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Extra Points: Leadership lacking in Dallas
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Fans tend to embrace passionate coaches and it's not all that hard to understand why.
They care so much about their favorite teams that it's comforting to see the guy in charge wear his emotions on his sleeve.
That's not to say you have to be a Mike Ditka-type to succeed. Plenty of reserved mentors over the years have reached the pinnacle of the profession and no city should understand that better than Dallas.
Tom Landry was the epitome of the composed and restrained coach, an aloof and cautious man in tailored suits and fedoras who amassed 250 wins, 18 playoff appearances and two Super Bowl crowns.
Personality wise the current Cowboys coach, Jason Garrett, is a lot closer to Landry than say Jimmy Johnson, the rah-rah "how 'bout 'dem Cowboys" high- energy mentor.
Coaching wise, however, Garrett is the polar opposite of both and that's what counts.
The only thing Landry and Johnson had in common, aside from the two Super Bowl rings each accumulated, was their acumen as football coaches. Garrett, on the other hand, is nothing more than a Jerry Jones yes man, a powerless figurehead who let his offensive coordinator and quarterback steer his team off a cliff in last Sunday's colossal collapse against Green Bay.
The Cowboys' current offensive philosophy is based on the fact they aren't a very good running team under normal circumstances, along with the knowledge that Tony Romo can certainly get the football down the field and has weapons like Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and Terrance Williams at his disposal.
So, while it's hardly a surprise Dallas is a pass-first offense, common sense also tells us the opposition changes from week to week which is exactly why you need coaches, men supposedly well-versed in what the opponent does well and what it struggles with.
In the case of Green Bay, let's be kind and just say The Woodlands could run on the 2013 Packers, something DeMarco Murray was proving on Sunday.
Murray is your classic Cowboy, a "star" in the eyes of their fans and the national media which still portrays Dallas as "America's Team," a ludicrous designation especially after hearing the immense cheers for the Packers in AT&T Stadium.
In truth Murray is a slightly above average NFL running back but that's still plenty good enough against a Dom Capers-led defense which is 25th in the NFL against the rush, allowing 123.4 yards per game.
And sure enough Murray did his part against the Pack, running for 134 yards and a touchdown on just 18 carries in the eventual 37-36 loss.
Problem is only seven of those totes came in the second half despite the fact the Cowboys entered the third quarter with what should have been an insurmountable 23-point lead against a team minus its superstar, Aaron Rodgers.
Conversely, Romo, the king of December doldrums, passed 51 times overall, 23 of those attempts coming after intermission as the Packers scored touchdowns on five straight possessions to pull off the biggest comeback in the franchise's long and storied history.
"We should have run the ball more in the second half," Garrett understated Monday morning on 105.3 Radio in Dallas. "There's no question about that.
Romo's interceptions at the end of the game were as egregious as Bill Callahan's play-calling but neither should be at the top of any blame list because each man was left to their own devices by the head coach, a man who knows better than anyone else their default settings always read pass.
Garrett should have assessed the situation, stepped in and took over when the snowball was clearly headed in the wrong direction. For instance he should have cut off Romo's ability to audible out of a running play late, like when the embattled QB did exactly that on 2nd-and-6 from the Dallas 35 with less than three minutes remaining and the Cowboys up five.
Even Callahan wanted Romo to hand the ball to Murray at that point despite the Packers' stacked front. But, Romo showed no feel for situational football and checked to an ill-conceived slant pass to Miles Austin, made tougher by the fact he was hurried and off-balance. The Packers' Sam Shields jumped the route and the rest is history.
"We call that a smoke or a flash, Garrett explained. "That's something we have accompanying some runs if he gets a bad look. That's what happened on the interception. It was a run call that he threw the ball on."
In other words, don't blame me, blame the guy who threw it.
"I think (Romo will) be the first one to tell you he probably should have run the ball in that situation," Garrett said.
That's a coach who understands mistakes by others after the fact but either can't think on his feet quickly enough when the bullets are flying or simply doesn't have the cachet to pull the reins on Romo.
