The Cowboys playing the Bears isn’t the most glamorous game on the week 14 schedule, as both teams have their issues. But with the game having serious playoff implications for both teams, it requires a closer look.
WHAT’S AT STAKE
Few teams in the NFL need a win as badly as the Chicago Bears need a win. Chicago has lost two in a row on the road, and three of their last four, as their once promising playoff hopes have grown increasingly bleak. Last week’s overtime loss to Minnesota was like a dagger to their playoff hopes, as a wildcard spot is unlikely, which means they’ll have to win the NFC North in order to get to the postseason. Detroit lost on Sunday, and that opens the door for the Bears to make up some ground, which is essential considering the Lions own the tiebreaker between the two teams. As for the Cowboys, they have some hope to snag the second wildcard spot, but their main focus right now is beating out the Philadelphia Eagles for the NFC East title. The Eagles won in a snowstorm on Sunday, so the Cowboys need to keep pace, even though the division could be decided when the two teams meet in week 17.
DALLAS OFFENSE VS. CHICAGO DEFENSE
Dallas has won their last two games, in part because they’ve made a commitment to running the ball, and have actually done so effectively. Any kind of consistent production from the running game takes pressure off Tony Romo and can make him all the more dangerous, considering the weapons he has at his disposal in the passing game. Chicago has the worst rush defense in the NFL, so as long as the Cowboys make it a point to run the ball, they should have success moving the ball on the ground, which should set up Dallas to use play-action and put a lot of pressure on the Chicago secondary. Unless the Bears can put pressure on Romo with their pass rush and force him into making mistakes, they could have trouble stopping the Dallas offense on a consistent basis.
CHICAGO OFFENSE VS. DALLAS DEFENSE
Josh McCown has done a fine job of filling in for Jay Cutler, but it hasn’t translated into wins for the Bears. Even with McCown, Chicago has one of the top passing attacks in the league with Brandon Marshall and the emergence of Alshon Jeffery, and they’ve received consistent production in the running game from Matt Forte, so the Bears should have success moving the ball and scoring points against a Dallas defense that’s ranked among the worst in the NFL. The Cowboys continue to deal with injuries to key defensive players, which should make it even more difficult for them to stop the Chicago offense, which has a handful of capable skill players that can take advantage of a porous secondary, especially if the Cowboys can’t put consistent pressure on McCown with their pass rush.
With both defenses being below average and both offenses having a wealth of skill players, it’s safe to assume that plenty of points will be scored in this game, and that both teams will have a chance to win in the 4th quarter, even if they face a double-digit deficit, as points could be scored in bunches and in a short period of time. The Bears will have the home-field advantage, as well as more of a sense of urgency to win, but they are struggling to win games, while the Cowboys have played better in recent weeks, showcasing more balance on offense. The Bears need this game more, but the Cowboys are the better team: Dallas 27, Chicago 20.
We caught our first glimpse of the Dallas Cowboys last night in the Hall of Fame Game against the Miami Dolphins. It’s tough to know what to expect off of one preseason game, but we do know there is a lot of pressure on the Cowboys and their head coach this season to show some marked improvement. If Dallas is going to make significant progress and earn a spot in the postseason, here are five things that have to happen:
Improvement from offensive line – The offensive line was such a concern for the Cowboys this offseason that they reached with their first round pick in order to get center Travis Frederick, who will start for them as a rookie. The rest of the unit will be largely the same as last year, and that group is going to need to play better. If Tony Romo gets time in the pocket, he has the weapons in Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, and Jason Witten to do some serious damage, but Romo will have a tough time getting the ball to his playmakers if he doesn’t trust the protection in front of him. As with any team, protecting the quarterback is a big key to success for the Cowboys this season.
Get after the quarterback – The Cowboys need to force more turnovers this season, and the best way to do that is to apply pressure to opposing quarterbacks. Dallas has some potential ball hawking corners in Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne that can take advantage of errant throws, but they need a pass rush to help create those opportunities. DeMarcus Ware is their best pass rusher, and while he’ll have to adjust to playing defensive end in a 4-3 scheme after spending his career as a 3-4 outside linebacker, he also has 111 career sacks in eight seasons, including 11.5 last season. Anthony Spencer had 11 sacks last year, a career high for him, and if he and a few others can join Ware in getting after the quarterback, the Cowboys should have a formidable pass rush that should help out the rest of the defense considerably.
Run the ball effectively – The Cowboys were 31st in the NFL in rushing last season, and that’s just not going to cut it. Part of this is related to the offensive line being better, but Dallas also needs ball carriers that can make plays coming out of the backfield. DeMarco Murray had a rough sophomore season, missing a few games due to injury, and the Cowboys need him to come back strong in 2013, because Dallas doesn’t have a lot of other options, as the Cowboys are relying on fifth round rookie Joseph Randle to be their backup running back. Romo and the passing game can do a lot, but there needs to be some balance in their offense, so the Cowboys need to find a way to get their running game going.
