2011 Season

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Cowboys Sink (Stink?) in the Week 5 Power Rankings

The Cowboys’ self-destruction against the Lions caused the team to drop in each of the power-ranking lists reviewed below. Not a shock.

ESPN: #17

The Cowboys fell from #11 to #17 in ESPN’s poll.

Another historic collapse leaves the Cowboys at .500 heading into a bye week that will be dominated by more questions about Tony Romo. (Fox)

CBS (Pete Prisco): #12

Surprisingly, Prisco still has Dallas ranked ahead of Tampa Bay and Atlanta.

The Tony Romo implosion is going to be tough to bounce back from for this team. They have two weeks to stew about it with their bye coming up.

Fox (Brian Billick)

Dallas fell five spots in Billick’s poll. He ranks the Cowboys just ahead of San Francisco and Philadelphia.

It is time to face the facts. The Cowboys are an average team with average talent. The play calling is worth questioning just as much as Tony Romo’s performance, particularly given the 24-point second-half lead. Over the next three weeks, they travel to New England and Philly, with St. Louis sandwiched between. Going 2-1 will be a success.

Average talent? Did you hear that, Jerry? Average talent.

Detroit 34, Dallas 30: Romo Trades in His Hero Status, Possibly for Good

Holding a 27-3 lead at the time, Tony Romo explains his strategy for keeping the Lions undefeated. Ready…Break!

Tony Romo’s performance in two consecutive games while playing with injuries helped most forget the dreadful performance at the end of the week 1 loss to the Jets.

What Romo did against the Lions will also make us forget the Jets game because this one was so much worse. The Cowboys entrusted Romo to take care of a 27-3 lead, and he promptly threw two interceptions that the Lions returned for scores to cut the Dallas lead to 27-17.

Yes, it’s true that Romo played a big role in the team getting the lead, but what he did in throwing those picks erased any good will he earned from such a good first half. In fact, it’s going to be tough for even the most positive of fans to have faith in Romo again.

Dallas had the big lead thanks to a great first half. Gerald Sensabaugh, who later left the game with an injury, picked off a pass on Detroit’s opening drive. Dallas moved the ball easily from that point, and Romo’s 25-yard touchdown pass to Dez Bryant along the right sideline gave the Cowboys a 7-0 lead.

Dallas had a chance to go up even further after driving to the Detroit 1. But on fourth down, Felix Jones was stuffed as the Lions shut the drive down.

The Cowboys didn’t fold at that point, though. Early in the second quarter, Romo drove inside the 10 once again thanks to Romo’s 44-yard pass to Laurent Robinson. Romo hit Bryant again, increasing the lead to 14-0.

Dan Bailey kicked two field goals from there, giving Dallas a 20-3 lead.

The Cowboys got great field position to open the second half when defensive lineman Sean Lissemore returned a short kickoff into Detroit territory. Six plays later, Romo found Jason Witten in the back of the end zone, giving Dallas a 27-3 lead.

The Dallas defense made a stop, giving the ball back to the Cowboys’ offense.

Dear Jason Garrett: Your team is leading by 24 with 10:30 left in the third quarter. The last thing you need is for Romo to try to force a pass to someone. Got it?

On first down, Romo tried to force a pass into double coverage. Bobby Carpenter (yes, that Bobby Carpenter) picked off the pass and returned it 34 yards for a touchdown.

Dallas 27, Detroit 10.

Dallas controlled the ball on the next drive, mixing runs with short passes. Then Romo tried to thread the needle and hit Robinson on a slant. Chris Houston stepped in front of the ball at the Detroit 44 and ran down the right sideline for yet another touchdown.

Dallas 27, Detroit 17.

The Cowboys drove on the next drive for a field goal to increase the lead to 13, but the Lions still had all the momentum. The 13-point lead only lasted about 80 seconds into the fourth quarter. Matthew Stafford’s touchdown to Calvin Johnson cut the Dallas lead to 30-24.

Dear Tony Romo: You put your team into this mess, so it would be nice for you to lead a drive that would get the team out of this mess. Got it?

Ahem.

Dallas went three-and-out twice in a row. The Dallas defense held once, but on a later drive by the Lions, Jason Hanson nailed a 51-yard field goal to cut the Dallas lead to 30-27.

