by Michael Lombardi
December 14, 02009
America’s team is tanking, not because it’s December, but because it’s playing good teams and its field-goal kicker is killing it. Do you think if the Cowboys had the Lions or the Bears on their schedule now, we’d be hearing this December swoon talk? I hate generalizations that make no sense, and all this talk about past seasons is not the real reason for the Cowboys losing the past two weeks. It’s been their inability to make critical plays at critical points in the game. Going 1 for 8 on third down Sunday, combined with not being able to make a field goal and not being able to score from the 1-yard line are all reasons for the loss, not the time of year.
The Cowboys held the Chargers to their season low in points and broke their 18-game streak of scoring more than 20 points in a game. But when the game was on the line, they could not get off the field. Quarterback Tony Romo has played well and has not turned over the ball, yet the Cowboys haven’t won the last two weeks. Why? Is it their players, their coaching or have they just been unlucky? The answer is a little bit of everything. They just haven’t been able to make clutch plays at right time, or make the clutch call or the clutch kick. They’re a good team, but they fail to play with a sense of purpose at the right moment. Is this the fault of their head coach, Wade Phillips? He certainly has to take some responsibility, but so do his assistants, especially Jason Garrett, the offensive coordinator.
My sense of the Cowboys -- and the reason for their failures at crunch time -- lies more in the way they’re set up organizationally. Every member of the franchise, from the players to the coaches to the staff, all act as independent contractors who function well at times but are not always in rhythm. They just don’t have an ultimate leader during the games -- player or coach – who can inspire a sense of confidence and be able to motivate at the most critical time. Football teams must be unified, winning and losing together, and most of all must be responsible to the head coach. I just don’t see that element in Dallas, and the reason for their failures lies in their lack of leadership.
…Charles Woodson of the Packers had another interception against the Bears to make his season total eight. His play has been sensational in every way, but what makes him so effective is the fact he can cover the best pass-receiving tight ends in the league along with wide receivers. His versatility is a dream come true for Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers.
…The Chargers are peaking at the right time and seem headed for the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs. Their matchup next week against the Bengals is huge because it will determine final seedings in the conference. The Super-Chargers are 6-1 on the road and have the kind of team that can give the Colts trouble.
…In a must-win game, the Dolphins gave their best defensive effort of the season, allowing the Jaguars only 217 yards and keeping Jags running back Maurice Jones-Drew in check, holding the dynamic runner to only 59 yards rushing.
…I’m not seeing many wildcat plays recently, and in fact, this is two weeks in a row the Dolphins have failed to use the formation. Execution is what makes a difference now, not trick plays.
…Speaking of the Dolphins, the Miami-Tennessee game Sunday will be a great one since both teams are desperate, and as we know, desperation makes for the best games. By the way, there’s not a doubt in my mind -- Titans running back Chris Johnson will break the rushing record this year.
…If Osi Umenyiora is in the game for the Giants, teams will run the ball right at him because he hasn’t played the run well all season. The Giants miss former defensive lineman Michael Strahan’s leadership and toughness, and neither Justin Tuck nor Umenyiora has been able to assume that role.
…Colts coach Jim Caldwell does not get enough credit for the job he’s done, but neither does his defensive coordinator, Larry Coyer. Coyer has done a great job revamping, re-inventing and rejuvenating the Colts defense, especially in the red area.
…The Broncos might not have the fastest secondary, but they are smart and rarely out of position. Safety Brian Dawkins proves, although you might lose a step as you get older, you gain wisdom through experience.
…The Packers look much faster on defense now with Brad Jones playing linebacker in place of Aaron Kampman. Jones, a seventh-round pick this year, has been very impressive.
…Until the Bears fix their offensive line they’re going to have a hard time consistently moving the ball.
…I love watching Ray Rice run with the ball. His balance, burst and power make him hard to tackle, especially in December when the weather gets colder.
…I know the game was played Thursday night, but Hines Ward playing with a bad hamstring did more to hurt the Steelers than help them. He looked like he couldn’t run 5 flat and was easy for the Browns’ corners to cover.
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