moving the ball—so well, in fact, that Shonn Greene burst right through an arm tackle for a touchdown that gave the Jets what turned out to be an insurmountable lead.

On several occasions in 2009, I thought the Cowboys needed to pound the ball right up the gut. This was true when the Cowboys had a lead in the third quarter against the Giants in week 2, but Tony Romo instead threw a terrible deep pass that the Giants picked off. This was also true in the playoff loss to the Vikings, when Dallas ran the ball three straight times for 34 yards, only to call a play with Marion Barber running outside and right into the arms of Ray Edwards. In fact, I think this was true when the Cowboys needed to kill the clock against the Eagles when Dallas led 24-0 in the season finale. Instead, Tony Romo was throwing the ball, taking the risk that he could be injured.

I won’t pretend to know the nuances of Jason Garrett’s offense, but at some point, I think that the team’s offense needs to reach a point where the playcalling doesn’t seem to mask some sort of weakness. Of course, if there are truly that many weaknesses, this entire post is moot.

5. Cure All of the Special Teams Woes

Joe DeCamillis’ coverage units were so much better than Bruce Read’s that it’s hard to criticize the Cowboys’ special teams at all. In other words, put the field goal kicking situation in a separate category and be happy with the rest.

Bad field goal kicking has plagued this team for much of the decade. In 2005 and 2006, missed field goals cost the Cowboys games. The Cowboys had solid kicking in 2007 and 2008, but the coverage units broke down. In fact, poor punt coverage hurt the Cowboys’ chances against the Giants in the 2007 playoffs. Punting has been great under Mat McBriar, but when he was injured in 2008, the team lost a big weapon and also lost the field position battle in several games. McBriar was back to his old form in 2009, but the field goal woes returned. Moreover, the Cowboys could not manage any sort of effective return game.

I don’t know what the answer to all of this is, but the play of the special teams could easily be the difference between an 11-5 season and a 13-3 season. That’s the difference between playing in another wildcard game and getting a bye. It might also be the difference between home field advantage and yet another season of trying to win on the road.

Incidentally, it’s hard not to notice the quality of kickers who have missed huge kicks during the playoffs—Nate Kaeding, Neil Rackers, Shayne Graham, Stephen Gostowski. Moreover, none of the four kickers left in the playoffs has missed a field goal during the postseason. This includes 41-year-old Matt Stover, who is a Dallas native.

6. Hope That Terence Newman Has Some Time Left in Him, or That Orlando Scandrick Improves Quickly

Terence Newman has been the team’s best corner for most of this decade, but that was not true in 2009. Mike Jenkins looks like he may be better than Newman ever was, and it would seem that the team should have the benefit of two shutdown corners. However, Newman made some mistakes in 2009 that we should have expected from the youngsters in the secondary. Newman will be in his eighth year next year, but he will also be 32.

Orlando Scandrick did not emerge the way some (including me) expected. He had some trouble with slot receivers running right in front of him, especially on third downs. When Newman was injured briefly against the Eagles late in the season, Alan Ball went in, and I’m not sure that Ball wasn’t better at corner than Scandrick.

7. Hope for More Forward Progress from the Front Seven

There have been some calls for the Cowboys to make some changes in the front seven. I’ve seen criticism of the likes of Bradie James and Igor Olshansky, and I’ve seen more calls to bring in a big nose tackle to allow the team to move Jay Ratliff to defensive end. My reaction is don’t do anything other than watch this unit get better. Anthony Spencer’s play toward the end of the year was huge in the team’s late push, and the defense as a whole hasn’t been so dominant in many years. Dallas will get a chance to see what Brandon Williams might offer, and Jason Williams and Victor Butler are still developing.

* * *

Here’s something for me to remember about my own superstitions when it comes to this blog.

One day before the Cowboys faced the Chargers, I predicted that Nick Folk would make two field goals and not miss any. He missed a big field goal, and Dallas lost by three.

One week later, I predicted that Folk would miss three field goals and three extra points in a Dallas loss. He missed one field goal, but the Cowboys still won.

I seem to have forgotten this trend last week when I predicted that Shaun Suisham would make the game-winner against the Vikings. He missed two field goals, which were costly in the Dallas loss.

So I apparently jinxed the team against Minnesota and apologize profusely. Just a reminder to myself: don’t express confidence in a kicker of you want the team to win.

Dallas Cowboys: 1991 vs. 2009

I am fully aware that this means nothing in the long run, but the 2009 season has been so eerily similar to the 1991 season, it is hard not to hope that next year follows the same pattern.

Here are points of comparison.

Four-Game Winning Streaks

1991: The Cowboys started at 1-2 but then went on a four-game winning streak to improve their record to 5-2.

2009: The Cowboys started at 2-2 but then went on a four-game winning streak to improve their record to 6-2.

Ends of the Winning Streaks

1991: The Cowboys ended their winning streak by losing to a northern team (Detroit) on the road.

2009: Same, except the loss occurred at Green Bay.

Upsetting Undefeated Teams

1991: On November 24, the 6-5 Cowboys were coming off a two-game losing streak, with one of those losses occurring on the road against the Giants. Dallas faced the 11-0 Redskins at Washington. The Cowboys pulled off the huge 24-21 upset, giving the team momentum down the stretch.

2009: On December 19, the 8-5 Cowboys were coming off a two-game losing streak, with one of those losses occurring on the road against the Giants. Dallas faced the 13-0 Saints at New Orleans. The Cowboys pulled off the huge 24-17 upset, giving the team momentum down the stretch.

