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5 Wonders: Sub patterns, benchings, money

12/12/2011

IRVING, Texas -- It’s a short week with Saturday’s kickoff at Tampa Bay, but we’re not taking a day off from 5 Wonders.

Here we go:

** I wonder if the Cowboys will make the Jan. 1 finale at the New York Giants meaningful. If they do, then I can’t help but think back to the 2008 season ender at Philadelphia. You might remember that as the 44-6 debacle. It’s the best the Cowboys can hope for to get to that game with it all on the line at this point. You can’t bank on the Giants losing to Washington or the Jets in the next two weeks to somehow give the Cowboys the edge. That ’08 team was filled with chaos that started in training camp and continued through the Pacman Jones’ drama and Terrell Owens’ meltdown. Despite all that this team has been through there remains a good team spirit. It’s being tested here the last two weeks, but so far it’s holding up.

** There is a time and place for everything and I wonder if going for the dagger on third-and-5 from the Dallas 25 is the right time to make a throw down field like the one Tony Romo made to Miles Austin. This was not a simple pitch-and-catch that it has been portrayed to be. Romo was feeling some pressure and had to get rid of it quickly. Austin, in his first game in a month because of a hamstring injury, was able to beat Aaron Ross and was open but he could not find the ball in the lights and I wonder if he was supposed to bend that route inside a little bit. But even if he wasn’t, why take a risk on a down-the-field throw like that? It’s not a high-percentage throw. The last thing the Cowboys could afford there was a three-and-out and that’s exactly what they did. The Giants rushed seven on the play and Romo had Jason Witten and Laurent Robinson to throw to quickly for the chance of the first down. I usually like aggressiveness but sometimes a first down matters more than a big splash. I wonder if they should have been thinking about the clock instead of the scoreboard. And I’ll admit it, if Austin catches that pass, I’m not sure I even think about this.

** I wondered this during Sunday’s game: what’s with the Cowboys’ defensive substitution pattern? On the 10th play of the game, Terence Newman is replaced by Alan Ball and Hakeem Nicks catches a 64-yard pass. I can’t believe Newman was winded at that point of the game. And if he is, then you have to wonder about this team’s conditioning. DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer were out of the game together, forcing Alex Albright and Victor Butler in there at different times. Ware played through a stinger, so the injury card can be played. Spencer is not on the injury report. I’m all for playing some guys to give rest to the starters, but I don’t see Jason Witten go off the field in clutch situations. I don’t see any of the offensive linemen go off the field. Rob Ryan likes to use all of his players available to him and will create some special packages for them, but I’m not sure this is the time to make sure everybody gets a letter for being on the varsity.

** Tom Coughlin is what just about everybody considers an old-school coach. He has rules and he sticks by them. He benched his leading rusher, Ahmad Bradshaw, for the first half of Sunday’s game for reportedly missing curfew Saturday night. It is a gutsy move in a game that could determine the NFC East and/or a playoff spot. I wonder what Jason Garrett would have done? Or been allowed to do? The only thing we can compare it to is the rather minor flap involving Marion Barber not wearing a tie on the first road trip of the Garrett era to New York last season. Barber sat one play and Garrett did not acknowledge Barber broke a team rule. Jimmy Johnson told Garrett at some point he has to put the hammer down on players if he wants to be successful. Coughlin put the hammer down on Bradshaw for a half and he came out with a win anyway. As Garrett grows into this job, it will be interesting to see how he handles those types of situations.

** A few weeks ago I wondered if the Cowboys would try to re-sign wide receiver Laurent Robinson to an extension during the season. Turns out league rules prevent it because of the veteran minimum salary benefit contract Robinson signed. He is making $605,000 and it counts only $525,000 against the cap. That doesn’t mean the Cowboys won’t try to keep Robinson, who added his eighth touchdown grab of the season Sunday. It just means they can’t do it until after the season.