It's Go Time

Amazingly, with some prayer, a little luck and a ton of water, the Cowboys decided to show in the Alamo City and get their 2007 season started. Well, at least the majority of Cowboys showed up to get things under way. For a sports-starved, post season crazed Metroplex, the Cowboys kick off couldn't come soon enough.

The Wade Phillips' era is officially in forward gear under the watchful and sponsored eye of the Ford Motor Company. Count on them playing a major role when the stadium in Arlington comes to fruition.

If a true-blue Cowboys fan, the entire off-season has led you to a single conclusion. Atmosphere matters. It must. Nothing meaningful, or concrete, has been forthcoming out of the Underwear Olympics. Has it? The only reported topics from April's Draft until Tuesday's opening ceremonies centered on mood, atmosphere, ambience, style, family, locker relocation, laid back approach, breaths of fresh air and any other lava lamp, mood ring, incense talk which could be mustered up.

So, does atmosphere matter?

Maybe to an astronaut, meteorologist or Starbuck's owner. All might exclaim the condition of the atmosphere is directionally proportional to overall success. OK, certain professions rely on atmosphere.

How about a football team?

If you're a Cowboys fan, it better. If not, you've been sold a bill of goods by both players and the organization. See, these individuals would have you believe the air breathed at Valley Ranch was the difference between playoff victory and Super Bowl contention. Had the atmospheric pressure risen or fallen, not sure which was required for Lombardi hardware, a couple of degrees, the "promised land" was within reach. Amazing. If it was that easy, why wasn't someone from NASA hired to become the Cowboys' seventh head coach in organizational history? Is Wade Phillips a meteorology major? A student of mercury and barometric pressure?

Here's a little piece of free advice. Keep this one tucked away for future reference. Care to render a guess on just how long atmosphere will remain the most important ingredient comprising success for the Cowboys in 2007?

Right up until the first loss of the season.

As long as there is winning in them there Cowboys' hills, atmosphere will remain a vital ingredient and be the rally cry of an organization starved for success. However, like any sports team incurring managerial change, things tend to be rosy right up to the time when the first "L" makes its way into the ledger. At that juncture, expect fluctuation, if not complete change in the atmospheric pressure. To the point of hearing calls for more discipline and a return to the Parcells' whip. Scoff if you must, but stick around to observe how quickly things can change.

If change in atmosphere is going to be the guiding principal, then how does it figure into reducing the number of penalties this team commits? Annually, and the Parcells' reign being no exception, this team logs a significant amount of infractions and corresponding yardage. While penalties have always been part of the game, the time at which they're taken and situations it puts the team in have always been the Cowboys' killers. Laundry always seems to fly at the most inopportune times. Bank on a crucial holding penalty, offensive or defensive, snuffing out a significant yardage gain or a vital defensive stand. Just how does atmosphere figure into the mix when it comes to solving this issue?

How will atmosphere fare in improving third down percentage allowed by the defense? Especially in December? Does anyone care to revisit the alarming percentages allowed down the stretch of the 2006 campaign? The Cowboys' defense could not get off the football field. When you allow opponents to convert at greater than 50% on third downs, you're destined for problems. The back breakers being the third and long conversions, and there were plenty last year.

Both sides of the ball suffer. When the defense is back on their heels and can't catch their collective breath, they are susceptible to the big play. A good many found their way into the deep third of the secondary and several DB's were on constant retreat. When the offense can't find their way onto the field, it's a safe bet your quarterback, especially an inexperienced, first-year starter, will start pressing and needlessly forcing the issue. Tony Romo found himself in that position too frequently coming down the stretch. The Tony Romo decline and the defensive collapse are directly intertwined. So, how does atmosphere figure in here?

While the special teams have had their moments, and improvements noteworthy, overall productivity must improve within the punt return unit. Yes, Terence Newman finally brought one back for six, but where has the consistency been? Does anyone remember the days of Kevin Williams and Kelvin Martin? Two fixtures fans and coaches could bank on. They instilled a confidence and yielded results which have long since departed the punt return unit.

Will there be a change this year? Fans can only hope, but the odds are against it. In comes a new special teams coach, and the Isiah Stanback project is yet to be unfurled. Banking on a fourth round pick, an injured one at that, to field NFL punts in year one, something he didn't do in college, is a highly-speculative proposition. The last time the Cowboys looked to a fourth round pick to gather punts; it didn't quite turn out as planned. It's hard to figure how atmosphere will advance the ball further down field with consistency.

Before completely departing the punt game, when was the last time the Cowboys blocked a punt during the regular season? When asked to visualize Cowboys' punt blockers, pictures of Charlie Waters and Ike Holt come quickly to mind. While not bad images, it does prove a significant amount of time has passed since the Cowboys possessed a threat off the edge. It would behoove the Cowboys to bring this unit into modern-day times.

Did atmosphere play into Seattle's decision to release Ken Hamlin? Is anyone the slightest bit nervous about turning over defensive quarterbacking duties to a guy a Super Bowl contender rendered "no longer needed?" Not only did they not want him, they proceeded to shell out major bucks to bring Deon Grant into the fold from Jacksonville.

Why?

What does Seattle know which caused them to part with a guy who was deemed to have "promise?" Did his star suddenly lose its luster and shine, or did a flailing street sign do more damage than either reported or known? Ken Hamlin was late on several plays during the playoff contest against the Cowboys. Rewind the tapes. Of concern was the fact he was playing deep by design. The Seahawks threw out a couple of minimum-wage workers on the islands, and Hamlin was asked to provide deep and containment assistance. He should have been more effective in coverage. Does this cause anyone unrest?

Will atmosphere have an impact on mass? Another scientific and biological question, but one which begs the asking. The Cowboys have handsomely purchased a mountain of a man to replace Marco Rivera at right guard. The initial reaction is "upgrade," but is it really? Will atmosphere be able to seek out or resurrect potential? This addition was the second overall pick in the 2001 Draft. You either possess or should develop "game" if taken in the #2 hole, right? Mount Davis is yet to sniff the Pro Bowl. OK, he's been asked to labor in Phoenix where standouts are as plentiful as rain, but he still should have stood head and shoulders above peers. Some proclaim he was misappropriated at left tackle. Maybe it's just one person's opinion, but the excuse meter is redlining. With the amount of coin shelled out for the services of Leonard Davis, the Cowboys can only hope location, not atmosphere, propels this monstrosity into worthiness.

Maybe it's the car-contained rock music finally taking a toll after all these years, but were any of these issues taken head-on during the off-season? Were the "shore up" areas simply glossed over with "change of atmosphere" chatter? The take-a-way was simply a change of atmosphere will potentially cure all. It has too. It's been the only thing discussed since the Phillips' regime was ushered in. So, someone simply had to inform Bill Parcells a slight adjustment on the atmosphere dial would have rectified all Cowboys' ailments? Go figure.

It's either that or a good number of organizational personnel stand pat to wear an enormous amount of atmospheric egg on their collective faces should this thing go South.

All of which begs the question, can atmosphere rescue itself from itself?

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