Which On the Bubble Cowboys May Have Done Enough?

Saturday Dallas will make the final cuts down to a 53 man roster. While the last preseason game is considered “meaningless” by all accounts, it can certainly be a meaningful game to a group of prospects that are right on the bubble of making the team.

As a team, Dallas showed little interest in their 24-6 loss to the Texans but these individual Cowboys may have done enough to make the team. A look at the “on the bubble” players that made one last effort to make the squad.

WRs Anthony Armstrong and Tim Benford:
There is no way Dallas can keep both of these WRs and it’s possible they aren’t able to keep either of them on the final roster. But I think there is a good chance they will keep one of them.

Benford had a nice game Thursday night leading all receivers with 4 catches for 60 yards. In the preseason, Benford has been the more productive receiver of the two with 11 catches for 135 yards while Armstong finished with 4 catches for 47 yards. Armstrong has NFL experience and provides much needed speed. He also has done a good job on special teams in the preseason covering punts. Those factor into the decision of who to keep.

This one will be a tough decision for the Dallas coaches. On one hand, Benford has been the more productive player as a receiver while Armstrong also helps them on special teams. Both of these guys are strong candidates for their practice squad if they don’t make the roster. I think Benford may have done enough Thursday night to be the Cowboys 6th WR. UPDATE: Armstrong to be released
QB Alex Tanney:
Tanney saw plenty of action Thursday night as he was sacked 7 times playing behind a very patched together, make do, offensive line. Talk about taking one for the team. When Tanney was able to throw, he went 17 of 31 for 177 yards and threw an interception. He finished the preseason with 423 yards passing and a QB rating of 65. Not terrible with everything considered.

The question is will Dallas keep Tanney on the roster as their 3rd QB or slide him over to the practice squad? Moving him to the practice squad comes with a risk as another team could claim him like what happened years ago with QB Matt Moore. But to justify a roster spot, Dallas must ask themselves if they think Tanney will play and contribute right away and I think the answer to that is probably not. But if they fear losing him, they may keep him on the roster.

Since the Cowboys need depth at other positions, I believe Dallas will attempt to move Tanney to the practice squad for more development and keep just two QBs on the roster.

Safety Jeff Heath:
Heath, a rookie out of Saginaw Valley State, is the guy who made the big hit in the Bengals game which caused a fumble. Creating turnovers will be a big priority on defense this season so this kind of thing will get a player noticed. Heath was involved in 5 tackles Thursday night which helps make the case to keep him.

With safety Matt Johnson injured once again, I think Dallas must consider keeping a healthy Heath and move on from an injury prone Johnson. I think Heath has earned a spot on the roster at safety.

LBs Cameron Lawrence, Caleb McSurdy and Taylor Reed:
All three of these LBs may be fighting for one last available spot at LB.

Lawrence had a very good game with 5 solo tackles to make a case to keep him.

McSurdy was the Cowboys final pick in last year’s draft but spent last season injured. They have given him a serious look at LB this year and he has played well but well enough is the question? He had 2 solos and 2 assist in the game. I imagine Dallas wants to keep him since he was a draft pick.

Taylor Reed finished the game with 3 solo tackles and 2 assist. During the preseason games, the SMU rookie has been involved with a total of 16 tackles so he has been a consistent performer.

Tough decisions to be made here for sure but it’s possible that one of these three did enough to claim one of the final spots. With Lawrence, it may be a matter of stepping up too late. While McSurdy has played well, Taylor has been more consistent throughout preseason. I like Taylor’s chances best of the three to make the roster.

CBs Sterling Moore and Micah Pellerin:
With Mo Claiborne’s knee being an issue right now, I look for Dallas to keep more CBs than originally expected. They have Carr, Scandrick, Claiborne, and Webb for sure, but I look for them to keep at least one more possibly two.

