4 Surprises From Dallas Win Over Raiders on Thanksgiving Day

After spotting the Raiders 7 points on a kickoff fumble, the Cowboys came from behind to earn a 31-24 win. Some things from this game were just hard to see coming.

Four Surprises

1. Cowboys offense had a solid run game:
Coming into this game, the Cowboys had usually struggled to run the ball and the Raiders actually had a solid run defense. But Dunbar and Murray combined for 145 rushing yards on Thursday. I thought they complimented each other nicely with Murray providing the power by running thru tacklers and stiff arming would be tacklers. And then Dunbar provided the quickness with nice cut back moves and quick bursts through the line.

Provided Dunbar’s injured knee is OK, Dallas needs to be sure to include him in the run game going forward to help set up Murray and to keep Murray fresh.

Having an effective run game, makes it less likely Romo gets sacked or intercepted in the pass game. It could serve them well going down the stretch.

2. Cowboys defense stopped the Raiders run game:
The often criticised Dallas defense came into the game known for allowing a lot of yards rushing and passing. But in this game, they held a good Raider run attack to just 50 yards. With Sean Lee not playing, it makes it even more of a surprise. They actually held the Raiders to only 2 yards per run.

In Lee’s absence, I thought safeties Barry Church and Jeff Heath did a good job in run support. They combined to make 11 solo tackles and 3 assisted tackles. Also Kyle Wilbur has played well lately and is strong in run defense.

3. Raiders QB McGloin had success going after Scandrick:
Coming into the game, most any Cowboys writer would have named Orlando Scandrick as the Cowboys most consistent defensive back this season. But the Raiders came after him and they had a lot of success passing in the first half. Andre Holmes, who Dallas let go last season, had a huge game with 7 catches for 136 yards.

After watching this film, will future opponents decide to go after Scandrick too? Most the time I thought Scandrick had pretty good position but was just out fought for the ball.

4. Lackluster Start for Dallas
The Cowboys came out playing with a very lackluster effort on both offense and defense. With it being a home game on Thanksgiving Day, and in front of a large TV audience, I would expect Jason Garrett to have these guys a little more fired up.

They started with a fumble for a TD on the opening kickoff and soon found themselves in a 21-7 hole. They over came the bad start playing well enough in the 2nd half to win the game, but this kind of start needs to be avoided in the next 4 games.


20 Year Anniversary of Biggest Thanksgiving Game Blunder: Just Lett it Go

Let it snow and Lett it go

Let it snow and Lett it go

As thrilling as the Clint Longley Thanksgiving Day victory over the Redskins was for Cowboy fans, is how painful it was watching the Leon Lett FG blunder in the Dolphins loss on that cold, snowy Thanksgiving Day.

An interesting video that looks back at that game. A game you will never forget if you watched it in 1993, no matter how long you live. Or how hard you may try for that matter.

Leon “The Big Cat” Lett was the large but very quick defensive tackle (hence the nickname) that Dallas found at Emporia State University. Out of H.S., Lett was offered a scholarship to Auburn but a low score on his ACT, sent him to Hinds Community College in Mississippi. Now I’m not saying Lett wasn’t smart but when Auburn can’t get you in to play football, well it must have been a really low ACT score. Just sayin’.

No one accused Lett of being intellectual but on the field, he played with tremendous effort.

Lett wasn’t normally on the FG block team but on that fateful day special team coach Avezzano decided with all the snow, it would be a good idea to have Lett provide a push up the middle. So for that game, it was decided to put him out there. Lett was unintentionally put in a bad situation.

With the Dolphins FG attempt blocked, all the Cowboys had to do was nothing and they win the game. But out of no where, Lett who is the only player out of 22 on the field running toward the ball, slides awkwardly on the snowy field and kicks the ball with his foot while trying to recover it. It allowed the Dolphins another FG opportunity and they won the game.

We learn that Lett was devastated and completely avoided the locker room after the game. Couldn’t face the coaches or his teammates. Humiliated no doubt.

The story goes that a little girl sent Lett a letter and told him that everyone makes mistakes. She pointed out the ridiculous fumble in the super bowl where the Cowboy defender had the ball slapped away while going in for a score.

But that player happened to be Leon Lett too! Anyway the girl’s words of encouragement were what Lett needed to hear.

I like the way coach Jimmy Johnson handled it too. A great coach knows when to apply a boot to the rear of players but they also know when a guy needs to be picked up too. At that time Lett needed to be picked up. Jimmy reassured Lett that he was not going to be cut from the team. Coach Johnson pointed out that other players had made mistakes in the game too.