Remember Jerry Jones took Garrett's play-calling duties away from him and handed them to Callahan with the spin being he wanted Garrett to have a clearer view of the big picture on Sundays. In reality, though, Jones was handcuffing a coach with little power to begin with.
Despite having that "clearer view" against the Packers, Garrett either didn't have the wherewithal or the ability to stop anything.
"I felt like we had good balance in the first half, made a lot of plays in the passing game, but DeMarco was running the ball well," Garrett said. "I think in hindsight you look back on it and say we should have run the ball more, and tried to maintain our balance."
Hindsight also tells us that Philadelphia's loss in Minnesota means the Cowboys still have the ability to win out and earn the NFC East crown.
That said, even if things fall Dallas' way in the final two weeks, a one and done postseason isn't going to change the fact that Garrett has already proven he's no leader -- the one attribute every successful coach no matter the personality -- needs.
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THE GAMES (All Times Eastern) - WEEK 16
Miami (8-6) at Buffalo (5-9), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Dolphins by 2 1/2
THE SKINNY: The Dolphins continue to push for the AFC's final playoff spot and could capture it this week by winning, coupled with losses by both Baltimore and Cincinnati. The margin for error, however, remains small for Miami, which will be seeking its third straight win at Buffalo in December. QB Ryan Tannehill is coming off a big game during the Dolphins' 24-20 signature win over New England in Week 15 and needs 373 passing yards over the final two games to join Dan Marino as the only Miami signal callers to have a 4,000-yard season.
The Bills continue to build around rookie QB EJ Manuel and a pressure-based defense, which has four players with at least eight sacks (Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus, Jerry Hughes and Kyle Williams.) Buffalo ruled out Manuel for this game, though, with a knee injury and will turn to backup Thad Lewis.
PREDICTION: Dolphins 23, Bills 20
New Orleans (10-4) at Carolina (10-4), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Panthers by 3
THE SKINNY: The NFC South's top two teams will meet for the second time in three weeks. Both teams enter the contest with 10-4 records and each is in control for the division title and a first-round bye.
"The next two games as far as I'm concerned are playoff games," said Carolina head coach Ron Rivera. "There's a lot of importance to this next game against New Orleans. This is about as big as it gets."
The Saints blitzed the Panthers, 31-13, in NOLA back on Dec. 8 when Drew Brees surgically picked apart Carolina's top-ranked defense, throwing for 313 yards and four touchdowns on 30-of-42 efficiency. New Orleans tallied three touchdowns in the second quarter against a Panthers defense that hasn't allowed more than two in any other game this season.
The Saints, however, have sandwiched that outing with two dismal losses away from the Big Easy, a 34-7 thrashing at the hands of top-seeded Seattle on Dec. 2 and a 27-16 drubbing in St. Louis last week.
Carolina, meanwhile, bounced back from its loss in New Orleans to win for the ninth time in 10 games, besting the New York Jets, 30-20, in Week 15 when Cam Newton threw for 273 yards with a touchdown as Carolina moved one step closer toward clinching a playoff berth.
PREDICTION: Panthers 27, Saints 20
Minnesota (4-9-1) at Cincinnati (9-5), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Bengals by 7
THE SKINNY: It's not time to panic in Cincinnati but it is time to check the rear-view mirror. The Bengals enter Week 16 still in the driver's seat of the AFC North as they get ready to face the Minnesota Vikings but another slip-up could have them looking directly at a path that doesn't include a postseason berth.
Cincinnati is coming off a 30-20 setback in Pittsburgh last Sunday and now lead the Baltimore Ravens by just one game in the division with a Week 17 matchup between the two rivals looming. Because the Ravens already beat the Bengals in Baltimore earlier in the season the reigning Super Bowl champions now control their own destiny in the division. Cincinnati is 6-0 at home, however.
