Monday, October 30, 2017

The Morning After: Cowboys 33, Redskins 19 (4-3)

We will never know how the game would turn out if the field goal wasn’t blocked.  The Washington Redskins were rolling along pretty well on offense in the driving rain with the ability to sneak Jamison Crowder into the secondary and Chris Thompson out on the flanks in the first half of the divisional showdown in Washington.

If Longhorn kicker Nick Rose can knock it through the uprights and put Washington up, 16-7 with about 3 minutes to go, nobody knows what will happen from there.  Would the Cowboys choose that moment to get their proverbial act together and march back down before halftime?  Or would their drive chart continue to shout that the offense was not going to be hitting on all cylinders in the rain on this day?

The first ended with a fumble, then a touchdown drive, then a missed Field Goal, then a 3-and-out-punt and the last drive of the half was another 3-and-out-punt.  Had the special teams chosen this game to get their finger prints on the season, the outcome could have been a real disappointment in Washington.

Instead, the special teams made 2 game-shifting plays.  Rich Bisaccia and his crew did what you always want - swing a game that needs to be swung. The first was a magnificently timed blocked field goal of Washington’s attempt to go up 2 scores.  On a wet day such as this, the timing of the snap and the hold and the kick will always be walking a tight rope.  After the Redskins had gotten away with one earlier when the holder, Tress Way, was able to get a bobble down properly, the timing on this one was thrown off in a bad way.  That left an opportunity, and if there is starting to be a trait of this defensive line group that the Cowboys have put together, it is that if you give them an opening, they will often charge through it.

So, the replay shows that Tyrone Crawford deserves the credit for getting his paw up in the path of the Nick Rose field goal attempt and David Irving looked like he was right behind him and might have also knocked a piece out of the football flying by.  Anthony Brown was coming around the end and looked like had just missed it.  Regardless, what is clear is that Washington’s first real moment of missing most of their offensive line turned out to be on trying to kick the field goal late in the 2nd Quarter.  It would rear its head several more times before the game was ended, but that was the moment that they would have liked Trent Williams on that spot instead of TJ Clemmings (who the Cowboys were definitely attacking along with the LG Shawn Lauvao) and maybe Brandon Scherff or Spencer Long inside making sure their line wasn’t over-run by opportunistic Cowboys looking to make a play. 

But, make a play they did.  And the ball spurted back onto the ground inside the Cowboys 10 where Orlando Scandrick thought about heading to his right sideline for a moment before doubling back to the left sideline where he was able to rumble 86 yards for one of the most influential blocked field goal returns in Cowboys history to set the Cowboys up with a vital 1st and goal situation at the Washington 2-yard line. 

A few moments later, Ezekiel Elliott is in the end zone again and the Cowboys have somehow, on one moment where the ball and Tyrone Crawford’s right-hand meet, it appears that 10 points changed hands.  What might have been 16-7, Washington, has now become a Dallas lead of 14-13. 

There have certainly been some big blocked field goals in Dallas Cowboys history – both good and bad – but, the only one of the positive fashion that included a long return in recent history was the game in 2007 at Texas Stadium versus Minnesota.  In that game – known by many as Adrian Peterson’s NFL debut in Dallas – Patrick Watkins scooped up a Ryan Longwell field goal and ran 68-yards for a touchdown late in the 3rd Quarter that was blocked by Chris Canty.  The result of that play was turning a potential 17-14 Vikings lead into a 21-14 Cowboys advantage.  That 10-point play secured the win for Dallas that day like this one did.  We must give Watkins (who I just discovered played 5 additional seasons in Canada – Toronto and Edmonton - after leaving the NFL in 2010 to retire just last winter) the advantage because he made it to the end zone. 

Now, the Cowboys have the lead going into the 2nd half against the battered Redskins and the feel of the contest is 100% different to how it could have felt.  They take control in the increasing rain of the 2nd half with a defensive front that cannot be blocked by what is left of Bill Callahan’s offensive line in Washington.  On 3rd and 9, the Cowboys send 6 rushers and it is too much for Kirk Cousins to have a chance.  Tyrone Crawford breaks in and gets home against TJ Clemmings at left tackle, but he only beat David Irving and Maliek Collins to the QB by a fraction of a second.  The ball comes loose and there is Demarcus Lawrence to recover the ball.  They are finally becoming what the Cowboys have needed most; a relentless group of long and athletic “war daddies”.  There is a group of them now, and after years of fruitless harvests, the crop has all grown together into something remarkable. 

They weren’t done there, of course.  Cousins would be under duress the rest of the day and they would insure that there would be no Washington rally.  By day’s end, it was another 4 sack-performance with Irving getting two, Crawford and Lawrence one each.  From the Cowboys PR staff: “With four sacks in today’s game, the Cowboys defense now has 25 sacks through the first seven games of the season. It is just the fifth time since 1982, when sacks became an official stat, that a Cowboys defense has recorded at least 25 sacks through the first seven games of the season, joining the 1982 (27.0), 1985 (29.0), 1986 (28.0) and 1987 (34.0) teams.” 

