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5/03/2005

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The hitch-hiker’s guide to the Cowboys galaxy
By Maxx Factor

In a rush

As many huddled around their radios, TV sets, and worked the refresh button on their web browsers like an old lady at a slot machine at an off-strip casino in Vegas, four syllables were going through the heads of most Cowboys fans while the clock ticked down on the 11th pick on draft day. “Shawne Merriman”looped about like a broken record. So obviously when the syllables “De-mar-kus Where” rang out like a fart in church, “blasphemy!” was cried. But that’s the blind faithful for you, always going with the guy that gets the most press. I’ll be the first to admit that I raised an eyebrow, but it was the 20th pick that had your dear Edwards-wanting Watson piecing this all together.

Enter Marcus Spears, a big, 3-4-type body with a nose for the ball. Having watched some of his finer performances I was most impressed with his interior play. This guy can implode a line like a house of cards. We just may get to see those Ware situations happening as planned. Roy Williams joining the party sound good?

Not so fast.

The Cowboys have yet to seriously address the free safety position. Hopefully an effective pass rush being introduced to this defense can help a young guy out.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see the free safety position more of a committee this season kind of like we saw at second corner last season. If this pass rush shapes up like the Cowboys are hoping, there should be enough opportunities for big plays to go around.

Peanut butter sandwiches

Although the defense wasn’t “thu” problem with this team before the draft and it is even less of one now, the Cowboys chose to make their strongest point stronger at the 2005 NFL Draft. I cannot fault this strategy completely, but it’s starting to make me think about peanut butter sandwiches.

That’s right. Peanut butter sandwiches. See, they taste good but there’s just too much peanut butter. They are hard to swallow without some jelly or at the very least a banana. I love Coach Parcells and all, but trying to swallow his “our defense gave up 25 points a game and you can’t win with that” logic, considering the abortive state of his offense in 2004, is like trying to choke down that peanut butter sandwich.

Let me explain.

Last season, Coach Parcells and Jones at different times pointed out the inconsistencies and ineptitudes of Offense ’04. If the Cowboys couldn’t get points on the board they couldn’t expect to win. The overtone last season of every Parcells press conference radiated offensive ineptitude and just about every phase of it. So last year “we had to score more points”, but this year “the defense can’t give up 25 points per game and expect to win.”

Which is it?

Let’s talk about 4 losses from the 2004 season that in addition to the six victories could have had very different outcomes had the offense just done anything.

“PURPLE HAZE”
Okay, it would be no surprise that the Vikings beat the Cowboys, but on opening day against the Vikings the Cowboys looked to actually be competing until five minutes after the 2nd half started. While the defense had their hands full containing that Vikings offense featuring you know who, the offense couldn’t score a single point in 25 minutes and 41 seconds. The Cowboys could not get past the 40 without fumbling. The 40 yard-line seems to be the Cowboys’ Waterloo all too frequently. Realistically, how can you ask your defense to keep going out there to stop Randy Moss if you keep fumbling the ball away and punting and not scoring for 25 minutes? Come on. Score points, get a lead on the Vikings defense for cryin’ out loud, and force the pass. It’s amazing how much easier that game gets than the mountain they created in the 2nd half. Remember, Randy Moss quits after a two score deficit and Minnesota did finish 8-8.

“IF IT’S BROWN, FOR GOD SAKES FLUSH IT DOWN”
Yes, defense wins championships for some teams. For other teams it just may get you a win against the 5-11 Browns. This was a war of attrition that the Cowboys would have never “won” had the defense not played above and beyond the call of duty. The Cowboys offense was an abortion. Again, they found it impossible to score a single point in well over 15 minutes against a defense begging to be scored on the whole game. Instead, the Cowboys turned the ball over four times with Vinnie Testeverde throwing three interceptions in the last 15 minutes and 42 seconds. It’s hard to say the Cowboys won this game. I would instead say they just didn’t lose. It was the defense, not the offense, that took the pressure off of themselves by being spared a winning drive situation in the final minutes of the game instead of a tying one.

“THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS! NAH… NEVERMIND”
10 points against a 6-10 team aint gonna cut it. Going scoreless for the entire second half aint gonna cut it. Failing to convert a 4th and 1 is pathetic. You know what happens when your defense has been repeatedly put back on the field to chase Tiki Barber around the yard so often that they finally give up drives of 3:58, 3:15, and 3:15 in the 4th? You lose, that’s what.

“CONGRATULATIONS, THE BENGALS JUST BEAT YOU… AND BAD”
If that isn’t self-explanatory enough, then consider the lone Dirk Nowitzki ringer from downtown the Cowboys put on the board. Any questions? The Cowboys scored 3 points against the Bengals. Three points! THREE points! Who the hell only scores 3 points against the Bengals? That’s not enough to win some hockey games.

Well, you have your health…

Don’t you hate hearing that? Usually that is uttered when not much is going your way. For the Cowboys’ offense it means something different, for it might indicate that everything is going their way in 2005.

The Cowboys had some offensive misfortunes last season and they contributed greatly to their offensive chaos. Obviously Julius Jones being sidelined for 8 games was a doozy. Losing Terry Glenn for the season was a killer. How prepared were the Cowboys to lose those two players? Not very. How prepared were they to lose just one of them? Equally as bad.

Starting with the offensive line, the Cowboys are again putting their faith in Flozell Adams, Larry Allen, and Al Johnson, a unit that should be solid. The right side, however, is a bit more stressful to ponder. Marco Rivera, the big free agent splash, is a lock to take over right guard, obviously. Rivera is already an injury concern. If he is able to play effectively, this season that will be one less headache for Big Bill. But if Rivera goes the way of Darren Woodson, then you’re left with the green Stephen Peterman, flag machine Andre Gurode, and the human sled, Tyson Walter.

The gaping hole (or non-gaping hole rather) at right tackle is a big pink elephant in the room. Assuming Pittsburgh tackle Rob Petitti isn’t a starter this season, we look to 3rd year tackle Torrin Tucker and 2nd year tackle Jacob Rogers.

Does Torrin Tucker have that break-out season and nail down the fort? He’d better, because if not his fate lies in a conversation Tom Landry and Bill Parcells once had. Say it with me, “if a player hasn’t shown anything by his third year.. bla bla bla”. Tucker has some upside, so I would say he’s got a full count.

Jacob Rodgers played left tackle at USC and there has been some speculation about moving Adams over to right tackle and putting Rodgers at left. Can Adams play right tackle? Who knows? This is why this shouldn’t and probably won’t happen. The Cowboys aren’t in the business of adding any more of these: ?

The Cowboys simply cannot afford more than one significant first team injury to the offense this season. This becomes all the more sensitive considering the roll they will play in giving this young defense a chance to succeed.

Before you entertain any question about the play of Jones, Johnson, Bledsoe, Rivera, Witten, or Glenn in 2005, first entertain the question: “will he be healthy?” They will all need to be healthy more than anything else they can be this season because, sadly again, the Cowboys can’t afford to lose any one of them.

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