The League - The Cowboys and The Moment of Truth

Hey Barkers – good to be back. A little more than a month of pure work and home life chaos (not BAD chaos, for the most part, but chaos nonetheless) pretty much curtailed all of my leisure activities including my writing, but after some major Hydra-head-chopping and stump-searing I’ve got some breathing room again. Ironically, I’m still finding breathing to be difficult at the moment, a condition with which anyone who has ever taken a hard shot to the gut or blow to the nuts can identify. And in my seat in section 407 at JerryWorld last night, the Cowboys were handing out gut punches and ball kicks like they were fucking Papa John’s coupons.

I don’t think I have the strength to do a full blow-by-blow recap of the Giants atrocity, so this is going to be more scattershot in format with thoughts on last night’s game as well as the team’s outlook for the rest of 2011.

Tony Romo – The national media would start here if they weren’t utterly consumed with fellating the league’s most comically inept passer and orphan circumciser, so I’ll pick up the slack for them. A few will still find time this week to pin the loss on Romo for missing an open Miles Austin for what would have been the game-winning TD, but when you put up a stat line of 21/31, 321 yards, 4 TDs and no picks you’re not going to come in for a ton of blame in my book. That throw and a couple of other deep misses to Laurent Robinson were blemishes, but he fired some on-the-money frozen ropes to Austin to set up what should have been the game-tying FG and his ability to buy time in the pocket led to his wide-open bombs to Robinson and Dez.

Felix Jones – Things looked grim when rookie sensation DeMarco Murray’s lifetime-best streak of nine healthy games came to a halt with a broken ankle. Fortunately for the Cowboys, Fragile Felix Jones was able to step into the breach with a strong 106-yard effort. His shake, straight-line speed and realization that he’s about to get his ass run out of town were all reminiscent of Chris Johnson, and the Cowboys will benefit if he continues a Johnson-like late-season run for the money. They will also benefit if he doesn’t commit ghastly fumbles that provide the opponent with the margin of victory, and will benefit even further when he realizes that that late-game 2nd and 5 runs aren’t a good time to dance in the backfield. With Murray and Phillip Tanner done for the year, the Boys are counting on three healthy games in a row from Jones to close out the season in the same sense that I’m counting on a Blake Lively tongue bath to cleanse me in preparation for my flight on Beppo, the Winged Unicorn.

DeMarcus Ware - At first blush, you feel silly leveling any criticism at Ware – not only is he a fantastic guy, but he’s a phenomenally skilled player who is an elite pass rusher by any measure and one of the three or four best two-way edge players in the entire league. If there’s ever a game where you feel that Ware didn’t come through, you’re likely to find at least seven other members of the Cowboys defense who failed far more fully and thoroughly than he did – which was certainly the case last night.

I’ll fully admit that expectations for continual impact by Ware are at some level absurd, but those expectations weren’t entirely created by me. They are the expectations that are going to be leveled at any player making quarterback money on a cap-strapped team who is not, in fact, a quarterback. If that’s your situation then you had sure better be bringing it on every down. You had damn sure better be making your presence felt in the fourth quarter with the game on the line. And you had for GOD DAMN SURE BETTER NOT BE LINING UP OFFSIDES ON CRITICAL PLAYS IN THE FOURTH QUARTER. Ware just faced the league’s WORST left tackle in Levi Brown and a pretty poor one in David Diehl in back to back losses and TOUCHED the opposing QB all of twice in eight quarters and an overtime period. That’s not about failing to live up to an impossible standard – that’s about failing to live up to the production of a replacement-level edge rusher. He was battling a banged-up shoulder for part of the night, but this frustration with a lacking fourth-quarter pass rush is not born out of a single game.

Everyone else in the damn front seven – If I’m going to light into Ware, then you can set your watch by the fact that I’ve got some strong words for you guys. Going into last night’s game, the primary starters on the Giants OL had surrendered a total of 21 sacks, 19 QB hits and 102 pressures for a total of 142 QB disruptions. By my count, the Cowboys mustered as many sacks as a dead man, two QB hits and about four other pressures during Eli’s 47 dropbacks.