When nobody expects much from Romo, he can be a hero. When he absolutely has to be a hero, he…

…throws the ball off his back foot. Witten might have been open over the middle, but linebacker Stephen Tulloch was in position to pick off the underthrown pass.

The Dallas defense slowed the Lions, but at that point, it was just a matter of time. Frank Walker was called for holding on a third-down play in the end zone, giving the Lions and first and goal from the 2. Dallas had Terence Newman line up in single coverage on Johnson, and it wasn’t a contest.

Dallas had a chance to get into position to throw a couple of passes into the end zone, but the team couldn’t even get that far.

Simulations Narrowly Favor Lions Over Cowboys

Calvin Johnson was a headache to the Cowboys in most simulations.

All of the simulations featured each week have predicted that the Lions will narrowly defeat the Cowboys at noon on Sunday. According to these simulations, the Cowboys will be able to keep the Lions’ rushing game in check but will have trouble stopping Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, and the rest of the Detroit passing game.

AccuScore: Detroit 25.1, Dallas 24.9

The AccuScore predictions resulted in a Dallas win 51% of the time, but the average score favored the Lions by a couple hundredths of a point.

AccuScore is forecasting a close game with the Detroit Lions winning 49% of simulations, and the Dallas Cowboys 51% of simulations. In close games, turnover margin is especially important. The Detroit Lions commit fewer turnovers in 57% of simulations and they go on to win 64% when they take care of the ball. The Dallas Cowboys wins 71% of the simulations in which they commit fewer turnovers. Matthew Stafford is averaging 261 passing yards per sim. If he can have a great game with better than average passing yards and at least a 2 to 1 TD to INT ratio (37% chance) then he helps his team win 58%. Felix Jones is averaging 61 rushing yards per sim. If he can have a great game with better than average rushing yards and at least a 1 rushing TD (22% chance) then he helps his team win 69%.

What If Sports: Detroit 19, Dallas 18

The Lions-Cowboys game was selected as the game of the week, as Detroit won 51.7% of the games.

For the Lions, a vaunted passing attack has masked the severe limitations of their running game. While he’s hauled in 15 receptions for 182 yards and a score in the early-going, Jahvid Best has been unable to do much damage in the ground game, with a meager 2.9 average on 49 carries. If Detroit plans on concocting any postseason itinerary, this deficiency will need to be alleviated ASAP. Stafford has been impressive in spreading the pigskin around to Johnson, Best, Nate Burleson and Brandon Pettigrew, but without a dynamic offensive attack, the Lions will be unable to take the next step.

The Cowboys can relate to Detroit’s concern. Felix Jones had a breakout game against the Redskins, but the lack of an adequate backup has translated into a measly 78 yards per game in the rushing attack, which ranks 27th in the league. With Romo not at 100 percent, Dallas will need to lean on their backfield for the next few weeks.

So who wins this clash of NFC conference upstarts? According to the WhatIfSports.com award-winning simulation engine, the Lions come out on top 52.3 percent of the time by an average margin of 20-19.

Madden: Detroit 27, Dallas 24

In ESPN’s Madden simulation, Detroit came from behind to beat the Cowboys.

When the NFL schedule was first released, few were pointing to the Lions-Cowboys game as a marquee match-up. Oh what a difference three weeks can make, as this is the most anticipated game of the week for many, and according to the sim, it doesn’t disappoint. Trailing 24-20 with under two minutes left on the clock, Matthew Stafford drives the Lions downfield, then delivers a 37-yard touchdown with only 1:16 left on the clock to give Detroit the 27-24 victory.

Tecmo Super Bowl 2012: Detroit 20, Dallas 14

Ugly game for the Cowboys in Tecmo Super Bowl 2012. Dallas turned the ball over twice in the red zone but still held a 14-7 late in the game. However, Detroit tied the game at 14 before winning in overtime.

Cowboys Jump in the Power Rankings but Face a Higher-Ranked Lions Team

In each of the three polls reviewed here, the Cowboys moved up a spot or two. However, Dallas faces a Detroit team that some have ranked as high as #2. Dallas hasn’t been that high since the days of the Triplets.

ESPN: #11 

The Cowboys jumped from #13 to #11 in the ESPN poll, which has the Lions ranked at #4.

Dallas LB Bradie James said the Cowboys are better than last year. He’s right.

I would hope so.

CBS, Pete Prisco: #9

Prisco has been high on the Cowboys since the off-season and has moved them back into the top 10. He has the Lions all the way to #2, though.