The Cowboys went on to win another super bowl and I’m convinced they couldn’t have done it without “the big cat” on that defense. I’m also convinced that Lett played with a lot of motivation knowing he cost them the Dolphins game. He played with a purpose to make up for his blunder.

My take away from this unforgettable blunder 20 years later is this:
1. Don’t dwell on mistakes no matter how stupid they are. Everyone makes them. So just move on to the next play, the next game, the next day, and life. Just keep pushing. Good things will come.
2.Encourage those who screw up. If they are beating themselves up already over it, no need to pile on. An encouraging word will go a lot farther. Besides, the next big screw up may be one you make.
3. Have a sense of humor. Being able to laugh at your mistakes can help you get through some tough times.

Last but not least, whatever you do, don’t make any last second changes to the special teams. Just asking for trouble.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Raiders and Cowboys Served up on Thanksgiving Day

Jerry and Al

Jerry and Al

Raiders and Cowboys are being served up on Thanksgiving day. A couple franchises that are as part of the American culture as turkey and dressing. But there just isn’t any middle ground for these two organizations as you either love them or hate them kind of like the pumpkin pie. You are either all in, or you will just pass.

So far this season, Dallas is 0-3 against the AFC West. At 4-7, the Raiders are at the bottom of that strong division.

A look at the match up:

Cowboys Defense/Raiders Offense
The Cowboys will be without their starting CB Morris Claiborne so the Cowboys resigned Sterling Moore who they cut at the end of preseason. I pointed out at that time I thought they needed to keep Moore since Claiborne was injured all preseason and their rookie CB Webb, struggled to cover at the NFL level. BLOG

Maybe I was on to something. I like the move and I think Moore, with his experience, will make them a little better in the secondary.

In their preseason meeting back in August, the Raiders had a lot of success running the ball when QB Terrell Pryor came into the game in the 2nd quarter. He rushed for 31 yards exposing a weakness in the Cowboys run defense. Dallas really hasn’t faced many running QBs in the regular season.

Pryor has missed action with an injured knee but was available for the Titans game last week although he didn’t play. The Raiders seem to be saving him for the Cowboys game and have some “special” plays to feature him in a version of the wildcat formation. McGloin will likely start at QB but I look for Pryor to come in and test the Cowboys run defense which hasn’t been all that good this season.

Pryor has 504 yards rushing this season which includes a 93 yard TD run against the Steelers. Cowboys will need to prepare for the rushing of Pryor for this game. The Raiders have been a much better rushing team than passing team this season as they are 4th in the NFL in rushing but rank much lower in passing.

KEY for Dallas: Defend the run first and make the Raiders become a passing team only. This becomes a bigger challenge as they play without injured LB Sean Lee. Expect Pryor to come in and run the ball. That’s the biggest threat he brings.

Cowboys Offense/Raiders Defense:
The Raiders secondary hasn’t been all that good this season as they are ranked 25th in passing yards allowed. Romo should be able to carve up the Raider secondary (which includes former Cowboy Mike Jenkins) like a hot tender turkey on Thanksgiving. Last week QB Ryan Fitzpatrick went 30 of 42 for 320 yards against the Raider secondary.

In their preseason game, Romo had success finding Dez in the middle of the field just behind the Raider LBs. I look for that to be something they go back to in this game.

The Raiders do a good job defending the run allowing under 100 yards per game. Last week they held Chris Johnson of the Titans to 73 yards which is impressive. He can get that many yards on one run. Running the ball will not come easy for Dallas and they have a strong tendency to just abandon it which often proves to be a mistake.

KEY for Dallas: Dallas will have an advantage passing the ball for sure but will need to keep the Raider defense honest by keeping Murray involved at least. Bryant should have a big game. With Austin back in the line up, it seems to ease coverage on Dez just a little.

Scoring early and getting out in front, will help make the Raiders become a passing team more than a run team. It’s important for Dallas to get the lead and not play from behind.

WEEK 13 NFL Power Rankings: “Houston We Have a Problem” Texans Fall to 32


A power ranking of all 32 NFL teams after week 12 play.

The Twist: Each week my top 12 ranked teams will consist of 6 NFC teams and 6 AFC teams since 6 from each conference will qualify for the post season. I reflect the top 12 teams most likely to make the playoffs each week.

Each week, I have one NFC team and one AFC team in the top two to reflect who may end up in the super bowl.

New Bottom:
The Jaguars are playing their way out of the first pick in the draft as they defeated the Texans, for their second win. That moves the Texans into the bottom spot in the ranking. It’s difficult to believe this week the Texans and Falcons occupy the bottom two spots after the way they played last season.