Let that soak in for a moment.  This is the first time since 1987 that the Cowboys have been on this sort of sack pace?  Heck, it was so overwhelming again that you were pleased how they made such quick work of what Washington was able to field yesterday.  So much so, that at the end of the game Coach Jay Gruden offered Cousins his appreciation for taking the beating and continuing to fight the whole game.  They knew if the Cowboys brought it yesterday, they would be in trouble. 

To the Cowboys credit, it took them a while to get cooking, but then they brought it.  And it was sparked by their special teams in both that blocked field goal and then early in the 2nd half, after the Cowboys were kicking off after the Lawrence recovery was only converted into a field goal, they knocked the ball loose when Keith Smith hit little Chris Thompson hard enough to put the ball on the ground and that is where Ben Benwikere was able to make his first real impression in a Cowboys uniform by falling on the ball.

When you combine 3 Takeaways and 4 sacks together, you can afford a slightly less impressive day from your offense.  The Cowboys offensive machine slowed a bit due to some infectious penalties and loose precision in the driving rain.  They turned some touchdowns into field goals in a rather uncharacteristic fashion that they will not want to become a trend.  The penalties put them behind the chains and the Redskins brought a strong defensive effort that caused some frustration as Ryan Kerrigan and Josh Norman showed their quality. 

Ezekiel Elliott was as impressive as ever after his first carry turned into a fumble.  But, once he got that out of his system, he turned in another Emmitt Smith-like effort where the yards are inside the tackles, vicious, and always going forward.  Sometimes, there is a lot to get and sometimes he has to make his own 4 yards, but either way, they want him to be a battering ram in weather games and he touched the ball a career-high 34 times for 154 yards from scrimmage.  That is now 644 yards from scrimmage in the four games in October for 7 touchdowns.  Only one player in football has had a better October, Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell has 743 yards and 4 touchdowns, but it took him five games to get there.  In other words, nobody has been better than Zeke’s 161 yards per game in October.

Now, our attention can’t help but wonder about his availability between now and mid-December, because when you are rolling out the most punishing player in the league and he may need to go away for yet another Dallas Cowboys suspension, that will definitely lessen the likelihood that they could win a game like this where the passing game did very little heavy lifting.  I have attempted to avoid this headache topic in this space for a while, but the gravity of the situation as the Cowboys reach the gauntlet portion of their schedule cannot be lost on anyone who is following this organization.

Elliott is what this whole team has been built on and therefore losing him for six weeks would be like a severe injury to any other MVP candidate on any other team.  This one would surely be more self-inflicted, but the effects would seem similar. 

Regardless, the Cowboys needed two road wins in two weeks and they put both away in convincing fashion.  They took a 2-3 start that disappointed and turned it into a 4-3 spot going to November.  That start may have cost them the division, but they have their full health are 2-0 in the NFC East, and have a chance to play the Eagles a few times moving forward. 

The questions for the Cowboys are still to be answered.  The Chiefs, Falcons, and Eagles in succession will address plenty of the questions that the judge doesn’t handle today.

Your guess is as good as mine on what happens next.    

Sunday, September 10, 2017

OL Makes Cowboys Contender For Years To Come

If someone wished to dwell on the absolute best-case scenarios for the 2017 Dallas Cowboys season, the focal point of that exercise should begin with the unit that controls the entire operation.  Hopefully, by now, they need no introduction.

Because by now, the Dallas Cowboys mammoth and dominant offense line has pushed aside nearly every challenge that has been brought before them in their three seasons since placing the three All-Pros together.  Tyron Smith enters his 7th year in the league now since being selected 1st in 2011.  Travis Frederick starts his 5th and Zack Martin his 4th.  During the trio’s time as a unit, the Cowboys have run for more yards overall (6,640), more yards per carry (4.69), more yards per game (138.3), and more big runs of over 10 yards (184) than any other team in the sport.  This, despite switching out starting running backs from DeMarco Murray to Joseph Randle to Darren McFadden to Ezekiel Elliott during those 3 seasons from 2014-2016. 

During that same three year stretch, they have ranked 7th in fewest sacks allowed, 5th in yards per pass attempt, and 8th in overall passer rating.  Those numbers may not knock your socks off relative to all of the 1st place finishes in run production, but perhaps it should because unlike the teams ranked above them, the Cowboys have switched out starting QBs during that 3 year period more than almost anyone.  From Tony Romo to Brandon Weeden to Matt Cassel to Kellen Moore to Dak Prescott is much different than the top passing teams who have only had 1 QB or at the most 2 during that stretch.  Yet, the Cowboys, with 5 different starting QBs, have top 10 rankings over the 3-year sample of Smith-Frederick-Martin in front of them. 

