Eagles fans should not forget that the Cowboys are just one year removed from thumping the Eagles in the playoffs. The Cowboys are not as bad as their record last season would imply, the talent is still there in Dallas. Last season was strange for them, seemingly out of the blue they lost their focus along with any semblance of toughness they had. From the looks of it, that was on Wade Phillips because things changed when Jason Garrett took over.
Today, I’m looking at the state of the Cowboys franchise since the bulk of the offseason and acquisitions are behind them.
The Cowboys didn’t have an incredible offseason but they didn’t have a bad one. They cut a lot of dead weight from the roster and they kept all of their integral free agents with the exception of Bowen. They added two veteran defenders to areas of need on defense and they seemingly had a good draft.
Prediction: The Cowboys finish 2nd in the NFC East and make the playoffs as a wildcard team.
Reasons For Success:
The Passing Game: Who had the most productive passing game in the NFC East last season? The Dallas Cowboys. I’ll argue ‘til the Cows come home that they don’t have the most talented passing game (Eagles fan, duh) but the numbers don’t lie, they’re good. Their top 3 targets in the passing game are as good as any in the NFL. Miles Austin is a tad bit overrated IMO but he is a very good receiver. Jason Witten is one of the best receiving tight ends in the game. And Dez Bryant was scary good at times last season.
The guy I want to focus on is Dez Bryant. I’ll say it right now, I was wrong. I thought his idiocy would cause him to flame out in the NFL. I thought that he was an immature player that had character issues (lying to the NCAA, doing poorly at his workout after missing the entire college season, forgetting his cleats for said workout and being banned from holding a workout at the Oklahoma State facilities) whose lack of speed and experience in a prostyle offense would keep him from success in the NFL. I never doubted that he had talent, I just doubted his ability to utilize it. The idiocy is still there as you can see with some of his offseason headlines but he is just a guy that cares about winning. He reminds me of DeSean Jackson in that aspect, he’s immature and does dumb things but he cares about football and wants to win. Last season Dez really showed me something when he looked like he was the only guy giving 100% for the Cowboys when they were at their worst. Unfortunately, an injury cut his season short.
But I’m expecting big things from Dez Bryant this season. He’s got a year under his belt in Jason Garrett’s offense. He’s healthy. And he should have an entire season with Tony Romo.
Just look at his stats as a rookie. In 12 games Dez Bryant had 45 receptions, 561 yards, 27 first downs and 6 touchdown receptions. Those are impressive numbers for an entire rookie season let alone a rookie season shortened by injury where he was working with Jon Kitna for over half of the games.
For comparisons sake, look at his numbers compared to Hakeem Nicks’ and Jeremy Maclin’s numbers.
|Statistical Category||Dez Bryant||Hakeem Nicks||Jeremy Maclin|
|Receptions Per Target||.63||.62||.66|
|Yards Per Target||7.9||8.3||9.1|
|Touchdowns Per Target||.084||.087||.094|
|All Purpose Yards||776||1052||1039|
|All Purpose TDs||8||11||10|
Dez’s numbers fit in quite nicely and he is only going to get better. As a matter of fact, numbers don’t even do this guy justice. He is so big and strong after the catch and he is a tough guy to tackle after the catch. He is sneaky fast when going deep, he is a long strider that is tough to match up with when he gets going and then his ball skills combined with his vertical jump ability and hands make him a spectacular catch machine. It pains me to say this but he really reminds me of Larry Fitzgerald in terms of skill set. And he’s only 22. Dez has a bright future ahead of him if he can keep his head on straight.
All this reminds me of how insanely talented the receivers in the NFC East are. DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Steve Smith, Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham, Miles Austin and Dez Bryant are all young and super talented receivers.
