Has there ever been any more hand wringing for a 4-2 team than there is for the Cowboys right now?
After week 3 it was party time in Dallas. Three weeks later it is like a funeral. They were once 3-0 after a big road win against the Packers. Everyone was ready to hand it to them.
I bought in. I proclaimed in this very column, “they just got done beating what I considered the best two teams in the NFC besides themselves. Case closed. Best in the NFC. At least until opening kick of the playoffs.”
Not so fast Kool-Aid guzzlers. Dallas, we have a problem.
Despite sporting the biggest baddest looking players in the league, this team is just not going to live up to their potential or the hype. And I thought that before Romo’s broken pinkie sent Cowboys fans running to the store to stock up on hard liquor and Peptol Bismol.
When you look at the Cowboys huge offensive line, you have a hard time believing that their quarterback spends most of his time running for his life or scraping himself off the turf. And you have a hard time believing Marion Barber is averaging 4.0 yards a carry after racking up a 4.4 career average.
The really disturbing part about that is that this is pretty much the same offensive front they had last year. And they are getting blown up. And now the ancient Brad Johnson will be lining up behind them, to guide an offense that is based on the vertical passing game. Hmmm. The mental picture I am getting here is not a good one.
Worst of all the vaunted Dallas defense is also getting blown up. Here is the list of teams that have given up more points than the Cowboys: Broncos, Texans, Bengals, Rams, Seahawks, 49ers, Cardinals, Packers, Lions. That is a rough neighborhood.
So how does the schedule for “Life Without Romo” shape up? With their shaky offensive line and defense? On the road to a suddenly inspired Rams team. In the surely frenzied dome. Then at home against a physical Tampa team that just kept Carolina out of the end zone for 60 minutes. Then on the road at the Giants. If you think any one of those games is a cakewalk you are delusional. If Romo can come back after the bye week he would face the Redskins on the road for his first game back.
Meanwhile Owens is one game filled with dump passes (and no, not to him) from going postal, Pacman is tapping his toe on the crumbling ledge and the commissioner has a hammer in his hand, and all of those 3-3 and 4-2 teams in the league smell blood in the water. The Cowboys face 3 of them in the next 4 games.
We are about to see what this Cowboys team is really made of. Adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it. We don’t have to wait until the playoffs to find out what we need to know about the Cowboys. We will know in 3 weeks or less.
The landscape has changed tremendously since week 3. After week 3 we were trying to decide which ONE of the NFC East teams would get left out of the playoffs, now it entirely possible only one makes it in. Witness, the previously discarded NFC South. The Saints are in last place at 3-3. The rest are 4-2. Surprise!
Before the season started I made some outlandish predictions in this column. Well, they certainly seemed outlandish at the time. Part of the reasoning there was that the NFL has gotten so unpredictable, the most insane thing you can imagine can become reality. Instantly. One of my predictions was that the Atlanta Falcons would win their division. They are 4-2.
And how about Matt Ryan? Did anyone seriously see this coming? This fast?
I was able to draft Roddy White in the 5th round of most of my drafts this year, partially due I’m sure to the fact that most people just didn’t think the quarterback play in Atlanta would allow White to prosper. Ryan has made drafting Roddy White look like the genius move of the year. Just how good is Ryan? Comparisons are already being made to Manning and Brady. And if you look at Ryan’s first season stacked up against Manning’s, there are similarities.
Manning sported a 56.7 passing percentage in his first season. Ryan is at 57.8. Manning was sacked 22 times. Ryan is on pace to be sacked about 19 times. Ryan is on a fairly slower pace in touchdown passes and yardage, but even bigger than that is the fact that he is on pace to end up with only 8 interceptions this year. Manning had 28. The lack of interceptions is by far the most impressive stat for Ryan. True, he isn’t being asked to do a whole lot, but what he is being asked to do, he is doing very well. If he was a stock I would be buying right now. Well, that is, I would if I had any money left.
During the Bears game at Atlanta, the camera showed Lovie Smith’s facial expression as Matt Ryan completed his 8th pass in 9 first quarter attempts. That look just about summed it up as far as Matt Ryan goes. Disbelief.
I had one of those moments we all love early in the Jets game. Due to Winslow being out, I was forced to grab Keller off the waiver wire for a start. I have Cotchery on a couple of my teams as well, so I got very interested when the Jets entered the red zone for the first time. Sure enough - touchdown pass to Keller! Wait a minute. Penalty. Play called back. Then Favre tossed a touchdown pass to Cotchery! Wait a minute. Penalty. Play called back. Then another pass to Cotchery! Crap, pushed out at the one yard line. First and goal at the one. Crap, they will probably just run it in with Jones now. Wait a minute, Favre is dropping back to pass, he throws it…touchdown Thomas Jones! No matter how many times I see that movie it’s always just as good as the first time.
I happened to catch “Hammerin” Hank Goldberg’s segment on ESPN just before Countdown this Sunday. Good old Hank is still doing what he does best. He is your bookies best friend. He went 2-3 with his picks against the number last week bringing his season record to 16-19-2.
If you go to ESPN and dial up Goldberg’s profile you will see that he joined ESPN2 in 1993. ESPN then goes on to proudly state that, “In his first year as ESPN2’s pigskin prognosticator, Goldberg was accurate 61% during the regular season (33-21).” That was a long, long time ago. I mean, back when I was in high school, I could run a mile or two without having a defibrillator come into play. Not really relevant now.
