Looking a Bit Like 2009

With the Giants’ loss to New Orleans on Monday night, the Cowboys sit alone atop the NFC East. It marks the first time since week 12 of the 2009 season that the Cowboys have led the division alone.

In 2009, a Thanksgiving Day win over Oakland gave Dallas an 8-3 mark, which was one-game better than the Giants (7-4) and Eagles (7-4). The Redskins were out of it at 3-8.

Of course, Dallas lost the division lead by losing consecutive games to the Giants and Chargers. New York, though, lost three of its last four to finish at 8-8 and out of the playoffs. Dallas won its final three games, including the season finale against the Eagles, to take the division title.

This year, Dallas (7-4) has a one-game lead over the Giants (6-5). The Eagles and Redskins are all but out of the race at 4-7, though stranger things have happened should the Eagles make a complete turnaround.

The Cowboys’ schedule includes two games against the Giants, along with games against the Cardinals, Buccaneers, and Eagles, each of which have losing records at this point. The Giants still have to face the Packers and Jets, along with the Cowboys and Redskins. The Eagles have a relatively light schedule, facing the Seahawks, Dolphins, and Redskins, along with the Jets and Cowboys.

* * *

After five games this year, DeMarco Murray had a total of 73 rushing yards. He now has 834 yards on 147 carries (5.7 ave.), which ranks 9th in the league. Get this– Murray has more rushing yards that the likes of Steven Jackson (813), Arian Foster (805), and Ray Rice (722).

At this pace, Murray would have more than 1,200 rushing yards for the season. The last time that a Dallas running back had at least 1,200 rushing yards was 2000, when Emmitt Smith finished with 1,203.

Cowboys Continue Success vs. Former Assistant Coaches

A total of 14 former assistant coaches with the Cowboys have later become head coaches, including three current head coaches. Other than Dave Campo, whose only head coaching service was with Dallas, the Cowboys have played against each of these coaches.

The Cowboys total record vs. these coaches: 39-27-1.

The latest former assistant to face the Cowboys was Tony Sparano. Interestingly, the Cowboys have beaten each of these coaches at least once. Five coaches only faced the Cowboys one time, and each of them lost.

Dick Nolan
Dallas Assistant, 1962-1967, 1982-1990
San Francisco Head Coach, 1968-1975
New Orleans Head Coach, 1978-1980

vs. Dallas as head coach: 2-6-1

Note: The Cowboys went 5-2-1 against Nolan’s 49ers team and 1-0 against Nolan’s Saints team.

Raymond Berry
Dallas Assistant, 1968-1969
New England Head Coach, 1984-1989

vs. Dallas as head coach: 0-2

Gene Stallings
Dallas Assistant, 1972-1985
St. Louis/Phoenix Cardinals Head Coach, 1986-1989

vs. Dallas as head coach: 4-4

Mike Ditka
Dallas Assistant, 1973-1981
Chicago Head Coach, 1982-1992
New Orleans Head Coach, 1997-1999

vs. Dallas as head coach: 5-3

Ditka was 3-3 vs. Dallas in Chicago, losing his final game as Bears’ head coach in 1992. Ironically, Ditka won his final game as a head coach by beating the Cowboys in 1999.

Dan Reeves
Dallas Assistant, 1972, 1974-1980
Denver Head Coach, 1981-1992
New York Giants Head Coach, 1993-1996
Atlanta Head Coach, 1997-2003

vs. Dallas as head coach: 5-8

Reeves was 1-1 against Dallas with the Broncos, 2-6 with the Giants, and 2-1 with the Falcons.

John Mackovic
Dallas Assistant, 1981-1982
Kansas City Head Coach, 1983-1986

vs. Dallas as head coach: 0-1

Dave Shula
Dallas Assistant, 1989-1990
Cincinnati Head Coach, 1992-1996

vs. Dallas as head coach: 0-1

Dave Wannstedt
Dallas Assistant, 1989-1992
Chicago Head Coach, 1993-1998
Miami Head Coach, 2000-2004

vs. Dallas as head coach: 3-1

Note: Wannstedt went 2-1 vs. Dallas with Chicago and 1-0 with Miami.

Butch Davis
Dallas Assistant, 1989-1994
Cleveland Head Coach, 2001-2004

vs. Dallas as head coach: 0-1

Dave Campo
Dallas Assistant, 1989-1999, 2008-present
Dallas Head Coach, 2000-2002

Obviously, Campo could not have played against himself as head coach of the Cowboys. Dallas would have found a way to lose at any rate.

Norv Turner
Dallas Assistant, 1991-1993
Washington Head Coach, 1994-2000
Oakland Head Coach, 2004-2005
San Diego Head Coach, 2007-present

vs. Dallas as head coach: 6-9

Note: Turner went 4-9 against Dallas with Washington, 1-0 with Oakland, and 1-0 with San Diego.

