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NFL 32: On The Clock – Dallas Cowboys

For a third successive season, America’s team came into the last game of the season with a winner takes all scenario on the table. And for the third successive season Jerry Jones’ men were found wanting. An 8-8 record was good enough for second place in the division, but ultimately Chip Kelly’s Eagles were too strong for the inconsistent Cowboys. Much maligned Tony Romo was once again criticised by many, but it is defensively that the Cowboys must look when apportioning blame for their disappointing year. Changes are needed to return to the dominance of the 1990s, but with Jones at the helm it is by no means certain that any of these will be made in the near future. A run of three defeats in the last four games, including giving up 26-3 half time lead to the Packers, ultimately proved far too costly.

OFFENCE

When looking at just his statistics, the criticism of Romo appears very unfair. A rating of 96.7 thanks to 3828 yards and a 31-10 touchdown to interception ratio is by no means a poor effort. He has earned a reputation as being someone unable to deliver at ‘clutch’ times, but there are many other teams in the NFL who would gladly take his services if they ever became available. DeMarco Murray missed game time through injury yet still racked up 1121 yards on the ground (at an average of 5.2 per carry), chipping in with 9 scores, earning him a trip to Hawaii. Fellow Pro Bowler Dez Bryant was the outstanding receiver for Romo; his 1233 yards and 13 scores came from 93 receptions. Tight end Jason Witten again proved reliable, with 73 catches for 851 yards and 8 scores. Miles Austin disappointed following injury, but the slack was taken up by rookie wideout Terrance Williams. He displayed great promise for the future in hauling in 44 catches for 736 yards and 5 scores in his debut year. First round pick Travis Frederick also did a solid job in solidifying the centre of the Cowboys’ offensive line.

DEFENCE

The 2013 Cowboys’ defence will go down amongst one of the worst of all time, as Jerry Jones’ decision to fire coordinator Rob Ryan and replace him with Monte Kiffen backfired in spectacular fashion. The team suffered badly from injuries, especially on the defensive line, but still ranked dead last in allowing 415.3 yards per game. They managed to allow 27 points per game, which placed them above six other outfits, but losses in games in which they scored 48 points (to Denver) and 36 points (to Green Bay) were tough to swallow. Barry Church recorded 135 tackles, whilst Sean Lee’s 99 tackles and 4 picks saw him being the undisputed number one player on the unit. Brandon Carr also recorded 3 picks and defended 12 passes. On the line, Jason Hatcher recorded 11 sacks and DeMarcus Ware chipped in with six despite being hampered with injury. With both players lost to Free Agency (Ware to Denver and Hatcher to rivals Washington), George Selvie may need to improve on his 7 sacks from 2013. Restructuring is badly needed on the defensive side of the ball for the Cowboys to compete with the Eagles in 2014.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Dwayne Harris excelled in averaging 30.6 yards per kick-off return and 12.8 per punt return, including an 86 yard touchdown. Kicker Dan Bailey missed just two of 30 Field Goals, only one of which was under 50 yards. Chris Jones averaged a net of 39.1 yards per punt.

COACHING

That Jason Garrett is still in a job is seen as a surprise to many. Not just because of the results that the Cowboys achieved under his stewardship, but also because of Jerry Jones’ hands on ownership style. Jones exerts much more influence on his team than other owners in the league and his position as General manager means that he must take as much of the blame for under performance as anyone else in the organisation. Garrett and his team did come under heavy criticism for their play calling in the game that was ‘thrown away’ against the Packers down the stretch and, unless on field performance improves markedly in 2014, it would be a surprise to see the current Head Coach make it through another unsuccessful year unscathed. Monte Kiffen has some work to do to restore his reputation too, after presiding over that defence and being demoted to ‘Assistant Head Coach/Defense’ on his official job title.