Learning from Previous Year’s Mistakes

1991: The Cowboys needed to win one of their last two games against the Eagles or Falcons to make the playoffs in 1990. Dallas lost both games. In 1991, the Cowboys faced the Eagles and Falcons again in the last two weeks, and Dallas won both games, securing a playoff berth.

2009: The Cowboys needed to win one of their last two games against the Ravens or Eagles to make the playoffs in 2008. Dallas lost both games. In 2009, the Cowboys faced the Redskins and Eagles in the last two weeks, and Dallas won both games, securing a playoff berth.

11-5

1991: The Cowboys finished with an 11-5 record and finished in second place in the NFC East.

2009: The Cowboys finished with an 11-5 record and won the NFC East.

Playoff Droughts Ended

1991: Dallas had not won a playoff game between 1982 and 1991. That streak came to an end when the Cowboys beat the Bears on December 29, 1991.

2009: Dallas had not won a playoff game between 1996 and 2009. That streak came to an end when the Cowboys beat the Eagles on January 9, 2010.

Blowout Losses in a Dome in a Northern City

1991: Dallas traveled to Detroit to take on the Lions in the 1991 playoffs. Dallas expected to have to stop running back Barry Sanders, but instead, Erik Kramer destroyed the Dallas secondary in a 38-6 Detroit win.

2009: Dallas traveled to Minnesota to take on the Vikings in the 2009 playoffs. Dallas expected to have to stop running Adrian Peterson, but instead, Brett Favre destroyed the Dallas secondary in a 34-3 Minnesota win

* * *

There are some other parallels and points of comparison, though some of these will need to play themselves out in 2010 and beyond.

Emerging Triplets (?)

1991: Troy Aikman was in his third season, Emmitt Smith was in his second season, and Michael Irvin was in his fourth season. Smith and Irvin emerged as Pro Bowlers in 1991, but Aikman was a year away from proving he was the real deal.

2009: Tony Romo is in his fourth season as a starter, Felix Jones is in his second season, and Miles Austin has emerged as a starter. Austin became a Pro Bowler, and Jones emerged as the team’s best running back at the end of the season. Romo got over one hump by beating the Eagles in the playoffs, but he needs more playoff wins to truly prove himself.

Head Coaches

1991: Jimmy Johnson was in his third season as head coach after replacing Tom Landry. Playoff wins as of 1991: Landry 20, Johnson 1.

2009: Wade Phillips is in his third season as head coach after replacing Bill Parcells. Playoff wins (for Dallas) as of 2009: Phillips 1, Parcells 0.

Brett Favre

1991: Favre was a little-known backup with the Atlanta Falcons. He was on the team that lost to the Cowboys in the final game of the regular season.

2009: Favre is probably the best known football player on the planet. He signed with Minnesota in August, leading the Vikings to a #2 seed and a playoff win over the Cowboys.

Randy Galloway

1991: Galloway was columnist with the Dallas Morning News. His column after the Cowboys’ 38-6 loss to the Lions:

They had come this far, this fast, but then they lose like that. Every defensive wart exposed. Every coaching move trumped. Every angle covered by the other guys.

They had come this far, this fast, but then they depart the playoffs looking Sunday like a ringer that had slipped past NFL security.

2009: The comment above could describe the Cowboys’ loss to the Vikings, except the focus of his piece in 1991 was on  Jimmy Johnson’s response to the loss. He’s since moved on to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, where the focus of Galloway & Hate this week most likely won’t express confidence in Wade Phillips.

Jerry Jones

Okay, so the pictures are from 1992 and 2006. You get the idea (KNIFE).

The Following Year

1992: Dallas goes 13-3 and wins Super Bowl XXVII.

2010: We can only dream for now.

Minnesota 34, Dallas 3: A Sickening End to a Great Year

After a season with ups and downs in terms of my own predictions, I guessed that the Cowboys would win their playoff game against the Vikings in overtime. One hero in this fantasy scenario: kicker Shaun Suisham.

Okay, then.  Suisham ensured that the Cowboys will look for a new kicker by missing two field goals, including one that would have given the Cowboys a 3-0 lead with six minutes left in the first quarter. Granted, that would not have helped the final score, but Dallas lost momentum as a result of that play, and the Vikings took a 7-0 lead less than two minutes later.

The other would-be hero in a Dallas win would have been Tony Romo. Instead, Romo spent much of the day running for his life. Marc Columbo had no answer for left defensive end Ray Edwards. But just as soon as one started wishing that Doug Free would come in the game, it happened—except that Free had to replace left tackle Flozell Adams, who went down with a calf injury. Free looked like an inexperienced player getting owned by a veteran (Jarad Allen), which is exactly what happened.

Romo fumbled three times and lost two. The second lost fumble occurred two plays after the Cowboys had given up a second Brett-Favre-to-Syndey-Rice touchdown that imcreased the Minnesota lead to 14-3. When Allen stripped Romo of the ball and Ben Leber recovered, the Vikings had the ball at the Dallas 20.

The defense managed to hold the Vikings to a field goal. And though the secondary is going to be subject to criticism for its failure to stop Rice most of the game, the defense at least left a glimmer of hope that the Cowboys could make a game of it. Between the 3:49 mark of the second quarter and the 14:26 mark of the fourth quarter, the Vikings didn’t score.

The problem was that the Dallas offense could barely move an inch during that time (or afterward, for that matter).  The only serious Dallas drive in the second half took place early in the third quarter. Three runs generated 34 yards and moved the ball to the Minnesota 23. Then Jason Garrett called a pitch to an ineffective Marion Barber, who could not get around Edwards, and Barber lost seven yards. Dallas could not make up for the loss, and Suisham missed a 49-yarder that would have cut the Minnesota lead to 17-6.