These two guys are very even in a battle to make the roster. Both have two passes defended during the preseason and their total tackle numbers are similar too. Moore was a little more active in the game Thursday night and he has more experience as a 3rd year veteran.

A close call here but I have to give the edge to Moore as more likely to make the roster. It’s possible that both are kept and even possible that Dallas keeps neither one of them. But with Claiborne missing action with his knee, I like Moore’s chances to make the roster.

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This Jay Ratliff Story Keeps Groin

JayRatliff-300x200Recently Dallas Cowboys DT Jay Ratliff was moved to the PUP list which means he will miss the first 6 weeks of the season at the very least. Word is he has a groin injury however at the start of camp we were told he pulled a hamstring during his conditioning test.

The Cowboys seem to have high hopes for Ratliff in their new 4-3 defense but I just don’t get the impression that Ratliff is into it. Isn’t it time for Jerry Jones to get a clue and move on from his Ratliff obsession? The owner has a tendency to hold on to troubled players much too long and in my view this would be the latest example.

I wrote a blog back in January that it was probably time to move on from Ratliff and suggested drafting a DT. From that blog,

“Even before this recent DWI accident, Ratliff was becoming more trouble than he is worth. The scales were tipping toward the cold fact that Ratliff isn’t worth his pay any longer. But this DWI could be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back for Ratliff.”

I believe in stepping back and looking at the big picture when making these kind of decisions so let’s have a look at Ratliff’s timeline.

November 18, 2012– After playing 6 games, Ratliff went out with a groin injury.
December 2, 2012– After defeating the Eagles in the locker room, Jerry Jones says to Ratliff “We need you”. Those three words are very provocative evidently, as it sends Ratliff into a rage where he stands toe to toe with the owner shouting. STORY
December 13, 2012– Ratliff has surgery to repair a sports hernia. When asked why he didn’t rehab at Valley Ranch, Ratliff said recently, he rather not say why. Hmmm. Interesting.
January 22, 2013– Early Tuesday morning (after “chillin’ with a homegirl”) Ratliff is charged with a DWI when he struck an 18 wheeler in his pick up truck. MORE
July 2013– It’s reported that Ratliff injures a hamstring during conditioning test at the start of camp. Stephen Jones (Jerry’s mini me) says he isn’t concerned. HERE (Actually that’s his response to just about every question he is ask)
August 2013– Ratliff’s DWI trial is delayed so he will not face NFL suspensions during the 2013 season.
August 2013– Ratliff is placed on the PUP list and then makes a cryptic comment,
“Absolutely I’m disappointed,” Ratliff said, “but everyone knows what the issue was way beforehand.”

Head Coach Jason Garrett responds in a rather company line manner, “We know he’s working very hard to come back, and our training staff and all our medical people are working hard with him,” Garrett said. “He’s got to take it one day at a time and do what he needs to do, but again, football seasons are long.”

Reality Check:
Do you get the feeling we have a serious lack of communication going on in the Cowboys organization? Well I do. Stephen Jones isn’t concerned, Jerry Jones thinks Ratliff will be great in the 4-3, Jason says Ratliff is trying his best to rehab but what Ratliff is saying and doing flies into the face of all that talk.

MY Final TAKE:
Ratliff had very productive seasons back in 2008 and 2009 and would have been a good fit for the 4-3 defense back then. But he hasn’t been healthy and has not had a sack since 2011. Sadly, Ratliff’s body is banged up from years of playing the role of an undersized nose tackle in a 3-4 and it’s starting to affect his personal life too. Ratliff needs help and I hope he gets it. But I’m afraid this talk of him helping them in 2013 is delusional on the part of Jason and Jerry. Get Ratliff the help he needs and get the defensive line the help they need in the form of a new defensive tackle.

Dallas Cowboys Make First Round of Cuts

In an effort to get closer to 53 players, the Cowboys announced their player cuts this afternoon to reach the NFL required 75 players on the roster.