Stay healthy at linebacker – Not having Sean Lee and Bruce Carter healthy for the entire season last year really hurt the Cowboys on defense. Both can be difference makers and help give Dallas one of the best linebacker units in the league, but only if they can stay on the field for 16 games. The Cowboys signed free agent Justin Durant to make the unit even stronger and help protect against an injury recurrence to either Lee or Carter. If all three of those guys can stay on the field this season, it would help take the Cowboy’s defense to another level.
Jerry Jones keeps his mouth shut – This obviously goes against his nature, but the best thing Jones can do to ensure the Cowboys are successful in 2013 is to just stay away and let the coaches coach and let the players play. If Jones continues to undermine Garrett, things could spiral out of control real fast for Dallas. He just needs to show some trust, and perhaps even some patience, and let the season play out. If Jones is making front-page news for the things he’s saying, it doesn’t bode well for the Cowboy’s playoff chances in 2013.
Going into last season, Dez Bryant appeared to be jeopardizing his promising career. He was arrested for hitting his mother in the summer of 2012, a charge indicative of maturity issues that had followed him since his days at Oklahoma State University. Bryant’s name found headlines throughout his first two NFL seasons, but too frequently for the wrong reasons. He posted a respectable 68-923-9 statline in 2011, but had yet to develop into the dominant outside receiver that Jerry Jones drafted him to be.
Enter the 2012 season.
Over the first half of the year, Bryant amassed a stellar 503 receiving yards and two TD, putting him on pace for a 1000-yard season. Stellar, but unspectacular.
In the second half of the season, Bryant caught fire. He ran circles around opposing defenses to the tune of 109.9 YPG and 10 TD, nearly doubling his per-game average. In Week 16 against the Saints, Bryant established just how unstoppable he can be as he thrashed New Orleans for 9-224-2. The huge spike in TDs demonstrates Bryant’s dominance in the red zone, an area the Cowboys were surely hoping he would succeed in when they selected him with their first pick of the 2010 draft.
Stretched out over a whole season, Bryant’s second half of 2012 would give him a 1758-yard year. Stats are often projected in this way, and many times it can seem unrealistic, but not for Bryant. His combination of speed, route-running, hands, and strength make him nearly uncoverable at times. If Miles Austin can stay healthy and give defenses another legitimate threat to worry about, Bryant’s ceiling is sky-high for 2013.
As for Bryant’s off-field issues, he appears to have gotten the memo. The man himself, Michael Jordan, recently told Bryant to stay out of trouble, and His Airness seems to have gotten through to the star receiver.
Entering 2013 without any tumultuous offseason storylines, there is no reason Bryant cannot set new personal bests in every receiving category. If he picks up where he left off, the Cowboys’ pass-catcher could easily end the year as a top-3 receiver.
Fantasy football gurus—take note.
Another day, another sound-bite from Jerry Jones to vindicate Cowboys fans in their belief he’s completely lost the plot. And how suiting it is that this one - like seemingly everything Cowboys related - centers around the most polarizing quarterback in his franchise’s storied history, Tony Romo.
Speaking to the NFL Network's Albert Breer, Jones said of his franchise quarterback and accompanying contract (that he signed him to) that “when you give somebody $100M, you’d like to get every ounce of anything they can bring to the table to win a football game”. There was much more to the interview then just that, but it centered primarily on what Romo is doing to change the franchise’s fortunes and get them back to the playoffs.
These comments are coming only a week after Jones proclaimed for all to hear that Romo’s involvement in the Cowboys offense, playcalling in particular, was set to increase. Head coach Jason Garrett was quick to douse the flames that surround anything Cowboys related by making it clear that things were business as usual.
Lost in all this is just how absurd it is to think that A) the Cowboys 8-8 records over the last two seasons are solely the responsibility of Tony Romo and B) That he, and he alone, can fix this problem through improved play and albeit a tenuously increased role in the game-plan. It’s also worth noting that if Jones was concerned about Romo’s ability to deliver on his brand spanking new contract, that he maybe shouldn’t have signed him to it - he does cut the cheques after all.
For the Cowboys to be successful again they will need to have a ground game; something they’ve lacked since 2009. Improved play by the offensive line would be nice, but I find it far more realistic to expect more from a healthy Demarco Murray than a newly drafted Travis Frederick.