The fourth quarter wasn’t worth watching for the Cowboys. Favre hit Rice one more time to increase the Viking lead to 27-3. With two minutes left, Minnesota chose to run the score up when Favre hit tight end Visanthe Shiancoe on an 11-yard touchdown on a 4th-and-4 play.

Jason Witten (10 rec., 98 yds.) and Felix Jones (14 att., 69 yds.) had respectable games, but the Cowboys could not maintain drives. Miles Austin only managed four receptions for 34 yards.

As for Williams,  a guy named Kevin Williams showed up on the stat sheet. So did a safety named Madieu Williams. That receiver named Roy Williams? He was targeted one time and did not manage a catch.

* * *

The Cowboy bashing has already begun, with plenty of folks calling for Wade Phillips and Jason Garrett to get fired. Frankly, though, if you told me in August that this team would find a way to win five straight near the end of the year and win a playoff game, I would have taken it in a heartbeat even if I also knew that the Cowboys would tank their final game. Moreover, even if Dallas had won today (which I honestly believed would happen), New Orleans would be the last place I would want this team to play. Dallas certainly pulled out a big win there in December, but it’s hard to forget that the Saints nearly erased a 24-3 Dallas lead before DeMarcus Ware saved the day.

So anyway, four years of blogging have ended in “The Botch” against Seattle in 2006, “The Stutter” against the Giants in 2007, “An Ignominious End” in a loss to Eagles in 2008, and the loss today. I know others are angry about this loss, but at the least, there are plenty of reasons to believe that this team started to turn a corner this year and will continue that trend next year.

A Surprising Number of Commentators Predict a Dallas Win

As soon as the Vikings signed Brett Favre before the season started, many picked Minnesota to go to the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, naysayers wondered exactly when the Cowboys would implode.

The Cowboys-Vikings game could be one for the ages.

It thus comes as somewhat of a surprise that several commentators (include some of the naysayers) have predicted a Dallas win tomorrow. At ESPN, six of the eight commentators took the Cowboys, while at the Dallas Morning News, seven of the nine staff members picked Dallas.

The two simulations are split on the game, while the Madden simulation predicts a game for the ages.

AccuScore: Minnesota 27, Dallas 24

The Vikings won 57% of the simulations on AccuScore by an average score of 27-24. The summary:

While both teams feature dynamic RBs both run defenses are playing very well in simulations. Adrian Peterson only has a 39 percent of rushing for over 75 yards but if he does the the Vikings are heavy 77 percent favorites. Felix Jones and Marion Barber only have a 38 percent chance of rushing for 80+ yards, but if they do then Dallas is the 75 percent favorite. The QB match-up is extremely close as well with Tony Romo and Brett Favre projected for 250+ yards and 2 TDs. The game could come down to which defense rushes the passer more effectively. When Dallas sacks Favre 4 or more times the Cowboys improve their chances from 41 to 58 percent. When the Vikings sack Romo 4+ times Minnesota is the 76 percent favorite.

WhatIfSports: Dallas 26, Minnesota 25

The Cowboys edged the Vikings in the WhatIfSports matchups, with Dallas winning 52.9% of the games.

While one NFC playoff game provides the biggest blowout of the weekend, the other one provides the closest game of the week. The Dallas Cowboys dominated the Philadelphia Eagles for the second straight week during the wildcard round. The Minnesota Vikings wrapped up the bye in the final week of the season and is about the only team that got a bye that didn’t take the final week of the season off. Now quarterbacks Tony Romo and Brett Favre will battle for a spot in the conference championship.

Dallas shook off its December curse and then followed suit by ending any talk of a playoff slump by decimating the Eagles. Somewhat quietly, the Cowboys matched the Saints step for step on offense, actually putting up the top mark in terms of yards per play thanks to the second-ranked rushing game and the fourth-ranked passing attack. Like the Saints, Dallas leaves a little to be desired defensively, giving up 5.2 yards per play, but they do boast one of the top 10 rushing defenses, which could be critical against Adrian Peterson and the Vikings.

Minnesota picked up Favre in the offseason and “the old gunslinger” has helped lead them back to the Divisional Playoffs. The Vikings mirror the Cowboys somewhat. Minnesota’s offense isn’t quite as prolific, but did put up nearly six yards per play thanks, somewhat surprisingly, more to Favre than to Peterson as the Vikings barely averaged four yards per carry. Defensively, Minnesota lags behind in passing, but boasts one of the best rushing defenses in the league.

Perhaps the quarterbacks will be left to “gunsling it out” in what could be the most exciting game of the weekend. Dallas pulls off the road win, but just 52.9% of the time and by just a single point, most likely setting up another exciting matchup with New Orleans in the conference finale.

Madden Simulation: Dallas 27, Minnesota 24

The Cowboys won a great comeback against the Vikings in the Madden 10 simulation.

In one of the most memorable comebacks in NFL playoff history, the Dallas Cowboys scored 17 points in the fourth quarter to shock Brett Favre and the Vikings, 27-24.

Tony Romo led the way for Dallas, completing 30 of 39 passes for 286 yards and two touchdowns, including a 22-yard strike to Miles Austin, and a 7-yarder to Jason Witten to tie the score in the final minutes.

Then, after a Brett Favre interception (his second of the quarter), the game was decided by the foot of Redskins castoff Shaun Suisham, who nailed the most clutch kick of his career, a 48-yarder with time expiring, to send the Cowboys to the NFC Championship Game next week.

