crazy colored glasses

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Tarnished Star Part 1 (The Offense)

It's no secret that this football season was huge disappointment for me. Coming into the season I had so much hope. Then the season started, and for the first month of the season, it did not disappoint.

Then... my beloved Cowboys fell apart.

I'm sure there are a whole laundry list of reasons Cowboys fans will use (injuries, chemistry, play calling) but it's pretty easy for me to say this has been the most disappointing season ever. Great things were expected of a team that returned 13 Pro Bowlers from the previous season. What one didn't expect was the lack of leadership that would be exposed once the team started to struggle. All of which resulted in the team folding like a napkin during the December stretch run.

On paper the team still looks pretty great. Statistically, Romo had another Pro Bowl caliber season (3,400+ yards, 26 TDs, 91.4% QBR) while missing 3 games. What those numbers don't tell you is that at least once a game, he also made a completely bone-headed play. Be it an overthrow of a wide open receiver or a very costly turnover, there will need to be fewer of these plays if the team is to be successful next year. More importantly, Romo did not step forward as the vocal leader this team needs. The player everyone on the squad can rally behind. Troy Aikman never put up the gaudy stats that Romo has, but what he was, was the unquestioned leader of a very talented squad. Troy had no qualms about raising his voice and making everyone accountable for missed assignments. While I love the youthful exuberance that Romo plays the game with, he needs to take a step forward and fill the leadership void on the Cowboys. With most successful teams, its the QB who must fill that void (Colts, Patriots, Steelers, Chargers). Tony has to find the happy medium and not lose his joy of the game, but also be the leader the team needs. The team also needs to upgrade its backups. When Romo went down, Brad Johnson and Brooks Bollinger were terrible. That's a role that will definitely need to be addressed in the off-season.

In the backfield, I don't think I would be alone in saying I expected more this season from Marion Barber (885 rushing yards, 7 TDs, 3.7 AVG, another 417 receiving yards with 2 TDs). Where was the toughness in trying to fight back from a toe injury that earned him the moniker Marion The Barbarion... it simply wasn't there. It would be easy to blame his running woes on the aging offensive line (who I think looked old and slow this season), but its hard to do so when Tashard Choice (a pleasant late season surprise with 472 yards and a 5.1 AVG) and Felix Jones (who was sorely missed in his injury shortened rookie season 266 yards and a 8.9 AVG) both looked more effective in hitting the hole. The Cowboys simply need to get more from Barber next season. If he is to be the feature back he needs to bring that rushing average over 4 and climb over the 1,000 yard plateau. If not, the Cowboys must find a way to get integrate the other two backs more into the offense.

The wideouts were another group that ended the season with more question marks than when the season began. TO had a statistically down season (69 receptions, 1052 yards) but still managed to find the endzone 10 times. The question does have to be asked though, is his diminishing talent worth the drama he adds. We shall see. The mid-season trade (and huge contract extension) that brought Roy Williams to the Cowboys (from the Lions) seems like a bust at this point. 19 catches for 198 was not the impact the Cowboys thought they were getting. In fact Patrick Crayton (39 recepts for 550 yards and 4 scores) was a lot more effective as the number two receiver. The trade for Williams also dropped Miles Austin (who was really starting to come on) to the number 4 receiver. Which means he was rarely used, because the Cowboys rarely if ever employ a 4 receiver set. I still think there is huge potential from this group (with or without TO). I expect more from them and am hoping another season with Romo means a better rapport.

The best and most effective group on the Cowboys offense has got to be their tightends. Jason Witten continues to perform at an extremely high level, both blocking and as a receiver (81 Rec, 952 yds, 4TDs). He also exhibits huge amounts of toughness on a team that is lacking a physical leader. Every week his name shows up on the injury report with assorted ailments, but you can be sure come Sunday, his chin strap is on and he is ready to play. Martellus Bennett proved to be an effective second receiving tightend and another big play threat (14.2 Avg, 4 TD) who can be utilized. Tony Curtis provided great blocking as well as depth as the third tight end.

The offensive line definitely took a step back this season. They missed the blocking schemes that Tony Sparano (who went on to the playoffs as the Dolphins head coach) brought to the table. Romo had more pressure on him than at any other time during his short career. Injuries did play a big role in the unit with Kyle Kosier and his backup both going down, but that is no excuse. For too long the Cowboys thinking has been that they would just have a huge offensive line (each member weighs 300 pounds plus) that would simply outlast (and outmass) the opponents. When in reality they were exposed as fat and slow. Too often I saw athletic d-lines (Steelers, Ravens, Giants, Eagles, Cardinals) getting around the line and getting to Romo with regularity. At this point, the o-line is a huge problem that needs to be addressed before next season begins.