In 2009 Romo was averaging only 34 attempts a game, and coincidentally the Cowboys won the NFC East that year. Last season Romo averaged 40.5 per game. More alarming than the rise in attempts for Romo is the lack of support provided by the ground game. In their 2009 run to the top of the NFC East they were the league’s seventh best team at running the football, averaging 125 yards a game. In 2012, the Cowboys were 31st in the league averaging just under 80 yards a game. If you're noticing a correlation between Romo receiving support and this resulting success, power to you.
The thing is Jerry Jones, much like everyone else, had to know what Romo was capable of before making him one of the highest paid players in the game. He’s not good enough to carry a miserable team (and that’s exactly what the Cowboys were last season) on his back. Tony Romo is the best not-elite quarterback in the league. He’s a great cornerstone for the Cowboys franchise, but he needs support to be successful. Maybe it’s time Jones started to evaluate the merits of how he’s spending money elsewhere.
You can follow J.D. Burke: @JDBurkeOV
Apparently, not everyone learned a lesson from Dallas Cowboys lineman Josh Brent. It was only weeks ago that he drove drunk, killed a teammate in the accident and then was on the sidelines for the next game.
Defensive tackle Jay Ratliff obviously didn’t like Brent hogging the drinking and driving spotlight, because he decided to guzzle booze and then get behind the wheel himself. He then introduced his 2011 Ford pickup truck to an 18-wheeler. Luckily, neither driver was hurt.
Ratliff was arrested and charged with suspicion of DWI. And when they say “suspicion” it’s not like they are just guessing. You’re probably drunk.
Ratliff was out on bond on Tuesday morning. Cowboys official have declined to comment.
It's a big day today. MLK Day, the Presidential Inauguration, Joe Biden around an all-day and night party, and HARBAUGH BROTHERS SUPER BOWL, which will very soon, if it hasn't already, be formed into a club and slammed against your head like Tony Dungy versus Lovie Smith and Jerome Bettis being from Detroit for the next two weeks.
But, lost in the shuffle is some news from last week that Houston Nutt of back-to-back Cotton Bowls first time in 50 years fame interviewed with the Dallas Cowboys for an offensive staff position (whichever one has the least amount of responsibility).
The Cowboys have yet to make a decision on Nutt or someone far more capable, but the idea of Nutt being anywhere near Jerry Jones, or coaching really, sends the imagination to wild places. So, I fired up the Google image search to help create a Nutt/Jones interaction that might inspire mild to moderate giggling from myself. Here's what I came up with:
Not too bad. They're at what looks to be an event at a local car dealership. Houston is just there, not really doing anything, and most importantly, he's grinning like an idiot at something Double J has said. Perhaps him oogling the cheearleaders would have been a little better, but we can pretend he's sneaking a few peaks here and there.
But, in my image search, I ran across an image far superior and totally real. This actually happened and was documented by America's greatest photographer, who is basically anyone who catches Houston Nutt in the act of doing Houston Nutt things.
Just look at it. Good ol' boy laughter at a good ol' boy joke and a you-know-what-I'm-talkin'-about arm squeeze. WHAT A MOMENT CAPTURED IN TIME. Truth most certainly is infinitely better than fiction.
The world needs more of this, Jerry Jones, so make that hire. And it would be nice if Ole Miss was able to stop writing such large checks to Houston Nutt.
Just days after the Dallas Cowboys and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan parted ways, the team opted to hire ex-Tampa Bay DC Monte Kiffin. With him Kiffin brings a 4-3 defense, and a welcome departure from the as-of-late 3-4 defense Dallas has been using.
While the Cowboys have not officially announced the addition to the coaching staff, Kiffin supposedly met with the club today to sign the papers.
Kiffen, after spending 13 years with the Bucs, hasn’t coached in the NFL in four years. He coached college ball with his son, Lane, at the University of Tennessee and University of Southern California. After the Trojans’ Bowl game this year, Kiffin left his position to chase loftier ambitions in the pro ranks yet again.
He already has one Super Bowl ring with Tampa Bay.
Kiffin is known for his Tampa Two defense -- a spinoff of the Cover Two -- and the turnovers it consistently creates. With names like Ronde Barber and John Lynch in Kiffin’s arsenal, it’s hard to believe a spat between John Gruden and him caused so much discourse and Kiffen’s abrupt departure in ’08.
What can a defensive coordinator like Kiffin do for Cowboys like Morris Claiborne or Demarcus Ware? That remains to be seen. Will the Tampa 2 work in Dallas under coach Jason Garrett? Well, Kiffin is a 72-year old prospect starting anew with another team, so who knows. He’s not exactly playing with a defensive tackle like Warren Sapp. Brandon Carr and Claiborne leave a huge question mark at corner/safety.
If Kiffen works, kudos to the Cowboys’ front office, namely Garrett and Jerry Jones. If he fails? He may not have a second year to prove himself.
And neither will Garrett.