The Running Game: The running game really stepped up when Jason Garrett took over. Felix Jones had 62% of his yards in the last 7 games of the season, Jones had 60% of his carries in the same seven week span, he averaged 4.4 YPC and he rushed for his only TD in that span as well. Tashard Choice had 217 of his 243 yards and all three of his touchdowns while Garrett was the head ball coach. And they added DeMarco Murray. Now they’re going to play the entire season under Garrett.
They let Leonard Davis and Marc Colombo leave which only helps them. Chris Gronkowski is heading into his second year And they’re getting back John Phillips.
When you look at the personnel the Cowboys have you can see that they’re going to be able to pound the ball. The Cowboys are deep at running back, have three great run blocking tight ends, a good run blocking full back and they’ve upgraded their offensive line with the addition of Smith and other young players.
When the passing game gives the Cowboys an early lead they’re not going to have any qualms about jamming the ball down the opposing team’s throat to run down the clock and keep their defense off the field.
The Return Of Tony Romo: I don’t really feel the need to explain this much. When healthy Tony Romo is a top 10 NFL QB. Any team in the NFL benefits when their QB returns. He has the third highest QB rating of any active NFL QB. He averages 8 yards per attempt which is the highest of any active QB. He has completed 64.1% of passes on his career which ranks 6th out of all QBs currently in the NFL. 5.7% of his passes go for touchdowns, that’s the highest in the NFL. And, he is one of the most elusive QBs in the NFL with unique escapability. Dallas is going to be happy to have him back.
Reasons For Concern
The Defense: Yeah, the entire thing, from the top down.
The Defensive Coordinator: I guess we can start with Rob Ryan. I know that hearing all this hype about mediocre players and how aggressive the scheme is can enticing for Cowboy fans but let me warn them, I’ve heard it all before. Where have I heard it? I heard it last off season from Sean McDermott. All we heard last season was how hard the defense was hitting, how aggressive and creative Sean McDermott was and how the defense would improve because he got ‘his guys’. The only difference is that the Cowboys have “bullies” while the Eagles had “a shark in the water”.
I’ve read reports about Ware being ’20 yards downfield’, as an Eagles fan that has watched Trent Cole drop into coverage I should tell you that doesn’t work out well. I’m hearing about all kinds of safety blitzes and that tells me that he is leaving Mike Jenkins and Terrence Newman on islands, after their performance last year that doesn’t sound all that great.
And I know Cowboys fans are excited to get Rob Ryan but take a look at his track record:
2010: 22nd ranked yardage defense, 12th ranked scoring defense
2009: 31st ranked yardage defense, 21st ranked scoring defense
2008: 26th ranked yardage defense, 21st ranked scoring defense
2007: 20th ranked yardage defense, 25th ranked scoring defense
2006: 3rd ranked yardage defense, 17th ranked scoring defense
2005: 26th ranked yardage defense, 24th ranked scoring defense
2004: 30th ranked yardage defense, 31st ranked scoring defense
Rob Ryan has not exactly been a resounding success in his coaching career. Rob Ryan is no where near as good as his brother or his father.
The Defensive Line: This group is just sooo mediocre. Is there any other way to put it? Look at these guys:
|Jay Ratliff||Marcus Spears||Kenyon Coleman||Igor Olshansky||Jason Hatcher|
|PFF Run Grade||-6.3||8.6||6.4||2.5||-2.8|
You can’t tell me that these guys are ‘bullies’. They’re all mediocre players. Are they bad? Outside of Olshansky, no, they’re not. But are they worthy of the hype that Rob Ryan is laying on them? Not by my measure. They’re solid players and I’m certainly not afraid of them.
And how comfortable can Cowboys fans be with Jay Ratliff at NT? This isn’t Wade Phillips’ one gap scheme, this is Buddy Ryan’s defense that requires his nose tackles to 2 gap. Buddy Ryan benched Shuan Rogers in favor of Rubin because Rogers wanted to get up field and make plays. How well can Jay Ratliff adjust his game and become a run stopper? I’m guessing not very well.
