Originally posted on Fox Sports Southwest  |  Last updated 9/21/12
For the second year in a row, the NFL has asked the Cowboysto open with two straight on the road before playing their home opener on Sundayagainst the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Obviously, they aresmarting pretty badly about the egg that was laid in Seattle, but now see 8 of14 home games and recognize the opportunities that lie ahead. If they can simply make their new stadium anactual home field advantage, they will be in pretty good shape thisseason. Unfortunately, with a 13-11 homerecord since they left Texas Stadium behind, it doesn't appear that the homeenvironment has much effect on the Cowboys. The stadium seldom gets loud, and while I used to blame that on thearchitecture and the cavernous design of the stadium, I must concede thatcollege games and the Super Bowl were very loud and therefore perhaps more of areflection of the audible impact of the Cowboys' fans themselves. Is that because these fans do not necessarily buy what the teamhas been selling over the last few years or is it because the ticket priceshave brought a quieter more subdued type of fan to the game? I am not totally full of theories. And, should crowd noise really be factored inwhen looking at a winloss record? Perhaps the team assembled has only been good enough to win 13 of 24home games in the last 3 regular seasons, and blaming a subdued fan-base ismisguided. Whatever the reason, itappears the opponents are not scared of a trip to Arlington. Tampa destroyed Carolina in Week 1 before letting the Giants off the hookin New Jersey last weekend by collapsing late and surrendering a ton of pointsand yards in the fourth quarter. They are a new team thatis getting used to a new coaching staff under new coach Greg Schiano who hasbrought in a new style and a new attitude of accountability and hard work. Itwill be interesting to see if his style has more staying power of hispredecessor Raheem Morris, as we heard all about how Morris was bringing hisstyle of relating to the players and not being some screamer back when the Bucswere having a big 2010. So goes the cycle of coaching styles.Nothing works when you lose, everything makes sense when youlose. But, perhaps the thing to make most note of isthat the cheapskate Bucs have started to spend some money again. Incomes free agent prizes WR Vincent Jackson and LG Carl Nicks. Anyonewho follows my essays know my regard for Nicks. Ithought he should have been the No. 1 target for the Cowboys in free agency backin January. The Cowboys went in a different direction, butNicks almost never allows anyone to get past him and will serve Tampa quitewell despite his guard opposite Davin Joseph being injured and lost for theyear. With Jackson and top picks Mike Williams andArrelious Benn, the Bucs now are building a reasonable set of targets for JoshFreeman. Dallas Clark is the tight end and even Jordan Shipley hasnow been signed to add some slot assistance. Freeman actually appearsto have a little bit of help besides a thumping running game. Doug Martin is now their top running back option, from BoiseState, and LeGarrette Blount provide the backup play in the groundattack. On defense, they have plenty of high-energyplayers that will fly to the ball, but no real overwhelming front players thatrequire a game-plan to be centered around slowing them down. MichaelBennett and Adrian Clayborn will run all day but should be neutralized withproper efforts from the tackles. Inside, Gerald McCoy has not beenthe game-changer they had hoped when they took him so high, but there is noquestion he is the most dynamic of the front. The back7 of the defense features plenty of players who have dazzled in pre-draftworkouts in the last few years. Mason Foster and Lavonte David aretwo excellent linebacker prospects, and everyone knows about Aqib Talib, RondeBarber, and the apple of the Cowboys' eye, Mark Barron from Alabama. Barron has not looked totally comfortable at safety yet, butonce he gets his bearings, he appears to be one of those play-making safetiesthat will nail down his spot for quite a while. The Cowboys war-roomgave every indication that if Morris Claiborne was gone early in the 2012draft, that they would try to mobilize up the board to get Barron.Did the Cowboys need a big-time corner more than a big-time safety?Like Tyron Smith vs JJ Watt the year before, I am not sure there is awrong answer to that question. One thing that jumpsout at you is that there will be opportunities down the field. EliManning and Hakeem Nicks enjoyed their day, but the word is starting to get outthat Dez Bryant is not a big fan of