TOP 12:
With a win at the Giants, the Cowboys move back into the top 12 (#11) as they go 4-0 in the NFC East and are back in first place. They replace the idle Eagles who move down to #14. A week 17 meeting between the two, could be for the NFC East title.

The Dolphins fall out of the top 12 after losing late in the game at home to the Panthers.

AFC 6th playoff spot Cluster:
There are only five teams in the AFC with winning records and all are in position to make the post season. But there are 6 AFC teams with 5-6 records in a battle for that final 6th playoff spot.

The Steelers have won 3 straight and are playing much better but the Titans defeated the Steelers in week one by 7, and they would have an advantage in any tie breaker. This week it’s the Titans who I have replacing the Dolphins at #12 and just squeezing into the post season in that 6th AFC spot.

1. Seahawks (10-1) 0
2. Broncos (9-2) 0
3. Saints (9-2) 0
4. Panthers (8-3) ↑1
5. Patriots (8-3) 0
6. Chiefs (9-2) ↓2
7. Bengals (7-4) ↑1
8. Colts (7-4) ↓2
9. 49ers (7-4) 0
10. Lions (6-5) 0
11. Cowboys (6-5) ↑5
12. Titans (5-6) ↑9
13. Cardinals (7-4) 0
14. Eagles (6-5) ↓3
15. Bears (6-5) ↓1
16. Steelers (5-6) ↑4
17. Ravens (5-6) ↑7
18. Rams (5-6) ↑8
19. Dolphins (5-6) ↓7
20. Chargers (5-6) ↑2
21. Giants (4-7) ↓4
22. Packers (5-5-1) ↓4
23. Jets (5-6) ↓8
24. Bucs (3-8) ↑4
25. Raiders (4-7) ↓6
26. Browns (4-7) ↓1
27. Bills (4-7) ↓4
28. Redskins (3-8) ↓1
29. Vikings (2-8-1) 0
30. Jaguars (2-9) ↑2
31. Falcons (2-9) ↓1
32. Texans (2-8) ↓1

GIANT game today for the Cowboys

garrett giants“Must win” is a term probably over used in describing NFL games. But sometimes it applies and today in my view, it applies to both teams in the Cowboys at Giants game.

It’s the kind of game that moves the usual suspects off the injured list, to the active list. Even Miles Austin and his fragile hamstring will be available for Dallas today. It’s all hands on deck for this one.

Currently Dallas is 3-0 in the division but they have lost a couple close away games (Chiefs and Lions) that have left the door open for both the Giants and Eagles. The Giants come into this game with 4 straight wins after a miserable start and the Eagles finally won a home game last week against the Redskins.

If Dallas wins at the Giants, they will go to 4-0 in the division and that puts them in a good place. At that point the Giants post season hopes would pretty much die as they would fall to 1-3 in the division and the Eagles would be in a tough spot to win it. The Cowboys would control their destiny and be sitting in the driver seat to make the post season. It would allow them a little room for error during the month of December.

But if the Giants win today, the division becomes a three team race to the finish line. The Cowboys would be 3-1 with a tough game at Washington ahead and a showdown with the Eagles in week 17. As a Cowboys fan, you can’t feel good about a winner take all game at the end of the season. Those have not gone well for Dallas in recent years.

By winning today, the Cowboys wouldn’t clinch the division but they would separate themselves from the pack heading down the stretch.

And some will point out that a loss today doesn’t end their hopes of winning the division either. True, but it makes their chances of winning the division drop tremendously. With hope to win the division, the Giants and Eagles will play inspired football down the stretch and Dallas would have no momentum.

Reality is Dallas hasn’t played well in December and Romo hasn’t played well in the “must win” games at the end of the season. That makes today’s game with the Giants, a giant game for the Cowboys.

Jason Please. Garrett Defends Escobar Pick in the Second Round.

In a very predictable move, Cowboys Head Coach Jason Garrett defended drafting Gavin Escobar in the second round. STORY So far this season Escobar has only four catches which makes him ignored almost as much as Dez Bryant when it comes to passes.

But in a surprising move, Jason then compared Escobar to….wait for it….Darren Woodson. Really Jason? That’s as ridiculous as comparing Jason Garrett to Jimmy Johnson. One coach won super bowls the other struggles to stay .500.