The name that was the biggest surprise to me on the list of cuts, was QB Nick Stephens. Stephens completed 11 0f 19 passes in preseason play with one interception in the Raiders game. He didn’t play in games after throwing that pick. In a blog about that game, I expressed concern that he may have hurt his chances.

I noticed that QB Alex Tanney played well against the Cardinals and was decent last week which clearly put him slightly ahead of Stephens. I’m not sure if Dallas plans to put Tanney on the 53 man roster or move him to the practice squad after the last preseason game. But I think he will most likely end up on the P.S. with Dallas keeping only 2 QBs on the roster, (Romo, Orton) like last season.

Where does that leave Stephens? I hope they can keep him on the practice squad as he showed a nice strong passing arm. He just needs some more development to compete for a roster spot. Another team could claim Stephens now.

WR CUTS:
Jared Green
Anthony Amos
Eric Rogers

Of these three, I thought Green had the best preseason and I like his chances best to be kept on the practice squad. Amos had 3 catches in the preseason and showed potential while Rogers appeared strong in camp but could never parlay that into preseason games.

OTHER CUTS: Kicker Brett Maher, TE Colin Cochart, Guard Dennis Godfrey, CB Brandon Underwood and LB Deon Lacey.

INJURED PLAYER MOVES:
DE Tyrone Crawford and center Ryan Cook were placed on injured reserve. With Crawford, this move was expected to protect Dallas from allowing another team pick him up.

DT Jay Ratliff placed on PUP list (physically unable to perform)
In this move, I think this may have been influenced by the good play of DT Nick Hayden in the preseason. Nick had been rolling with the first team and shows the kind of quickness that is desired by defensive linemen in their new 4-3 defense. This clears the way for Dallas to keep Hayden on the 53 man roster instead of risking another team grabbing him up. If healthy, Ratliff can join them after 6 games in the regular season.

Final cuts come Saturday evening to get to the NFL mandated 53 man roster.

2013 NFL TEAM POWER RANKINGS: WEEK 1

NFLTeams

A power ranking of all 32 NFL teams.

In Week one, rankings are based on preseason moves and play in preseason games.

The Twist: Each week my top 12 ranked teams will consist of 6 NFC teams and 6 AFC teams since 6 from each conference will qualify for the post season. I reflect the top 12 teams most likely to make the playoffs each week.

Last season 8 out of 12 teams that I had ranked in my top 12 teams for week 1, made the playoffs. HERE Not bad, but I’m not really impressed with myself. There is room for improvement.

TEAMS EXPECTED TO IMPROVE
Cardinals- Got off to a great start in 2012 then fizzled. I look for them to have staying power this season.
Chiefs- Could say they have no where to go but up. But I look for new coach Andy Reid to improve the lowly but talented Chiefs who had 6 Pro Bowlers last season.
Browns- Weeden, their young QB, is no longer a rookie and should play better now. I think the Browns are a team that most other NFL teams will want to avoid. They’re better than you think.

TEAMS EXPECTED TO DECLINE
Jets-Key personnel losses will not help the Jets who still plan to serve up Sanchez at QB.
Rams- This should be a good team. Thought they did well in the draft but they look like under achievers for now.
Ravens- Could say no where to go but down after winning the super bowl. I think that Flacco and the Ravens will miss Anquan Boldin on offense while also missing Ray Lewis’s leadership on defense. The Ravens are still a good team but I don’t look for them to repeat as champs.

