The Dallas Cowboys enter their week 10 matchup with the New York Giants at 1-7. Darren Shetler of The Cowboys Nation reviews the team for us and scouts the team we’ll see on Sunday.
It’s been a week full of insanity as the Cowboys fired head coach Wade Philips on Monday following an absolutely embarrassing performance Sunday night in Green Bay. Offensive Coordinator Jason Garrett takes over as the head coach and Paul Pasqualoni has been promoted to Defensive Coordinator. The last thing a team that just fired their head coach in the middle of the season wants to do is face the NFC’s hottest team but that is exactly what the Cowboys get to do this weekend.
Offensive Line Going into the 2010 training camp, the Dallas Cowboys were one of the favorites to be playing in the Super Bowl because 90% of the team seemed to be solid. However, even in training camp, a lot of people questioned whether or not the offensive line was going to be able to get the job done. After 8 games, the answer to that question is a very loud no. Both Tony Romo and Jon Kitna have been under constant pressure this season from the opposing pass rush. Combined, the two QB’s have been sacked a total of 16 times (Romo 7 times and Kitna 9 times). The offensive line really hasn’t done a good job opening up holes for the running backs this season either. Left tackle Doug Free has done a decent job this season but the rest of the group hasn’t. Right guard Leonard Davis was yanked in Week 4 because of poor play, and though he retained his starting job, he hasn’t been anything like the player he was in previous years. Right tackle Marc Colombo hasn’t been the same since missing the opener because of a knee injury and left guard Kyle Kosier has been in and out of the lineup almost every week because of a chronic ankle injury. Everyone seems to agree that the number one issue for Dallas in the offseason should be addressing the shortcoming of the offensive line.
Running game We heard a lot about the “3 headed monster” that was going to be the Cowboys running game this season. Guess what, like the rest of the season, it didn’t pan out. For the time being, with a damaged defense and a backup quarterback, the offense’s complete inability to control games on the ground is the biggest hurdle to overcome. The Cowboys rank 31st in the NFL in rushing yards per game and No. 26 in yards per carry. Marion Barber has been reduced to mainly a short-yardage back and is averaging only 3.0 yards on his 71 carries. Felix Jones has a decent 4.1-yard average in his 73 carries but he hasn’t had the opportunity to show us what he can do in an open field. The third back of the three headed monster hasn’t done much offensively because he hasn’t been given the chance. For the first time in a month, Tashard Choice finally got the ball in Sundays game against Green Bay but it wasn’t until late in a meaningless 4th quarter. Jason Garrett knows that at different times this year the Cowboys have been able to run the ball but they haven’t run it consistently well enough. If Garrett wants success as the Head Coach, he must find a way to run the ball consistently.
Passing game Starter Tony Romo is out for at least a few more weeks because of a broken clavicle and the Cowboys certainly miss his ability to make plays, especially when things break down and he moves outside the pocket. Kitna’s biggest problem is that he’s not a playmaker because he’s always been a stationary type of QB and at 38, is even more so now. The Cowboys rank No. 4 in the NFL in passing yards but are 19th in scoring. Receiver Miles Austin, a big (6-3, 214), fast target, has been disappointing after receiving $20 million guaranteed as part of a seven-year, $57 million contract signed in the offseason. Though he has a 14.69-yard average on his 45 receptions, he has five drops and only two touchdowns after scoring 11 last season. Rookie Dez Bryant (11.4-yard average on 38 catches) has been one of the few bright stars this season. Tight End Jason Witten should see the ball more than he does because when he does get the ball throw to him, it seems that only good things happen. Witten has 506 yards in 45 receptions this season and averages 63 yards per game.
Run defense For all of Wade Phillips’ shortcomings as a head coach, he’s was a respected defensive coordinator, so Dallas’ collapse on defense is the biggest surprise of its season. The Cowboys finished last season with the No. 4 rushing defense and No. 2 scoring defense but have dropped to Nos. 24 and 31, respectively, this year. Last week, the Packers were able to rush for 138 yards on 35 attempts. Keith Brooking was nearing the end of his effectiveness when Dallas signed him last year, so his decline was foreseeable. Less so with Bradie James, who had been a top run stopper at one time. The problem is there’s not much behind those two and the opposing running backs usually eat up yardage in chunks.
Pass defense This is probably the worst aspect to the Cowboys game this season. Two weeks ago, Jacksonville quarterback David Garrard hit the Cowboys for four touchdown passes and an astronomical passer rating of 157.8 points, just shy of the 158.3-point maximum. Last week Aaron Rodgers threw for 3 TD’s and 289 yards for a passer rating of 148.3 points. Though the Cowboys rank No. 16 in the NFL in sacks percentage, the pass rush hasn’t been lacking. Outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware (eight sacks) is an imposing outside rusher, and nose tackle Jay Ratliff remains a premier inside rusher even though he has only one sack. However, Anthony Spencer has been disappointing opposite Ware. Spencer, a first-round pick in ’07, appeared ready to take off after getting six sacks in the last seven games last season, but he has only three through eight games this year. On top of all that, news is out that Marcus Spears has been placed on Injured Reserve which means fifth-year backup Stephen Bowen gets the starting job. The problem for Dallas is that if they don’t get to the Quarterback in time, the opposition usually picks up a decent gain. New starting safety Alan Ball and cornerback Mike Jenkins highlight what has turned out to be a weak secondary.
Special teams Bryant is a big-time threat returning punts and has taken back two of his 12 returns for touchdowns. Rookie kickoff returner Akwasi Owusu-Ansah (21.7-yard average) hasn’t been as dynamic as his reported 40 time at his Pro Day workout (4.32 seconds) would suggest and has now been placed on IR. Punter Matt McBriar has been great this season and with his hang times and directional kicking, opponents have returned only 11 of his 33 punts, and his 47.1-yard net average ranks third in the NFL.