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Garrett gives Cowboys focused look

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Recent posts by Nolan Nawrocki

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Posted Nov. 15, 2010 @ 12:05 p.m. ET
By Nolan Nawrocki

Great leaders do not have to be liked.

George Halas was hated. Vince Lombardi was despised. Some of Bill Parcells' former players have talked about dreams they have had of attacking the hard-headed, quick-witted, extremely demanding future Hall of Fame head coach.

Players cannot always appreciate it when they are living through the agony. Only after they have had time to reflect on what they accomplished, and realize they have been taken to places they never would have reached on their own, do they often come to appreciate what their coaches have done for them, and just why they were so hard and demanding.

Jason Garrett's first order of business upon taking over for Wade Phillips was to lay down the law of the land and let players know that they were going to be accountable for their actions. On the sideline in his first game as the Cowboys' new leader, Garrett carried a laser-beam focus, intensely in tune with the rhythm of the game and appearing much more determined than his often defeated-looking predecessor, who came to be known best for letting the inmates run the asylum.

Under Garrett's leadership, the absence of Tony Romo did not matter, and the offense preyed on the aggressive tendencies of Perry Fewell's pass rush with screens, counters and a better-timed, stretch-zone run game. The offensive line came off the ball with more urgency. Jon Kitna had better protection and played with more confidence. Routes were more precise. The execution was more crisp. The defense swarmed to the ball with more energy. There were fewer penalties (five), fewer turnovers (one) and more big plays, none bigger than Bryan McCann's 101-yard interception return for a TD. Stepping in for an injured Mike Jenkins, McCann rose the occasion. ILB Bradie James also stepped up with a number of key stops. There were fewer dropped balls.

With the Lions coming to Dallas next week, the Garrett era should get out to a 2-0 start before the Cowboys are faced with another great test, with a competitive, three-game portion of the schedule featuring New Orleans, Indianapolis and Philadelphia, none of which held a better record or had been playing more consistent football than the Giants when the Cowboys came to town.

One week Jerry Jones looked like the laughingstock of the NFL. The next, he looks like a genius. Forget all the speculation and posturing for Phillips' job — if the Cowboys can build on a very encouraging road victory, the only question Jones will be answering is why he did not make the change sooner.

• Coming off his best performance of the season against Arizona, Brett Favre accounted for four turnovers against an aggressive Chicago defense that suffocated Adrian Peterson behind the line of scrimmage, played sound, gap-control football and beat up the Vikings' struggling offensive line.

• One of the questions evaluators had about Colt McCoy coming out of Texas was whether he was too nice and had enough killer instinct to close games. The Browns put the ball in the hands of Peyton Hillis the previous two weeks against New Orleans and New England and let him carry the offense. When the Jets keyed on shutting down Hillis and forced McCoy to beat them, McCoy still fared well, limiting his mistakes and making some good throws. He has shown a lot of promise for a rookie, but the way we hear it, he still has a lot of work to do before he wins the locker room.

• 49ers rookie ORT Anthony Davis nearly cost San Francisco the game with a holding penalty late in the fourth quarter, negating a spectacular TD pass from Troy Smith to Vernon Davis. The mistakes might be expected for one of the youngest players in the NFL, but they have been occurring too frequently. With OLT Joe Staley breaking his left leg and ORG Chilo Rachel suffering a shoulder injury, Davis is going to have to grow up faster. He's fortunate that Smith is playing with so much confidence and was able to overcome such a big momentum-killing mistake. Smith is by no means a top-tier NFL quarterback and has his limtations, but his swagger has meshed very well with one of the league's most gifted sets of skill talent.

• Some NFL decision makers were surprised by the Bills' decision to select C.J. Spiller with their first pick when they already had the very underrated, strong, dependable, multipurpose back Fred Jackson on the roster, not seeing enough value in Spiller, whose limitations in pass protection have, in part, restricted his playing time. Jackson may not have any special qualities, but he can run inside and outside, block and catch and has been a very productive, all-around performer for the Bills, even after the arrival of Spiller. Credit the Bills' interior offensive line for handling a strong Lions' defensive front. Bills ORG Eric Wood played very well against Ndamukong Suh and has been an unsung performer on the offensive line.

