The Dallas Defense Sends a Message to the NFC and to the NFL

December 15, 2008

Irving, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys kept their playoffs hopes alive with a convincing 20-8 victory Sunday night over their NFC East rival, the New York Giants. The win improved the Cowboys record to 9-5, and earned them the top spot in the NFC wild card standings. The Giants fell to 11-3.

Both teams entered the game with potential distractions. Plaxico Burress’ gunshot injury and a recent loss to Philadelphia seemingly had put a damper on what had otherwise been a superb season for New York. For Dallas, Terrell Owens’ alleged comments about Tony Romo throwing excessively to Jason Witten, also had kicked off a frenzy of media attention.

Add potential playoff implications to the mix, and the stage was set for an electric atmosphere at Texas Stadium.

The game did not disappoint.

The Dallas crowd understood the importance of the contest and brought a playoff-type intensity to the sold-out arena. The fans were on their feet from the kickoff to the final whistle, as the volume was deafeningly loud inside the stadium.

The first half saw both offenses struggle. Dallas had several promising drives stall, including their first possession when TO dropped a catchable ball on a deep out.

The Giants’ pass rush was quite effective early, as quarterback Tony Romo was sacked and hit multiple times. Although he played the entire game, those hits caused Romo to suffer a bruised lower back.

In the second quarter however, the Cowboys scored on a vintage Romo play. Romo dropped back to pass, and feeling pressure, rolled to his right. While continuing to scramble, he saw Patrick Crayton wide open behind the defense. Romo lofted an accurate pass to Crayton just before crossing the line of scrimmage, and the Cowboys were up 7-0.

The Giants then answered with a promising second quarter drive of their own. Nevertheless, the Cowboys’ defense held when it mattered most, and the Giants were limited to a mere field goal after their 6 minute and 19 second march. At half, the Cowboys led 7-3.

The third quarter saw more defensive excellence, as both teams were held scoreless.

In the fourth quarter, the Cowboys’ offense finally got untracked. Romo led the team on a 9-play, 72-yard march, culminating in a one-yard touchdown pass to fullback Deon Anderson. The drive consumed 5 minutes and 28 seconds off the clock, and gave Dallas a 14-3 lead.

Still, the G-Men didn’t go quietly. With Dallas pinned inside their own 10-yard line, Romo was hit, and fumbled the ball out of bounds for a safety and a 14-5 score.

Immediately thereafter, New York drove into Dallas’ territory, threatening to score once more. Again, however, the Cowboys’ D was stout, and the Giants were forced to settle for a field goal.

Up only 14-8 with 5:48 remaining, Dallas needed a championship-level drive on their ensuing possession in order to put the game out of reach. In their hour of need they turned, ironically, to rookie running back Tashard Choice.

After a crucial third down conversion pass from Romo to Witten, offensive coordinatoor Jason Garrett dialed up Choice’s number. The rookie took a hand-off and exploded through a hole along the left side. He sprinted 38 yards into the endzone, and the Cowboys were comfortably ahead to stay at 20-8.

Dallas can credit their defense for this victory. The Cowboys’ front seven dominated the Giants’ offensive line, as they sacked Eli Manning 8 times. DeMarcus Ware recorded 3 sacks on his own, boosting his league-leading total to 19. Ware now needs only 4 more to break the single season sack record.

The Cowboys’ DB’s also performed well, as elite cover corner Terrence Newman snagged two picks off Eli Manning. Manning totalled an unimpressive 191 passing yards.

The Giants have now suffered consecutive losses since the Plaxico incident.

Still, the Giants undoubtedly should be one of the top contenders for the NFC crown, assuming of course, that Brandon Jacobs can get healthy by the postseason.

As for the Cowboys . . .


1. Their defense is championship-caliber

Currently, Dallas is ranked 8th defensively, but the numbers fail to tell the whole story. In truth, the Cowboys’ D has been lockdown dominant for the second week in a row. In that span, they have been just as good, if not better than the number 1 and 2 defensive teams -- Pittsburgh and Baltimore.

Indeed, it is quite ironic that on a team with Tony Romo, Marion Barber, TO, Jason Witten, and Roy Williams, the Cowboys’ DEFENSE has become the more exciting unit to watch.

It starts with a front seven that is big, fast, and really gets after people. Linebackers Brady James and Zach Thomas have been solid all year. Veteran ‘backer Greg Ellis is a steadying presence who still can rush the passer, as seen by his 2 sacks on Sunday. Last year’s seventh round steal, Jay Ratliff, already is one of the top 5 nosetackles in the game. Ratliff is extremely active, and pressures the quarterback like a defensive end.

And then there’s DeMarcus Ware. This guy has not only become the best linebacker in the game, he might even be worthy of MVP consideration. Ware is arguably the best pass rusher in the league, given his 19 sacks. However, he also could be the league’s best cover linebacker as well. No other linebacker possesses such versatility.

But what really separates Ware are his intangibles. Number 94 has a knack for making clutch plays both on 3rd down and when the game is on the line.

As for the secondary, Newman is healthy and playing as good as any corner in the league right now. Safety Ken Hamlin has been steady all year. Rookie fifth-round corner Orlando Scandrick has provided good coverage in nickel and dime packages. And veteran Anthony Henry has been solid. This unit is deep enough to withstand the loss of PacMan Jones.

Last year, the defense was talented, but underachieving, as Romo and the prolific offense bailed out Dallas game after game. Early this season, the defense again appeared to be the Achilles heel, as the offense racked up numbers and got the team off to a solid start. Then Romo went down, the points disappeared, and everything changed.

Perhaps it was a case of the defense understanding that in order to save the season, their performance had to improve. Perhaps the loss of injured safety Roy Williams actually improved the D’s pass coverage on deep routes. In any case, starting with the ‘Boys victory over Tampa Bay, this unit has played excellent. Wade Phillips has finally made his imprint on the franchise after underachieving and riding Jason Garrett’s coattails last year.

2. When the Giants and Cowboys meet again in the playoffs, the winner will reach the Superbowl.

The Cowboys newfound defensive prowess has elevated them into a tier above NFC East rivals Washington and Philly. It has also put them a cut above the entire NFC South trio of Carolina, Atlanta, and Tampa. The one team with the talent and intangibles to match Big D is New York. The eventual showdown will provide the NFC rep.

3. Barber and receiver Roy Williams are works in progress.

Barber got some PT Sunday, but appeared to reinjure himself in fourth quarter. Getting him healthy is a necessity, and could determine how far the Cowboys go this year. Luckily for Dallas, rookie surprise Tashard Choice has performed excellently as Barber's replacement the past two weeks.

Roy Williams was acquired mid-year and is still being integrated into the offense. He caught only one pass Sunday for 5 yards, and has been somewhat underutilized given his gifts. Again, Williams is another player who could determine the Dallas’ season.

4. What TO controversy?

After the game, Romo, TO, and Witten were all smiles. Their demeanor proved 3 things: 1) winning solves everything, 2) the media overhyped the “story,” and 3) Romo’s unflappable personality allows him to ignore the drama and make plays come game time.

If TO did make the comments as alleged, then are the Cowboys really the only team with a player who complains about not getting the ball enough? In truth, the only real difference is that with other teams the complaints stay private and out of the media.

Frankly, the media coverage on TO is absurd. In each game, cameras focus on Owens’ sideline facial expressions. If he is serious-faced, fans are told by dime-store, amateur psychologist broadcasters that TO is unhappy. Apparently, some of these announcers, such as nepotism beneficiary Joe Buck, believe they have the power to read the human mind.

The TO-Witten story will linger all year, but it will not ultimately determine the Cowboys season. Instead, the season will be made or broken on other factors -- coaching, preparation, heart, blocking, tackling, injuries, and simply, making plays.

By Mike Elliott
Staff Editor for TheDailySportsHerald

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