Over the course of a season in the NFL, or in any sport, it seems that the general mission of a team is to improve upon its demonstrated weaknesses and sustain its strengths. The second half of the Philly game provided a tiny glimmer of hope that the Cowboys could be doing just that. Could the defense consistently create turnovers? Could the offensive line keep Romo upright and effective? Could this team play winning football?
Those three questions were answered with a forceful "No" in the first half against Cleveland. A Cowboys defense that played with such swagger in Philadelphia all of a sudden was getting manhandled by Trent Richardson, Papa Weeden and a group of magnet-handed receivers. Offensively, Dallas was as effective as an ice cube in a hot tub, failing to reach the red zone until the 4th quarter.
As the second half rolled around, the Cowboys shook off the Ambien, and the Browns finally played like their 2-7 record indicated. Tony Romo carried the offense -- and a few Browns linemen -- on his shoulders while the Dallas defense tightened the screws on their end. Despite seizing control of the momentum, the Cowboys tried their best to give the game away, needing a one-minute drill from Romo and the bunch just to get an overtime-inducing field goal.
Although it was a win, this game was just another reminder that your expectations for this team can never be too low. No matter what they show you on the field, under this current regime there is always room for things to go wrong. Let's pop the cork on some observations and awards.
Begging For Cleatus: If there's one thing about the Cowboys we can consistently appreciate, it's that they don't play in the AFC. The Fox broadcast presentation has its share of down moments, but it makes CBS look like cable access by comparison. From the uncomfortably testy studio throwbacks between Greg Gumbel and James Brown to Dan Dierdorf's random spurts of condescension, the telecast had a supremely amateur feel. It should have been a warning in the 1st quarter when Dierdorf referred to Jason Witten's hands as "soft and supple," leading viewers to believe he was splitting his on-air time between watching the game and thumbing through the latest issue of Penthouse.
Offensive Line Tests The Boundaries Of The Word "Awful": At points in yesterday's scrum, it became almost laughably sad how bad this Cowboys offensive line has become. Seven sacks and 10 quarterback hits against an average defense is deplorable. Add that to another completely toothless rushing attack, and you've got the most glaring area of immediate need for this team. Spending one high-round draft pick every five years isn't going to bring this unit to anywhere near respectable, and there's no telling how long it will take for the owner/GM/rapper/lingerie salesman to get the message. Perhaps if the lone "star" along the line were to get hurt...
Another One Bites The Dust: If you were to list the top 5 players the Cowboys couldn't afford to lose going into this season, Tyron Smith would certainly be on the list. With depth along the offensive front completely ignored by the front office, it was critical for the starters to stay on the field. Welp, Tyron Smith suffering the dreaded high ankle sprain yesterday, and now the Cowboys are down three starters on the offensive line. Since Jerry's known for the splashy trade, I recommend the following trade for Browns left tackle Joe Thomas: Dez, Scandrick, Cowboys' 2027-2032 first round picks, a hand-selected piece from Gene Jones' stadium art gallery and a case of collector's edition Twinkies. Does Cleveland even think about it?
The Always Remember David Buehler Award: Dan Bailey. There was a time in the not-too-distant past when a 38-yard field goal was far from a sure thing. The two-year period between the fall of Nick Folk and the rise of Bailey was one fraught with field goal failure. Bailey hasn't proven to be 100% clutch (see the Arizona icing incident, last season v. Giants, this season v. Ravens), but within a reasonable distance late in a game, it's safe to say he's more than capable. Having that kind of weapon, especially on a team that can't seem to put a team away, is immensely valuable.
The Orlando Scrandrick Negative Impact Award: Buster Skrine. I typically don't give out awards to the other team, but the defensive back that helped the Cowboys' cause the most this week was clearly young Buster. While his three penalties may not fly off the stat sheet, his interference penalty in the 4th quarter set the Cowboys up in prime position to take their first lead.
Not to be outdone, Scandrick gave maximum effort to earn his namesake award with an unnecessary roughness penalty on a third down incompletion, extending a Browns drive that would result in a field goal.
The "When Does Baseball Start?" Pitch-And-Catch Award: Tony Romo and Dez Bryant. On a day where nothing seemed to be going as planned for the Dallas offense, the chemistry between Romo and Bryant flowed fairly effortlessly. Dez caught 12 of the 15 balls thrown his direction, including a gorgeous 28-yard torpedo to give the Cowboys their first lead in the 4th quarter. This was the kind of performance we've been waiting to see out of Bryant. He took over the game late and asserted himself as the biggest badass on the field. If he can play with that kind of confidence each week, then the gamble Jerry Jones took on draft day 2010 will look all the wiser.
Next up, the Cowboys get ready to host Thanksgiving tilt with Robert Griffin III and the Redskins, who are fresh off a dissecting of the Eagles. Dallas has proven decent at containing mobile QBs this year (Newton, Vick), so it'll be interesting to see how they gameplan for the rookie phenom. If they can generate any kind of pass rush, which has been absent to this point, they should have a good shot in this one.