By Jonathan Comey
Cold, Hard Football Facts cowboy-upper
Ten things we learned from the Dallas 34-14 roping of the Eagles Saturday night at the JerryDome:
1. The Cowboys-Vikings game should be a classic.
Between them, the Vikes and Boys had 14 players voted to the Pro Bowl, but both teams are hoping they won't be able to go. While the Vikings have the obvious home-field advantage, the Cowboys are the hotter team – and their strength is Minnesota's weakness. The Vikes strong in every area
except pass defense, where they ranked 27th in Defensive Passer Rating
this year. Not good news facing Dallas' razor-sharp passing attack. Tony Romo has thrown only six INTs in his last 15 games.
2. Speaking of Romo, he deserves a little credit. The fourth-year starter is 40-19 with Dallas including playoffs, and his season passer ratings are as consistent as anyone not named Peyton: 95.1, 97.4, 91.4, 97.6. He's done it with distractions like Jerry Jones, Terrell Owens and Roy Williams in key roles, and with former players like Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith putting their two cents in on his deficiencies. He's won in December and now in the playoffs, his detractors will need something new to pick on going forward.
3. Don't blame Donovan McNabb, but don't expect to win it all with him. Saturday wasn't his best effort, but the Eagles clearly had bigger problems. When you don't run the ball (21 times in two games vs. Dallas!), you put a lot of pressure on the triggerman. Over 16 playoff starts McNabb has given his team enough to win – 20.9 points per game, and a passer rating right around 80. Average. Meaning that he'll win some (9) and lose some (7). But he's pretty much established that he's not going to put a team on his back and carry them to the promised land.
4. Ladies and gentlemen, the Curse of Flutie is over
(cue Chief Troll fainting). As detailed on CHFF throughout the years (and this week in the Dallas Morning News
), Wade Phillips finally shook the curse placed on him for benching Buffalo starting QB Doug Flutie for the playoff back in 1999. Congrats, Wade. You're no longer the winningest coach in history who's never won a playoff game. You can retire that amulet of positive energy that shaman sold you one sleepless night. The curse is lifted.
5. The Cowboys' Defensive Hogs are on one heck of a roll.
Over the past five games – four against playoff teams – Dallas' front has been spectacular. For the season, Dallas was No. 8 on the index
, but over the last five they have picked it up significantly in all three stats used on the index. The Cowboys have allowed 3.3 YPA (down from 3.9), forced negative pass plays 10.4 percent of the time (up from 8.63) and allowed 26.7 percent success on third down (from 35 percent). The run defense and third-down numbers would have ranked them No. 1 over a full season, the negative pass plays fifth.
6. The Cowboys won the battle of Bendability/Scoreability.
Coming into this one, the matchup of Dallas' offense vs. Philly's defense had extra meaning for us Trolls. See, Dallas' worst Quality Stat was Scoreability (25th); simply put, they were the worst playoff team at turning yards into points. But the Eagles' worst Quality Stat was Bendability (20th); they were good at holding teams from big yardage totals, but bad at preventing points.
So, which would prevail? Clearly, Dallas, which had 426 net yards and 34 points – one point for every 12.5 yards, way ahead of their regular-season mark (one point for every 17.7 yards). To put the12.5 number in perspective, the Saints were No. 1 in Scoreability in the regular season at 12.67.
7. Ed Hochuli makes his not-so-triumphant return to the big time. Everyone's favorite muscly ref, Ed Hochuli, was out of the playoff mix in 2008 after his blown call in a Denver-San Diego game more or less won the game for the Broncos. He was back in the spotlight Saturday, but managed to preside over the crew that called a whopping 23 penalties for 228 yards. Didn't you learn about quick whistles last year, Ed?
8. With one act of hubris, Michael Vick's karma went back in the tank. After Vick threw a touchdown pass to Jeremy Maclin to tie it 7-7, he was seen on the sidelines pointing to his bicep with bravado. Wait! Wasn't this Michael Vick, winner of the Eagles' Courage Award, humble now after his brushes with the law? On his next play, Vick awkwardly tried to run an option play and fumbled. Diving toward the ball, he was pinned to the earth by an Eagles lineman and the Cowboys recovered. Stay humble, No. 7.
9. Jason Witten is allergic to the end zone. Fantasy nerds will tell you that Witten's stat-stuffing 2009 season (94 catches, 1,030 yards) was marred by only two touchdowns – one of only 11 seasons where a player had 1,000 yards and less than 3 TDs.Well, one play on Saturday was a microcosm of Witten's season. At the beginning of the second period, Witten took a swing pass from Romo and followed blockers to the end zone for 19 yards ... until he got to the half-foot line and was pushed to the turf shy of paydirt. Next play, Tashard Choice runs it in for six, and Witten has to block. We thought he was Romo's best buddy!
10. Felix Jones, get ready for your closeup.
We know that Jones has only 162 lifetime carries, and that this doesn't represent a major sample. But the incredible 6.78 YPA average he's amassed is tough to keep on the bench (we've been on the Jones bandwagon since his rookie year
, even as the Dallas organization has not). Jones' workload increased from 6 to 8 carries per game in the first half of the season to 10-15 per game in the second half, and that doesn't figure to decrease: he is one of the sport's great big-play gamebreakers.
He ended the win over the Eagles with an awesome 16 carries for 148 yards (9.25 YPA) and 1 TD, an explosive 73-yard dash in the third quarter.