The Domino Effect

It started in the chilly days of late winter as the draft approached. One by one the dominoes of hope were set meticulously in a row. Free agency came and more rectangular tiles were painstakingly cued like small soldiers on a parade ground.

By late June what started out as a single voice was now a choir singing praises of a team that had finally turned a corner. The past, a murky pool of regrets and losses was clearing and the sun was rising again on the Dallas Cowboys horizon.

Then came Houston. A team whipped into a fever pitch hosted the once intimidating franchise and played the game of their tender years. And after a devastating loss a few of the dominoes fell.

Quickly propped up again with a surprising win against the Titans, this team and its fans rejoiced in their resurrection from the depths of despair. The chits were righted and all was well.

Donovan McNabb raised a pinkie and slightly brushed the hopes and dreams that stood in a file and the entire house came crashing down. With effortless grace and ease the fourth year player for the Eagles dashed all hopes for a quick start of the season by his skillful rending of the Dallas Cowboys.

But it didn't start off that way. For the first time in several years the Eagles were afraid of the Dallas Cowboys. Late in the first quarter when a Dallas team held the lead and McNabb was hurried and harried, the collective, including the Eagles and the raucous fanbase held their breath. Dallas had truly surprised the Philly team and hope flourished for the men under the star.

But an adjustment by Andy Reid brought in an extra blocker in the pocket, which stemmed the tide of a surprisingly aggressive front four of the Cowboys, and all was lost.

Dallas doesn't have all the players in place to hang with the elite teams for four quarters. As the team makes its way through the 2002 season, examples of where the next wave of great players are needed is witnessed on the field during each Sunday struggle.

Mario Edwards is a good cornerback. He plays with confidence. He covers well and can break on the ball. He also will never be confused with any of the upper echelon of cornerbacks. His name will never be included with the likes of Woodson, Bailey and Ronde Barber.

Edwards should be the cornerback teams challenge when they play the Cowboys. He should be the weakest link. The guy most likely to be voted off the island. The one defensive back that has a target on his jersey on every passing down.

But teams need only look at the other side of the defense that is as confusing as an Iraqi yellow pages. Duane Hawthorne serves the needs of a team requiring a first down or a quick strike. His diminuitive size is an obstacle difficult to overcome. He is further handicapped by a lack of talent.

James Thrash raced to the endzone and caught an easy 35-yard touchdown lob from McNabb in front of a stumbling Hawthorne in the second quarter. The ball hung in the air but the Dallas cornerback couldn't recover and ended up tripping over his own feet. He also made Thrash look like a pro bowler.

Dallas couldn't counter the extra blocker with the blitz because Hawthorne isn't skilled enough to give tight coverage on his man. This one play illustrated how adjustments also require the players to make it happen. Dallas blitzed on the play and was burned because they were required to sacrifice the help needed to make Hawthorne a legitimate cornerback.

The offensive line is another area where the team is beaten down. Injuries occur on all teams. But another year of an ill-prepared line makes one wonder if this cadre of coaches can start a season with a group that can block.

Far too many years we have been hearing about how great the Dallas line is. And as usual they disappoint. Setting the tone for the year would seem important. And having an offensive line that can protect the quarterback and open holes for the runners is a most critical area of concern. Too many seasons in a row we have seen the year start off with the line struggling to compete.

As frustrated as the fans may be about this, it can only be a small percentage of the angst Emmitt Smith must surely be experiencing. At the snails pace he is churning out yards, his AARP membership should arrive in the mailbox just days before he breaks Payton's record.

Quincy Carter played within the game plan up until the Eagles took a 10-point lead. They then did what Eagles do and turned the dogs loose on Carter. His mistakes in the second half came strictly from the pressure by a defense that smelled blood. As the pace picked up Carter hurried and the errors reared their heads. For a second year player that struggles with the leadership mantle, he is far too green to pilot the team at this juncture without time to find the open man.

The offensive line fails both Emmitt and Quincy. In turn it fails the defense by not pressuring the other team to score. A vicious circle that feeds off of the errors by players on both sides.

Rebuilding takes time. Learning the NFL game takes time for a novice quarterback. The inconsistency on the field are the measuring stick which indicates all rebuilding franchises and rookie quarterbacks growth.

As difficult as losing is, there are signs of forward movement by this team. The scoreboard didn't show the concern the home team had when Dallas came out and played inspired defense. But Dallas is a few players away from the stamina for four quarters. And really scaring teams at the top.

Dallas competed with Philadelphia for a while. With the addition of the right players, this team could challenge the Eagles for an entire game.

Rebuilding requires the team to add the pieces in increments until they can execute the game plan and force their will on the other team.

Rebuilding also requires the fans to set up those dominoes of expectations after they fall. And find solace in the baby steps the team takes in finding the answers. It requires patience.

Rebuilding is tough. Patience is tougher.

CowboysHQ Top Stories