Linebackers: Forgive me for not being enamored with this group. I see two guys that I like, DeMarcus Ware and Sean Lee. Other than that, all I see is a sea of mediocrity (I’m a poet and I didn’t even know it!).
Keith Brooking is now 35 years old and coming off a rough season where he was victimized in coverage. He isn’t near the athlete he once was and that is why the Cowboys are slowly phasing him out in favor of Sean Lee who is a big upgrade in coverage. Brooking has lost a lot of his speed, quickness and lateral agility, he simply isn’t the cover linebacker that he used to be. And despite playing 906 defensive snaps, Brooking only racked up 31 stops. A stop is when you make a tackle within 4 yards of the line of scrimmage on first down, a tackle within 6 yards of the line of scrimmage on first or second down or a tackle that prevents a first down on third or fourth down. Keith Brooking only made 31 of those all of last year, that placed him 35th out of 50 linebackers that qualified based on play time. This tells me that Keith Brooking is not a good run stopper either, he isn’t playing downhill, filling gaps and making tackles for short gains, he is making tackles downfield, away from the line of scrimmage. Really the only things that Brookings has going for him are his tackling ability and his leadership role on the team.
And the guy who plays beside him isn’t that much better. Bradie James was actually worse in coverage than Brookings last year, allowing a higher completion percentage and a higher QB rating. Bradie James is a more prolific tackler than Brooking is but he isn’t strong at the point of attack either. The Cowboys lack a punisher inside in the mold of Bart Scott or Takeo Spikes.
When you combine the lack of an inside linebacker force against the run with Ratliff’s lack of skill against the run you can see why the Cowboys struggled with runs up the gut. According to FootballOutsiders, the Cowboys allowed 4.39 yards per carry on carries up the middle, that was good enough to place them at 24th in the league.
On the outside they’ve got Anthony Spencer and he is just sort of ‘bleh’. He isn’t an impact pass rusher, in his NFL career he has amassed 15.5 sacks. He is solid against the run because of his ability to hold the point of attack, stack and shed and his tackling ability. He isn’t a liability in coverage but I wouldn’t call him an asset either. He is just sort of there. The Cowboys are going to pounce whenever they get the chance to upgrade Anthony Spencer.
And beyond the starters, there really isn’t much going for the depth players either. Bruce Carter hasn’t been able to practice yet. Victor Butler is a young pass rusher that has flashed but still remains largely unproven.
Secondary: Don’t even get me started… I’ll just show you the stats.
Last year the Dallas secondary allowed 243 passing yards a game (26th in the NFL), 33 passing touchdowns last season (Worst) and they allowed opposing passers to complete 64.4% of passes (26th in the NFL).
|Name||Mike Jenkins||Terrence Newman||Orlando Scandrick|
Their corners were some of the worst in the NFL last year.
And then their safeties aren’t really anything to brag about. Combined, Sensabaugh and Elam missed 15 tackles last season. These two are actually not very similar at all. Abram Elam is a big, thick safety who is smart and hard working. Elam can survive on the back end of an aggressive defense because of his football instincts, not because he is particularly fast or because he has great click and close skills. Meanwhile, Sensabaugh is the opposite. Gerald is a very athletic safety that ran a 4.44 at the combine, he is rangy and athletic on the back half of the defense. But he is more prone to mental lapses and mistakes. They’re both solid players but I still don’t feel like these two would match-up very well with speedsters like Maclin or Jackson on the back half of the defense.
Overall I think the Cowboys have done a good job this offseason by retaining what they had and adding to it via the draft. If everyone on offense remains healthy they’re going to be able to win shootouts with other teams. Plus, they’re playing a bunch of very winnable games this year. The Cowboys should, at least IMO, be favored to win against Arizona, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington, New York, Miami and Buffalo.
As an Eagles fan I’m not very scared just because of the talent the Eagles have put together but I’m not going to sleep on Dallas either because they’ve really had our number lately.