Todd Haley
Dallas Assistant, 2004-2006
Kansas City Head Coach, 2009-present

vs. Dallas as head coach: 0-1

Sean Payton
Dallas Assistant, 2003-2005
New Orleans Head Coach, 2006-present

vs. Dallas as head coach: 2-1

Tony Sparano
Dallas Assistant, 2003-2007
Miami Head Coach, 2008-present

vs. Dallas as head coach: 0-1

Dallas 20, Miami 19: Another Thanksgiving Win on Another Late FG

Just a few weeks ago, the annual Thanksgiving Day game looked especially inviting, with the formerly winless Dolphins coming town. Many have assumed that Dallas would roll easily and then take a nice 10-day break to gear up for December.

Of course, then Miami won three in a row, the Cowboys have not been dominant even during their own three-game winning streak.

In the end, the Cowboys played a sloppy game, committing several dumb penalties and having trouble in the secondary. Miami held a 19-17 lead for almost all of the final seven minutes of the game.

Still, the defense made several key stops inside the red zone, and Tony Romo kept several plays alive with his mobility. When the defense forced a three-and-out with just over three minutes left the play, the Cowboys had another shot. Dez Bryant returned a punt 20 yards to give Dallas the ball at its own 36.

From there, Dallas only faced one third down on a drive that ate up the clock. With three seconds left, the Cowboys attempted a field goal from 28 yards away, and Dan Bailey made his 26th consecutive attempt.

Romo threw two interceptions in the first half, but he improved as the game continued. Though Bryant and Jason Witten made some nice plays, the key receiver today was Laurent Robinson, who caught 7 passes for 79 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Miami ended up outgaining the Cowboys in total yards (352-303) and won the turnover battle. However, four trips to the red zone resulted in four field goals, allowing Dallas to stay in the game.

DeMarco Murray was effective yet again. He gained 87 yards on 22 carries, including several key runs on the final drive of the game.

Dallas improved to 7-4 and has a half-game lead over the Giants, who play the Saints on Monday night.

Dallas Cowboys Official Weekly from November 23, 1985

Danny White: Rounding into Former Form?

A reader named Bruce Lombard earlier this year most generously sent me a stack of copies of the old Dallas Cowboys Official Weekly from the 1985 season and 1986 offseason. Each Wednesday, we will take a look at some interesting tidbits in these issues.

The focus this week is in the issue published on November 23, 1985.

Demolition at the Hands of the Bears

It was not a good week after the Cowboys played the Chicago Bears on November 17. Chicago rolled into town and demolished the Cowboys in a 44-0 shutout. It remains one of the ugliest losses in franchise history.

Tom Landry’s comment:

What we had here today was a real old-fashioned whipping.

Yup.

What many forget (including this writer) is that Dallas had a decent start to the game, picking up five first downs on three possessions compared to just one first down for Chicago. It was not the Dallas defense that caused the rout but rather the Dallas offense. Chicago scored 14 of its 24 first-half points off interception returns, and the Bears knocked starter Danny White out of the game early in the second half. White had been injured earlier in the game but had returned.

One accomplishment for the Cowboys— William “The Refrigerator” Perry did not score at the goal line late in the first half. Otherwise, this one was one of the worst games ever for Dallas fans.

Danny White Resumes Leadership Role

White was the cover boy for the November 23 issue. He had been elected as a captain for the 1985 season and was pivotal as the team tried to claim the NFC East title.

According to Mike Renfro:

Danny’s more relaxed now. He’s gotten back into the leadership role…

Everson Walls and His Grambling Spirit

Another player having a solid season in 1985 was cornerback Everson Walls. He  had seven interceptions by Week 11 (and a total of 9 for the entire season).

Nevertheless, he had a chip on his shoulder for not being drafted after coming from Grambling University. Instead, Dallas signed him as a free agent in 1981.

All I know is, guys that are not anywhere as accomplished as me got picked, but they aren’t around anymore.

Feature on Defensive Back Victor Scott

The November 23 issue featured defensive back Victor Scott, who had a child in September 1985. Scott had survived growing up in East St. Louis, Illinois and was a standout at the University of Colorado. The 1985 season was his best, when had two interceptions, scored a touchdown, and recorded three sacks.

[Scott’s story didn’t turn out to be a good one, though. He was convicted of aggravated sexual assault and is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence in Texas]

Clint Murchison Visits Valley Ranch

Former team owner Clint Murchison got to visit the team’s new facility in Valley Ranch. He was giving a guided tour by team president Tex Schramm.

Will the 2008 Draft Go Down as a Bust as Well?

