Sitting in an American Sports Bar in Buenos Aires cutting a lonely figure sipping a pint and banging the bar top in frustration, I was forced to watch the Cowboys once again try to pull off a miraculous escape after giving up 28 points in 14 mins.
It is sometimes hard to remain positive with this infuriating Cowboys team. As soon as there is an air of positivity surrounding this unit as there was following the divisional victory against the Eagles, something will occur to bring those feelings crashing down. It so nearly occurred last week against the struggling, rookie-led Browns but it did with aplomb in the second quarter on Thanksgiving.
We have always been told in life to ‘turn a negative into a positive’ and that is exactly what we need to do this week.
The Cowboys still rank impressively in total defense despite 2 or 3 broken coverages leading to touchdowns against the ‘Skins. We must remember that the centre of this defence is decimated. When you have lost your nose tackle, inside linebacker and defensive captain, strong safety and nickel cornerback, as well as the defensive end and his back-up all to serious injuries there are always going to be communication breakdowns. They were punished this week. To add insult to injury (literally!) the one major positive to come from these absentees – Bruce Carter – left the game with what looks like another serious injury. Carter’s play was inspired having taken on the defensive lead following the loss of Sean Lee.
When you lose your only real running threat, starting center and his two back-ups, a big time receiver and your only half decent offensive lineman who also protects your quarterbacks blindside, it will be tough to consistently move the ball.
Whilst we have learnt that DeMarco Murray is special and cannot be replaced easily and that this offensive line is poor no matter who plays, following the Washington game, I want to talk of the impression made upon me by some of the young wide-outs who stepped up following the injury to the injury-plagued Miles Austin, and third wide receiver Kevin Ogletree.
Kevin Ogletree will likely be let go in the off-season and the big bodied Andre Holmes, who I had high hopes for, has already been released. What we have learnt though is that Cole Beasley can be that slot guy that the Cowboys haven’t had and who Romo trusts explicitly. In addition though, Dwayne Harris has proved why coaches have so much respect for him.
A 6th round selection in 2011, Harris was given kick return duties in his rookie year. After a break out performance in the pre-season against Denver, catching 5 balls for a 127 yards and 2 TDs, he was given a spot on the roster for this campaign and taken every single opportunity there on. Dez Bryant struggled on punt returns and after fumbling a return Harris was given a chance. He averages 15 yards on punt returns including a long touchdown return against the Eagles. After the injury to Kevin Ogletree late on versus the Browns, Harris got open deep and drew a pass interference flag leading to a game tying field goal to take the game to overtime – a game the Cowboys would go on to win. And following an early injury to Miles Austin this week, Harris hauled in 4 balls for 71 yards but did much more that may have gone unnoticed. Now I know why he is a coaches dream.
Harris plays on coverage units and it showed after DeAngelo Hall picked off a Tony Romo pass. Having scampered back 27 yards into Dallas territory and with Lance Dunbar (another young guy stepping up!) trying to drag Hall down. Harris dropped his shoulder pads and levelled Hall before undoing his chin strap and walking off the field in frustration.
His unselfish work off the ball was again evident when everybody in a Bryant throwback thanksgiving jersey would have been applauding after an 85 yard TD reception. Bryant ran the crossing pattern and receivied the ball after Romo was flushed out of the pocket. Bryant turns on the afterburners and scampers up the right touch line. It is Harris who establishes and holds a perfect downfield block to give Bryant the touch line.
Next year, following an overhaul of the offensive line in the draft and a return from injury of a handful of players, the team looks set with depth…until something inexplicable occurs to bring those feelings crashing down!