Minnesota is looking to play spoiler for the second straight week. The Vikings were without running backs Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart a week ago, but little-used reserve Matt Asiata ran for three touchdowns in a stunning 48-30 victory over the NFC East-leading Philadelphia Eagles. Matt Cassel completed 26-of-35 passes for 382 yards, two touchdowns and an interception for the Vikings, who put the brakes on Philadelphia's five-game winning streak.
PREDICTION: Bengals 31, Vikings 23
Denver (11-3) at Houston (2-12), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Broncos by 11
THE SKINNY: After dropping their first home game of the season, a 27-20 loss to the San Diego Chargers in Week 15, the Broncos will take to the road for their last two regular-season games beginning with a matchup against the moribund Houston Texans, who are in the midst of a franchise-worst 12-game losing streak.
Denver can clinch the AFC West and a first-round bye this week by winning coupled with a Kansas City loss against Indianapolis. The Broncos can also secure home-field advantage throughout the AFC bracket with a triumph and losses by the Chiefs and New England.
PREDICTION: Broncos 34, Texans 17
Tennessee (5-9) at Jacksonville (4-10), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Titans by 5 1/2
THE SKINNY: The Jaguars, who have won four of six after an 0-8 start, will finish the home portion of their 2013 campaign against the Titans, who have dropped five of six, including a 29-27 setback to Jacksonville during Week 10 in Nashville. That loss kicked off Tennessee's current spiral. Titans QB Ryan Fitzpatrick has played well despite the lack of success and joined George Blanda and Billy Volek as the only players in franchise history to pass for at least 400 yards and four TDs during last week's 37-34 overtime loss to Arizona.
PREDICTION: Titans 20, Jaguars 16
Indianapolis (9-5) at Kansas City (11-3), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Chiefs by 6 1/2
THE SKINNY: The Chiefs have already clinched a playoff berth by virtue of winning in Oakland last week. Now they have serious designs on going from worst to first as they get ready to entertain another team bound for the postseason, the AFC South champion Indianapolis Colts.
The Chiefs finished with an NFL-worst 2-14 record in 2012 but quickly turned things around under a new coach and quarterback combo, Andy Reid and Alex Smith. Kansas City enters Week 16 at 11-3 and could still claim the AFC West crown and the top seed in all of the AFC if it wins its final two games and Denver loses one of its final two.
The Chiefs are now tied with 2008 Dolphins and 2012 Colts for the most wins by team that won two or fewer games in previous season and have the NFL's best turnover ratio at plus-21.
The Colts, who have won four of their last five at Kansas City, have been a bit uneven in recent weeks but they are coming off an impressive performance of their own when Andrew Luck tossed a pair of touchdown as Indianapolis cruised to a 25-3 triumph over the reeling Houston Texans. Luck (7,673) joined Cam Newton and Peyton Manning as only QBs with at least 7,500 passing yards in their two seasons of career in that one.
PREDICTION: Chiefs 30, Colts 21
Cleveland (4-10) at NY Jets (6-8), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Jets by 2 1/2
THE SKINNY: The Browns, losers of five straight and eight of nine, travel to North Jersey to face a Jets team that has dropped four of five. Cleveland starting QB Jason Campbell is 2-0 all-time as a starter versus New York and will face an aggressive defense led by DE Muhammad Wilkerson, who has a career-high 10 sacks, the first Jet to hit double figures since John Abraham recorded 10 1/2 in 2005.
PREDICTION: Jets 23, Browns 17
Tampa Bay (4-10) at St. Louis (6-8), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Rams by 5 1/2
THE SKINNY: Two teams playing out the string meet in the Gateway City when the Rams host the Bucs. St. Louis possesses the best pass rusher in football right now in Robert Quinn, who has 16 sacks in his last 15 games and an emerging young running back in Zac Stacy, who has rushed for 640 yards (91.4 per game) and six TDs over his past seven games. Tampa Bay has rebounded from an 0-8 start to win four of six behind rookie quarterback Mike Glennon, who has 14 TD passes versus just five interceptions in his last nine games.
