John Madden
John Madden
Dallas gaining confidence, eyeing playoffs
By John Madden

Before the Dallas Cowboys beat the Seattle Seahawks 43-39 on Monday Night Football, I talked to Dallas coaches, players and members of the organization.

I could just feel that they had some confidence -- which was a change from three weeks ago when we saw them lose to the Philadelphia Eagles 49-21 on MNF.

Watching them practice and talking to them before the Eagles game, I didn't feel that they carried much confidence with them. They were coming off a year where they had won 10 games, and up to that point this season had been disappointing. Then they got a win on Thanksgiving. Meeting with the Cowboys on Sunday in Seattle, I had a different feeling about them -- one of confidence. That confidence has come along with RB Julius Jones' emergence.

Today's NFL is dominated by passing games with Peyton Manning, Donovan McNabb, Daunte Culpepper, etc. But whether Vinny Testaverde or Drew Henson should be the Dallas quarterback, you still have to be able to run the ball!

Despite their tough schedule, the Cowboys could make a playoff run.
While Jones was out of the lineup (due to injury), the Cowboys couldn't run the ball and were one-dimensional, and that put too much pressure on Testaverde and too much pressure on the defense -- and they couldn't handle it.

Now Jones is back, and he looks like the real deal after an impressive MNF performance (198 yards on 30 carries and three touchdowns). He has a low center of gravity with good balance, and he has the ability to get to that third level. Once he gets there he's able to put a move on the safeties to freeze them and bust a big play. While some backs might get five or six yards, he'll get 12 or 15 and a touchdown! He made the difference against Seattle.

Some of the credit has to go to the Cowboys' offensive line. I've always felt the question is: Does a good offensive line make a good running back or does a good running back make a good offensive line? I tend to lean towards the running back making a good offensive line, and you could see that the Cowboys' O-line is playing a lot better with Jones.

The big thing for the Cowboys' offense was that they were able to get a good balance of running and passing. At one point they had 27 runs and 27 passes. That's as balanced as you can get.

Part of the problem for the Seahawks was that their defense tackled poorly. I know that Julius Jones is good, but on a couple of runs he could have been stopped earlier.

Overall, this MNF game was a good one, especially if you're a fan of offense. It was either a good offensive game or a poor defensive game. The offensive coaches were walking around all puffed up and the defensive coaches are walking around with their heads down, because neither defense was able to handle the other offense.

Seattle took an early lead and looked like they were going to run away with it. Then Dallas came back and looked like they were going to run away with it. The Seahawks came back again and looked like they might put it away.

At that point Al Michaels and I were talking about which Seahawk we should pick as the Horse Trailer Player of the Game, because the Cowboys needed two scores and there were only a few minutes left on the clock ... but look out, here come the Cowboys! They get a touchdown pass to Keyshawn Johnson, recover an onside kick, and Julius Jones finds the end zone for the third time -- and we're putting him on the Horse Trailer!

On the other side, Seattle's offense looked good. After 20 years in the league, Jerry Rice is still Mr. Monday Night. Rice caught the first touchdown of the game on his way to an eight-catch night. QB Matt Hasselbeck played well. RB Shaun Alexander got off to a rough start with a dropped pass and a fumble early, but he was able to come on at the end and make a couple of big runs. But all of that just wasn't enough.

These are two entertaining teams -- they may or may not be playoff-caliber teams. They may not have all the necessary parts. But the thing to remember is that in today's NFL there might not be a team that has all the parts. You could probably make an argument that Philadelphia is close.

With four games left in the season, you have to evaluate teams that are bunched up around the .500 mark. Who can put together a three- or four-game run and get into the playoffs?

Despite their tough schedule, the Cowboys could make a playoff run because they're gaining some confidence. And I feel that the Seahawks are too good to be down as long as they have been. They've taken a couple of hard losses this season -- the first to the St. Louis Rams at home that sent them on a three-game losing streak, and now to the Cowboys on MNF.

Seattle coach Mike Holmgren told me that his team had a hangover from the Rams' game, and if this loss has the same effect, that's it for their season.

You can hear me with Adam Schein on Sirius NFL Radio on Friday and Monday afternoons on "Afternoon Blitz" and Sunday mornings on the "Sirius NFL Tailgate Show."

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