LANDOVER - SEPTEMBER 12: Casey Rabach #61 of the Washington Redskins snaps the ball during the NFL season opener against the Dallas Cowboys at FedExField on September 12 2010 in Landover Maryland. The Redskins defeated the Cowboys 13-7. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)

Cowboys-Redskins, In Review: Time To Vent

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Cowboys-Redskins, In Review: Time To Vent

So the scene was set—one play, three seconds left, Tony Romo and the Cowboys down 13-7, on the Redskins 13 yardline with a chance to score the go-ahead touchdown.

I'd either be leaving a stadium full of 80,000 people talking trash like an asshole after beating the Redskins in the cruelest way possible, or I'd be leaving a stadium full of 80,000 people while they talk trash to me like assholes. Whatever happened, it had all the makings of a classic ending that would be remembered fondly for a long time. The only question was whether it'd be Skins fans or Cowboys fans doing the remembering.

And, well, you know how it ended.

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Not fun. Anyway, because I'm too lazy and disheartened to cobble together anything coherent, I figured I might as well vent somewhere. Here are my thoughts on the Cowboys (and Redskins), if you're interested.

1. JASON GARRETT WENT TO PRINCETON  Hey, did you know Jason Garrett went to Princeton? Because he did. Just ask him. He'll tell you. Or don't ask him. He'll still find a way to show you. Why? BECAUSE JASON GARRETT WENT TO PRINCETON. So he's extra cerebral, ya know? You can't watch a Jason Garrett coached team and not think, "Whoa, that coach is pretty creative... He must have gone to an Ivy League School."

Or at least, that's the idea.

In practice? You can't watch a Jason Garrett-coached team and not think, "Who the hell is calling these plays, and why is he making it so goddamn complicated?" Like last night. Dallas needed only five plays to move the ball down the field and to the edge of field goal range. Then...

[bubble screen to Dez Bryant for two yards]

"Why would he do that? We just moved 36 yards using the run and play-action."

[bubble screen to Dez Bryant for a loss of one]

"Did... Did he just run the same play again? What happened to the other offense?"

[fade to Roy Williams on the sideline, inevitably incomplete]

"What the hell just happened? We looked so great, and then..."

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...JASON GARRETT HAPPENED.

That magical sequence took place on the opening drive of the game last night, and reminded everyone why the Cowboys are so impossible to watch these days. They have no identity—they might, if Garrett would get out of the way and let them become a team that thrives off the play action pass and a steady running game. But then, how would that show the world how brilliant he is?

And isn't that the point of coaching? To show everyone how brilliant you are? To be so magically inventive that announcers feel compelled to cite your Princeton education and tab you one of the "brightest minds in the League"? Why run successfully when you can surprise everyone by throwing stupid passes?

So many questions, and for the Dallas Cowboys, Jason Garrett has all the answers.

He went to Princeton, you know.

2. Yeah... Not Happy With The Coaching Staff. When the Cowboys brought back Wade Phillips this winter, I wrote that "Wade Phillips, Jerry Jones, and Tony Romo have slowly killed my hope for this franchise, and until one (or more) of them leaves, I will be off in the corner listening to Radiohead, reading Boys Will Be Boys, and mumbling about swagger."

It's not that all three of them are problematic individually, but together, it just isn't the right mix. Romo's laissez faire attitude is fine, and same with Wade. But when the Cowboys were committing stupid penalties last night--and it all happened all night, not just that final play—there was nobody out there to keep them in line.

"Keep them in line." It's a vague concept, and something that sounds an awful lot like the inane rhetoric we hear every week from macho football announcers convinced we'd all be better off if everyone just got screamed at a little more. Just like in the good ole days. Back when men were men, nobody drank water during training camp, and everybody was racist.

(awkward pause)

So yeah, maybe it is inane, antiquated rhetoric. But there's got to be something to explain last night's completely effort by Dallas. All the dumb penalties, the mental mistakes, all of it. Whether someone to "keep 'em in line" or something else, Dallas was clearly missing a key ingredient. And this guy wasn't giving it to them.

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3. The Fumble Before The Half  That was just a freak accident. Dallas should have taken a knee, Romo should have taken a sack, or Choice should have slid. None of that happened, by 99 times out of 100, the play ends without a fumble and everyone goes to halftime like nothing happened. That was just a bad decision compounded by terrible luck, and to focus on the decision as opposed to the luck would be unfair.