PREDICTION: Rams 24, Buccaneers 16
Dallas (7-7) at Washington (3-11), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Cowboys by 3
THE SKINNY: Dallas will try to rebound from one of the worst losses in franchise history when they visit their long-time rivals, who has lost six straight and shut down starting QB Robert Griffin III for the season. The Cowboys can still win the NFC East by winning their last two games and Tony Romo has won six of his past nine starts against the Redskins. For Washington, Kirk Cousins, RG3's replacement, threw for a career-high 381 yards and three TDs in last week's 27-26 setback at Atlanta.
PREDICTION: Cowboys 27, Redskins 24
NY Giants (5-9) at Detroit (7-7), Sunday, 4:05 p.m.
LINE: Lions by 9
THE SKINNY: A desperate Detroit team will try to start moving in the right direction again against the Giants. The Lions have dropped four of their last five games and fallen from first place in the NFC North to third place, behind division-leading Chicago (8-6) and second place Green Bay (7-6-1). Detroit now needs to win out and hope both the Bears and Packers lose one game, a scenario complicated by the fact that those teams play each other in Week 17.
The Giants are suffering through a terrible season and it all starts with QB Eli Manning, who has thrown a league-high 25 interceptions.
PREDICTION: Lions 31, Giants 20
Arizona (9-5) at Seattle (12-2), Sunday, 4:05 p.m.
LINE: Seahawks by 10 1/2
THE SKINNY: The Seahawks have already clinched a playoff spot and the Cardinals find themselves in the thick of the postseason race, although they remain on the outside, looking in with two games to go.
With a win -- or a San Francisco loss -- Seattle will lock up the No. 1 seed in the NFC and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Last week, the Seahawks recorded five interceptions in a 23-0 shutout win over the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium, the home of Super Bowl XLVIII when quarterback Russell Wilson, who has never lost at home (14-0), notched his 23rd career win as a starter, the most in the Super Bowl era by any signal caller in his first two seasons.
First-year Arizona head coach Bruce Arians, the 2012 NFL Coach of the Year in Indianapolis, has already piloted the Cardinals to nine wins in his first season and has Arizona at 6-1 over its last seven games. Last week, Arizona won a 37-34 overtime thriller in Nashville when cornerback Antoine Cason had an interception-return for a touchdown and set up Jay Feeley's 41-yard game- winning field goal with another pick in the extra frame.
"At this point in the season, it's about making plays and winning games,: said Feely. "Nothing else matters. You just have to win."
PREDICTION: Seahawks 24, Cardinals 17
New England (10-4) at Baltimore (8-6), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
LINE: Ravens by 2 1/2
THE SKINNY: The Patriots will again look to lock up the AFC East and stay in control for a first-round bye. With a win -- or a Miami loss -- on Sunday, the Pats will clinch the division. A triumph, along with losses by Cincinnati and Indianapolis, will secure the first-round bye for New England.
Quarterback Tom Brady has led the Patriots to 10 division titles, the most of any starting quarterback in NFL history. With a win, Brady (146 wins) will also tie Hall of Famer Dan Marino (147) for the fourth-most wins in NFL history by a starting quarterback.
"We've got 10 wins, and 10 wins is fine," said Brady. "But it hasn't gotten us anything. We haven't qualified for anything. We need to start playing better football and see if we can do better on a more consistent basis."
Baltimore, which is 6-1 at home this season, has now won four straight overall and is in control of its destiny in the AFC North. On Monday night, Justin Tucker kicked six field goals, including a 61-yard game-winner, in the Ravens' 18-16 win at Detroit.
"We're playing our best football right now and we're going to have to continue to improve with what we have in front of us down the stretch," said Ravens head coach John Harbaugh.
