So, here we go! Cowboys vs. Broncos this weekend. And uh…let’s be honest. It seems unlikely the Cowboys come out of this one alive.
I mean, there are some good things happening with this team, for one thing it almost seems to have a running game for the first time since Marion the Barbarian became Marion the Not Very Good at Getting More Than Three Yards.
But If ever there was a time for any team to avoid having a bad pass defense, it would probably be against this year’s version of the Denver Broncos in which a QB who was already barely human has actually been replaced by some sort of Madden 2013 lab experiment.
Check the numbers. Through four games, Manning is averaging a 75% completion percentage, 9.4 yards per attempt, a 138 QB-rating (which is only number one in the league by 20 points), and, you know, 4 TDs a game and zero interceptions. Meanwhile the Cowboys have the 27th worst passing D in the league at this point, even after facing the long-yards-challenged Alex Smith. These two ingredients do not collectively create a delicious recipe.
How’s it going to go? Unfortunately for the Cowboys, the Chargers game probably provides a decent road map. Actually, there are a lot of similarities there. Among human QBs, no one’s been hotter than Rivers, who’s 2nd in the league to Manning in TD passes (by FIVE), and QB rating (BY TWENTY), and has only thrown a couple of interceptions himself. Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, Denver’s pass D is, in terms of yards allowed (30th), one of the only defenses in the league whose ranking is more horrific than either the Cowboys (27th) or the Chargers (29th).
And those kinds of games have a certain look. That is, if you look at the game stats from last week, everybody looked like they did okay. Romo had a 73% completion percentage, threw for 2 TDs and no INTs, Murray rushed for 70 yards on a roust 5 yards a carry. Dez had 81 yards and 2 TDs and young Terrance Williams had by far his best game yet, grabbing 7 receptions for 71 yards.
But the Cowboys lost by 9 and didn’t score in the second half because they couldn’t keep Rivers and the SD offense off the field. As usual, they couldn’t sustain long drives. From the start of the third quarter to the end of the game, the Chargers had the ball for 21:39, the ‘Boys for 13:21. That’s what it took to turn a 9-point half-time lead into a 9-point deficit.
Can’t do much about the defense unless Mo Claiborne turns it around. But It is becoming clear that the problem with the offense is the passing game, and the problem with the passing game is either the play-calling or its execution, and I don’t know which one.
WFAA’s friend and mine, Mike Marshall, the machine (Machine! Machine!) pointed out an eye-opening stat earlier this week; that Romo is 32nd in the league in percentage of throws beyond 15 yards. That can’t keep happening if the Cowboys want to win.
Directly related is the fact that the Boys had THREE drives over 70 yards in that last game, against the Chargers, which brought them to FIVE on the season. If you think Romo’s short passes and the Cowboys’ inability to drive down the field are unrelated, you’d better at least pretend to be able to do some complicated math because it hardly seems possible.
Obviously, if even Peyton Manning were this good—on track, at age 37, for 5,800 yards, 64 TDs and 0 INTs, each of which would be a record by a considerable amount—we’d know it already, so there is always a chance for a come-back-to-Earth game. But it just doesn’t seem likely, does it?
The silver lining, for those who are looking for it is, as bad as the Cowboys have been they’re still atop an unprepossessing NFC East, and whatever happens this weekend they’ll be, at worst, tied for the lead and still without a divisional loss. Since next week is Washington, and the next Philly, the two other divisional teams with a win, whether or not they lose this one, the Cowboys can be guaranteed the top spot again after 7 games with full control over the relevant tiebreakers. Speaks more to the NFC East right now than anything else, but there it is.
We have probably learned by now that the Cowboys are mediocre, once again. But with a poor division and games against Minnesota, Oakland and another against NYC coming up, the path to the playoffs remains relatively clear. Just don’t expect them to beat Manning and the Broncos on Sunday.
Though stranger things have happened.