My Guess (11-6 based on win-loss)

I made a very specific prediction last week but wasn’t very close:

The Cowboys didn’t merely slip by the Eagles last week; instead, Dallas controlled both lines of scrimmage. Moreover, the Cowboys made mistakes but still pulled out a dominant win. I think Dallas will jump out to a 21-10 lead and then hold off a late Philadelphia rally.

The closest this came to being true was that Dallas had a 17-7 lead at one point. However, the Eagles didn’t score again until they were down 34-7.

For the season:

Key—
Week: My Prediction (Actual Result)
Week 1: Dallas 34, Tampa Bay 24 (actual: Dallas 34, Tampa Bay 21)
Week 2: N.Y. Giants 17, Dallas 14 (actual: N.Y. Giants 33, Dallas 31)
Week 3: Dallas 31, Carolina 21 (actual: Dallas 21, Carolina 7)
Week 4: Dallas 24, Denver 14 (actual: Denver 17, Dallas 10)
Week 5: Dallas 31, Kansas City 14 (actual: Dallas 26, Kansas City 20)
Week 7: Atlanta 28, Dallas 17 (actual: Dallas 37, Atlanta 21)
Week 8: Dallas 31, Seattle 17 (actual Dallas 38, Seattle 17)
Week 9: Dallas 23, Philadelphia 17 (actual: Dallas 20, Philadelphia 16)
Week 10: Dallas 31, Green Bay 20 (actual: Green Bay 17, Dallas 7)
Week 11: Dallas 20, Washington 6 (actual: Dallas 7, Washington 6)
Week 12: Dallas 30, Oakland 13 (actual: Dallas 24, Oakland 7)
Week 13: Dallas 21, N.Y. Giants 12 (actual: N.Y. Giants 31, Dallas 24)
Week 14: Dallas 27, San Diego 20 (actual: San Diego 20, Dallas 17)
Week 15: New Orleans 30, Dallas 18 (actual: Dallas 24, New Orleans 17)
Week 16: Dallas 31, Washington 0 (actual: Dallas 17, Washington 0)
Week 17: Dallas 17, Philadelphia 13 (actual: Dallas 24, Philadelphia 0)
Wildcard: Dallas 24, Philadelphia 19 (actual: Dallas 34, Philadelphia 14)

This week is a tough one. The Vikings are certainly a talented team, but the Cowboys will cause a number of problems for Minnesota. I think it will be a back and forth game, and I’ll go out on a ledge and predict an overtime game (leading 35% of all Dallas fans to set up doctor’s appointments next week due to chest pains). With 7:00 left in the first overtime period, Shaun Suisham trots out on the field. Households across the South say “Oh God” in unison. But Suisham comes through, nailing the 30-yarder to send Dallas to its first NFC Championship Game since 1995.

The score:

personalized greetings

Dallas 24, Philadelphia 19

Ware Has Become a Three-Time All-Pro Selection

Both DeMarcus Ware and Jay Ratliff learned yesterday that they made the first-team Associated Press All-Pro Team. Andre Gurode made the second team at center.

DeMarcus Ware became the 13th player in team history to made three first-team All-Pro teams.

This was the third year in a row that Ware made first-team All-Pro. Only 12 other players in team history have made the first-team All Pro list, including:

Randy White (7)
Bob Lilly (7)
Larry Allen (6)
Chuck Howley (5)
Emmitt Smith (4)
Drew Pearson (3)
Rayfield Wright (3)
Ralph Neely (3)
Deion Sanders (3)
Cornell Green (3)
Cliff Harris (3)
Darren Woodson (3)
DeMarcus Ware (3)

As for Ratliff, he become only the third defensive tackle/nose tackle to be named first-team All-Pro. The others, of course, were Lilly and White. La’Roi Glover made the second-team list in 2002 and 2003, but his only first-team honor came with the Saints in 2000.

Gurode has made four Pro Bowls, including 2009, but he has never been named to an All-Pro team by the AP. Of the centers in team history, only Mark Stepnoski has ever made the second-team All-Pro list.

The Cowboys did not fare quite as well with the Sporting News. Only Ware made the all-pro list on defense.

Relative Value Rankings After the Playoff Win

In the early 1970s, the Cowboys found a way to turn the corner thanks to the play of key veterans, including Bob Lilly, Chuck Howley, and the like. In the 1990s, the team was successful thanks to the emergence of young talent. The 2009 team’s history is not yet complete, but in the first playoff win in 13 years, both the key veterans and the young talent came through.

Nobody really deserves to drop this week, though Ken Hamlin needs to stop his stupid penalties. Roy Williams showed up again in a big way and jumped up several spots on the list.

Inactives vs. Philadelphia: QB Stephen McGee, S Pat Watkins, CB Cletis Gordon, LB Jason Williams, G Montrae Holland, C Duke Preston, T Pat McQuistan (#44 last week), LB Curtis Johnson

45. Cory Procter, C/G

Last week: 45

vs. Philadelphia (Playoff): Yet again, Procter did not play.

44. Junior Siavii, DT

Last week: 40

vs. Philadelphia (Playoff): Siavii was on the active roster but did not play against the Eagles.

43. Jon Kitna, QB

Last week: 43

vs. Philadelphia (Playoff): Kitna did not see the field. Nothing new.

42. Victor Butler, LB

Last week: 41

vs. Philadelphia (Playoff): Butler played on special teams and on defense near the end of the game. He did not record a tackle.

41. Steve Octavien, LB

Last week: 38

vs. Philadelphia (Playoff): Octavien did not record a tackle on Saturday.

