Thoughts from the Press Box after the Cowboys victory over the Steelers:
It's funny how this NFL works. I never really gave the Cowboys a chance to win this game. I thought there were too many matchup problems and I didn't believe that their offensive line could hold up against this Steelers front seven. I wasn't convinced that Dan Connor, Ernie Sims and then Alex Albright could be physical enough at the point of attack to keep the Steelers from running the ball.
I knew early in the week that Morris Claiborne wasn't going to play, but I was okay with Mike Jenkins taking his place. But Sterling Moore in his spot in the nickel? I wasn't too sure about Michael Coe fresh off the streets lining up on the outside and carrying the Steelers receivers all over the field with the game on the line. To his credit, though, he made the best of his practice time this week.
Did I see DeMarco Murray averaging almost 6 yards a carry in this game? Are you kidding me? I did expect Murray to run the ball hard, but to gain 81 yards against this front? I think head coach Jason Garrett was even surprised.
Give a tip of the cap to offensive line coach Bill Callahan and his much-criticized unit. It just shows you when you play with a back that runs with elusiveness, vision and power, it can make any scheme look good. Garrett and Callahan have found things that this line can do blocking-wise. Whether it's pulling guys or down blocking, they have been successful at it.
By no means is this line perfect, and they most likely won't be for the remainder of the season, but tonight they were pretty close. Sure, Romo had to move and dodge some, but at least when he took the podium after the game, he didn't physically look like someone took a bat to him like he has at times this season. The game plan today was all about execution, and this line made it possible.
There is no question the skill guys on the Cowboys are outstanding, starting with the quarterback. There was a real sense of calmness today in his game, but the majority of that had to do with his preparation. Although he knew this game wasn't going to be easy, Romo made it look easy, which again, was shocking to me. When you play the Steelers on defense, there are so many things you have to account for with their schemes, but with Dallas' offensive line, running game and receivers, the impossible looked possible.
Defensively, I really don't understand how coordinator Rob Ryan and his staff are pulling this off. They continue to lose players, but it just doesn't matter. Not one time have I heard anyone in the coaches' side of the building make an excuse because of an injury. They have accepted that each week someone different is going to walk through that door and they are going to have to coach their rears off because they know that guy is going to play.
Tonight it was Alex Albright. On the plane flight home last week, assistant coach Ben Bloom stopped in the aisle and gave our group a nice little scouting report on what a special player Albright was and how valuable he was because of all the positions he can play. Bloom spoke of how prepared Albright was whenever he went into the game, and said that the coaches were comfortable with him.
All week long in practice, Albright takes reps at outside and inside linebacker. His main role is that of the Mike linebacker in Ryan's 4-3 scheme, but all that changed early in the game against Pittsburgh when Ernie Sims was lost to a concussion. Albright than went from a role player to a guy that never came off the field. From my seat, I saw six total tackles, five on defense and one on special teams.
I am sure when I study the game later tonight, there will be more players besides Albright that did their jobs, which has been the case the last several weeks. The Cowboys finished with a 3-1 record against the AFC North, and in the grand scheme of things, that might be the difference if this team manages to advance after the season. This was something that before the season I wasn't sure they could have pulled off, but then again, they have done that to me a lot this year.