Returned Gifts

When someone hands you something, you're supposed to take it. On Sunday, the Cowboys did not. Gifts are intended for giving not return. The Raiders supplied both stupidity and opportunity. The Cowboys, in turn, decided to cast both aside in an attempt to mount yet another come-from-behind victory.

Like the 4th down goal line pass to Terry Glenn, the effort fell short.

In what is somewhat of a mystery, but certainly a justified moniker, the Oakland Raiders continue to be the least disciplined team in the League. Always known for attempted, long, vertical plays and numerous penalties, they did nothing to disappoint or dispel the reputation. Stupid penalty after stupid penalty, many in third and long situations, the Raiders mounted 13 infractions for 85 yards. While not stellar numbers, it was still a stout flag-throwing effort.

With second chance after second chance, the Cowboys decided to pass on the gifted opportunities. It was as if the Raiders, in all their outfitted audacity, were daring the Cowboys to seize the moment. A silver and black taunting if you will. Dallas decided to take a pass and try things their way. Again.

The Dallas running game is an area of concern. They've not been able to sustain any dominant rushing performances or "road grade" an opponent to victory. With Division ball on the doorstep, this must become an organizational priority. The four week season has proved you can't get behind early against the Giants and Eagles. Eli Manning is starting to show signs of known Manning pedigree, and Donovan McNabb continues to be super human. Lack of a sustained running game does not bode well for ample Divisional play.

The continued use of rookies Tyson Thompson and Marion Barber III in critical yardage situations is troubling. Rookies, by nature, will make mistakes, and they have. Yes, starter Julius Jones will need a rest from time to time, but the short siesta cannot occur when needed yards are a must. To turn critical real estate needs over to a fourth round selection and an undrafted free agent is neither prudent nor advantageous. Parcells is quick to point out the rookie mistakes and missed assignments, but when does the man-in-the mirror shoulder the overall responsibility?

Don't want the mistakes? Then saddle up Jones for the "must have" yardage. He's the work horse. Work him. Standing helmet-less on the sideline causes nothing but consternation. Barber and Thompson can learn without a game on the line. Doing otherwise is a costly proposition. Jones wants and needs the work. Give it to him.

The offensive line is proving to be better suited for protecting the pass. While necessary, this can't continue to be the trend or focus. The Cowboys will need to consistently run the ball if they plan to enjoy any 2005 success and entertain playoff aspirations. The expectations should be in place as they house three Pro Bowl participants on the front line. Add in the exceptional blocking abilities of both Dan Campbell and Jason Witten to the mix, and the Cowboys should be able to advance the ball on the ground. To date, success in this area has been sporadic and spotty.

Bledsoe can carry the load if need be, but this isn't the way the Cowboys want it. They want the pass set up through the run. An established run game allows an offensive coordinator to experiment and take calculated shots down the field. The Cowboys are yet to afford Sean Payton and Parcells this opportunity. It's taking big, mostly vertical pass, plays to keep the Cowboys in contests. Opposing defenses are staying fresh and active because the Cowboys cannot wear them down with a dominating run game. A quality running attack can demoralize an opponent. Moving the chains consistently takes the spirit out of a defense.

Two very aggressive defenses are headed to Texas Stadium over the next two weeks, and the running game has to be up to the monumental tasks at hand. Without success, the Division hole will only get deeper. The onus is on the front line personnel. There are some huge salaries comprising the offensive line, and it's time to start earning the coin. Living large without productive results is a dangerous combination.

As noted here last week, the Cowboys continue to try and defy the odds, but the statistics bear out more failures than successes when attempting to buck NFL trends. It caught up to them this week and will continue to do so without playing in front, with a lead and establishing the run. Couldn't think of a better message to send then to establish yourself against last year's NFC Super Bowl representative. The Eagles are still the benchmark in the Division, and it's high time the Cowboys started playing to competitive levels. It doesn't get any easier from here.

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