The other huge problem on the offense was the play calling of Jason Garrett. Annointed as a genius after his first season, Garrett's play calling took a huge step back. Tough defenses exposed their blocking schemes and simplistic play calling (a typical series was... run towards the right side of the line on first down, try to get the ball to TO on second down, force the ball into Witten on 3rd) with regularity. The Boys will need to be more creative in year 3 of Garrett calling the plays. With that much offensive firepower you should be near the top of every offensive category, and this year the Cowboys were not. Take for example the second half of the Ravens/Cowboys game. The reigns were loosened and the Boys made a tough defense look rather pedestrian. They can be an explosive offense. The Boys have better offensive weapons (Cardinals have the edge in wideouts, but the Boys have the edge at both tight end and running back) than the high-flying Cardinals. Yet the Cardinals are a much more effective and high powered offense. Why? The offensive play calling of Todd Haley (former Cowboys coach). He find creative ways to get the balls in the hands of his playmakers. It's time for Garrett to loosen the reigns permanently and let the Cowboys fly on offense.


Saturday, January 10, 2009

Top 10 Movies of 2008

So I'm a few weeks late on my Top 10 list of 2008. I figured it was better late than never. Plus I wanted to put my list out before the Golden Globe awards tomorrow. For what it's worth, here is my list of the Top 10 movies of 2008.

10. The New Frontier
DC's modern retelling of the Silver Age forming of the Justice League was beautifully adapted from the incredible mini-series by the brilliant Darwyn Cooke. The animation and voices were top notch. DC's animation studio continues to hit on all cylinders. I would have loved to have seen this film on the big screen instead of a direct to DVD release.

9. High School Musical 3
The end of the Troy and Gabriela saga for the HSM cast was handled very well in the first big-screen effort. The songs, sets and costumes were all amped up with big-screen budgets. On top of that, it was a fun, and still innocent tale of growing u and learning to make your own choices. "I Want It All" by Ryan and Sharpay was the highlight of the film for me. An obvious big budget number that could not have been done on the small-screen.

8. Kung-Fu Panda
I expected a silly animated film and ended up with one of my favorite films of the year. A great tale of learning and acceptance with standout voice acting by Jack Black, Ian McShane and Dustin Hoffman. Plus it contains some of the best fighting scenes of the year. One of the years best films for the whole family.

7. Cloverfield

Yes, it came out very early in 2008, and was really nothing more than disaster-porn, but no movie had me more on the edge of my seat in 2008. Scary and chilling at times, it made you forget that the ridiculously good looking cast was getting eaten alive. Fun concept, that was very well executed. I thoroughly enjoyed this film.

6. Forgetting Sarah Marshall
This was another movie where I expected nothing and walked out thoroughly loving the film I had seen. The marketing campaign for this movie was brilliant and initially drew me in ( okay, Kristen Bell in the cast didn't hurt) but the movie definitely delivered. It was more than the typical cookie-cutter romantic comedy. Fun, heart-warming, gross and tender, all at the same time.

5. Iron Man
I was incredibly excited for this movie, and it didnt disappoint. Robert Downey Jr. was perfectly cast as Tony Stark. That and the modern re-telling of the the characters origin wonderfully directed by Jon Favreau made this an easy choice for the Top 5. Marvel proved that an obscure comic book character done smartly and right could make for a huge box-office hit. Hopefully everyone stayed through the credits and saw Samuel Jackson brief but brilliant turn as Nick Fury.

4. The Reader
A coming of age love story between a teenager and middle aged woman that spirals into a legal thriller about the Holocaust where we learn to what lengths some people will go to keep a secret. Amazing performances by the incomparable Kate Winslet (the best actress in Hollywood today) and Ralph Fiennes make this movie a must see. I wouldn't be surprised to see both performances be nominated. Great work also by the makeup artists in the film. The movie covers almost 50 years so the characters do a serious amount of aging which is wonderfully captured on screen. Some will think the movie is a little gratuitous, if you can handle the nudity and some adult situations, you'll be in for an epic film.

3. The Dark Knight

Quite possibly the greatest comic book film ever made. Christopher Nolan has crafted a wonderful and realistic modern mythology in his Batman movies. Proving that you can make comic movies intelligent, yet still cater to the popcorn set. Easily put, one of the best movies of the year. Also, enough cannot be said about the brilliant performance of Heath Ledger as the agent of anarchy known as the Joker. Simply brilliant and deserving of a nomination. I hope they can get the whole crew (Nolan, Bale, Caine, Oldham) back together for at least one more foray through the streets of Gotham.

2. Revolutionary Road

The movie is best described by a phrase that is used in the film "the emptiness of hopelessness". Sam Mendes directs another movie in the vein of American Beauty. A movie about a young couple that seem perfect on the outside, but the closer you look, the more you realize how empty their lives truly are. Which character is really worse off, the husband who hates his job but supports his family, or the wife who sits and home and raises children but hates her life. Watching it all spiral out of control makes this movie truly special. Kate Winslet turns in the performance of the year and deserves to take home an Oscar for her efforts. Michael Shannon in two scenes practically steals the movie. He may also get a nomination for maybe 10 minutes of screen time, but every single second of it is riveting.

And now, finally my pick for the number 1 movie of 2008

1. Wall-E

The folks at Disney Pixar continue to churn out hit after hit. When I first heart that the first 30 minutes of the film where practically silent with only the beeps and boops of robots, I wasn't sure what to expect. What I got was the best film of the year. A brilliantly crafted tale written by Andrew Stanton on the perils of how we currently live our lives and the dangers we face. Wall-E is more human and emotional, barely saying a word than most lead actors in movies today. As perfect a film as I've ever seen. Incredibly animated and acted. a great piece of film-making.