40. Michael Hamlin, S

Last week: 42

vs. Philadelphia (Playoff): Hamlin was credited with two special teams tackles against the Eagles.

39. Sam Hurd, WR

Last week: 35

vs. Philadelphia (Playoff): Hurd has fallen behind Kevin Ogletree as a receiver and has not been as active on special teams.

38. L.P. Ladouceur, LS

Last week: 36

vs. Philadelphia (Playoff): For perhaps the first time all year, one of Ladouceur’s field goal snaps looked off. Fortunately, Shaun Suisham made the field goal anyway.

37. Shaun Suisham, K

Last week: 39

vs. Philadelphia (Playoff): Suisham came through against the Eagles, making kicks from 25 and 48 yards in the first half.

36. David Buehler, K

Last week: 34

vs. Philadelphia (Playoff): Three of Buehler’s seven kickoffs went into the end zone for touchbacks.

35. Deon Anderson, FB

Last week: 33

vs. Philadelphia (Playoff): At one point, Romo tried to dump a pass off to Anderson on a rollout, but Anderson could not make the grab. On Felix Jones’ 73-yard TD in the third quarter, Anderson made a nice block on the weakside linebacker, helping Jones to make the play that effectively ended the game.

34. Jason Hatcher, DE

Last week: 32

vs. Philadelphia (Playoff): Hatcher was not credited with a sack, but he was certainly part of the Dallas pass rush.

33. Stephen Bowen, DE

Last week: 31

vs. Philadelphia (Playoff): Bowen recorded a tackle and a QB hurry.

32. Kevin Ogletree, WR

Last week: 30

vs. Philadelphia (Playoff): Ogletree caught one five yard pass that helped to set up Shaun Suisham’s second field goal. Ogletree also caught a screen pass that would have given the Cowboys a first down inside the five but for a pass interference call on Jason Witten. Ogletree also made a big tackle on the Eagles’ kickoff return following the Cowboys’ first touchdown.

31. Martellus Bennett, TE

Last week: 29

vs. Philadelphia (Playoff): Bennett wasn’t even targeted against the Eagles, though he was involved with blocking.

30. Alan Ball, S

Last week: 26

vs. Philadelphia (Playoff): Ball has been an important part of the defense, but he did not record a tackle against the Eagles.

29. Doug Free, T

Last week: 22

vs. Philadelphia (Playoff): When Marc Columbo struggled early against the Eagles, there were plenty of calls for Free to go back in.

28. Roy Williams, WR

Last week: 37

vs. Philadelphia (Playoff): Williams caught five important passes in the first half, including four that picked up first downs. Perfect timing. He should have had a touchdown in the second quarter on a screen pass, but he fell down trying to make a move.

27. John Phillips, TE

Last week: 27

vs. Philadelphia (Playoff): Phillips scored the team’s first touchdown pass, sparking reminders of backup tight end Derek Tennell’s TD catch against the Eagles in the 1992 playoffs. What, you don’t remember that?

26. Marcus Spears, DE

Last week: 23

vs. Philadelphia (Playoff): Spears recorded one tackle and one QB hurry against the Eagles.

25. Bobby Carpenter, LB

Last week: 25

vs. Philadelphia (Playoff): I really want to move Carpenter up after his performance against the Eagles, during which he recovered two fumbles and recorded two tackles. The players above him, though, played just as well.

24. Orlando Scandrick, CB

Last week: 24

vs. Philadelphia (Playoff): Scandrick recorded two tackles and did not give up big plays over the middle.

23. Marc Columbo, T

Last week: Injured

vs. Philadelphia (Playoff): Columbo had a rough first quarter, during which he was called for a penalty and gave up a sack. After the first quarter, it looked like he played much better.

22. Tashard Choice, RB

Last week: 28

vs. Philadelphia (Playoff): Choice had 42 yards on 14 carries with a touchdown. He also caught a pass and scampered for a first down on the team’s opening drive. It looks like he is running better than Marion Barber at this point.

21. Ken Hamlin, S

Last week: 17

vs. Philadelphia (Playoff): Hamlin was very active against the Eagles in both a good way and a bad way. Good=three tackles. Bad=three personal foul penalties.

20. Gerald Sensabaugh, S

Last week: 19

vs. Philadelphia (Playoff): Sensabaugh had three tackles and an assist against the Eagles. With the Cowboys ahead 14-7 and the Eagles facing a 3rd-and-4, Sensabaugh made a huge tackle on Jeremy Maclin to stop the Eagles short. Dallas managed a field goal on the next drive and led by at least two possessions for the rest of the game.

19. Mat McBriar, P

Last week: 20

vs. Philadelphia (Playoff): Five of McBriar’s six punts end up inside the 20. That’s something else.

18. Igor Olshansky, DE

Last week: 13

vs. Philadelphia (Playoff):

17. Flozell Adams, T

Last week: 21

vs. Philadelphia (Playoff): Adams owned Trent Cole for two games against the Eagles. The only negative was his unnecessary roughness penalty, though that game in the fourth quarter.

16. Marion Barber, RB

Last week: 10

vs. Philadelphia (Playoff): It feels harsh to move Barber down this far, but Barber hasn’t been able to offer the burst that Choice and Felix Jones have shown. Barber barely played against the Eagles.

15. Patrick Crayton, WR

Last week: 18

vs. Philadelphia (Playoff): Crayton caught three passes, two of which gave the Cowboys a first down. His last reception came on a third down play just before Felix Jones’ 73-yard TD in the third quarter. Crayton also came close to breaking a couple of punt returns. He averaged 18 yards on three punt returns.