press coverage. If Talib jumps onDez, it could be a fun match-up to watch all day. Iwill take the Cowboys to break out and win, 27-17. It should be notedthat I had the Cowboys winning last week, too, for what it's worth - Whichdoesn't appear to be much. EMAILS!!!! Email from Debra: Bob, I think you're confusing causationcorrelation with regard to the 25rushing attempts. The winning percentage is better because they're protecting alead. They're running out the clock. Teams don't typically win games byallowing the RB pound his way X amount of times. By the way, Football Outsidersand other football writers sympathetic to advanced stats have written aboutthis many times. I know you're familiar with Football Outsiders' work, so I wassurprised that you came to this conclusion.As to whether the Cowboys should have ran the ball more,I'm not sure. Murray had 12 carries for 44 yards (3.7YPC). Seattle is well known for their stingy run defense. From watching thegame live, as well as seeing a few all 22 clips from other sources, it seemedlike Seattle played heavy toward the line of scrimmage with Earl Thomas backdeep on many plays. That, I think, would encourage passing plays. Especiallyconsidering the talent Dallas has at WRTE (and RB if you consider Murray areceiver in this context). Thanks, Debra for the email. Sheis referring to my "Decoding Garrett" story this week that discussesthe Cowboys falling out of balance with regard to running the football whichyou can read here. She is also referencing a rather famousessay that Football Outsiders about the myth of running the ball to win a gamewhichcan be read here. I am a very big fan ofthe work of Football Outsiders and agree with their overall premise thatrunning is not the key to winning, it is often a result of winning. Iknow all of this and yet I write that the Cowboys balance is a very importantelement to their game-plan that Jason Garrett often ignores and it gets theCowboys in trouble. Let me explain the difference, inmy opinion. From the 68 games that I have tracked since I have begunmy play by play Cowboys database, I have seen the Cowboys fall into the trapsof scrapping their normal game plan - every play brings a new personnelgrouping and a logical mix of formations and play ideas - for what amounts to ashotgun-heavy, exclusive-pass offense that is closer to Texas Tech circa 2008 thanit is to a traditional NFL offense. When the Cowboysdo this, they get in big trouble and run into major inefficiency numbers.Shotgun, with 11 personnel, is something that many of the bestoffenses in football have done with ease for years. The Colts,Patriots, Saints, Packers, and Chargers all employ large doses of Shotgun 11and drive defenses crazy trying to slow them down. But, not theCowboys. When the Cowboys go shotgun 11 - which is their 2-minutedrill offense and their 3rd Down offense - they get into major protectionproblems, which lead to sacks, false starts, and holding penalties, which thenlead to 3rd and 17. And nothing good happens on 3rd and 17. My issue with balance may actually not be runpass.It may be shotgununder center. It is harder to run thosenumbers, but that is the real issue. Shotgun is the least physicalstyle of football you can play, as your offensive lineman are always goingbackwards. You never allow them to fire off the ball, so they willnever get a physical edge in a game. I think the Cowboys offense hasalways worked better with Romo under center and a runpass balance threat forthe linebackers and safeties to consider. But, no, Iam not someone who thinks that if Emmitt carries 20 times, the Cowboysautomatically win. If I did, you would give Emmitt the ball the first20 plays and load up the bus. That isn't real football. Dave writes: Should the Cowboysconsider a special teams coaching change? It seems that the big playsrarely happen and the catastrophes are becoming more common. Itdidn't even appear that the Seahawks did anything special to block thatpunt. And wouldit be illegal for the Cowboys to ever block a punt? I am certainly glad you asked me that! No, it doesn't appear the Seahawks were trying to block as they only rushed 6guys. With 8 blocking 6, it should not be this difficult.But, Dan Conner and Bruce Carter both got beat to their outsideshoulders and honestly, 2 different Seahawks could have blocked that punt.Bruce Irvin got the credit on tv, but Malcolm Smith actually did thedeed before Jerrod Johnson ran it in. Here is thephotographic evidence of who was on the scene. One of thesedays, I would love to figure out why the Cowboys have the unbalanced formationon their punts, but I have never received a solid answer. It is awfuldeflating to work all week on being prepared to play a game like this only tobe sabotaged because 2 linebackers cannot occupy their man for enough time forChris Jones to get the punt off. I am sure you arewondering a few questions about this blocked punt, right? 