Marcus Spears is outright stealing $4 million this year and failed to make the damn stat sheet over the course of 78 Giants plays – paying him $4 million a season while letting the vastly superior Stephen Bowen walk to the Redskins for $5 million a season was the Cowboy’s third-largest offseason gaffe (more on the top two later). Anthony Spencer flashed ability on a couple of plays but remains a mediocre pass rusher. With Ware unable to consistently dominate late in games and the apparent decree that our DE’s must be run-stuffing slugs, the Cowboys can’t bring Spencer back at $5 million or more next year as our only other pass-rush option. Hatcher, Lissemore and Coleman have all brought something to the table this year, but were all damn-near invisible in the season’s biggest game against a sub-par OL.

At linebacker Sean Lee was game and provided a terrific INT, but his injured wrist and the cold implacability of F = M*A meant that he would be a passenger on damn near every Brandon Jacobs run. Alongside him, the rotation of Old Yeller (Bradie James) and Really Old Yeller (Keith Brooking) continued to beg for a trip out behind the barn, a final loving scratch behind the ears and a release from this life’s suffering courtesy of Smith & Wesson.

Brandon Jacobs - Good Christ, I hate this dude. The engineers are already marking out the dynamite emplacements to blast his face into my All-Time Fuck You Mount Rushmore alongside William Floyd and Merton Hanks. In a way it’s almost refreshing to feel the same level of white-hot visceral hate for Jacobs now that I did for those two dudes in the waning moments of the infamous ’94 NFC Championship Game, just because it’s so rare to feel ANY emotion with the same intensity that you did when you were nineteen. But boy got-damn howdy, do I feel it. If you could import Brandon Jacobs sprites into a rampage-based video game like Force Unleashed or Space Marine, I would grow decrepit and bearded from playing it for a decade straight like Will Ferrell in the SNL yoga sketch. If I could have zip-lined down from my seat and stabbed Jacobs with a rapier in the midst of his post-touchdown pelvis-wiggling obscenity, I would have gone Errol Flynn up in that bitch and perforated him faster than he punctured the myth that all black men can dance.

You know the only thing I hate more than Brandon Jacobs? The way that the Cowboys consistently make him look like Jim Fucking Brown. And I’m not talking about Jim Brown running over 215-pound white linebackers with bald spots – I’m talking about Jim Brown beating up back-talking 108-pound women. Through a full 13 games this year, want to guess how many games Jacobs has averaged over five yards per carry when getting the ball at least nine times? I’ll bet you know the answer.

The Fourthdary – In Barry Switzer’s autobiography Bootlegger’s Boy, he relates an anecdote in which he told a recruit’s mother that he’d like her son to play in his secondary and she responded, "Secondary? If my boy plays for you he’s gonna play in your FIRSTdary!" I like her style, so we’re going to skip over Thirddary altogether and deposit the Cowboys’ DBs in the sulfurous pits of the Fourthdary. It’s a Dante’s Circles-of-Hell kind of layout, and the Cowboys are perilously close to tumbling into the fiery abyss of the 2011PatriotsDary. Here they are endlessly tormented for the sins they’ve committed on the gridiron.

Mike Jenkins continually shatters into a thousand pieces like a nitrogen-frozen T-1000, painfully reconstituting himself and returning to the field only to shatter anew two plays later. Gnarled and rotting hands continually clutch, grab and yank at Gerald Sensabaugh and Frank Walker in a cruel parody of their drive-extending holding penalties. Abe Elam and Barry Church stumble blindly, each carrying the other’s eyes in his clenched fists. If only they had the awareness to find each other and trade eyes to restore their sight! If only they’d had the awareness that maybe they shouldn’t both blitz at the same time and leave Mario Manningham wide fucking open! Alan Ball has reached the Gideon Zone with me where I’ll no longer comment on him in a public forum to avoid the potential intervention of psychiatric or law enforcement personnel, so just imagine something really bad.

Finally, Terence Newman, his legs churning ever so slowly in molasses, struggles to escape from…nah, who am I kidding? Newman sits atop a pile of gold coins totaling roughly – and this is just a ballpark figure, mind you - $50.2 million dollars and cackling at Jerry’s retarded largesse.