HOWEVER... Here are four other plays that completely screwed the Cowboys Sunday night.

  1. 3rd and 4 at WSH 6, 15:00 (2nd) The bubble screen again, this time to Miles Austin. I couldn't decide whether this was worse than the first down call (a halfback option??), but really, the point is the same: Jason Garrett got cute again, when relying on superior talent probably would have sufficed. As it was, Dez Bryant interfered with the Skins' defensive backs, the play was negated, and Dallas had to settle for a field goal (which they missed).
  2. 1st and 10 at WSH 34, 2:29 (2nd) Delay of game, Tony Romo. Another mistake that comes down to a combination of coaching and the quarterback position. This came immediately after a 21-yard pass to Miles Austin, and ultimately ended what had been a 66-yard drive to that point. On the bright side, no fumbles were returned for touchdowns.
  3. 3rd and 9 at WSH 48 7:02 (3rd) Tony Romo to Dez Bryant for 6 yards, Laron Landry on the tackle. The Redskins had just botched a field goal, Dallas was driving, having just scored a touchdown, and if Dez breaks that tackle, they'd at least have gotten a field goal. It was the one key play where the Redskins beat the Cowboys, not the Cowboys beating the Cowboys.
  4. 1st and 10 at DAL 45 11:56 (4th) Martellus Bennett block in the back penalty negates 12-yard Miles Austin catch. This was yet another opportunity for the Cowboys to drive and take the lead, and again, penalties killed any chance they had. Not only did Bennett's block not help Austin, but it set off a sequence that finished with a holding call on Alex Barron, and a false start on Doug Free. So much for the go-ahead drive...

So, yeah: the fumble and the holding call were rough, but there were plenty of other boneheaded plays that killed Dallas last night. They just didn't deserve to win the game.

4. The Game Was Still Great As much as I've complained, don't get me wrong. There's nothing better than a Redskins-Cowboys game. The energy in the stadium was ridiculous from the opening kickoff to that last play, and even though the game was pretty ugly for the rest of America, the energy in the stadium kept things interesting for most of the night. That's a serious credit to the fans, and to a lesser extent, Donovan McNabb and Mike Shannahan, both of whom have injected all sorts of new life into this franchise.

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Which brings me to my final point...

5. Calm Down, Redskins Fans Alright alright, the Skins won their opener. Awesome.

But let's not pretend the turnaround is complete, or that the Skins even deserved to win last night. Because BOTH teams were gawdawful. The only difference is the Redskins were more "subtly mediocre" to Dallas' "spectacularly dysfunctional."

The Redskins scored six points on offense. McNabb was an upgrade over Jason Campbell last night, but he still missed plenty of open receivers, and the McNabb-led offense stalled in the Red Zone, just like the Campbell outfit a year earlier. Had it not been for Dallas' little disaster at the end of the first half, the entire stadium would have been grumbling midway through the third quarter, the Cowboys would have been rolling, and the entire game plays out differently.

Not saying Washington's win should count less or anything... They won because they played mistake-free football. And saying team played "mistake-free football" is tantamount to calling a quarterback a "game manager."

"So they're good at not screwing themselves over? Well, then. They sound GREAT!"

There's a thin line between "BACK, Baby!" and "same old Skins..." and Shannahan's squad toed it ever so gently last night. Were they terrible? No. But they nearly lost to a team that made every conceivable mistake a pro football team can make.

As for Dallas... I'm actually feeling okay about all of this. The Cowboys' may have sealed their fate this winter, when they brought back Wade Phillips. But if we're going to look on the bright side, then perhaps some early struggles are exactly what the team needs. An excuse for Wade to tighten the leash, a wake-up call for Romo, and a different tune from that of the last three seasons, which saw the Cowboys dominate early on, only to fade later in the season.

Maybe a slow start is the only way this team could ever be successful. The playoffs don't come for another four months, and I'd certainly rather peak then than now. An embarrassing loss in September is a lot less concerning than a disaster in December. Right?

That's how I'm spinning it, anyway. The Cowboys have Super Bowl talent, and anything less will be a disappointment. Better to have Super Bowl talent than be a mistake-free team. You can become the second, but you can't fake the first. So who cares if they lost Game 1? Nobody awards Super Bowls in September. Just don't tell all those delirious Redskins fans.

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