• The biggest difference against Pittsburgh Sunday night was the infectious energy and leadership of an inspired Tom Brady, who produced his first 300-yard passing game of the season against an always tenacious Dick LeBeau defense. The loss of Steelers' emotional leader Hines Ward in the first quarter with a concussion, coupled with a depleted offensive line that was missing Max Starks, Chris Keomeatu and Willie Colon, left Ben Roethlisberger on the run and Rashard Mendenhall just looking for a sliver of daylight. The Steelers started the season 5-1, but have now fallen to New Orleans and New England in two of the past three weeks and could have more trouble ahead in November and December with a makeshift offensive line. Their schedule is still soft enough, with the Raiders making the difficult cross-country trek next week, and Buffalo and Carolina remaining, to breeze into the playoffs, but their line problems could be too much to overcome in January.

• The Jets two standout cornerbacks, Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, were both victimized on the Browns' final drive in regulation that tied the game at 20, as TE Evan Moore took the ball out of the air above Revis and Cromartie was beat by Mohamed Massaquoi on a slant for the game-tying score.

• Last week, Eric Mangini piled the points on former boss Bill Belichick. This week, Josh McDaniels did the same to former mentor Charlie Weis and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, all of whom descended from the wings of Belichick. In true Patriots fashion, the Broncos started fast and put 35 points on the Chiefs before K.C. could find the scoreboard, building an insurmountable lead and never taking their foot off the accelerator, drawing the ire of Chiefs head coach Todd Haley after the game. The rematch in Kansas City in three weeks should be very interesting.

• After falling behind 17-0 to the Colts, the Bengals' offense showed much better after moving to a hurry-up, no-huddle approach and finally was able to steal some momentum from the Colts. With the generally laid-back demeanor of QB Carson Palmer, the Bengals' offense could be most efficient sticking with the no-huddle and playing up-tempo all game.

Brandon Lloyd was on the street a year ago, an unwanted free agent without a home. After reuniting with QB Kyle Orton, with whom he had developed a strong rapport in Chicago, Lloyd has excelled. He now leads the NFL in explosive big plays, with 18 in the 20-plus-yards category and seven over 40. His exceptional concentration in traffic and unique body control have allowed Orton to wing it up in the air despite double coverage.

Jeff Fisher and Peyton Manning have been staples in the AFC South for a long time, and have controlled the division. The Jaguars and Texans have been a notch behind, trying to knock the kings off the hill. Similar to Miami and Buffalo in the AFC East trying to keep up with Belichick and a brash, surging Jets franchise, continuity could be the Texans' best friend. Both Jacksonville and Houston have pieced together a strong nucleus of talent and have done a good job of building through the draft.

The first time Donovan McNabb faced his former team, the Redskins beat the Eagles not because of, but in spite of McNabb, as offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan appeared handcuffed with opening up the playbook and seemed most focused on minimizing mistakes. With a contract extension hanging in the balance, McNabb's second performance against a coaching staff that knows his deficiencies as well as any in the league can be expected to be dissected extra closely by Mike Shanahan. One of McNabb's most endearing traits is his levity, ability to keep a huddle loose and ability to get along with his coaches — and it is for that precise reason why a contract extension makes sense. He did a fine job of helping mentor Michael Vick and Kevin Kolb in Philadelphia, and could provide value as a mentor for a young quarterback of the future in Washington. His inability to handle pressure in big games, however, and his general approach, long frustrated the Eagles, and Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott can be expected to turn the dogs loose Monday night with an aggressive pressure package. With the heat growing on the young defensive coordinator last week, he did a masterful job of pressuring Peyton Manning, sprinkling in some odd-front looks that have given Manning the most trouble. More of the same could be in store for McNabb tonight.

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