Late Game Blame Game – So here’s the situation. With the Cowboys clinging to a five point lead, Manning continues his evisceration of the Cowboys’ Fourthdary with a completion to his 5.0-in-the-forty-running TE Jake Ballard that goes down to the Cowboys’ 1 yard line. After dithering for a few seconds, the Cowboys sideline calls timeout with a minute remaining on the clock and one timeout left. So far, so good – clock is stopped and if you let the Giants score and defend the two-point conversion you’ve got a full minute and a timeout to play for a game-tying or –winning field goal. Brandon Jacobs may not be an elite back and the Giants’ OL may suck out loud, but they have been treating you like Zed treated Marsellus Wallace in the basement all night and you’re not keeping them from getting one yard with four tries.

However, Don Quixote was on the freshman reading list at Princeton and Garrett decides to tilt at this particular windmill and try to stop the Giants from scoring. A game effort by the defense halts Jacobs on first down. Now with the clock running, they’ll force the Giants to either use their last timeout if they can stop Jacobs again or at least force a throw into a crowded end zone. But no – the COWBOYS call timeout! Now the Giants can do whatever they want on offense for all three plays without the clock killing them and the Cowboys don’t have that timeout if they’re able to get the ball back and try to tie!

There’s room for debate as to whether this decision-making was as horrible as it felt to me, but I firmly believe there are times as a coach that you have to have an honest sense for what your team can and cannot do. In 2008 in Lubbock, the Longhorns could have run the clock down and pretty much scored at will late in the fourth against Tech. They could NOT have stopped Tech’s offense if they gave them anything more than 40 seconds, and basically the entire game was screaming evidence of that point. On this night in Dallas, there was a good chance the Cowboys’ offense could get into VERY favorable field goal range or even score a clinching TD against a befuddled Giants secondary with a full minute and a timeout in hand. And there was no chance in hell they were keeping the Giants from gaining a yard and scoring. I think there are a lot of things to like about Jason Garrett and he certainly seemed to get the red zone offense polished up after an ugly season in that regard, but I think he has too much on his plate and it’s mind-fucking him at crunch time. Both a designated play-caller/OC and retired coach-turned-late-game consigliere are necessary additions to the staff for 2012.

The Moment of Truth – In a lot of ways, this game was the Cowboys’ Moment of Truth for 2011 – after an unbelievably weird and chaotic season, you had to win one home game against a team on a four-game losing skid to basically punch your ticket for a division title. And, for the fifth time this season, they literally found a way to lose a game that they more or less had in hand. They are lacking badly in some spots and are paying for their offseason sins - the second worst being the decision to cut Andre Gurode without a remotely capable center on the roster, and the worst being the inability to turn Terence Newman's $11 million cap hit this season into $3 million in dead money and $5 million of a solid corner like Josh Wilson who will show up and compete for 16 games. But those holes shouldn't outright cripple you and cause you to give away game after game after winnable game.

Contrast their situation with with that of the Texans. After seeing their offense gutted by injuries to its triggerman and top wideout, they have leaned on a hard-nosed run game and a tough defense. A defense that lost its most heralded player a third of the way through the season, was missing key free agent acquisition Danieal Manning for close to a month, has other players like Cushing dinged and hobbled and are playing in a new scheme to boot. A scheme authored by…former Dallas Cowboys head coach and famed marshmallow-soft-coddling-enabling-wuss-who-doesn’t-have-the-fire-to-lead-men Wade Phillips. Buhhhhh???????

Fortunately for the Cowboys, they have another Moment of Truth waiting in the wings. Still even record-wise with the Giants, the Cowboys control their destiny through the final three games. As long as they handle a hapless Bucs team next Saturday (whose absurd meltdown against the Jags made the Cowboys’ debacle look like a picnic in comparison), even a loss against the Eagles wouldn’t keep them from the division crown if they can beat the Giants in a Week 17 rematch. From the top to the bottom of this roster is gut-check and nut-check time. Maybe for the last three weeks they’ll come to regard guts and nuts as something they need to possess in order to win, rather than just convenient places in which to punch their fans.

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