Dear ESPN: I can give bad betting advice. I have bad suits. I am follically challenged. I can sweat profusely. I spit when I talk. I can add a few chins if necessary. I am widely hated. Just take a look at the comments section after every column I write. I’ve got it all. And I work cheap too. How about a segment for me? I have just the distinct lack of talent and useful information you seem to clamor for. Let’s talk.
10) Cowboys: 4-2 teams rarely find their way into the Misery Index. But this is a special case. Jerry Jones has built this team with a Super Bowl or bust mentality. The expectations this season were simple. Win the Super Bowl. Never mind the fact that they haven’t won a playoff game since before Bill Clinton smoked his first Monica cigar, dammit this team was just too good not to go all the way. Looks like Jerry Jones is in for some sleepless nights. Which isn’t that big a deal since he really can’t close his eyes all the way anyhow.
9) Rest of the NFC East: A couple of weeks ago we anointed this division. Oops. Losses to the Rams and Browns on top of the Cowboys loss to the Cardinals is a nasty trifecta. Coupled with wins by the NFC south, we got ourselves a dog fight here. My apologies to Mike Vick, whose absence has only helped the NFC South rise to its new-found prominence.
8 ) Rams: I’m not sure what to make of the Rams stunning victory at Washington this week. I mean, the knee-jerk reaction would be to say, “Hey, it was the head coach’s fault all along, it was because of him that this team looked like a bunch of pansies for their first 4 games. New coach. New team. Problem solved.” Maybe. If that is true then one would expect this suddenly inspired team to give the downtrodden Cowboys all they can handle this Sunday. While this looked like a real dog of a game just a week ago, suddenly it is must-watch TV. Which would be fine if only the Rams playing surface didn’t look like Granny’s aluminum Christmas tree in full glow.
7) Texans: If this team’s fate lies in the QB running with the ball at the end of the game, it appears Schaub is the better option. If the teams success ever hinges on awkward acrobatics for QBs running with the ball at the end of the game, Rosenfels is your man.
6) Chiefs: The happiest moment for Chiefs fans this season may come later today - if Gonzo gets traded to a legitimate contender and finally gets a chance to win a ring. There is no reason that everybody involved with the Chiefs should have to suffer through this rebuilding “bridge to nowhere” project. Trading Gonzo however, would be the right thing to do here and that has not been Peterson’s M.O.
5) 49ers: Bay area fans who have long been calling for Mike Nolan’s head, were probably looking longingly at the Rams last Sunday. They fired their head coach and came out a completely different looking team. Oh, if only that was us. Let me gaze into my crystal ball. The 49ers fire Nolan here in a couple of weeks. They assign Martz the head coaching job. Martz goes and gets Kitna (who the Lions cut after nobody would trade for him), the team goes on a winning streak, only to miss out of the playoffs in the final week when Martz uses all of his timeouts in the first 5 minutes of each half, calls 5 running plays all game long, and Kitna throws 5 interceptions in 70 passing attempts. Hmmm. Maybe you ‘Niner fans should just ride this one out with Nolan after all…
4) Seahawks: The Seahawks remind me of some fantasy teams I have had. They go into the season a little shaky about the running game. Then the running game turns out to be ok, but then all the receivers get injured. About the time the receivers start coming back healthy, the quarterback goes down. I solve that problem by having several fantasy teams. Unfortunately for Seattle, they are stuck with just the one team.
3) Raiders: Prior to the firing of Lane Kiffin (the problem), the Raiders had lost three games being outscored by a total of 38 points. After Al Davis got rid of Kiffin the Raiders went out and promptly got blown out by 31. That was the second worst loss they have suffered since 1995. Okay then. Problem solved.
2) Bengals: While the Bengals have had a nearly permanent place here in the Misery Index for years, we fantasy freaks seemed to cut them some slack. After all, with their sieve-like defense they were always good starts for players against them, and constantly playing from behind we could always count on lots of offense as they tried to claw their way back into games. It seems like only yesterday that having Palmer, Johnson, Housh on your team was a good idea. The Bengals were losers, but we loved them anyway, for they fulfilled our selfish fantasy needs. Now they are just losers, and the only thing we love about them is when we can unload one of them on a league mate who is still living in the past.
1) Lions: Well, I have to hand it to you. Last week I called you a bunch of quitters. But this week you actually showed up. Good for you. I tried to avoid seeing any of the game this week, but somehow during my channel flipping I ended up on the Lions game as they started a drive from their own 1 yard line. Orlovsky took the snap, and then proceeded to roll himself unprovoked right out of the back of the end zone for a safety. This is the difference between a starting quarterback and a bench quarterback. See, a starting quarterback (even one that sucks) probably doesn’t make that play. A starting quarterback probably realizes that is something you can’t do - running out of the back of the end zone. Orlovsky seemed clueless about what happened until he hit the sidelines and the team informed him about the rule that you cannot run out of the back of the end zone. Interestingly enough, though I only watched about 2 minutes of that game, I saw everything I needed to see. Those two points Orvlostkey gave away was the difference. If you could only see one play in that game, that was the one to see, because that one play summed up the Lions organization. Clueless.