14. Kyle Kosier, G

Last week: 16

vs. Philadelphia (Playoff): Kosier had  solid game, as the Eagles were unable to pressure Romo up the middle. Kosier also made several nice run blocks, including a big block at the goalline on Tashard Choice’s touchdown.

13. Andre Gurode, C

Last week: 15

vs. Philadelphia (Playoff): Like Kosier, Gurode had a great game.

12. Leonard Davis, G

Last week: 14

vs. Philadelphia (Playoff): Davis made a huge block on Felix Jones’ touchdown, pulling to his right and taking out safety Quintin Mikell.

11. Terence Newman, CB

Last week: 12

vs. Philadelphia (Playoff): Newman did not give up any big plays. He recorded four tackles.

10. Jason Witten, TE

Last week: 7

vs. Philadelphia (Playoff): Witten was targeted five times and caught four passes. He nearly had a touchdown in the second quarter.

9. Keith Brooking, LB

Last week: 8

vs. Philadelphia (Playoff): Brooking returned to the stat sheet after recording four tackles. His leadership is vital.

8. Jay Ratliff, NT

Last week: 9

vs. Philadelphia (Playoff): Ratliff did not record a tackle against the Eagles, but he learned this week that he was named to the Associated Press All-Pro Team.

7. Felix Jones, RB

Last week: 11

vs. Philadelphia (Playoff): Jones is moving back up the list after having his biggest game as a pro. His 16-carry, 148-yard effort looked part Tony Dorsett, part Emmitt Smith.

6. Mike Jenkins, CB

Last week: 6

vs. Philadelphia (Playoff): Jenkins was credited with four pass defenses on the official stat sheet, which is a huge number. He’s looking very much like an All-Pro corner. Two negatives that we can forgive: giving up a long touchdown to Maclin on the pass from Vick, and trying to lateral the ball after recording a pick in the third quarter.

5. Bradie James, LB

Last week: 5

vs. Philadelphia (Playoff): James had a big game, recording a sack and stripping Leonard Weaver on a key play late in the first half.

4. Anthony Spencer, LB

Last week: 4

vs. Philadelphia (Playoff): Spencer continues to be a force on defense. He had two tackles, a sack, and two QB hurries. He also caused problems on a play in the second quarter that resulted in Michael Vick’s fumble in the second quarter.

3. Miles Austin, WR

Last week: 2

vs. Philadelphia (Playoff): Tony Romo targeted Austin 10 times, and Austin caught seven of those passes, including a TD pass on a screen. Austin was also the target on a play when Sheldon Brown was called for pass interference, setting up the Cowboys’ first touchdown.

2. DeMarcus Ware, LB

Last week: 3

vs. Philadelphia (Playoff): Ware again came up huge, recording two sacks and forcing a fumble. Ware was also named All-Pro.

1. Tony Romo, QB

Last week: 1

vs. Philadelphia (Playoff): I know the arguments for putting Ware and/or Austin ahead of Romo, it’s been Romo’s steady play that has been the big difference in the team this year vs. previous years.

Cowboys are the NFL’s Winningest Franchise

I may be the only one who is interested in this (covered here and here recently), but the Cowboys finished 50 regular seasons with the best winning percentage of any team in the league. This was thanks to the Cowboys’ win over the Eagles and the Dolphins’ loss to Pittsburgh in the final week of the 2009 season.

The Cowboys have won a higher percentage of games than any other NFL team.

Here are the top five franchises, including the Cowboys’ opponent on Sunday:

Dallas Cowboys: 434-314-6 (.580)
Miami Dolphins: 387-281-4 (.579)
Chicago Bears: 693-507-42 (.577)
Green Bay Packers: 654-518-36 (.558)
Minnesota Vikings: 407-326-9 (.555)

With the Cowboys’ playoff berth, Dallas tied the New York Giants with the most seasons in the playoffs. This is pretty good, given that the Giants were formed in 1925 and the Cowboys were not born until 1960.

Most years in the playoffs:

1(tie). Cowboys: 30
1(tie). Giants: 30
3. Browns: 28
4. Rams: 27
5(tie). Vikings 25
5(tie). Packers 25
5(tie). Steelers 25

With their win over the Eagles, the Cowboys improved their playoff record to 33-24. Since the NFL/AFL merger in 1970, the Cowboys and Steelers have won the most games during the divisional round of the playoffs, with each team winning 14. The Cowboys improved their record in wildcard games to 5-5.

Cowboys-Eagles Highlights

Here are the highlights of the Cowboys’ playoff win over the Eagles. Great stuff.

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And an interview with Tony Romo after the game:

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Dallas 34, Philadelphia 14: A Long, Long Time Coming

The version of the Dallas Cowboys that has emerged since December 19, 2009 continues to put to rest the concerns that have followed this team for so many years now.

Of course, the team’s drought of playoff wins has come to an end after 13 years. Tony Romo has won a playoff game. Wade Phillips has won playoff game. Jerry Jones has won a playoff game without guys named Aikman, Irvin, and Emmitt.

This picture is for those of us who had to explain to 10-year-old children what the last Dallas playoff win felt like.

Beyond all of that, what is most impressive about this team is that the Cowboys aren’t falling apart when faced with adversity. “Oh, no, here we go again” just isn’t happening.

Against the Eagles on Saturday night, Philadelphia clearly needed to get some momentum to erase the effects of the Cowboys’ shutout win last week. Dallas drove the ball in the first quarter but could not punch it in. When Dallas finally got on the board, thanks a pass interference penalty called on Sheldon Brown, the Eagles responded with a 76-yard touchdown pass from Michael Vick to Jeremy Maclin.

