Necessary Roughness, Week 1: This is NOT the Year the Cowboys “Turn it Around”
I’ll start this week’s column with a riddle. How do you win the categories of time of possession, passing yardage, total yardage, first down conversions, penalty yardage, and still somehow manage to lose the game? The answer is… be the Dallas Cowboys and have four turnovers, three of which were interceptions on awfully thrown passes by Tony Romo.
I must admit, I take a great deal of satisfaction in the Cowboys’ struggles. They are a team that is just so easy to dislike. Probably because I’m from the south, and I have to hear their annoyingly outspoken fans call in to local sports radio shows rambling on and on about how “this is the year the Cowboys turn it around.” I wouldn’t be disappointed in the slightest if I lived the rest of my life without ever again hearing, “how ’bout dem Cowboys!” Look, if your team sucks, have the humility to just be silently frustrated in a cocoon of misery like the rest of us. And if the Week 1 shellacking they were dealt by the 49ers is any indication of how the rest of the season goes, I’d have to say that this is without question NOT the year Dallas turns it around. Their defense is an atrocity, their quarterback makes entirely too many ill-advised passes, and the stubborn arrogance of their owner/general manager/marketing strategist/executive chef/drummer/janitor/3rd string place kicker is counter productive in building a culture of winning. I didn’t even think the 49ers played a great game. Offensively, they stalled out in the 2nd half, and I think they may have some problems defending the run, which could cause issues when they play a more worthy opponent.
While the result of the Cowboys/49ers game may not have been much of a surprise, there were plenty of games that did cause me to raise my unibrow. Obviously I don’t have the time to discuss every game, but here’s a couple that jumped out at me:
Rams/Vikings: In my estimation, neither of these teams are playing more than 16 games this year. And neither one of these teams are winning more than half of those 16 games. But the Rams are a hot mess. How do you lose at home to the Vikings 34-6? And I don’t mean to take anything away from the Vikings. They dominated that game. Matt Cassel took care of the ball, and Cordarrelle Patterson and Adrian Peterson made plays. It’s hard to assess the Minnesota defense because they were essentially playing a practice squad caliber offense. St. Louis fans are in for a long year I’m afraid. In lieu of watching the games, you may want to just write “get well soon” cards to Sam Bradford and hope his spaghetti knee heals with miraculous quickness.
Falcons/Saints: This was a major shocker. Granted, the game was in Atlanta, but I really thought New Orleans would come in and make a statement that they could challenge Seattle for home field advantage in the playoffs. That didn’t quite happen. I like Rob Ryan, mainly because he’s probably the only coordinator or coach in the league who can legitimately do hairnados. But his supposedly much improved defense needs some major work. Matt Ryan carved them up like a jack-o-lantern and the Saints never seemed to make any in-game adjustments. I don’t think this is a reason to panic for Saints fans, however. This is still a good team, and if not for an overtime fumble by the usually sure-handed Marques Colston, they may have still come out with a W.
Dolphins/Patriots: This is easily the most emphatic WTF of Sunday. I still think the Patriots are far and away the best team in the AFC East, but the Dolphins were really impressive. After a somewhat sluggish start, they ramped up their pass rush and exposed an underwhelming offensive line, clearly rattling Tom Brady and the New England offense. On the other side of the ball, Knowshon Moreno ran all over the Patriots’ defensive front, and the Dolphins absolutely dominated the second half of that game. I won’t be able to say this very often, but I think Bill Belichick was outcoached. Joe Philbin made the adjustments that he needed to make at halftime, and the result was one of the bigger upsets of the day.
Browns/Steelers: Though they came out of this one with a loss, you have to consider it a moral victory of sorts for the Cleveland Browns. I for one did not expect them to put up 27 points on the historically prideful defense of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Browns showed a lot of tenacity and scrappiness and if they can stay true to that identity, they are going to give some really good teams a run for their money this year. Brian Hoyer was great in the midst of the Johnny Football saga, knowing that people all over the nation were rooting against him in the hopes that Manziel would take a few snaps. Clevelanders should be proud of their team’s effort, if nothing else.
Panthers/Bucs: Of course I can’t sign off without mentioning my Carolina Panthers. It was by no means a pretty win, but hey, a divisional game on the road with a backup quarterback… I’ll take it. Derek Anderson did a noble job of filling in for the banged up Cam Newton and the Panthers’ defense did what they are built to do, which is keep teams out of the endzone. I was a little disappointed that the defensive play calling got decidedly more conservative as the game went on. Carolina is clearly a better team when they are putting constant heat on the quarterback. The secondary is just not good enough to be effective in a “bend but don’t break” style of defense. But hey, a win is a win, and under these circumstances, it’s a valuable one.
Monday night brings us two games, both of which should be fairly interesting. In game one the Giants and Lions square off to see which disappointing team of 2013 has righted the ship, if in fact either team has done such a thing. I’m giving the edge to the Lions, not because I necessarily think they are the better team, but simply because the game is in Detroit. The late game pits an Arizona team that narrowly missed the playoffs last year against the San Diego Chargers. I like the Chargers over the long haul this year and I think they could return to the playoffs, but they tend to wait until November to play their best football. Carson Palmer is playing with a lot of confidence, coming off the best year of his career and Arizona has home field advantage. So I’ll pick the Cardinals in a close one.
I hope everyone had a great Sunday and got absolutely no exercise whatsoever. Until next week…. sports!