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Spagnola: Don’t Take Early Numbers Too Seriously

Posted Sep 13, 2013


IRVING, Texas – Please beware the hastily-drawn conclusion.

Come on man, just one game into the 2013 season, Cowboys 36, Giants 31 in this past Sunday’s season opener, and already some would like to present these worrisome one-game trends.

Why, what’s wrong with Tony Romo, can’t he throw deep anymore? His career average per attempt is 7.9 yards and just last year he had 52 completions of at least 20 yards. But in the season-opening victory, he averaged just 5.4 yards per attempt and registered just two completions of at least 20 yards, uh, same as in last year’s opener against the Giants.

Why, will Dez Bryant ever catch more passes in a game than the four he hauled in against the Giants for just 22 yards, with a long of seven and no touchdowns, if opponents double- and triple-team him as did New York? Geesh, in the final eight games of last season Bryant averaged 6.2 catches a game for an average of nearly 110 and 1.2 touchdowns, even though Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett maintains, “He’s been double-covered since he was a rookie.”

Why, don’t you need more balance between run and pass, seeing that you threw the ball 49 times but only ran the ball 23 times?

And my gosh, that pass defense, allowing Eli Manning to throw for 450 yards, 218 of those coming on just six of his 27 completions, and four touchdowns, ranking the Cowboys 31st in pass defense, and because of those numbers, 30th in total defense.

OK, get where the worrywarts are coming from, beating the Giants for the first time in five tries under the retractable-roof stadium in Arlington seemingly becoming insignificant.

But here is the part I don’t get, since you can’t have it both ways.

The Cowboys began the season with a robust six takeaways, 37.5 percent of their 16-game, franchise single-season low of 16 last season. That, my friends, is being considered an anomaly, and we certainly understand the Cowboys aren’t going to average six takeaways a game, which would be a preposterous 96 for the year, considering Chicago led the NFL last season with 44. But with a total like that, is anyone predicting they just might double last year’s modest total? Nope.

Or the fact most are minimizing the Cowboys holding the Giants to just 50 yards rushing, 3.6 yards a carry and causing New York to cough up two of those six turnovers in the running game. Blame is being placed on what the Giants David Wilson didn’t do, including holding onto the football, than heralding the Cowboys fourth-ranked run defense that certainly discouraged the visitors from continuing to run the ball.

Or that Miles Austin, with 10 catches for 72 yards in the opener, would then be on pace for a 160-catch, 1,152-yard season.

So if these sparkling, one-game performances are easily dismissed, why aren’t the others?

As double-slash Bill Callahan says, he the offensive coordinator/offensive line coach/play-caller, when confronted with the unbalanced run-pass ratio, “The key is winning.”

Now we’re talkin’, the Cowboys winning their season opener for the fifth time in seven seasons, including the last two, both over the Giants, having beaten them now two of the last three times.

And how about this from the locker room’s new voice of reason, Bryant knowing all too well in the opener the Giants were not going to let Dez do to them what he had in the previous three games when totaling 15 catches for 265 yards and coming within two fingertips of miraculously catching the game-winner in the final seconds of the second meeting last year:

“Just got to be patient. Miles might be covered, Witten might be covered, so whenever you have your number called, you’ve got to make plays.”

How ’bout them bananas toward maturation?

The point here: It’s just way too early to start formulating trends. One game is not a trend. Heck, two games are not a trend. Let’s get to Week 5 before pronouncing trends.

Take Ware for instance, now making the conversion from standup outside linebacker in a 3-4 to hand-on-the-ground defensive end in the 4-3 for the first time since his senior year in college (2004). That’s a long time ago, and he didn’t have a sack in his return to DE against the Giants.

But he did have six quarterback hurries, four quarterback hits, a game-opening interception and another pass defensed. Yet, if you string that back to the final months of last season when basically playing with one arm and a shoulder in need of offseason surgery, he only has 1.5 sacks now in his past seven games.

No matter how he affected Manning in the pocket this past Sunday, new defensive line coach Rod Marinelli decided to have some fun with his seven-time Pro Bowler, attaching a cigar to a sign in his locker with the inscription/reminder: “Close, but no cigar,” emphasizing the importance of finishing the deal and getting sacks even though the team finished with three of Manning, a, uh, 48-sack pace, right?

So on to Kansas City, just Game 2. Stopping the run (Jamaal Charles) will be vitally important. Not busting coverages (see the uncovered Victor Cruz’ 70-yard touchdown grab) is essential. The corners must better squeeze the receivers inside, the linebackers must take deeper drops in pass coverage and the safeties must break in more aggressively on the inside routes.

And while we can point out the essentialness of running the ball not more, but more effectively each week, the Cowboys must be able to blunt those surely-expected Chiefs blitzes (six sacks this past game), not only with the blocking up front and running backs executing their assignments, but also with play calls. A healthy Lance Dunbar getting the ball in space will add a dimension to blitz-busting.

As for Romo, keep completing 70 percent of your throws, stay patient by throwing to uncovered receivers underneath, don’t force the matter and if possible in what’s expected to be an Arrowhead noise chamber, keep forcing the issue with more giddy-up offense, which will prevent Kansas City defensive coordinator Bob Sutton from making wholesale personnel changes to fit down and distance and to speed up his decision-making of whether to blitz or not. From what we’ve seen in training camp to what we saw in preseason and even the opener, there is a lot more to this Cowboys offense they haven’t gotten to … yet.

Do all this, and 2-0 is waiting right around the corner.

And continue to let all those numerical trends fall where they may, that is unless Garrett wants to order up another half-dozen takeaways from the Kiffin-Marinelli-Bisaccia crews that they are averaging per game.

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