The last month has not been kind to the 2008 draft class for the Dallas Cowboys.

The team cut Tashard Choice, who was the fourth-round pick that year. Many would like to see Dallas rid itself of Martellus Bennett, who has managed only nine receptions this year and who has not been a big factor in the running game as a blocker.

Felix Jones may have lost his starting job for good to DeMarco Murray. Mike Jenkins has been out as well, and though he’s been missed more than Jones, it is more because the team’s reserve corners have sometimes struggled than because of Jenkins’ play earlier this year.

Orlando Scandrick had an interception vs. Washington on Sunday, but he was also called for holding on a key third-down play late in the game.

The remaining player was linebacker Erik Walden, who has become a starter with the Packers this year.

So this class may not be as bad as the 2009 draft, but it may turn out to be a bust. What do you think?

Was the 2008 draft a bust?

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An Odd Twist to a Cowboys-Redskins Trivia Question

Three weeks ago, I posted a question about which running backs played for both the Cowboys and the Redskins. At that point, the Redskins had just signed Tashard Choice after Dallas had waived the running back.

On Sunday, Choice became the seventh running back to have played for both teams. Here is the complete list:

J.W. Lockett– Dallas 1961-1962; Washington 1964
A.D. Whitfield– Dallas 1965; Washington 1966-1968
Calvin Hill– Dallas 1969-1974; Washington 1976-1977
Duane Thomas– Dallas 1970-1971; Washington 1973-1974
Timmy Smith– Washington 1987-1988; Dallas 1990
Adrian Murrell– Washington 2000; Dallas 2003
Tashard Choice– Dallas 2008-2011, Washington 2011

As it turns out, Choice’s only game with the Redskins will have been the Cowboys game. Washington waived the back today after Choice gained just 7 yards on 6 carries. He had a decent run of 9 yards early the game (after which he made some gesture to the Dallas sideline), but he had trouble for the rest of the game.

In four seasons, he has gained 1,146 yards with 8 touchdowns.

* * *

Two individuals with ties to the Cowboys are semifinalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Charles Haley once again made the list, as did Bill Parcells. This is Parcells’ first year of eligibility after retiring following the 2006 season.

* * *

Not good news: Gerald Sensabaugh may have to miss Thursday’s game against Miami with a foot injury. He joins Tony Fiammetta, Miles Austin,  and Mike Jenkins among the starters on the injury report.

Romo Learns Excess Timeout Rules Along with the Rest of Us

I heard a commentator on the radio today suggest that Tony Romo would not have been called for a penalty for trying to call a time out before Dan Bailey’s game-winning field goal. The commentator’s reasoning was that referees are instructed not to grant the time out and that there is no penalty for the attempt to call the time out.

Bob Sturm’s story today says the same thing:

On Monday, the league cleared up the scenario with a clarification on the ruling of what might have happened: “Officials would not have granted Tony Romo a time out. They are instructed to ignore the request when a team has no time outs.” This renders my speculation on what might have been irrelevant as was any subsequent discussion on whether this would have been ruled a 5-yard delay of game or a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct. The league claims they would never have penalized Romo for that mistake.

However, Todd Archer of ESPN wrote a blog entry suggesting that Dallas would have been charged a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Here is the rule, which Archer also quotes:

Unsportsmanlike Conduct. An attempt to call an excess team timeout or to call a second timeout in the same dead-ball period by Team B in an attempt to “freeze” a kicker, will be considered unsportsmanlike conduct and will subject the offending team to a 15-yard penalty (See 12-3). This will apply to field goal or Try attempts.

Note: If an attempt is made to call a timeout in such situations, the officials shall not grant a timeout; instead, play will continue, and a penalty will be called, with customary enforcement. If a timeout is inadvertently granted, the penalty shall also be enforced.

The rule seems unambiguous, but the comment from the league would indicate that officials would have ignored Romo’s request and just called a delay-of-game penalty. I thought perhaps the Official Case Book might settle things, but I don’t see anything that covers this scenario.

At any rate, we should still thank Mike Shanahan for making this an academic question.

And the NFC East Is a Race After All

Two weeks ago, the Giants had a 6-2 record after beating the Patriots on the road. Dallas rebounded from a loss to the Eagles during the previous week to beat the Seahawks. Nevertheless, the Giants’ two-game lead seemed to be a pretty wide gap that the Cowboys would struggle to make up.

It’s two weeks later, and the Cowboys are now sitting with the Giants on top of the NFC East. Dallas faces Miami and Arizona before playing the Giants on December 11. The Giants, in turn, face New Orleans and Green Bay. Dallas ends the season against the Giants on the road.

