Dallas Cowboys

JUST CHILL: 10 thoughts from the Cowboys-Patriots game

Dallas Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy put a lot of pressure on New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
Dallas Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy put a lot of pressure on New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

1. You don’t take chances on players with off-the-field issues or questionable character if they are considered JAGs or just a guy. Special players, elite players get second chances. A player needs to be worth it on the field if a team or organization is going to put up with criticism for his off-field behavior. This is the only explanation for the Dallas Cowboys’ decision to sign defensive end Greg Hardy. And he showed very quickly against the New England Patriots Sunday in what was his first game in 14 months. He had two sacks and five quarterback hits on Tom Brady. He also had a forced fumble and had a tackle for loss. Hardy is relentless in chasing the quarterback and the ball. He might not be the right kind of guy off the field, but he has tremendous football character. He is an instant impact player and makes the guys around him better.

2. This is my take on the Hardy controversy of last week. He refused to talk to reporters about the domestic violence incident that cost him more than a year of football and millions of dollars. That’s his right. But if you can’t talk about that, show contrition or remorse for putting yourself in that situation. You have no right to joke about another man’s wife. Let’s not all be tone deaf here.

3. There are Cowboys fans and radio hosts already talking about a contract extension for Greg Hardy…after one game. This is not a one-game evaluation for the Cowboys. This is a season-long thing that will include more than his dominant play on the field. The Cowboys rented Hardy for this year to make a Super Bowl run. They covered themselves with an incentive-laden contract to try to keep him on the straight and narrow. There is no way they are already thinking of signing him to a long-term contract. They are going to let the situation play out and truly see what kind of man and player Hardy is over the course of a full season and then that might not be enough. This was a one-year rental to try to put the Cowboys over the hump for a Super Bowl bid. They drafted Randy Gregory to be their right end of the future. Bottom line, no decision on Hardy’s future will be made after one game and maybe not during the season.

4. Hardy got the two sacks, but he didn’t overshadow the equally dominant play of middle linebacker Rolando McClain, who gives them physicality and nastiness. McClain tied for the team lead with eight tackles. He had two tackles for loss, a quarterback hit and the first sack of the game on Tom Brady. Anthony Hitchens did a nice job at middle linebacker the first four games, but there is a stark difference with McClain in the lineup. He is an imposing physical presence in the middle that let’s everybody know who is the baddest kid on the block. With Hardy up front and McClain at linebacker, the Cowboys have two bullies willing to punish opposing offenses.

5. The Cowboys almost have to make a change at quarterback during the bye week. The team’s struggles are not all Weeden’s fault, but his limitations leave the Cowboys no choice. The final drive against the Patriots was a microcosm of Weeden’s issues. Sure, the game had already been decided. But the Cowboys had a first and goal at the New England 6 with 1:41 left. He missed a pass to tight end Jason Witten. Darren McFadden had a drop. He threw horribly high and outside to tight end Garrett Escobar before missing a wide open Terrance Williams in the end zone. “I rushed it,” Weeden said. “I rushed the throw. I just missed him. Me and Gavin have been working on that fade route a few weeks now and we haven’t hit on it yet. Obviously, the game was out of reach, but you just want to hit those, for a confidence factor and to take advantage of receivers running good routes.”

6. Matt Cassel won’t be a savior at quarterback, but he is more experienced and more accurate than Weeden so that’s a start. He should be a better decision-maker. But until Dez Bryant comes back, it will be rough no matter who is at quarterback because the Cowboys have no firepower on offense. Cole Beasely and Jason Witten are good options over the middle, but there is no one in the lineup at receiver that scares opponents. Terrance Williams has playmaking ability outside, but has been inconsistent. The Cowboys are getting nothing so far from Devin Street and Lucky Whitehead.

7. The Cowboys quietly admit they miss running back DeMarco Murray. They faced eight-man fronts last year, but it was no matter. Murray and the running game still flourished _ especially late in games when they pounded worn-down defenses. This year, the Cowboys are simply running into an eight-man wall. It’s about Joseph Randle and Darren McFadden not being as good as Murray taking the 3- and 4-yard runs, setting up the big runs later. It’s also about the offensive line not playing as well as it did year. Guard Ron Leary could be replaced during the bye week by rookie La’el Collins.

8. The Cowboys broke out the unique 3-2-6 defense against the Patriots and it worked for a while. Credit defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli for going outside the box. The Cowboys played aggressive man to man on the outside, smothering the Patriots receivers and forcing Tom Brady to hold on to the ball. That explains the five sacks on Brady in the first half as the receivers had a hard time getting open. The three-man front included Greg Hardy coming from right end and some exotic blitz packages from Marinelli that confused the Patriots early. This was a defense specifically for the Patriots and might provide a blueprint for other team’s to show them later in the season and possibly the playoffs.

9. Rookie top pick Byron Jones played tight end Rob Gronkowski as well as anybody. Jones was drafted as a cornerback, but the Cowboys think his future is at safety. He followed Gronkowski all over the field and limited him to four catches for 67 yards. “He did a really nice job,” coach Jason Garrett said of Jones. “Gronkowksi is a really good player. Byron right from the start stepped up and challenged him. Gronkowski made some plays, a couple of slants, a couple of back shoulder plays. But Byron ever since he's gotten here, just kind of steps in there and competes. He hasn't always won but he is never shy about sticking his nose in there and challenging the guys he is playing against. We saw that yesterday.”

10. There has been a lot of talk about keeping things afloat until Tony Romo comes back Nov. 22. The Cowboys have lost three straight since Romo was injured in Week 2. Jerry Jones said it best: “ If Cowboys don’t start winning, it will be too late when Romo and Bryant get back.” It’s unrealistic to think the Cowboys can sweep the seven games with Romo over the final seven weeks. Jones said even if they did, nine wins won’t be enough to get in the playoffs. “I don’t know that nine wins can get you in the tournament, and so, however you want to count them up,” Jones said. “How realistic is it to think Romo and Bryant appear and you win the rest of them? How realistic is that? It’s not. Frankly. we really do need to get to playing better than we’re playing. Hopefully we’ll get it back here in the next two weeks. If we don’t do that, then no matter how good we might get relative to right now, it’ll be too late.”

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