Field Gulls: At least from where I'm sitting, it seems like the Cowboys and Seahawks are heading into this game more similar than they may have been before the season started. We both had late-season funks. We're both having defense issues, especially in the secondary. Our offenses can be brilliant one week and frustrating the next. The big difference might lie in our injury situations. Is that close to the truth in your opinion? What's your snapshot take on the Cowboys' regular season?
Blogging the Boys: The Cowboys and Seahawks do seem to be in similar situations going into the playoffs. Our regular season identity changed so often this year that we really don't know what kind of team we've got. We started slowly because our line couldn't protect the immobile Drew Bledsoe, and he was making bad decisions with the football, so enter Tony Romo.FG: Tony Romo still seems like the real deal to me, his recent luck or beginner's jitters aside. How has the Cowboy Nation taken to him? Is he still perceived as the long-term solution for Dallas with a little bit of a learning curve, or are there concerns about his handling the offense?
Romo put together a remarkable mid-season streak that basically put us in the playoffs, but he's had his problems recently. In the first half of the season, we could run the ball consistently. Lately - not so much. Our defense was among the best in the league for around 10 games, then the bottom fell out over the last month and they can't stop anybody. So we have no idea which team will show up on Saturday night.
BTB: Most fans think Tony Romo is the future QB of this franchise, and I agree. We were in idol worship of Romo when he authored the 5-1 mid-season streak before things went sideways for us. At that point, Romo could do no wrong and the Cowboys were the darlings of the NFC. Over the last month, though, he has been making mistakes. So now most people see him as a gifted QB who is still learning on the job.FG: There are lots of questions we could ask about Terrell Owens, but the only ones I'm going to ask are: How the Dallas fans he once antagonized (to put it mildly) have accepted him this year? And how did his presence on the field change the Cowboys' offensive strategy? Did T.O.'s game, in some way, make the switch to Romo happen sooner than expected?
He has all the qualities you want in a QB; he's very calm under pressure, throws with accuracy, is mobile and throws well on the run, has a good sense of the pocket and the where the rush is coming from, and he can read a defense. His one problem recently is being careless with the football and turning it over. He's always trying to make a play, but sometimes this leads to trouble through interceptions or fumbles.
BTB: Fan reaction to T.O. has run the gamut; some still can't stand him, others tolerate him, some really like him, others try to pretend he's not here. The reactions are as varied as the people reacting. Personally, I've never liked the guy, but his antics in Dallas have been made into a bigger story than they are, especially to the team. They just ignore it.FG: Your running back situation is interesting. Julius Jones got the meat and potatoes yardage, but even with far less carries Marion Barber turned into one of the NFC's most consistent touchdown machines. Was this by design, or because of concerns about Jones' durability? Do you see this arrangement continuing next year? And how has Jones handled the split?
On the field, he's been very good. He has 85 catches, close to 1200 yards and his 13 receiving TD's led the league. That's quality production and has opened up our passing game and our offense to score points in bunches. The switch to Romo had nothing to do with Owens, but everything to do with Bledsoe and the offensive line.
BTB: To some extent, it is by design. Parcells has referred to Barber as "the Closer", the guy we bring in for the tough yards and to finish games in the 4th quarter. He wants Barber fresh for the end of the game and to let him pound on tired defenses and grind out the clock. At the goal line, Barber just knows how to get into the endzone.FG: Like I said, both our teams are coping with defensive letdowns this season. Is there any general idea why that's happened to the Cowboys? What sort of adjustments or improvising has Mike Zimmer had to make because of them?
Parcells is concerned about the number of carries Julius gets, he talks about that often, so his durability is a concern. It's worked well most of the season, but lately Julius hasn't been running well. But he has said he loves the field in Seattle and he had one of his best games ever there.
Next year, I think it will be a battle in training camp, and Julius is not assured of being the starter. For the most part, he handles being pulled at the goal line well, but it clearly frustrates him. Every running back likes to score.
BTB: Everybody has a theory on what's wrong with the Cowboys. On offense, it's inconsistent play from the line and Romo's recent turnovers. On defense, the loss of Greg Ellis took away one of our major threats in the pass rush, and teams are able to get protection for the QB by keying on DeMarcus Ware. We also had big trouble in coverage at the safety spot, so the Cowboys look like they're compensating by getting deeper drops in zone coverage. This has opened up the underneath pass and the flats to opposing offenses.FG: What is your general expectation of the Dallas game plan on Saturday -- how do you beat the Seahawks?
For the past month, we've been abused regularly in this phase of the game. The problem most people have is that Zimmer and Parcells haven't done enough to make adjustments, they are running the same schemes and coverages. Although last week, we worked in some 4-3 looks to our defense that were fairly effective.
BTB: Even though the Seahawks have a banged up secondary that provides a very tempting target, Dallas needs to re-establish their ground game first. That would help with most of the problems we've had over the last few weeks. It keeps our defense off the field which is a big help with the way they've been playing. It would also take some of the pressure of Romo and he might make fewer mistakes. And in the playoffs, on the road, and possibly in wet weather, having a solid ground game makes everything easier. Once they get that going, the cornerbacks should be easier to take advantage of in the passing game.FG: Do you expect Bill Parcells to return next year?
On defense, our players just need to execute better, and the Cowboys should play away from their tendencies and try to mix-up the coverages to confuse Hasselback.
BTB: Right now, I'm 50-50 on it. I think he knows he's got a young team with a lot of talent and that Romo could be a very good QB next year. This team has a shot to be good for the next few years and he would love to reap the benefits of that. But he also expends a lot of energy each year, and he might not be able to summon up the required amount to go for another season.FG: Finally, someone begged me to ask this question: Has anyone in the state of Texas seen Bill Parcells crack a smile? And if so, do you have a date, time and place when this happened? Are there any videotapes?
BTB: Oh yes. Watch the end of the Carolina game this year, he's on the sideline hugging and kissing his players - he even gave Terrell Owens a playful tug on the bill of his baseball cap and they both cracked up in big grins. Then there was the game-winning FG in the Giants game. Here's the evidence:
While I hustle down to the lab to have that photo analyzed for authenticity, I'd like to give big thanks to Grizz and Blogging the Boys for taking some time to talk to us. My answers to his Seahawks questions should be up over there purdy soon.