For at least one more week, fans of the Dallas Cowboys can keep their eyes set on the postseason, even if a top 20 draft pick is more likely in the team’s future. With a win over the Philadelphia Eagles, the ‘Boys (6-6) are remarkably the first team on the outside of the playoff bubble. If the Redskins take down the Giants tonight, Dallas will join Washington just one game back of the G-Men for the NFC East lead.
Slow Starts and Kicking Off
The Cowboys have certainly started slowly on offense this year, but at least a small part of the low first half scoring output is that the Cowboys have made a switch in their coin toss strategy, often electing to defer when they win. Jason Garrett has stated that he thinks it’s beneficial to kick off to start the game, especially on the road, and that sometimes provides Dallas with one less first half possession than their opponents.
The primary reason I see it as beneficial to start on defense is that there’s a psychological advantage going into halftime knowing you’ll start the second half with the ball. There’s a big difference between being down seven points and kicking off to start the third quarter and being down seven with the ball. Plus, if you can properly time how you manage the end of the second quarter—which is much easier than effectively managing the end of the game because it isn’t entirely dictated by the score—you can “steal” a possession. That is, if you manage to end the first half with the ball, you can stay even in possessions in the first half and have the advantage of getting first possession in the second. In a league that is becoming more and more high-scoring, possessions are at a premium.
The Cowboys really mismanaged the clock at the end of the first half against the Eagles. With a 1st and Goal at the Eagles’ one-yard line and 45 seconds remaining on the clock (and counting), Dallas called a timeout. They scored on the next play, kicking off with 41 seconds left in the half and allowing Philadelphia to drive for a field goal. Those three points were basically a gift, as the Cowboys really should have waited at least 15 or so extra seconds before calling a timeout. It was their first timeout, so with 30 seconds to go in the first half, they would have had plenty of time to run any play they wished. Instead, they provided Philadelphia with a “free” possession when it wasn’t necessary. Yes, the defense should stop the Eagles, but football is a game of probabilities, and the ‘Boys didn’t maximize their chances of winning with that decision.
Win Wasn't Free
Doug Free got things together in the second half, but it might be time to start thinking about benching him. Jermey Parnell is a very athletic offensive tackle who could potentially fill in, and I don’t think he can perform much worse than Free did in the first half. Free is a major liability in pass protection; he’s simply too stiff to deal with finesse defensive ends and too weak to handle powerful ones. I’m not sure he has the strength to play inside, but I’d at least give him a look at guard in the offseason. If he can’t play there, you’ll probably see Free on another team in 2013.
Personal Romo Protector
Fullback Lawrence Vickers is still being used as Tony Romo’s “personal protector” in the backfield in obvious passing situations, and he’s doing a good job. Using Vickers on 3rd and long gives the Cowboys just a bit more bulk to handle the inevitable free rusher, and it also allows DeMarco Murray—who received a hefty 27-touch workload—to get some rest.
Go to Church
The losses of Sean Lee and Bruce Carter are obviously the major ones for the Dallas defense, but the defense took a big blow when safety Barry Church went down as well. Danny McCray is really just a special teams player trying to make it in the back end of the defense; he’s poor in coverage and simply doesn’t tackle well. The Cowboys were smart in locking up Church before his value skyrocketed because he’s going to impress some people over the next few seasons.
How about if Dez Bryant gets the ball thrown his way any time he sees man coverage in the future? The guy has some of the best ball skills in the league, and things really seem to be finally clicking for the talented wide out. And while we’re at it, how about just throw him a handful of passes a game, regardless of the coverage? He’s that hot right now.