7-7. So much for the shutout string. So much for the easy blowout. So much for the momentum.

On the first play after Dallas got the ball back, Romo threw up (not as in vomit, though the thought came to mind) a duck pass that appeared to be picked off by Sean Jones, who returned the ball to the Dallas 14. It looked like the Eagles might snag a 14-7 lead.

But then the oft-maligned Phillips made the most important challenge of his coaching career, and the referees determined that the ball had touched the ground and reversed the call. With new life, the formerly maligned Romo moved the ball 85 yards in 10 plays. Players catching the ball on the drive included Patrick Crayton (18 yards on a 3rd-and-9) and Roy Williams (17 yards on a 3rd-and-7).

A Romo pass to Jason Witten moved the ball inside the Philadelphia 1. One might recall the Cowboys’ short-yardage problems from a month ago. No problem at all, as Tashard Choice ran right behind Andre Gurode and Leonard Davis to score and give the Cowboys a 14-7 lead.

From there, the rout unfolded. Dallas held the Eagles and got the ball back. A pass from Romo to Miles Austin set up a Shaun Suisham field goal. Two plays later, Vick fumbled a handoff attempt, and another oft-maligned player—Bobby Carpenter—recovered the fumble. Three plays after that, Romo hit Austin on a bubble screen, and when Austin ran it in from six yards out, the Cowboys led 24-7.

Flashback to the infamous finale of the 2008 season. The Eagles took a 24-3 lead just before the half. On the ensuing kickoff, with less than 10 seconds remaining in the half, Pacman Jones fumbled the kickoff return, setting up a 50-yard field goal by David Akers. Not that the Cowboys had a chance before that play, but the Eagles put another nail in the coffin with that play.

Flash forward to Saturday night: The Eagles tried to get some points just before the half. However, with 51 seconds left in the half, linebacker Bradie James stripped Pro Bowl fullback Leonard Weaver. Dallas moved the ball to the Philadelphia 30, setting up Suisham’s 48-yard field goal as time nearly expired.

From that point, it was just a matter of watching the clock and hoping the Eagles didn’t come up with some sort of miracle. The Eagles moved the ball into Dallas territory midway through the third quarter, but an Anthony Spencer sack on a 3rd-and-7 play ended the drive. After the Eagles punted, Felix Jones put the Eagles out of their misery by darting right and breaking away for a 73-yard touchdown (video).

From there, the celebration was on. Given that the Cowboys beat the Eagles by scores of 34-10 (1992) and 30-11 (1995) in two previous playoff wins, it was hard not to think back what wins over Philadelphia led to in previous seasons.

Jones finished with 148 yards on 16 carries, while Tashard Choice added another 42. Marion Barber barely played.

Romo continued his red hot play. He completed 23 of 35 passes for 244 yards and 2 TD.

The Dallas defense gave up 340 yards, which was more than normal, but a big chunk of that came on the Maclin touchdown and after the game was out of hand. McNabb had a passer rating of just 68.5, and that was thanks to some stat-padding late in the game.

The Cowboys travel to Minnesota next week to face the Vikings. Dallas lost at Minnesota in the 1999 playoffs but beat the Vikings at home in 1996. This was also a great series during the 1970s. Keep this in mind: in both of the Cowboys’ Super Bowl championship seasons of the 1970s, Dallas beat Minnesota to do so.

Cowboys Predicted to Secure Playoff Win Over Eagles

When the Cowboys prepared to face the Giants two seasons ago in the playoffs, nearly everyone who followed the Cowboys picked Dallas to pull out the win. The Cowboys had beaten the Giants handily on the road several weeks before, so there were reasons to think that Dallas would come out and end the franchise playoff drought.

Many Cowboy fans will react the same way should Dallas end its playoff drought on Saturday night.

The difference then was that the Cowboys had completely lost momentum between the Giant games, while the Giants had started building momentum by nearly knocking off the Patriots in the final week of the season and by routing Tampa Bay in the first round of the playoffs. The Cowboys came into the game hoping they would put everything back together, but they didn’t.

Unlike the circumstances surrounding the 2007 season, the 2009 Cowboys are peaking at just the right time. Most are picking the Cowboys to beat the Eagles on Saturday night, and these predictions can be based on how this team is playing right now, not how it was playing when the teams faced each other in November.

At ESPN, only Ron Jaworski picked the Eagles to win. Hardly a surprise, given that he was the QB of the 1980 Philadelphia team that beat Dallas in the NFC Championship Game. At the Dallas Morning News, only Kevin Sherrington predicted a Dallas loss.

As for the simulations, two predicted a Dallas win, but the video game simulation once again predicted a Dallas loss. Of course, the Madden simulation predicted losses to the Redskins and Saints, and neither of those turned out to be accurate.

AccuScore: Dallas 28, Philadelphia 22

The Cowboys won 66% of the simulations against the Eagles by an average score of 27.5 to 21.6.

The Cowboys pass rush has sacked the opposing QB at least 3 times during their hot 3 game streak. If they can harass McNabb again this week and limit the big down field pass completions the Cowboys should win. If the Cowboys have 3 or more sacks they have a 74 percent chance of winning, but if they 2 or less the game is a virtual coin flip with Dallas having a 51 percent chance. Tony Romo has thrown just 2 INTs in his past 3 games and there is a high 45 percent chance that he throws no INTs this week. However, if Romo throws 1 or more INTs the Eagles chances increase to 42 percent. If the Eagles can also hold Marion Barber and Felix Jones to under 4.5 yards per carry while also forcing at least 1 Romo INT then Philadelphia has a 57 percent chance of winning by an average score of PHI 25, DAL 22.