Don’t ever question Tony Romo’s toughness again. Did he ever tough it out Monday night. PS: He didn’t complain about the hits after the game, either.

Fox, Brian Billick: #12

The Cowboys moved from #14 to #12 on Billick’s list, jumping ahead of the Falcons and Eagles.

Tony Romo’s performance may have been one of the more courageous things I have seen. Not only that, he had to tell each receiver where to line up before every play. This team will only get better as the year goes on.

Dallas 18, Washington 16: A Gritty, Field-Goal-Kicking Machine

Tony Romo was a hero for a second consecutive week. Center Phil Costa was something else.

The Cowboys’ win over Washington had a bunch of subplots, and many of them didn’t reflect positively on young Dallas players.

Center Phil Costa earned the nickname “Cost Ya” with his snapping in the shotgun. On four occasions, Costa snapped the ball before Tony Romo was ready, and it was a minor miracle that Dallas never lost the ball on any of those snaps. The stat line shows that Costa was credited with three fumbles.

Left tackle Doug Free struggled with Brian Orakpo and was called for two holding penalties. Right tackle Tyron Smith wasn’t much better.

Martellus Bennett continued his streak of underachievement by failing to haul in a touchdown pass and getting called for holding on a long run by Felix Jones.

Kevin Ogletree fumbled the ball in the first quarter, setting up a Washington field goal. He also ran the wrong route on at least two other plays.

But this Dallas team has shown that it is as gritty as it is young. Romo has rebounded from his problems against the Jets in week 1 to lead Dallas to two late wins in a row. And while most have focused on Romo playing through injuries, he has also appeared to be more vocal on the field. Costa’s ears might end up hurting as bad as Romo’s ribs.

In the end, rookie kicker Dan Bailey hit six field goals, and most were perfect. The defense came up huge at the end, as Anthony Spencer stripped Rex Grossman on a sack, and linebacker Sean Lee picked up the ball to secure an 18-16 Dallas win.

Lee continues to show why he might be the next great linebacker in team history. In addition to his final fumble recovery, he picked off a pass early in the second quarter to set up a field goal. He had a total of eight tackles.

Felix Jones had some big second-half runs and finished with 115 yards on just 14 carries. He also added 40 receiving yards.

Neither team played well in the red zone in the first half and had to settle for three field goals a piece. The ESPN broadcast showed that this was only the second time in NFL history that two teams had been tied 9-9 at the half with three field goals for each team.

Dallas took the ball early in the third and moved the ball near midfield. But on third-and-long, the Redskins blitzed, and Romo threw the ball to a spot where Ogletree should have been. However, Ogletree ran upfield, and Washington’s Kevin Barnes intercepted.

Washington then began a nine-play drive that resulted in a touchdown from Rex Grossman to Tim Hightower.

From there, Dallas chipped away at the lead. A 29-yard run by Jones helped to move the ball into Washington territory near the end of the third quarter, and Bailey eventually made a field goal.

The Dallas defense did not let Washington score again. The Cowboys stopped the Redskins on two straight possessions, and after the second, Dallas drove down field again to hit another field goal with about seven minutes left. Free-agent acquisition Laurent Robinson had a 25-yard catch-and-run that moved the ball into the red zone.

Washington drove into Dallas territory with a 16-15 lead, but DeMarcus Ware recorded a sack the pushed the Redskins back. Washington punted, giving Dallas the ball at its own 14.

Ogletree game up big when it mattered, catching a 20-yard pass that moved the ball to the Dallas 41. On the next play, though, Costa snapped the ball too soon yet again, resulting in an 11-yard loss.

With the Cowboys facing a 3rd-and-21 at their own 30, Romo was hurried from the pocket. He rolled right before letting the ball go. On the receiving end was Dez Bryant, who caught the ball and made the first down. DeAngelo Hall might have confused Bryant’s facemask for Romo’s ribs, and the 15-yard penalty on Hall put the Cowboys in field goal range. Dallas could only run the clock down to 1:52 before Bailey hit his sixth field goal.

The Redskins moved the ball to the their own 43, but with 38 seconds left, Ware bull-rushed up the middle, forcing Grossman to roll left. Spencer came from the left end spot and chased Grossman down. Spencer stripped the ball, and Lee came up with the recovery.

