The author of “America’s Team: The Official History of the Dallas Cowboys,” Jeff also writes a new column each week in Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine. For subscription information, please click here.
- Went back and watched the Browns game a second time. Was definitely not one for the time capsule. It was a win, though. No such thing as a bad win in the NFL. Doesn’t exist. Just such a small sampling size. Major League Baseball has 162 games, the NBA and NHL 82 apiece. Lot of games, lot of streaks, lot of time to overcome. Not so with 16 games.
- Said this a few weeks back. The Cowboys had the chance to reverse their season with three games in 12 days. Two down, one remaining. After that, the Eagles, who appear deeper in the tank than … well, whatever is really deep in the tank. After all the injuries, all the criticism, all the talk of replacing head coach Jason Garrett, which was never going to happen, the 2012 Dallas Cowboys could be 7-5 entering the final quarter.
- A few quick notes on the Browns before talking about Thanksgiving and beyond. First,
Jermey Parnelldidn’t play as poorly as many, including myself, thought while watching the game live. In fact, ProFootballFocus.com graded him second among the five Cowboys linemen who finished the game, behind only guard Nate Livings, who continues his solid play. Parnell allowed two hurries, a sack and was called for two penalties, but was decent in run blocking. He also graded well in pass protection for 53 of the 58 snaps Tony Romodropped back.
Mackenzy Bernadeauexperiment at center was shaky at best, although his snaps weren’t bad. Yeah, Romo was forced to reach for a bunch of shotgun snaps, but no more than most weeks. He allowed two sacks and struggled with run blocking in the A-gaps. Again, he was playing out of position, so expectations are lowered. Here’s hoping Kevin Kowalskireceives the nod on Thursday, at least if Phil Costaand Ryan Cookare unable to play. Have been impressed with the kid in the limited action he saw last season and that allows Bernadeau to play guard, his natural position. Tyron Smithis going to give it a try on Thursday before kickoff, but can’t imagine him being able to play, so Parnell will be back at left tackle. As for Doug Free, it’s almost become unexplainable. He has been brutal. Through 10 games this season, Free has allowed 34 QB hurries and four sacks. Has also been flagged 11 times, which is tied with Seattle’s Russell Okung for most in the NFL among offensive linemen. His 34 hurries are one off the league lead, although it should be noted 17 tackles have allowed more sacks.
- Of the 64 tackles who have played at least 50 percent of their team’s snaps, Free ranks 55th according to PFF. Smith is 43rd. And as for those who keep stating Free is the worst tackle in football, he’s not even within the rings of Saturn of Arizona’s Bobby Massie and D’Anthony Batiste, who have allowed 25 sacks between them. Not hard to figure out why the Cardinals have dropped six straight after a 4-0 start.
- Can’t imagine the Cowboys bringing Free back in 2013, as he’s slated to make more dough than
DeMarcus Ware. Not happening. Take the cap hit and move on. Likely via the draft, too, as the Cowboys won’t have much money to spend on free agents after signing Anthony Spencerlong term.
- Kind of funny writing those words and envisioning the majority reading nodding their heads after the uproar over Dallas placing the franchise tag on Spencer this past offseason. Even despite missing two games, Spencer has been the team’s best defensive player this season. Would be stunning if he wasn’t a Pro Bowl selection.
- Defensive end
Jason Hatcherwas the defensive MVP of the Browns win, though, barely edging Spencer. The 30-year-old has just exploded this season, and is also worthy of Pro Bowl consideration. Among 3-4 ends in the NFL, Hatcher leads the competition with 20 hurries while his six QB hits are tied for third with Baltimore’s Haloti Ngata, trailing only Houston’s J.J. Watt and Arizona’s Calais Campbell.
- The last two weeks, Hatcher has played 115 snaps, a staggering total considering he played more than 40 just twice in his career before this season. Not sure if any seventh-year player, at age 30, has enjoyed such a breakout campaign. And no one is harder on himself. Hatcher spent the entire bye week, his lone week off for seven months, watching film of himself. Every day. He’s one of those athletes who focuses on the mistakes rather than the positives, too.