The team has literally switched out its leading rusher and leading passer each season during this 3-year stretch at an expansion-team level of inconsistency, and yet the offense’s 3-year numbers are all in the Top 10.  The also have won 29 games in those 3 seasons and run off a 29-19 regular season record – something else you won’t see from teams with a different RB/QB duo for all 3 years.  And it isn’t because it gets to play with an overpowering defense, is it? 

It has been pointed out a number of times in a number of places that the Cowboys Offensive Line building plan was partly about the obsession with remembering the dominant OL of the early 1990’s Dallas-dynasty and partly about the luck of how the NFL Draft fell to them each year.  The team could have taken JJ Watt over Tyron Smith, could have taken a gem defender over Frederick and wanted to take Ryan Shazier and their GM really wanted Johnny Manziel over Martin.  Sometimes, the best picks you take are the ones you don’t because your son wrestles the card out of your hand. 

Regardless of the original and grand design, the reality is simple.  This team is a power in the NFC because they have an offensive line that makes everyone look better and has proven they can succeed with almost anyone having the ball behind them.  It is a repeatable and sustainable style of play that makes a RB’s and a QB’s job much simpler than any other place in the league.  They also have mastered a style of play that is unlike almost any other of the powers in the NFL, so the uniqueness gives them another advantage as most defenses load up to stop the many aerial attacks they must face.  Then the ground-and-pound Cowboys show up on the schedule and sweat forms on the undersized brows of the opponents.

The Cowboys are going to be very good again this year and for what appears to be many years to come.  Why?  It is obvious.  This offensive line is phenomenal and the oldest of the bunch is merely 26 years old. 

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Annual Playoff Reminders

First, the NFC with "X" denoting a playoff year for the last decade....









St L


(a Bold "X" denotes a Super Bowl appearance)

So, now you know who has made it and how many times.

Here is the AFC -

















Here is the chart for your examination of the year-by-year progression:

Year# NewNew Teams making Playoffs
20166Dal, NYG, Alt, Det, Mia, Oak
20154KC, Hou, Minn, Wash
20145Dal, Arz, Det, Pit, Bal
20135NO, Phi, Car, KC, SD
20124Was, Sea, Min, Indy
20116NYG, SF, Det, Cin, Hou, Den
20105Sea, Atl, Chi, Pitt, KC
20096Dal, GB, NO, Cin, NE, NYJ
20087Phi, Atl, Car, Min, Arz, Mia, Bal
20076Was, TB, GB, Pit, Ten, Jac
20067Phi. Dal, NO, SD, Bal, NYJ, KC
20057Was, Car, TB, NYG, Chi, Cin, Jac
20045Min, Atl, SD, Pit, NYJ
20038Stl, Car, Dal, Sea, NE, KC, Bal, Den
20025NYG, Atl, Ten, Cle, Ind
20016SF, GB, Chi, Pit, NE, NYJ
20006Phi, NYG, NO, Den, Bal, Oak
19997Det, TB, StL, Was, Sea, Ten, Ind
19985Arz, Dal, Atl, NYJ, Buf
19975NYG, Det, TB, KC, Mia
19965Min, Car, Jac, Den, NE
19954Phi, Atl, Ind, Buf
19945Chi, Mia, Clev, NE, SD
19935Det, GB, NYG, Oak, Den
19926Min, SF, Phi, Mia, Pit, KC

Marinelli Report - Season Primer

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Meet the 2017 Dallas Cowboys


PositionStarterBackup3rd String
QBDak PrescottKellen MooreCooper Rush
RBEzekiel ElliottDarren McFaddenAlfred Morris
FBRod Smith (RB)Keith Smith
TEJason WittenJames HannaGeoff Swaim
WRDez BryantBrice ButlerRyan Switzer
WRTerrance WilliamsCole BeasleyNoah Brown
LTTyron SmithChaz Green
LGJonathan Cooper
CTravis FrederickJoe Looney
RGZack MartinByron Bell
RTLa'el Collins
PositionStarterBackup3rd/4th String
LDEDeMarcus LawrenceBenson Mayowa
DT 3Maliek Collins

DT 1Stephen PaeaBrian Price
RDETyrone CrawfordTaco CharltonCharles Tapper
WLBSean LeeJayrone Elliott
MLBJustin DurantJaylon SmithAnthony Hitchens (IR?)
SLBDamien WilsonKyle Wilber
CBNolan CarrollAnthony BrownJourdan Lewis
FSJeff HeathXavier Woods
SSByron JonesKevon Frazier
CBOrlando ScandrickChidobe AwuzieBene' Benwikere

Dan Bailey
Chris Jones
LP Ladouceur

IR: Rico Gathers
Damontre Moore, David Irving

And then here is the chart that demonstrates how many the team has put at each positional group on this day over the last decade: