Big win for the Cowboys last week versus the Steelers. Cornerback Brandon Carr may have justified his contract with that interception in overtime. What exactly does the win mean? Well, it means Dallas actually controls their own destiny. Win their last two games versus New Orleans and at Washington and they win the division and would in all likelihood host Seattle in the first round of the playoffs. There are also scenarios in which Dallas could win the division with a loss to the Saints, but that would require the Giants to lose one of their last two games and still requires a win versus Washington. Dallas can also secure a wildcard berth but that means they would need to see quite a few losses by the Giants, Bears, and Vikings. What this comes down to is that when Dallas was 3-5, they would’ve been overjoyed to be in this position. Now let’s see if they can take advantage of it.
As for the game against Pittsburgh. The good news was once again that RB DeMarco Murray looked good. It’s pretty amazing how much more confidence the offensive line seems to have when they realize that there is a legitimate threat in the backfield. They block better and the play action pass now has to be respected by the opposing defense. The defense didn’t play great. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger did throw for over 300 yards, but they came up big when they had to. Stopping the Steelers from driving for the winning score late in the game, and coming up with the interception in overtime to setup the game winning field goal by Dan Bailey. The pass rush is still inconsistent at best. Linebacker DeMarcus Ware is pretty much playing with one arm but LB Anthony Spencer is having a career season, one that will see him get paid handsomely in the off-season. He is providing the pass rush opposite Ware that the Cowboys have been waiting for since they traded up to grab him in the 2007 draft. The secondary was pretty thin in this game as CB Morris Claiborne missed the game with a concussion (Orlando Scandrick is already on IR). Claiborne should return for this week’s game versus New Orleans. Sterling Moore who was claimed off the practice squad of the Patriots a few weeks ago has provided the team with much needed depth in the secondary and could fight for a role in the nickel or dime defense next season. Secondary isn’t the only area of concern as the Cowboys are also without their top two inside linebackers in Sean Lee and Bruce Carter (both on IR). Things didn’t look any better Sunday when Ernie Sims went out early with a concussion, but Alex Albright came in to take his place played well enough where he could keep the job for the remainder of the season regardless of Sims’ health. Still, if you count as Scandrick as a starter (covers the slot in passing situations), that’s six of 12 defensive starters that are on the IR for Dallas. When you think about it, it’s kind of amazing what defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is doing with this defense. They are held together with duct tape.
Things certainly won’t get any easier this week as the Saints come to town. New Orleans boasts one of the best passing games in the NFL, led by QB Drew Brees. They may not have the best running game on the planet but it’s respectable enough where you can’t just forget about it either. That being said, it’s Brees that is most dangerous. He played back to back subpar games versus the Giants and Falcons, but picked it up again versus Tampa Bay last week. He will look to attack the Dallas secondary, especially the safeties (Danny McCray and Gerald Sensabaugh), who can be had in the deep game. This game has shootout written all over it as the Saints, with the exception of last week, have pretty much been a sieve on defense. Tony Romo and the Cowboys offense shouldn’t have any problems moving the ball up and down the field. Wide receiver Dez Bryant will play in this game as he did versus the Steelers. He did drop three passes last week, so the finger is giving him problems, but hopefully another week will allow to get more acclimated with it. Miles Austin also had a solid game versus the Steelers. Pittsburgh’s game plan last week was to double Dez, even with the bad finger, and play off of Austin. This allowed Austin to run plenty of underneath routes. New Orleans could try a similar tactic. This game could come down to turnovers. Which team will make the least amount of mistakes should go on to post the W. Have to think Dallas wins this game. They are at home, playing well, and it means everything to them, nothing to the Saints. They seemed to have exercised their December woes from the past posting a 3-0 record this month. They more than likely will need to make it 5-0 to get into the playoffs. Dallas 34 Saints 27.
As for the Josh Brent situation. Those who don’t know, Brent was on the sidelines for the game last week even though he has been charged with vehicular manslaughter in the death of his teammate Jerry Brown. This started a controversy as people wondered whether or not he should be there. Apparently the Dallas brass didn’t realize he was there until the game started. His teammates were trying to show support by asking him to attend the game (he left at halftime when he realized his presence was becoming a distraction). The Cowboys and the NFL issued a statement that Brent will not be allowed on the sidelines for the remainder of the season. I applaud the sentiment from his teammates, his mother also wanted him to be there, but in the end, this was a bad decision. I wasn’t all that thrilled with how the Chiefs handled the Jovan Belcher situation either. Memorializing a player who just murdered someone seem quite a bit over the top even if he was a teammate. Let’s hope this is the last time we need to talk about this.
I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention the unspeakable tragedy at the Sandy Hooks Elementary School in Newtown CT. As a father of two young girls, one in kindergarten, I can’t imagine what the parents of those slain children are feeling and hope I never have to. My heartfelt condolences go out to those families and to the school staff that gave up their lives so that more children weren’t murdered.
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