Sep 23, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant (88) avoids the tackle of Tampa Bay Buccaneers punter Michael Koenen (9) on a punt return during the fourth quarter at Cowboys Stadium. Cowboys beat the Buccaneers 16-10. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-US PRESSWIRE
Some scattered thoughts and observations on the Cowboys 16-10 victory over a disjointed Tampa Bay team on Sunday.
The Cowboys didn't look sharp on offense in their home opener, but their defense kept them in the game and carried them all day. While the Buccaneers were reluctant to open it up and throw the ball down the field, it doesn't mean that the Dallas defense shouldn't get their props.
There were a couple of players that were injured and had to miss this game. Nose tackle Jay Ratliff is still nursing a high ankle sprain, while safety Gerald Sensabaugh is recovering from a calf injury.
Unfortunately for the Cowboys, they took a big hit to their secondary when safety Barry Church suffered a torn Achilles tendon injury late in the game. This is a huge loss for the Dallas Cowboys because Church was well on his way to having a breakout season.
Church was very upset about the injury, but he is trying to stay positive about his situation.
"When I was on the sidelines, it was a shock: 'Wow this is what happened,' " Church said. "But once I sat down and had a talk with myself and said, 'I can't be negative about anything,' and if I keep being negative, you become a negative person. So you have to keep being positive and see what happens."
With Sensabaugh out, the Cowboys opted to play cornerback Brandon Carr at safety in certain situations. Because of the depth that Dallas has at cornerback, it allows them to experiment by putting their talented lockdown cornerback back deep. It's not conventional, but it's something that we may see more as the season progresses.
Carr talked about the move to safety, but he is willing to do whatever it takes in order for his team to win, and I really admire that about Carr.
"I was for it," Carr said. "Whatever it takes coming in they talked about if it comes down to it, they got me back there. I was working my butt off in practice and I was working with the scout team back there just to get a feel for how it is because it is different. At corner, you have to be quick and it's fast and physical, whereas safety you're having to read the quarterback, getting a jump, trying to control the defense and things like that."
"I just had to buckle down today and play my hardest at safety like I do at corner."
As for adding a safety, Rob Ryan said he is going to evaluate what is out there and do what is best for the team.
"We’re going to have to look," defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said of the immediate future of the safety position. "We have to do what’s best for the team. We’ll look and get the best thing we think we can do."
The Cowboys lacked depth at safety prior to the Church injury, so they probably should have invested more at the position when they had the opportunity. As of right now, the Cowboys are definitely lacking talent at the position, but maybe there is someone out there in free agency that can come in and give the Cowboys some production.
As for the rest of the defense, the Cowboys were able to generate pressure and frustrate Josh Freeman all afternoon. DeMarcus Ware had the only two sacks of the game, but Anthony Spencer led the team in tackles and was all over the field. The inside linebacker tandem of Sean Lee and Bruce Carter was once again outstanding. This is a defense that will continue to get better and improve as the season goes along, so there are really no concerns on that side of the football except for the safety position.
On the offensive side of things, Tony Romo took a beating Sunday against the Bucs. I am really starting to become worried about this offensive line. Nate Livings has been a great addition to the team, and he should be a starting guard in Dallas for a while.
The problem is the other free agent guard that the Cowboys brought in. Mackenzy Bernadeau has been pretty unspectacular in his three games in Dallas. He is using poor technique, which is causing a lot of pressure from the right side of Tony Romo.
Right tackle Doug Free has also become a major liability. I really can't pinpoint what is wrong with him, but Free has looked downright terrible at times in 2012. His three penalties today were drive killers that forced the offense to get out of rhythm.
Jason Witten continued to drop passes, dropping a potential huge play when Romo led him down the field, but Witten couldn't haul it in. Witten was also pretty bad as a blocker, being called for two false start penalties on the day. It's possible that he is still recovering from his spleen injury, but Witten could be on the downside of his career. Let's give him a few more games before we write him completely off, because there are 13 more games to go.
Because of the poor offensive line play, running back DeMarco Murray wasn't able to get the running game going. Murray finished with 38 yard on 18 carries, which isn't going to cut it, but it wasn't his fault. If this line can give Murray a little bit of room, then Murray can do amazing things with the football.
Murray talked about the Cowboys' running game after the game, but he wasn't very pleased with the performance.
"We’ve just got to do a better job running the ball," Murray said. "All day long, it was tough. There wasn’t a lot of creases up there. When there was, there was two really, really bad plays by me. I got tripped up, let a guy arm tackle me. It definitely could have been two home runs for me, and it didn’t happen."
Even though Tony Romo didn't have a great game, he did hookup with Miles Austin for 107 yards. Austin continues to have a comeback season after missing a lot of time with a hamstring injury in 2011. I wanted to see a dominant performance from Dez Bryant today. While Bryant didn't totally dominate the game, he played great football and was a key contributor in the win.
Bryant was targeted eight times, catching six passes for 67 yards. His biggest play of the game was a punt return in the fourth quarter with less than five minutes left. Dez took the punt up the field and found a huge hole, but he also shaked off the punter with a tremendous juke move and then hurdled over him. The 44-yard return electrified the Cowboys and set them up inside the Tampa Bay 6-yard line.
Even though Dez did everything he could to score, he was eventually caught by a defender who hustled back to bring Bryant down before he could score the touchdown. Bryant talked about the play after game and felt that he could have possibly scored on the play
"Man, I seen daylight," Bryant said. "The guys did a great job. They gave me some room to run. I should have capitalized on it. I should have scored. It was a successful play, but I should have got in that end zone."
This was a difficult game for the Cowboys because Tampa Bay has a lot of young and talented players on their defense. It's important that Dallas won the game and moved on to 2-1, which will tie them for the division lead. The Cowboys were able to shutdown Doug Martin and the running game, which was something they needed to show that they could do after the Seattle Seahawks dominated them with Marshawn Lynch.
The offense still needs a lot of work, but I believe in the talent on that side of the football. If the Cowboys can cut the turnovers, mistakes and penalties, then they will be a contender. If they don't clean up their act, then it could be a long season in store for the Dallas Cowboys.