Jones must get out of own way

Posted Nov. 08, 2010 @ 4:16 a.m.
Posted By Nolan Nawrocki

Jerry Jones has done a very good job of collecting talent. What he has failed to do is build a team — something he proved he did not understand when he allowed Terrell Owens into the building and essentially ran off Bill Parcells, choosing to value more highly a sleek-looking sail on his ship than its captain.

When Parcells arrived, he brought with him savvy veterans who understood his system, knew what he expected and would police the locker room to eliminate problems and hold each other accountable. The team concept was preached and ingrained by Parcells and his many extensions on the field.

Since Jones' defining undermining decision, the Cowboys' sails have become more and more rocky with each passing season, with no resounding leader to keep a wild cast of characters in line — the prisoners left to rule the asylum.

At no position is teamwork more needed than on the offensive line, and the Cowboys' O-line was very leaky against Green Bay Sunday night, as it has been all season. That's a big part of the reason why the ground game has had two flat tires and has been unable to get rolling. The NFL's most talented backfield mustered a mere 39 rushing yards against the Packers.

Entering the season, there were questions about whether Doug Free would be able to handle the OLT position vacated by Flozell Adams, who was cut. Midway through the season, the early verdict is that Free has capably held his own. But the rest of the heavy-footed, aging line has deteriorated and too often left gaping holes or free lanes to the quarterback.

Perhaps most reflective of the group's collective slip in performance has been the play of ORG Leonard Davis, who has continued to pile up All-Pro accolades since arriving in Dallas. He is capable of moving defenders when he comes off the ball in a straight line with a defender aligned over the top of him, but almost any time he has to adjust laterally to movement, he whiffs, leaving the quarterback vulnerable to train wrecks.

The inconsistency on the offensive line is the reason Tony Romo, as fleet-footed as he is in the pocket, could not make it through half of the season healthy, and why Jon Kitna continues to take a beating, lucky to make it to the next down.

The Cowboys have played three prime-time games in 2010, dropping all three and culminating with an embarrassing 45-7 defeat to the Packers. It was the most points they have allowed since they were shellacked by the Patriots in 2007. There are personnel needs to fill, coaches to hire and wholesale changes to make if Jones wants to set his ship straight. "America's Team" has a glaring leadership void, and it will not be corrected until Jones recognizes his inability to get out of his own way and entrusts the organization to a proven football mind who commands the respect of his players, understands the meaning of "team" and can rule with an iron fist — which never will happen with an incessantly meddling owner.

• Jared Allen has not made nearly the impact this season that he did in his first two seasons in Minnesota, but when the Vikings needed him in overtime against Arizona, his motor was highly charged, whether it was bull-rushing TE Ben Patrick into Derek Anderson or coming underneath Arizona OLT Levi Brown, whom he gave fits much of the day. He finished with 2½ sacks, more than doubling his season total entering the game, as defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier used more pressure packages. 

Packers OLB Clay Matthews plays with great effort and energy and is as self-made as they come. So much of his production comes from playing 100 miles per hour every snap that it is difficult to detract from what he has done in his sensational, short career, but Dom Capers deserves a big assist for Matthews' sack production taking off the way it has. Matthews is not a skilled pass rusher with a repertoire of moves — he does not yet have a trademark sack move. But Capers consistently turns him loose and creatively schemes the high-motor rusher to come free, much like Dick LeBeau creates pressure with his linebackers in Pittsburgh.

Few receivers in the NFL can run routes and not give defensive backs any indicators until the very last second, so that they cannot react to the ball being thrown. Randy Moss is one of the best in the NFL at it. Packers WR Greg Jennings, matched up against Cowboys CB Mike Jenkins, was able to haul in a deep sideline pass with the same veteran savvy. He did it again for the Packers' third TD of the night in the second quarter against FS Alan Ball, who could not react in time to disrupt the play. From Pat Watkins to Ken Hamlin to Ball, Jerry Jones has done a poor job of addressing the free safety position, and it remains a considerable hole holding back a secondary with plenty of talent on the corners.

When it came to Jim Schwartz's candidacy as a head coach, those who knew him best raved about his intelligence. But often one's greatest strength could also be the greatest weakness, and in Schwartz's case, a tendency to be too smart or outsmart himself was cited as a concern. When the Lions inserted Ndamukong Suh into the lineup to boot an extra-point attempt, it looked like a decision that could haunt Schwartz. Even if Suh were an accomplished soccer player early in his career, has drilled 30-yard field goals in practice and is regarded as Jason Hanson's emergency backup, the logical decision would have been to let punter Nick Harris fill in. Instead, Suh shanked it off the goal post. Had he connected like Wes Welker did in replacing the injured Stephen Gostkowski, it could have altered the Jets' approach. Instead, Schwartz's decisions to use Suh as the kicker and then pass the ball instead of draining the clock in the late stages of the game were signs of him trying to be too smart and defiantly bucking the odds.

Julius Peppers has grabbed the headlines since coming to Chicago, but it has been his less-heralded teammate Israel Idonije who has stood out the past four games, overpowering the edges and playing very hard for defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli.

Browns S Abram Elam did not make the type of impact that Peyton Hillis did against the Patriots, as Hillis ripped off nearly 200 rushing yards with superhuman strength, but the Browns' safety very aggressively filled the alley against the run and changed the outlook of the game when he held up rookie TE Rob Gronkowski on the goal liine and was able to strip the ball free and prevent the Patriots from narrowing a 17-7 gap just before the half. It drained the energy from the Patriots and shifted the momentum of the game.

Tampa Bay has taken some chances on players with character or off-the-field concerns, such as Aqib Talib, Mike Williams, Sammie Stroughter and LeGarrette Blount, and Raheem Morris has done a very good job of keeping them in line. What also unites many of these players is their competitiveness, drive and determination. Like their head coach, the team is young and hungry and continues to play hard every week.  

Carson Palmer has missed too many open receivers this season and can expect to see heavy pressure coming from the side of ORT Andre Smith on Monday night, as Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is sure to overload the struggling second-year pro. Smith is still very young and learning how to become a professional, and he has been a disappointment who has held back the Bengals' offense.