DRAFT/FREE AGENCY NEEDS

Even before the loss of Ware and Hatcher, the defence was the priority in Dallas. That these two players were lost as salary cap casualties says much about Jones’ cap management skills; other GMs around the league may have tried to work harder to restructure contracts to keep these players. With little cap room to work with, the Cowboys have not been overly active in the market so far; although the addition of Henry Melton from Chicago could prove to be a good move if he can recover his form after injury ruled him out of much of last season.
Expect further defensive additions to dominate the draft, with more help needed across the line and at safety. A new wide receiver may also be added to the ranks to replace the departed Austin via the draft.

Hail Mary: Bears maul the Cowboys on MNF

Josh McCown threw for a career high four touchdowns as he led his Chicago Bears team to a 45-28 rout of the Dallas Cowboys. It was another primetime night to forget for Dallas, but the Bears are now back in a very good position as the race for the playoffs continues.

Both teams took their opening drives, on nearly identical drives, for touchdowns as the tone was set for a high scoring game. In fact the amount of touchdowns scored in this game took the week 14 tally to well over 100, an NFL record.

Dallas were able to run the ball very effectively early on with DeMarco Murray eventually finishing the game with 146 yards off of just 18 carries. So it was a surprise when they went away from the run game early, but then they had to keep pace with McCown who was finding his big receiving tandem of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey with ease time and again.

McCown would own the Cowboys all night and end the game with stats of 27 of 36 pass attempts completed for 346 yards. He was almost picked off a couple of times early in the second half when the Cowboys were still in the game, and when he was the play was negated by a penalty.

Both teams still have division winning claims but they will have to win their remaining three games to have any chance of seeing postseason play.

If the NFL playoffs were today – NFC Edition

Seattle are just one win away from clinching the NFC West and with it home field advantage throughout the postseason. Their thrashing of the New Orleans Saints put the Seahawks on top of the NFL with an unequalled 11-1 mark.

The Saints are now in a race to keep hold of their lead in the South division because of the eight game win streak of the Carolina Panthers, both are tied at 9-3. Whoever comes out on top of that battle will more than likely get the second seed and with it the bye week, this is because they are two games ahead of the chasing pack.

Similarly though the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys are by no means certain of their playoff place despite leading their divisions with just four games to play. Should they get chased down by Chicago and Philadelphia respectively, they will probably drop out of the race completely.

The loser of the Saints and Panthers race will likely claim one wild card and then it’s either San Francisco or Arizona to get the second spot.

IF THE PLAYOFFS WERE TODAY

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS 11-1 and NEW ORLEANS SAINTS 9-3 get the bye week

Wild Card games

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS 8-4 @ DETROIT LIONS 7-5

CAROLINA PANTHERS 9-3 @ DALLAS COWBOYS 7-5

In the hunt

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES 7-5
ARIZONA CARDINALS 7-5
CHICAGO BEARS 6-6
GREEN BAY PACKERS 5-6-1

Thanksgiving Hail Mary: Lions roar, Ravens soar, Cowboys claw back

Thanksgiving Day 2013 has been and gone, and left in it’s trail was a destruction in Detroit, a comeback in Dallas, and a bruising encounter in Baltimore. All teams that played were all in the thick of playoff scenarios, so there was everything to play for before they could tuck into their Turkey dinner.

Packers @ Lions

Detroit completely mauled Green Bay in the first game of the day to the point that if it was a boxing match the referee would have stepped in and stopped the contest during the third quarter. The total net yards gained of 561-126 in favour of the Lions, was reflected in the final score of 40-10, Detroit strengthening their position on top of the NFC North. QB Matthew Stafford threw for 330 yards and three touchdowns, all to different receivers. Green Bay need to get Aaron Rodgers healthy and quick otherwise what promised to be a good season is going to be wasted. His current replacement, Matt Flynn was hurried and harassed all afternoon and was sacked seven times. It’s hard to believe that the Packers held a 10-3 lead early in the second quarter, once the Lions were ahead though they just kept on steamrolling their divisional opponents.