PREDICTION: Ravens 21, Patriots 20
Pittsburgh (6-8) at Green Bay (7-6-1), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
LINE: Packers by 3
THE SKINNY: Left for dead without star QB Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers have picked themselves off the canvas to win two straight, including last week's improbable comeback from a 23-point deficit in Dallas. The Pack now control their own destiny and can win the NFC North by topping Pittsburgh and beating Chicago in Week 17. Backup signal caller Matt Flynn threw four TD passes and had a 113.1 passer rating against the Cowboys last week while rookie running back Eddie Lacy leads the NFL with 977 rushing yards since Oct. 1.
Despite a down season for the Steelers overall, Ben Roethlisberger has continued to excel, throwing 12 TDs versus just one pick with a 106.4 passer rating over his last five games.
PREDICTION: Packers 24, Steelers 23
Oakland (4-10) at San Diego (7-7), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
LINE: Chargers by 10
THE SKINNY: The odds remain long but the San Diego Chargers are still playing meaningful football deep into December under first-year head coach Mike McCoy and revitalized quarterback Philip Rivers. The same can't be said for the Oakland Raiders, who are enduring their 11th straight season playing .500 football or worse.
Oakland hasn't had a winning campaign since finishing 11-5 in 2002 en route to losing Super Bowl XXXVII to Tampa Bay. In the ensuing 11 campaigns the Raiders are a combined 53-121, topping out with 8-8 records in both 2010 and 2011, with seven different head coaches. The latest Oakland mentor is Dennis Allen, who is 8-22 since taking over the program in 2012.
San Diego stayed alive last week with its most impressive performance of the season, a 27-20 win over Denver in the Rockies. Ryan Mathews ran for 127 yards and a touchdown and Rivers, who became just the sixth player in NFL history to register five different 4,000-yard passing seasons, tossed a pair of scores to rookie star Keenan Allen in that one.
PREDICTION: Chargers 34, Raiders 14
Chicago (8-6) at Philadelphia (8-6), Sunday, 8:30 p.m.
LINE: Eagles by 3
THE SKINNY: Division leaders will clash in Philly on "Sunday Night Football." Chicago is now in control in the NFC North. With a win and losses by both Detroit and Green Bay, the Bears will clinch the division. Chicago and Green Bay will also meet in Week 17.
Philadelphia remains in control in the NFC East despite a loss in Minnesota last week. With a win and a Dallas loss in Week 16, the Eagles will clinch the division. Philadelphia and Dallas will also meet in Week 17.
Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler returned to the lineup in last week's 38-31 win at Cleveland and threw three touchdown passes -- one each to Earl Bennett, Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall. Jeffery (1,265 yards) and Marshall (1,185) have combined for 2,450 receiving yards, the most by teammates this season.
The Eagles have the NFL's top rushing offense (152.9 yards per game) and rank second in the league in total offense (414.0). Quarterback Nick Foles has the NFL's best passer rating (117.0) and running back LeSean McCoy leads the league in rushing yards (1,343) and scrimmage yards (1,850).
"We've put ourselves in a position to compete for the division in the last two games," said Chicago head coach Marc Trestman. "But we've got to play better to win."
PREDICTION: Bears 34, Eagles 30
Atlanta (4-10) at San Francisco (10-4), Monday, 8:40 p.m.
LINE: 49ers by 12
THE SKINNY: The 49ers return home to host the Atlanta Falcons on "Monday Night Football" in a rematch of the 2012 NFC Championship Game which the Niners won in Dixie. This will also be the final regular season game at Candlestick Park for the 49ers, who will be moving to Levi's Stadium in nearby Santa Clara, Calif. for the 2014 season. San Francisco, which will be aiming for its second straight win against an NFC South opponent as well as its fifth consecutive win overall, can clinch a playoff berth with a win or an Arizona loss at Seattle.
The Falcons have been playing a bit better recently and QB Matt Ryan generally excels against San Fran. He is 2-0 in the regular season against the Niners and completed 30-of-42 passes for 396 yards with 3 TDs and a 114.8 rating in last year's championship game.
PREDICTION: 49ers 27, Falcons 14
12/18 14:12:44 ET
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