Jason’s reasoning is that Woodson was drafted in the 2nd round and only played special teams his rookie season. Both were picked in the 2nd but that’s pretty much the end of this comparison. Woodson is one of the best defensive players to ever wear the star so comparing him to a rookie TE with good hands and no blocking skills, is a reach to say the least. This comment was so wack even Jerry Jones, who usually is the one that says the crazy stuff, was left shaking his head.

The issue isn’t whether Escobar will some day prove to be a good TE, that remains to be seen and it is quite possible. The issue Jason, is that your team had some major needs going into the 2013 draft and really couldn’t afford to squander a 2nd round pick on an indulgent project TE who will barely see the field in 2013. Fact is your team needed a decent guard and youth on the defensive line but that was not addressed. Starters could be found in round two.

And now you find yourself struggling to maintain first place in the sad NFC “Least”. It will never be easier to win it than it is this season.

It’s not about Escobar as a player so much. The dude has outstanding hands and being 6-6 can create match up problems but none of this is being put to use. Jason explains that Escobar needs development in his blocking skills. True and noted by me back in April when I reviewed his college play. HERE

In that blog, I compared Escobar to Jay Novacek the great pass catching TE for Dallas who also was a former basketball player. Novacek was in the NFL for about 5 years before he became a star. Do players have that long to develop in the NFL now?

One area where Jason has just not got it done is getting the most out of the talent available to him. Not many players are great in every single area and in the NFL these days, there just isn’t time to allow a lot of development. Got to win right now as Jason will likely soon find out. The hard way.

Jason points out teams will know they are passing if Escobar is in the game since his blocking is weak.

Defenses know you are going to pass Jason, simply because you have Romo in the game and running the ball is only done occasionally and out of necessity. It’s a poor excuse to not have him in the game.

Since they drafted Escobar in the 2nd round, I think they should find a role for him. Doesn’t mean he plays every play understand, just find what he does well and put it in the game plan.

In the redzone, I like Ecobar’s chances to go up high and come down with the ball especially when matched with defenders who are significantly smaller.

For now, Escobar is proving to be a wasted second round pick and he is not going to be the next Darren Woodson. Jason please.

WEEk 12 NFL Power Rankings: Seahawks Move Into Top Spot


A power ranking of all 32 NFL teams after week 11 play.

The Twist: Each week my top 12 ranked teams will consist of 6 NFC teams and 6 AFC teams since 6 from each conference will qualify for the post season. I reflect the top 12 teams most likely to make the playoffs each week.

Each week, I have one NFC team and one AFC team in the top two to reflect who may end up in the super bowl.

TOP 12:
The Broncos bumped the Chiefs out of the top spot giving them their first loss of the season. In the NFC, the Seahawks are the first team to reach 10 wins in the NFL and so they move into the top spot. If the Seahawks have home field in the post season, who beats them?

The Cowboys didn’t play this week and the Eagles took advantage of the opportunity finally getting a win at home for the first time this season. That moves the Eagles into the top 12 and drops Dallas out. However a win at the Giants next week, will move Dallas back into the top 12 since they would go to 4-0 in the division.

The Jets were beat down by the Bills while the Dolphins beat the Chargers. They have tied records but the Jets fall out of the top 12 and the Dolphins move up into the top 12.

The 49ers find themselves tied with the Cardinals in a battle for the last wildcard spot but the 49ers hold the edge since they beat the Cards earlier this year.

With a Monday Night win, the Panthers move up switching places with the Patriots.

WEEK 12/ Change
1. Seahawks (10-1) ↑1
2. Broncos (9-1) ↑1
3. Saints (8-2) ↑1
4. Chiefs (9-1) ↓3
5. Panthers (7-3) ↑2
6. Colts (7-3) 0
7. Patriots (7-3) ↓2
8. Bengals (7-4) ↑2
9. 49ers (6-4) ↓1
10. Lions (6-4) ↓1
11. Eagles (6-5) ↑5
12. Dolphins (5-5) ↑5
13. Cardinals (6-4) 0
14. Bears (6-4) 0
15. Jets (5-5) ↓4
16. Cowboys (5-5) ↓4
17. Giants (4-6) ↑8
18. Packers (5-5) ↓3
19. Raiders (4-6) ↑7
20. Steelers (4-6) ↑3
21. Titans (4-6) 0
22. Chargers (4-6) ↓4
23. Bills (4-7) ↑4
24. Ravens (4-6) ↓4
25. Browns (4-6) ↓6
26. Rams (4-6) ↓4
27. Redskins (3-7) ↓3
28. Bucs (2-8) ↑3
29. Vikings (2-8) ↓1
30. Falcons (2-8) ↓1
31. Texans (2-7) ↓1
32. Jaguars (1-9) 0