- The injuries this team has suffered this season are staggering. Including players on Injured Reserve, there are 22 on the injury report for Thanksgiving. The entire team has really taken on this Next Man Standing mentality.
Ernie Sims, Charlie Peprah, Eric Frampton, sitting on the couch one week, and playing important roles for the Cowboys the next. Sims, especially, has been solid.
- Already 21 defensive players have been on the field for at least 100 snaps. The Cowboys haven’t had more than 20 players for 100 defensive snaps in any of the last six seasons. And there are six games left to play. Could end up with 25 or 26. Peprah just needs 16 snaps to become the 22nd. Incredible.
- Meant to mention earlier that
Danny McCrayplayed his best game of the season against Cleveland. Never seemed out of position, solid open-field tackling.
- Before delving into this next point, want to make it clear that Garrett is unlikely ever to relinquish play-calling duties. That said, there should be two highly intriguing candidates if he does, aside from current offensive coordinator Bill Callahan. Norv Turner, one of Garrett’s mentors, is likely going to be out as head coach with the San Diego Chargers and in somewhat of a stunner, Cal is parting ways with Jeff Tedford, who as recently as three years ago, was considered future NFL head coach material.
- Andy Reid knows he’s gone at season’s end, but said earlier this week he wasn’t going to resign before that. Classy move. Here’s hoping the home fans give him a standing ovation at some point in the final home game against Washington on Dec. 23. Has won 129 games with Philly, 66 more than Alfred “Greasy” Neale, who ranks second in franchise history. Also claimed seven NFC East division titles and played in four NFC Championship Games. Can’t imagine he’ll be unemployed long.
- How exactly does one earn the nickname “Greasy?” Interestingly enough, Neale was Cincinnati’s leading hitter in the famed 1919 World Series involving “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and the Black Sox.
- What ever happened to nicknames? “Greasy,” “Shoeless,” “Too Tall,” “Crazy Legs,” “Charlie Hustle,” and my personal favorite, “Teddy Ballgame.” What do we have nowadays? “He Hate Me?”
- As for the Redskins game, this is obviously a big one. Is it make-or-break? Probably, although the Giants have played so poorly of late, 9-7 with the tiebreaker seems doable to win the NFC East. At the moment, 17 of the 32 teams are at .500 or better, so we have a lot of moving and shifting remaining down the stretch. Still, this would be the big one, going into a mini-bye. Hope to have a few players return from injury by Philly’s visit, say, Murray, Smith, Costa, and finish strong. If they win this one, no reason whatsoever a 10-6 finish isn’t doable.
- Robert Griffin III has nearly a perfect passer rating when defenses blitz, so the defensive game plan should be lots of zone, Cover-2 and containment. Look for Spencer and
Bruce Carterto shadow RGIII in the pocket, try to limit his rushing yards, and most importantly, not allow any deep balls. Of his 12 TD passes this season, four are 49-plus yards. He likes to throw it high and deep and kind of hope for the best on the other end.
- Having run stuffer
Sean Lissemorereturn is huge up front, especially with Jay Ratliffbanged up. Need to contain the run and rookie Alfred Morris. Could have three 1,200-yard rookie rushers for the second time in league history in Doug Martin, Trent Richardson and Morris. The first was just four seasons ago, in 2008, with Steve Slaton, Chris Johnson and Matt Forte. Yes, Slaton, whom the Bald Head and many others took in the first round of their fantasy drafts the following season when he rushed for 437 yards and three touchdowns. He’s now out of the league.
- Final prediction: Dallas 38, Washington 20. (For the record, am 8-2 in predicting Cowboys games this season, had them beating Chicago and the Giants the second time around.
Follow Jeff Sullivan on Twitter, @SullyBaldHead, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.