Contrary to last week’s dissection of a win against the Saints, the less than stellar side of this Sunday with the Cowboys hosting the Texans was fairly easy to discern, for even the most casual of fans. Clearly, losing the turnover battle stands out above all other blemishes on the Cowboys performance; in the NFL teams are rarely able to out-execute being placed behind that brand of 8 ball. But these Cowboys did it, once again showing fight to stay in the game and walk away with the win.
But there were several other issues throughout the game that – despite the win – raise serious questions about the Cowboys’ ability to sustain their current win streak.
As has been harped on throughout the season, the mistakes the Cowboys made Sunday cannot continue if they have any postseason aspirations. From the not-so-Special Teams play to the late-game disappearance of defensive intensity to clock-management issues garnering a delay of game penalty following a time-out, the Cowboys will have yet another hard day watching film, even though they were able to pull out the win in the end.
Yet over all of the aforementioned issues, the one issue surfacing following the game that concerns me the most is the re-injury of Rolando McClain. Less his addition in the off-season, if we are being honest, these Cowboys would have been exactly what we thought they were – a sub par to horrible defense. Once thought a long shot to even make the final 53, Rolando is slowly proving to be the most valuable cog in the defense.
Beyond his ideal physical prowess and attributes, he has incredible instincts to sniff out the ball and attack with violent and precise tackles. Below the surface of that ability, and yet not lost on the esteem of his teammates, he has emerged as a quiet-spoken lead-by-example captain of the defense. He is not a loud trash talker, like you might expect given his sordid legal issues in the past, but he certainly carries a big stick that opposing offenses must respect. And his play is infectious; his intangibles may actually outweigh his visible contributions. The less than stellar side of this is if he is unable to play, his impact will be felt far beyond his individual performance as it seemed to be late in the game versus the Texans.
Romdini’s latest act
Romdini, who has now been discussed ad nauseam, once again made an appearance with a spectacular reverse-pivot spin out of a would-be sack by none other than JJ Watt and throwing a perfect bomb to Terrance Williams for a touchdown. Unfortunately, with Romo one must accept the good with the bad and understand for every brilliant and magical play, he will from time to time force an ill-advised pass.
My understanding of Romo’s nature aside, against teams such as Seattle, those types of mistakes cannot happen because Russell Wilson does not make those types of mistakes very often. Call him a bus driver who lucked into being surrounded by a great team and head coach all you like, his strongest attribute above and beyond his ability to throw and run is his tendency to make good to great decisions with the football. While I understand Romo has had a very different situation here in Dallas, I unfortunately cannot say the same about him. Romo’s competitive spirit can get the best of him and that is one demon only he can exercise.
First line of defense
The defensive line has been solid and at times – that seem to be too far in between – disruptive. The Cowboys are going to need more help from that side of the trench as the season progresses.
Point blank, this very well could prove to be the Achilles Heel to the Cowboys season.
Granted, the value of a sack can be inflated, particularly those that occur on early downs for minimal loss. With that being said, if the Cowboys’ defensive line is unable to figure out how to generate pressure without the aid of linebackers/defensive backs, as the season progresses, the Cowboys defense will struggle against the better QBs who are able to diagnose where the pressure is coming from and put the ball where the blitzer would otherwise be.
Nuts & Bolts
Bringing the focus down to details a bit, I’m troubled by Terrence Williams’ inclination to body-catch rather than catch with his hands. Granted, he is a pretty high percentage receiver, but it is difficult to trust players who trap rather than catch in situations where the QB has to get it out of their hands faster than normal. Unfortunately, I’m not sure this is something the team will want to address mid-season as attempting to make at change in his catching-habit at this point would likely do more harm than good.
In a previous addition, I mentioned the Cowboys need to make a more concerted effort to ensure the ball touches more hands, both on the ground and in the air.
Players like Lance Dunbar, Gavin Escobar, Cole Beasley, Joseph Randle, James Hanna, Dwayne Harris, and Devin Street have largely been ignored through the first five games.
Some may argue, “Why complain, the Cowboys are winning!” Believe me, that point is not lost in my considerations. But I’m concerned about what the Cowboys are putting on tape and even further concerned about the maturation process of the aforementioned.
With each game, the Cowboys add another chapter to the cleft notes in their playbook. While I can understand an offensive coordinator not wanting to show all of his hand this early in the season, he should be concerned about getting his down-roster players involved because skill players need the ball in their hand in live-game action to evolve. Furthermore, diminishing the top-tier players’ exposure to potential injury should be a big part of this consideration, especially given DeMarco Murray’s medical history and his necessity to the ground and pound approach.
Overall, it was a good win for the Cowboys. In seasons past, this is one the Cowboys would likely have let slip through their fingertips and in hindsight would be the loss they would point to when being one win short of making it to the postseason. For that and the addition of some heroics from beautiful plays made by Romo, Dez and Murray, I will give the team an overall passing grade.
But grades are subjective; against Seattle, for instance, their efforts would have likely garnered them a fail. And that is what concerns me with the Cowboys going to the Seahawks’ house on Sunday.