Simulations Favor Dallas Despite the Injuries

The Cowboys are limping into their week 3 matchup against the Redskins, but according to most simulations, Dallas has the edge. Here’s a look:

AccuScore: Dallas 26, Washington 23

The Cowboys won 57.5% of the simulations on AccuScore.

AccuScore is forecasting a close game with the Washington Redskins winning 42% of simulations, and the Dallas Cowboys 57% of simulations. In close games, turnover margin is especially important. The Washington Redskins commit fewer turnovers in 47% of simulations and they go on to win 60% when they take care of the ball. The Dallas Cowboys wins 74% of the simulations in which they commit fewer turnovers. Tim Hightower is averaging 54 rushing yards per sim. If he can have a great game with better than average rushing yards and at least a 1 rushing TD (28% chance) then he helps his team win 64%. Felix Jones is averaging 48 rushing yards per sim. If he can have a great game with better than average rushing yards and at least a 1 rushing TD (17% chance) then he helps his team win 75%

What If Sports: Dallas 23, Washington 22

The What If Sports simulations were a bit closer. Dez Bryant and Jason Witten both averaged 68 receiving yards, and Tony Romo averaged just over 300 yards per game. Dallas only won 50.7% of the games.

Madden: Dallas 23, Washington 16

Witten played a big role in the Madden simulation, catching nine passes for 104 yards and a touchdown in a 23-16 win. Kevin Ogletree also caught a touchdown.

Tecmo Super Bowl 2012: Dallas 41, Washington 10

In the most important simulation, Dallas improved to 3-0 in the Tecmo Super Bowl world with a 41-10 rout of Washington.

Cowboys Go Nowhere in Power Rankings After Win Over 49ers

A total of 18 teams in the NFL are now 1-1, and there was a bunch of movement in the power rankings at the top.

Then there were the Cowboys, who sat in the middle of the pack after losing to the Jets and who remained in the same position a week later after beating San Francisco.

In fact, Dallas did not move at all in the three polls summarized below. Not sure what the odds of that are.

ESPN: 13th

Dallas stayed one ahead of Tampa Bay in ESPN’s poll, but the Cowboys could move past the likes of the Chargers or Lions.

Tony Romo quieted his critics, at least temporarily, by playing with a broken rib against the 49ers. Gutsy.

CBS (Pete Prisco): 12th

Dallas is slightly higher in Prisco’s poll, but the Redskins are right behind.

That was a big-time drive by Tony Romo. But this is a banged-up team that is getting ready to face the 2-0 Redskins.

Fox (Brian Billick): 14th

Billick has the Buccaneers ranked just ahead of Dallas, which drops Dallas to 14th on his list.

Could not have been a better way for the Cowboys to win this game. For Romo to come off the bench, with a rib injury, and lead this team to a come-from-behind win was huge for his confidence. The defensive secondary is beat up and Rob Ryan is writing some checks the back end can’t cash.

Dallas 27, San Francisco 24 (OT): Atonement at Candlestick

Jesse Holley tries to race away from Donte Whitner on a 77-yard pass play in overtime.

This is going to take a heck of a lot of research to confirm, but I am not sure how many games can match the number of players who atoned for mistakes in the same game to lead the Cowboys to a win.

Dan Bailey missed a 21-yard field goal on the opening drive of the game, and the team trailed by three late in the game. He got the chance to tie the game at the end of regulation, and he nailed a 48-yarder to send the game to overtime. He then hit another chip shot attempt to give Dallas the 27-24 win.

Alan Ball had trouble with a bunch of backup receivers who kept making third-down plays. But in the third quarter, Alex Smith apparently miscommunicated with tight end Vernon Davis, and Ball picked off Smith’s pass attempt. The interception led to a game-tying touchdown from Jon Kitna to Miles Austin.

Kitna was in the game when Tony Romo went down with a fractured rib. Romo had trouble completing a pass for much of the first half, and though Kitna threw a pick early in the third quarter, his touchdown pass to Austin tied the game.

Few were cheering when Romo insisted on going back in the game, and he did not look good when he did. However, when Kitna threw his second interception off a tipped pass—which led to the third San Francisco touchdown of the game—Romo was indeed back in there.

The 49ers increased their lead to 24-14 with just over 11 minutes left, but then Romo caught fire. He led the team 80 yards on the next possession and cut the 49er lead to 24-21 on a touchdown pass to Austin, who overcame a hamstring issue to have a huge game (9 rec., 143 yds., 3 TD).