1) Do the Cowboys lose every game in which theyget a punt blocked? No, it just seems that way.In the last 15 years, they have lost in Seattle (2012), at the Jets(2011), at Arizona (2008), at Philadelphia (2001), at New York Giants (2001),and at Kansas City (1998). However, they have had punts blocked atIndianapolis (2010), home versus Washington (2002), and home versus SanFrancisco (2001) and won. So, of the last 9 puntsthat the Cowboys have had blocked, they are 3-6. And wow, Filip Filipovic,the punter in 2001, had 3 punts blocked in one season. That isamazing, given that Mat McBriar had 3 punts blocked in his entire career. 2) How come the Cowboys never seem to block apunt of their own?Let's take a look at this historical record on thisfront, shall we? Last 15 years, the Cowboys haveblocked just 3 punts. If you can name them without looking, you arethe biggest Cowboys fan of all time. 10311999 - Lemanski Hall blocked a Hunter Smith puntin a loss at Indianapolis. 1282002 - Marcus Steele blocked a Bill Lafluer punt inTexas Stadium in a game best remembered for Terrell Owens going to the star andGeorge Teague knocking him off of it. And the lastpunt blocked by a Dallas Cowboy? 11232008 - Carlos Polk blocks Andy Lee's punt at TexasStadium that rolls out of the endzone. I had norecollection of any of these - despite watching all 3 games closely - and wentto go find the Polk block in my video library. Here is what I foundfor you. Enjoy: Finally, everyone sent me a variation of this emailor tweet: Bob, WHY DID THE COWBOYS NOT GETANYTHING OUT OF MARTELLUS BENNETT AND NOW HE LOOKS LIKE THE BEST SIGNING IN THENFL WHILE PLAYING FOR THE HATED GIANTS?????!!!!!?????? This is likely the first thing many of you expected when you foundout that Martellus Bennett, the latest version of Bobby Carpenter (draft pickthat not only did not reach expectations, but never came close to evendemonstrating a worthiness of being in the NFL while in Dallas) signed with arival. Looking back, he was a pick they didn't need tomake, as they already had a fine No. 2 Tight End in Anthony Fasano if they wantedto make "12" personnel a part of their attack. Let's notforget, before New England did this idea right, the Cowboys tried to make itwork. It just never came close to working. But, why? Why did he look so promising at times? Why did helook like a weapon in training camp but never a threat on game day?Who do we blame? Are the Cowboys this bad at developingtalent? It makes you wonder. He already has3 touchdowns in New York - the only Giant to ever get 3 in his first 3 games -which is just 1 short of his 4 he scored in Dallas in 4 seasons. Why did it not work here? Coaching?Yes. There is no doubt that they tried to turn him into ahighly compensated blocking tight end when they got tired of his act. Quarterbacking? Yes. He was dead to Romoby about late 2009. He wasn't dependable and he didn't make toughcatches so he was a last resort. Bennett beingimmature? Yes. He wasn't always in great condition, he losthis confidence, and his immaturity was legendary for thinking he had arrivedwhen he did arrive in the NFL. You would think that todeal with a guy like Bennett, you would need a veteran to show him how to act.And the Cowboys had Jason Witten. You would think that theCowboys would be able to pull off the New England model of "12"personnel with tight ends that cannot be covered by linebackers killing theseams. Then, you switch to dime to cover them, and they kill you onthe ground. There is no way to deal with it. And the Cowboys never got out of their own barn. Sooner or later, the wasting of perfectly good picks like Felix Jones andMartellus Bennett must stop. And that is the mandate of this currentstaff. Instead, it seems like a perpetual cycle of frustration thatthe Cowboys continue to ride when they try to develop players. Meanwhile, Martellus might have needed the humbling of Dallas toshow him what amount of work is required to be a player on Sundays.For the first time in his life, he cannot dominate just by showingup. These players are just as gifted and now it comes down towork. Regardless, it makes everyone ill to see a gianttalent like Bennett hooking up with Eli Manning now on a regular basis.He will surely have a career year (he only needs 99 yards to eclipsehis high) and revive his future chance to get paid. Maddening.
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