It’s time to review the 2014 season, and for the first time since 2009 preview the playoffs. The 2014 Dallas Cowboys finally got off the 8-8 wagon, and did so in big fashion. They absolutely dominated in December, and got a couple of monkeys off their back. They got the 8-8 monkey off their backs, got the needing to win the last game to win the division monkey off their backs, and got the couldn’t win a big game monkey off their back. Speaking of winning big games, the 2014 Dallas Cowboys did plenty of winning big games in 2014 by beating the Seattle Seahawks in dominating fashion during their six game win streak, beating the St. Louis Rams after trailing 21-0 to tie a franchise record, and beating the Philadelphia Eagles after giving up a 21-0 lead and trail 24-21 late in the game to go ahead, and beat the Eagles in dominating fashion late in the game.
So let’s review how they have gone from a 8-8 team to a 12-4 team with a defense that was thought at the start of the season to be one of the worst in NFL history. They did it by playing team football, and by fighting every play along the way. Speaking of which Jason Garrett had t-shirts made to start training camp that said simply “fight” on the back of them. This has turned into finish the fight. Â Which is what this team has done all year is fight. They did it primarily by running the ball, and run the ball they did. It actually started in the draft when the Cowboys selected right guard Zach Martin in the first round. This solidified what was already one of the best units on the team. Running back DeMarco Murray held up his end of the bargain by staying healthy all year, and getting at least 100 yards in the first ten games of the season, and smashing Jim Brown’s NFL record of 6 100 yard games to start the season.
One of the reasons the defense was thought to be one of the worst at the beginning of the season was injury, salary cap, and free agency as middle linebacker and stud Sean Lee went down with a serious knee injury in early mini camps in May. They also lost the all time Dallas Cowboys sack leader in DeMarcus Ware, as he was cut due to salary concerns, and lost last years sack leader in Jason Hatcher to free agency to arch rival Washington Redskins. All this pointed to a disappointing defense after being 31st in defense last year with those players. But the Cowboys never gave up, and never quit, and went to work right away in making the team better.
The Cowboys went to work, and a lot of praise needs to go the scouting department and Will McClay. They traded a low round draft choice to the Baltimore Ravens for linebacker Rolando McClain, signed free agents Jeremy Mincy, Terrell McClain, and Henry Melton. Rolando McClain was a twice retired player low on the totem pole in Baltimore. The scouting department had high praise for RoMac and he didn’t disappoint as he instantly upgraded the whole defense with his tenacity, and physical style. Although Mincy and T. McClain were not considered top talent they have played a vital role in the Cowboys defense down the stretch recording sacks and forced fumbles. It also helps that Orlando Scandrick has been playing the best football of his career. Â As well as Sterling Moore has been playing and is graded as the Cowboys best pass defender, and can play the slot as well as the outside freeing up Scandrick to take on the opponents best receiver. Even the safeties have stepped up their play as the season wore on as JJ Wilcox had 3 turnover via interception or fumble recovery in the last three games in only his second season as a safety. Â Let’s not forget the job that Rod Marinelli has done. Â He instituted a game jersey policy this year, and if you wanted to play on Sunday you had to earn it during practice during the week. Â He has increased the teams tenacity, and given it a mentality of never giving up. Â Marinelli has taken a bunch of no names, and cast offs and has them playing at a high level, and most think it’s above their heads which says a lot about the job Marinelli is doing.
The offense has done it’s part, and not just the running game. There were heavy concerns about Tony Romo coming into the season after a second surgery in as many years on his back. What Romo has done this year is nothing short of phenomenal. He played very little in the preseason and has missed one day of practice every week this year, and yet he led the league in passer rating. He’s thrown a mere 9 interceptions 3 of which were in the opener against the long time rival San Francisco 49ers. That makes 6 interceptions the rest of the season to a whopping 34 touchdowns. Tony Romo didn’t just show he’s tough, no he’s shown he’s an ELITE QB. He’s the number one QB in the NFL in passer rating with a 113.2, he’s number one in the NFL in completion percentage with a 69.9, and number one in the NFL in yards per attempt at 8.5 per attempt. He did all this, and as we found out late in the year, was also playing with cartilage Â damage to his ribs. He is one of the toughest quarterbacks in the league as well as Elite. This team, in my opinion, would not be even close to where it is without Tony Romo at quarterback.
So how is this defense playing better? In the beginning of the season they weren’t any better than last year giving up a whopping 6.1 yards per play. But the difference this year is how much they are on the field as the Cowboys have been dominating time of possession. They kept the defense off the field and by doing so were limiting the time they had to play defense. It was a perfect formula of keep away. They ran the ball with impunity, and pounding the ball down other teams throats. When the other team would load the box to stop the run, they would use the likes of Dez Bryan, and Jason Witten with a sprinkle of Terrance Williams, Cole “beastly” Beasley, and Gavin Escobar. The play calling has had more imagination also as they have used Dunbar more in screen plays, and more motion, and varied formation putting Bryant in the slot. Let’s not forget the defense has improved as the season wore on, and are playing fantastic. They have given up a stingy 5.3 yards per play the last 3 games. They’re also better on third down percentage on defense this year compared to last when they were giving up a whopping 43.33% last year, and have improved to 33.33% in the last game. Â Jason Garrett had a plan, and the Cowboys have gone from one of the oldest teams just two years ago to one of the youngest. Â His formula is working, and the Cowboys are playing their best football when it matters the most.
So onto the playoffs we go. The Dallas Cowboys will face the Detroit Lions at Cowboys stadium (just can’t call it anything else, it’s what it will always be to me) this Sunday at 4:40 PM EST. The Lions come into the game after having lost to the Green Bay Packers in the finale while the Cowboys come into the game riding a four game winning streak having scored massive 165 points in their last four games. The Detroit Lions have one of the best defenses in the league, but they have slipped some in recent weeks as for the season they are giving up 4.9 yards per play, but in the last three weeks it’s slipped to 5.1, and all the way to 6.1 against the Packers in the finale, and Aaron Rogers didn’t even play the whole game. The Cowboys, on the other hand, come into the game as the hottest team in the NFL scoring massive points while dominating their opponents. I see the Cowboys doing what they’ve been doing in the month of December, and that’s controlling the ball, 59.89% to 40.11%, and scoring at will 41.25 points per game in December. I don’t know that we’ll see 40 points against the Lions, but the Cowboys win going away. Of course I have to mention that Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions have not beat a winning team on the road in 17 previous tries. I just don’t see that changing as they couldn’t end the winless streak in Green Bay either.
I have to mention this. I wouldn’t have a problem with JJ Watt of the Houston Texans winning the MVP as he is the best defense player in the NFL bar none, but if another QB wins it besides Tony Romo it will be a joke. A lot of praise was piled on Aaron Rogers for coming back into the game against the Lions in the season finale, but Romo has been playing with a bad back, and damaged ligaments in his ribs all year so injured calf is nothing to what Tony Romo has done. I seriously don’t get how Tony Romo is not the run away candidate at quarterback for the MVP? I also don’t get how Jason Garrett isn’t the run away candidate for coach of the year. The Cowboys were expected to be anywhere from 5-11 to maybe 8-8 by every major sports media outlet, and here they are the champions of the NFC East with a record of 12-4. Now how that doesn’t beat out Belicheck in New England, who were expected to be good, or even Bruce Arians in Arizona when they were expected to compete for their division title, I don’t know, but in my book Jason Garrett is coach of the year along with Tony Romo the MVP. Just a side note Jerry Jones deserves a lot of credit as a GM for sticking with Jason Garrett, after three straight 8-8 seasons, assembling the team and staying out of the way.