The defense notoriously gave up long drives in 2010, but when Dallas needed a stop, the defense made a stop. A DeMarcus Ware sack backed San Francisco up, and the 49ers eventually had to punt.

From there, Romo made a hero of Jesse Holley, who until today had never caught an NFL pass. He grabbed two passes on the drive the led to the tying field goal.

Ware, Romo, and Holley continued their heroics in overtime. The 49ers moved the ball to their own 39 in overtime, which was a concern because David Akers had kicked a 55-yarder earlier in the game. However, on a 2nd-and-2 play, Ware stayed with Frank Gore coming out of the backfield, taking Smith’s safety valve out of the play. Jay Ratliff sacked Smith, and the 49ers could not convert on third and long.

Romo wasted no time after Dallas got the ball on its own 22. Holley later said that Romo changed the call from the sideline, and the play that Romo called had Holley hitting a seam after a play fake. Holley caught the ball in stride and should have scored on what was a 77-yard catch and run.

Jason Garrett immediately had Bailey attempt a 19-yarder, and the kick gave Dallas the emotional win.

* * *

Felix Jones injured his shoulder early and apparently suffered other injuries as well. He only managed 25 yards on nine attempts. The team as a whole only rushed for 45 yards.

* * *

Holley was four yards short of 100. He would have joined Austin and Jason Witten in the century club with those four more yards.

Holley has a few things to learn, though. He admitted in an interview after the game that he was watching the scoreboard rather than the end zone and that he planned to dive across the goal line.  Given that Dallas turned the ball over so close to the end zone last week, it was a bad idea.

* * *

Sean Lee had another huge game with eight tackles and two assists. It was rare not to see #50 near the ball.

* * *

Four of David Buehler’s five kickoffs went into the end zone and were downed for touchbacks. The other one in the third quarter was bad news. Kendall Hunter took the ball at the 8 and ran it back 43 yards into Dallas territory. Although the 49ers punted, San Francisco was able to pin Dallas deep. Kitna threw an interception on the next drive, leading to the go-ahead touchdown.

Cowboys Trail 49ers at the Half

Ugly first half for the Cowboys. Dan Bailey missed a 21-yard field goal, and Alan Ball cannot cover anyone. Dallas got lucky on a long TD from Tony Romo to Miles Austin.

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Simulation Saturday: Some Expect a Close One Between Dallas and San Francisco

San Francisco didn’t look great in defeating a poor Seattle team, while Dallas looked good for 3+ quarters in its loss to the Jets. It might seem that Dallas would be favored pretty big against the 49ers.

That’s not the case. Below is a look at some various simulations.

What If Sports? Dallas 25, San Francisco 21

Dallas managed to win 62.7 percent of the simulations, but the 49ers kept things close. The Cowboys had trouble with Frank Gore in these sims.

AccuScore: San Francisco 24, Dallas 23

In a bit of a surprise, the 49ers won nearly 52% of the AccuScore sims and edged the Cowboys overall.

AccuScore is forecasting a close game with the Dallas Cowboys winning 48% of simulations, and the San Francisco 49ers 51% of simulations. In close games, turnover margin is especially important. The Dallas Cowboys commit fewer turnovers in 42% of simulations and they go on to win 71% when they take care of the ball. The San Francisco 49ers wins 69% of the simulations in which they commit fewer turnovers. Tony Romo is averaging 278 passing yards per sim. If he can have a great game with better than average passing yards and at least a 2 to 1 TD to INT ratio (35% chance) then he helps his team win 58%. Frank Gore is averaging 47 rushing yards per sim. If he can have a great game with better than average rushing yards and at least a 1 rushing TD (19% chance) then he helps his team win 76%

Madden: Dallas 34, San Francisco 13

This is more like it. Romo tore apart the Niners according to ESPN’s Madden simulation.

Tecmo Super Bowl 2012: Dallas 28, San Francisco 15

That leaves the most important simulation: Tecmo Super Bowl 2012. Dallas overcame a slow start and an 15-7 deficit to beat San Francisco.

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By the way, tickets to the September 26 Dallas Cowboys-Washington Redskins game seem to be a little bit lower than normal. There are quite a number of tickets going for less than $100 in the upper levels, and even some of the lower-level seats are going for less than $200.