The 2012-13 NFL season is down to one game. The San Francisco 49ers will take on the Baltimore Ravens two weeks from yesterday, and the winner of that game will get to be called Super Bowl Champions for the next year. It should be a fun matchup and again proves the point that offenses are great, but defenses are what really win you championships. Both teams faced halftime deficits and didn't allow a point against the opposing high-powered offenses in the second half of their respective games.
But at this point, all we're interested in at DC101 is what this has to do with the Dallas Cowboys. Dallas actually played one of these teams this year (Baltimore), and acquitted itself very well (if not disappointingly so) in that matchup. They also came very close to playing the NFC's representative, if only Atlanta had pulled out the victory.
Many consider Dallas to be a middle-of-the-road team. It's a tough statement to argue, especially after watching game after game of wildly inconsistent play in which the good seemingly weighed out perfectly against the bad. An 8-8 record seems about right after all that we saw in 2013. But, as we do in the offseason, it's time to ponder this question: Just how far away is this Dallas Cowboys team from being able to compete on the big stage two weeks from now? Let's ponder.
First off, any Dallas fan worth their salt knows that we should've beaten Baltimore. But that's the thing about the NFL; Should've beaten equals a loss. The atrocious Dallas running game accounted for about 17.9 miles worth of yardage on the ground that game, even without Demarco Murray in the second half. The Cowboys out-physicaled the supposed Kings-of-Physical, knocking out both Ray Lewis and Ladarius Webb from the Baltimore defense. Lewis, as everyone knows, has now returned to the field and will have one final game for his career, but many thought it ended that Fall day while trying to tackle Demarco Murray.
Dan Bailey ended up missing a potential game-winning FG from 51 yards as time expired, making the final score 31-29. Out of 10 tries, Bailey probably hits that 7 or 8 times, and we saw him hit big-time pressure FGs later in the year. The debacle of course came as Garrett and Romo failed to manage the time correctly and were unable to let Bailey attempt a bit easier of a try. That turned out to be the difference, as the FG came up just short to end the game.
On the other end of the spectrum we have the San Francisco 49ers. Dallas didn't have the chance to play against their old rivals this season (having played Seattle from the NFC West instead). Yet, as we fondly remember, Dallas did play San Francisco early in the 2011 season, coming out on top in overtime thanks to a miraculous comeback in the 4th Quarter and a huge play in OT by Mr. Michael-Irvin-Game-Show-Winner himself, Jesse Holley.
Of course, this Niners team is completely different with 2nd-year monster QB Colin Kaepernick manning the artillery. Colin K provides an RG3-type threat running the ball (gazelle-like, we like to say) while also being able to pinpoint passes accurately to his improved stable of wide-outs. In a troubling sign for the rest of the NFL, he even decided to let TE Vernon Davis join the fun this past Sunday against Atlanta.
Surprisingly, a healthy Dallas defense actually matches up pretty well against the 49ers. Lee and Carter provide the type of play-making necessary to keep Kaepernick in the pocket and hopefully shutdown Vernon Davis. Claiborne and Carr should be able to win most times against Moss and Crabtree, and you've just got to hope that a 4-man defensive line could slow down Frank Gore. The Dallas defense somewhat resembles that of San Francisco's, possessing elite pass rushers along with an incredible duo of inside LBs. Lee and Carter haven't received the recognition of Navarro Bowman and Patrick Willis, but given some time they should be able to match their output.
So, back to the immediate quesiton on hand: What does this Super Bowl tell us about where Dallas is? It sure seems like it's telling us we're getting close. If the Dallas Cowboys can play with the type of toughness we saw the second half of this past season for a full season next year, they should be a playoff team. When healthy, they have the players to stay on the field with both of the teams we now see competing for the Lombardi Trophy. Perhaps the biggest question mark these days is whether or not our Quarterback can make a play to win the game when it matters, or will he not be able to pull through as we've seen in years past.
Unfortunately, the worst part about asking these questions is we'll never know. Not for atleast another nine months or so. Let the waiting….continue.
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