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Spagnola: Between Parking Lot, Moon; Must Get Job Done

Posted Dec 8, 2013


IRVING, Texas– Time after time after time Jason Garrett reminds us playing at “home or on the road, in the parking lot or on the moon,” should not matter.

We thoroughly understand the home part. Same with on the road, just as the Cowboys did two weeks ago when figuring out how to beat the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium.

The parking lot? Well, think Philadelphia, winning in that hard-scrabble city where the fans are brutal before, during and after the games.

And now, well, we are finding out about the moon, I think, the Cowboys having to first practice this week outdoors in 21-degree wind chill, then having to bus to Highland Park High School’s indoor practice facility after those fields behind The Ranch were blanketed with residue from the major ice storm to smack Dallas-Fort Worth Thursday night.

Now finally, having to play the Chicago Bears at a re-sodded Soldier Field Monday night, with the predicted temperatures at kickoff likely hovering in the mid-teens, and thanks to a predicted 15 mph wind whipping through the old renovated stadium basically on the shores of Lake Michigan, the wind chill surely will be in single digits, this certainly has to qualify as playing on Garrett’s moon.

And if that were not enough adversity for the 7-5, tied-for-first-in-the-NFC East Cowboys trying to extend a two-game winning streak to three, of all things, they must do so with their kryptonite hanging over their heads.

The month of December.

Oh no, not that, the perception being this is the only reason the Cowboys wilt down the stretch even though they have gone 3-2 three times in the past four seasons during this final month of the year. The inference being they can’t handle the heat in the kitchen.

Allow Tony Romo to backhand that one into reality.

“I don’t think the football team cares about December, they care about winning,” he says with a hint of indignation. “You can put this game in October or January or whatever, it’s going to feel the exact same to us. It’s a matter of going out and winning.

“It’s not about proving naysayers wrong. No, for us it’s a matter of winning and you guys add the extra stuff. What matters is getting the job done. No one cares about anything else. You guys can throw out December – you’re good in this, you’re bad in this – but it just doesn’t matter.

“It’s about getting the job done.”

So let’s not bother ourselves with months or perception or even the cold weather, which gave me a good laugh this past week when so much was being made about those big, bad Bears knowing how to play in the cold weather. Well, with the Cowboys acclimating to what surely is coming Monday night by practicing in the 21-degree wind chills, da’ Bears, well, they were practicing at the Walter Payton Center’s indoor facility. Go figure. Who was smarter?

No, what you need to worry yourselves with are those tangible factors surrounding this game against a bunch of desperate Bears, sitting 6-6, one game behind the NFC North-leading Detroit Lions. Like, can the Cowboys continue to run the ball effectively, as they did somewhat against the Giants, gaining 107 yards on 20 carries, and as they surely did on Thanksgiving against the Raiders, not only totaling 144 on 30 carries but actually running the ball into the end zone three times – one-third of their 12-game total?

Can they stop the run, as they did against the Raiders, holding them to 50 yards on 25 carries?

How healthy will they be, what with linebackers Sean Lee and Justin Durant returning, DeMarcus Ware seemingly as healthy as he’s ever been, but possibly still playing without third corner Morris Claiborne or special teams ace Dwayne Harris, who did practice on Saturday.

And to me, the real biggie:

Can the Cowboys put pressure on an opposing quarterback?

Does not matter if it’s Jay Cutler playing quarterback or Josh McCown, and the Bears say Cutler’s still out, so it will be Jacksonville, Texas’ McCown. The Cowboys in this game simply must make life miserable in the pocket for the 11th-year veteran. And that’s no given.

Let’s review.

The Cowboys went up against undrafted Raiders rookie Matt McGloin in the last game. They didn’t sack him once in 30 attempts.

Four days earlier, the Giants Eli Manning threw the ball 30 more times. He was sacked twice. Better.

But against New Orleans, Drew Brees threw the ball 41 times, helping the Saints gain an opponent record 625 yards against the Cowboys, yet he was sacked only once.

In fact, since sacking RGIII and Nick Foles three times each in back to back games, the Cowboys have recorded just six sacks in the past five games, and no more than two in any of them. And heck, even when it comes to hurries, the Cowboys are lacking, just 10 in the past four games.

“We can’t let them get big plays,” Ware was heard saying this week, and certainly the Bears love those big plays with their biggie-sized receivers, 6-4 Brandon Marshall, 6-3 Alshon Jeffery and even 6-6 tight end Martellus Bennett.

All week long the talk has centered on just how the Cowboys corners will deal with these big Bears receivers, Jeffery and Marshall not only ranked fourth and eighth in NFL receptions, but having combined for 14 touchdowns, Marshall the team leader with nine.

Well, easy. Don’t give McCown the time of day in the pocket. Don’t let him sit back there sifting through his options. Affect him in the pocket. Make him move his feet, throw on the run.

Better yet, put him on his rump.

Big smile when that philosophy was presented to Cowboys safety Barry Church, “Get that pressure . . . get that pressure, then tips and overthrows, tips and overthrows.”

Remember this is the main principle of the Monte Kiffin/Rod Marinelli defense, making life miserable in the pocket for opposing quarterbacks. The Cowboys just haven’t done that enough.

Ware knows this, especially about himself. He had four sacks in the first three games. In the past nine, and I understand he missed three of those with the quad injury and was not himself playing in at least two others, he has all of one sack.

“I got to,” Ware agreed when reminded he needed to get to the quarterback, “got to get back on track.

“You keep reminding me, though.”

OK, consider it done.

Just as the Cowboys have been constantly reminded this week how cold it’s going to be in Chicago on Monday night, and that, uh, it once again is the month of December.

Heck, comparatively, playing on the moon might be a day at the beach.

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