Raiders @ Cowboys

Dallas faced a must win game last week and came through it, this week Oakland were in a similar position and they jumped out early when they scooped up a fumble on the opening kickoff and ran it back. The Raiders were dominant early and through the first 25 minutes had all the momentum, leading 21-7 off the back of a good game from Matt McGloin. The game shifted when Tony Romo engineered a touchdown drive in the waning moments of the first half. The eventual final score of 31-24 was a fair result though as the Cowboys simply ran over the Raiders, Lance Dunbar proving to be a spark. His 12 carries for 82 yards was only outdone by the scoring ability of DeMarco Murray. It’s clear the Cowboys are a better team when Murray is healthy and his three trips to the end zone ultimately was the difference in the game.

Steelers @ Ravens

The AFC Wild Card race is wide open and these two teams are in the thick of it, and also coming into the game harboured ambitions of overturning the Bengals at the top of the AFC North. Baltimore is playing strong defensively again this year and with Joe Flacco thrown a good deep ball they soon established a healthy 13-0 lead. Pittsburgh though are never one to quit and so it showed again as they started to fight their way back into the game and when rookie Le’Veon Bell went in untouched from a yard out, they had narrowed the lead to five points. Ravens kicker Justin Tucker booted his fifth field goal of the day to extend the lead, and a late Steelers rally was stopped when they couldn’t recover an onside kick with 35 seconds left, after scoring another touchdown. The Ravens win 22-20 in what was the best contest of the day, but both teams are still very much in the hunt.

Hail Mary: Brady shines again and 49ers win on MNF

The late games on Sunday had some great moments, with huge implications going into the stretch. The Cowboys now hold the lead in the NFC East, and Brady out did Manning in another classic. Arizona is still on the up, and San Francisco found some form at the right time on MNF.

Titans @ Raiders

When Ryan Fitzpatrick fired a 10 yard touchdown to Kendall Wright with just ten seconds left, it propelled Tennessee back into playoff contention. The Titans played near faultless ball throughout the game in Oakland to win 23-19. The Raiders are now 4-7 and missed an opportunity to move into the gaggle of team’s just one game better off in the wild card chase. Fitzpatrick had a huge day completing 30 of his 42 pass attempts for 320 yards, two of his receivers, Wright and Justin Hunter both had 100 yard plus days.

Colts @ Cardinals

Arizona are one of the most in form teams in the league right now and after a 40-11 demolition of the puzzling Colts keeps them firmly in the NFC playoff picture. Once again it was an error free game from Carson Palmer who threw for over 300 yards and a pair of score to Larry Fitzgerald. Indianapolis has gone from a team very much on the up, to one that needs to regain some form as we head into the business end of the season. Andrew Luck ended with just 163 yards passing, 79 of which were accrued in the last quarter.

Cowboys @ Giants

Seen by many as a must win game, it was played in typical NFC East fashion. Hard tackling leading to turnovers, unforced errors and late drama. Tony Romo led his offense downfield on a drive that saw his maturity come to the fore, Dan Bailey kicked the game winning field goal as time expired to lift the Cowboys to a 24-21 win, and put them back on top of the division. Much of the week prior was dominated by the New York players talking some trash which unfortunately for them they could not back up, and the loss probably eliminates them from the wild card race.

Broncos @ Patriots

Tom Brady pulled out another Houdini at as he led his New England team on another great comeback, this time from 24 points down to beat Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos 34-31 in overtime. Early on it looked as though the Broncos would simply run away with the game after two early scores off of turnovers before the first five minutes were over. New England are the masters of making in game adjustments and so it proved in this big game that could have seeding implications as the season goes on.

MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL

49ers @ Redskins

Last season the two QB’s in this game would have been a marquee matchup, hence why the schedulers thought to bring them together at this pivotal stage. Colin Kaepernick completely outshone his opposite number Robert Griffin III, and with it twisted the knife deeper into Coach Shanahan’s reign in Washington. The final score of 27-6 was complete justice to how the Niners defence played as sacked RG3 four times and held him to just 127 yards passing. Kaepernick on the other hand found his groove and had a great night connecting with Anquain Boldin and Vernon Davis 9 times between them out of his 15 complete passes. San Francisco snapped a two game slide and puts them back into the last NFC playoff spot ahead of Arizona.