The Eagles’ win was the best-case-scenario for Dallas, but Philadelphia is not out of the race. The Eagles play New England next Sunday but then have games against Miami and Seattle, along with the Jets, who are struggling. The Cowboys face the Eagles on December 24.

Dallas 27, Washington 24 (OT): Field Goal Makes Up for Poor Punt Coverage

At least one of these obnoxious, hands-on owners had to win today. Unless the teams tied, of course, which was a possibility.

The Cowboys managed their third consecutive win on Sunday by beating the Redskins 27-24 on a Dan Bailey field goal in overtime. The kick came eight plays after Washington’s Graham Gano missed a 52-yarder that would have given the Redskins the win.

This marks the first three-game winning streak for Dallas since the end of the 2009 season. The Cowboys could be just a game behind the Giants if the Eagles can find a way to beat New York on Sunday night.

For a quarter and a half, the Cowboys looked as if they would roll to a easy win at FedEx Field. Thanks to a TD pass from Tony Romo to Dez Bryant, Dallas held a 10-0 lead, and Washington was having trouble making first downs.

On a 3rd-and-1 play for the Redskins at the Washington 29, Rex Grossman tried a QB sneak. He appeared to lose a fumble, which Barry Church recovered and returned to the 1-yard line. However, the Redskins successfully challenged the play, and Washington was able to punt. Sav Rocca banged a 63-yard punt, and though Akwasi Owusu-Ansah managed a return, a penalty pushed the ball back to the Dallas 5. The Cowboys followed that with a three-and-out.

Mat McBriar—who never shanks a punt—shanked the punt. Washington got the ball at the Dallas 32, and six plays later, Grossman ran for a score to cut the Dallas lead to 10-7.

The Dallas offense went nowhere and were forced to punt. Brandon Banks returned the ball into Dallas territory, and the Redskins were in business again. Six plays later, Grossman  hit Jabar Gaffney for a touchdown that gave the Redskins the lead.

In eight minutes, the entire complexion of the game changed, and it looked as if the game could start to slip away from the Cowboys.

Washington took the kickoff to open the second half and drove 55 yards to set up Gano’s only field goal of the game. Dallas responded with a three-and-out, and Banks gave the Redskins another boost with a 55-yard punt return.

However, the Redskins could not move the ball, and Gano’s 49-yard attempt went wide right.

Dallas was in business, and the offense took advantage. The Cowboys went on a 14-play drive that ended early in the fourth quarter with a TD pass from Romo to Laurent Robinson.

The Cowboys defense forced a punt, the offense promptly moved the ball from the Dallas 12 to the Dallas 41. On a 3rd-and-8 play, Romo rolled to his right and found Jason Witten, who found a seam. Witten took the pass all the way for a score, giving Dallas a 24-17 lead.

On the next play from scrimmage, Orlando Scandrick picked off Grossman, and it looked as if Dallas could put the game away. However, Dallas was forced to punt with 5:45 left in the game.

Washington took the ball at its own 11, and Grossman found holes in the Dallas secondary. With just 22 seconds left, Grossman found Donte Stallworth in the left corner of the end zone to tie the game at 24.

The Redskins drove from their own 18 to the Dallas 33. On a 3rd and 7, Grossman rolled right and slid, taking a sack. It left the ball at the Dallas 34, setting up Gano for a 52-yard attempt. He missed to the right.

Dallas moved into Washington territory but faced a 3rd-and-15 from midfield. Romo made a huge play, buying time in the pocket before hitting Bryant for a 26-yard gain.

The play set up Bailey to try to make his 25th consecutive kick. The kick moved to the right and looked as if it might go wide, but it ended up just inside the crossbar.

Romo threw three touchdowns without an interception. Nine different Cowboys caught passes in the game.

McBriar only averaged 24.1 yards per punt (net average) on seven punts. That was the ugly part of the game. However, Bailey helped the special teams effort, making both of his attempts while Gano missed two of three.

Predictor: Cowboys’ Playoff Odds are 63.37%

ESPN ran a post today showing the odds that contending teams have for making the playoffs. The 5-4 Cowboys are certainly in the mix, given that the team only trails the Giants by one game.

According to the ESPN report, which relies on a website known as numberFire, Dallas has a 63.37% chance of making the playoffs. The predictions also indicate that the Giants will have a collapse and miss the playoff altogether.

The summary:

The Cowboys looked truly dominant against Buffalo and find themselves right in the thick of things in the NFC East. Dallas will benefit from a soft schedule the rest of the way, including games against the Redskins, Dolphins, Cardinals and Bucs.

Thus, though the Cowboys are predicted to finish at 9-7, Dallas will win the NFC East and enter the playoffs with the #4 seed. The Cowboys under this scenario would host Chicago in the first round of the playoffs.