What If Sports: Dallas 23, Philadelphia 17

According to What If Sports, the Cowboys have a 13.7% chance to win Super Bowl XLIV. This ranks fourth behind the Jets (!), Saints, and Vikings.

Dallas won 63% of the simulations in the wildcard round by an average score of 23-17.

Quarterback Tony Romo threw for more than 300 yards and two touchdowns, Dallas’ defense allowed less than 40 yards rushing and the Cowboys clinched a home-field rematch against the Eagles with a 24-0 victory in Week 17. Now they’ll try to beat Philadelphia for the third time this season and a second time in as many weeks in the first round of the playoffs.

Philadelphia boasts the fifth-best scoring offense in the league at 26.8 points per game, but has scored a total of 16 against the Cowboys this season as Dallas’ defense has stymied Donovan McNabb and big-play wide receiver DeSean Jackson.

Dallas’ offense, on the other hand, ranks in the top 10 in nearly every major statistic except for points, but had two of its best games against the Eagles. Two of Romo’s eight 300-yard games came against Philadelphia and the Cowboys average more than eight yards per pass attempt.

In the first of three Week 17 rematches, the computer begins the trend of liking last week’s winner. Romo’s numbers certainly don’t stand out, but the Cowboys once again make the Eagles one-dimensional, beating the Eagles 63% of the time by an average score of 23-16.

Madden Simulation: Philadelphia 30, Dallas 27

I considered omitting this, but I am going to err on the side of confronting one’s fears:

The Cowboys looked to have the game wrapped up with less than two minutes left in the fourth quarter when a Marion Barber fumble opens the door for a miracle Eagles comeback. With time running out and Philadelphia down to just one final play, Donovan McNabb hits Brent Celek for a 13-yard touchdown to give the Eagles a 30-27 victory.

Despite the soul-crushing defeat, Tony Romo played like the Romo Dallas fans saw in December ’09 and not the quarterback fans began to doubt after previous late-season collapses. In fact, Romo threw for 282 yards and two touchdowns in the loss, and more importantly, never turned the ball over.

Moreover, until Barber’s fumble, the Cowboys offense looked flawless (at least virtually). But in the playoffs, the fine-line between victory and defeat can sometimes come down to one mistake, and in Dallas’ case, this mistake was a difference maker, not only for the game, but for their season.

This isn’t going to happen.

My Guess (10-6 based on win-loss)

My conservative prediction last week didn’t turn out to be close in terms of the score.

I’ve had mixed feelings about tomorrow’s game all week. Part of me thought that Dallas might lose to the Eagles but then turn around and win a couple of playoff games as the #6 seed. However, I’ve since become convinced that the Cowboys will pull this one out. The teams will be tied 10-10 at the half thanks to a late score by the Cowboys. The Eagles will take a lead, but a Dallas touchdown in the fourth quarter will be enough to give the Cowboys their second NFC East title in the past three seasons.

Dallas 17, Philadelphia 13

Dallas took a 17-0 lead at the half and never looked back, so the team didn’t need a late score to pull out the game.

For the season:

Key—
Week: My Prediction (Actual Result)
Week 1: Dallas 34, Tampa Bay 24 (actual: Dallas 34, Tampa Bay 21)
Week 2: N.Y. Giants 17, Dallas 14 (actual: N.Y. Giants 33, Dallas 31)
Week 3: Dallas 31, Carolina 21 (actual: Dallas 21, Carolina 7)
Week 4: Dallas 24, Denver 14 (actual: Denver 17, Dallas 10)
Week 5: Dallas 31, Kansas City 14 (actual: Dallas 26, Kansas City 20)
Week 7: Atlanta 28, Dallas 17 (actual: Dallas 37, Atlanta 21)
Week 8: Dallas 31, Seattle 17 (actual Dallas 38, Seattle 17)
Week 9: Dallas 23, Philadelphia 17 (actual: Dallas 20, Philadelphia 16)
Week 10: Dallas 31, Green Bay 20 (actual: Green Bay 17, Dallas 7)
Week 11: Dallas 20, Washington 6 (actual: Dallas 7, Washington 6)
Week 12: Dallas 30, Oakland 13 (actual: Dallas 24, Oakland 7)
Week 13: Dallas 21, N.Y. Giants 12 (actual: N.Y. Giants 31, Dallas 24)
Week 14: Dallas 27, San Diego 20 (actual: San Diego 20, Dallas 17)
Week 15: New Orleans 30, Dallas 18 (actual: Dallas 24, New Orleans 17)
Week 16: Dallas 31, Washington 0 (actual: Dallas 17, Washington 0)
Week 17: Dallas 17, Philadelphia 13 (actual: Dallas 24, Philadelphia 0)

For the season, the Cowboys would have gone 13-3 had my predictions come true.  Frankly, this team had the ability to go 13-3, but it is probably better that the team struggled a bit before rebounding late in the season. The Cowboys have not entered the playoffs with this much momentum since the 1992 season (which was, of course, a 13-3 season). There are also plenty of comparisons we could make between the 2009 team and the 1991 team, the latter of which won five straight to finish the season at 11-5 and ended a playoff drought with a win over Chicago.

The Cowboys didn’t merely slip by the Eagles last week; instead, Dallas controlled both lines of scrimmage. Moreover, the Cowboys made mistakes but still pulled out a dominant win. I think Dallas will jump out to a 21-10 lead and then hold off a late Philadelphia rally.

The score:

personalized greetings

Dallas 24, Philadelphia 19