2013 week 1 Power Rankings
1. 49ers
2. Patriots
3. Seahawks
4. Falcons
5. Ravens
6. Broncos
7. Texans
8. Bengals
9. Packers
10. Vikings
11. Colts
12. Redskins
13. Cowboys
14. Giants
15. Cardinals
16. Lions
17. Saints
18. Bears
19. Steelers
20. Dolphins
21. Browns
22. Panthers
23. Chargers
24. Bills
25. Bucs
26. Eagles
27. Chiefs
28. Jets
29. Titans
30. Rams
31. Raiders
32. Jaguars

“Nothing good ever happens on a re-kick” And other notes from Cowboys win over Bengals

Bengals Cowboys Football.JPEG-0175d

After the Bengals’ Brandon Tate returned a punt for a 75 yard TD, he said of his coach,
“Darrin always tells us that nothing good happens for the punt team on a re-kick, and we made them pay,”

I’m not sure who is to be credited with originally saying it. No doubt many coaches and countless fans have uttered this expression over the years of watching football. I heard the great NFL philosopher, Warren Sapp, say it before. The re-kick was necessary after a punt hit Jerry’s big TV, a reflection of his enormous ego no doubt.

Anyway, hitting Jerry’s TV with a punt is a pretty impressive feat to me and I think punter’s should actually be rewarded for accomplishing it. New Rule: Two points for the punt team when they hit Jerry’s Big TV. Shoot off fireworks, drop confetti and make sounds like a pin ball machine or something.

OUR NOT SO SPECIAL, SPECIAL TEAMS
The punt return TD wasn’t the only special teams mistake of the night as they had a holding call on the opening kickoff that put them in the hole right away. Then late in the game clinging to a 21-18 lead, the Cowboys kickoff team allowed the Bengals a 53 yard return all the way to midfield. Putting them in good position to potentially tie the game with a FG.

-Last week against the Cardinals, Harris fumbled during a punt return that led to points for the Cardinals.
-In the Raiders game, they allowed a long kickoff return, had a blocked FG, and then Webb muffed a punt that led to the Raiders winning score.
In preseason games the Cowboys are dead last in punt returns with a pathetic 1.4 yard per return average. And they are 21st in KO returns.

It remains to be seen if their special teams problems leak into the regular season but it must be a concern at this point. If they don’t get better quickly, it will cost them a game this year.

Take Away Surplus
In an earlier blog “4 things to look for in the dress rehearsal game“, one of the things I mentioned was Dallas needed to take the ball away more than give it away. In the Bengals game, they created 4 turnovers while having 0 turnovers. That’s good to see. They recovered two fumbles and Xavier Brewer came up with a late interception that secured the win.

BW Webb also had a nice pick in the game and he is one guy who really needed to make a play. I still maintain that Webb would rather do about anything other than be involved with making a tackle. It’s the weakest part of his game as he allowed a Bengal to score from like 7 yards out because of weak tackling. But to his credit, the pick was nice. Baby steps.

This new defense looks capable of creating turnovers and if the offense can protect the ball, it should help them win more games in 2013.

Running Game Commitment
Another thing I mentioned was that Dallas needed to commit to the run game and against the Bengals, they did it. They finished with 156 yards rushing as they had more rushing attempts than passing attempts for the game. When Dallas runs more than passes, I like their chances of winning much better. Tanner provided a nice spark with 39 yards while Randle ran for 66 yards late in the game to help put the Bengals away. Murray finished with 51 yards rushing.

What was encouraging was that while their run game started slowly, they didn’t abandon it but kept coming back to it in the game. I really like that on one occasion after running the ball and failing to convert a 3rd and 1, they ran the ball again on 4th and 1 with Tanner picking up 2 yards to get the first down. I like that determination to run the ball.

NOTE: They will experience more success in short yardage situations running to the left behind Smith than trying to run right behind Free and Parnell. I don’t like Free at right guard. It’s not working.

For Dallas to succeed in the multiple TE sets they are talking of running this season, I believe an effective running game will be a prerequisite.

As far as a dress rehearsal game goes, it was a success for Dallas but they better tighten up on their special teams or it will cost them a game later. And avoid those re-kicks…

4 Things to Look for in Cowboys Dress Rehearsal Game Saturday

Saturday night’s preseason game is what is referred to as the “dress rehearsal” game for the Dallas Cowboys because it represents the preseason game where the starters should see the most action.

Dallas will finally play at home and against a good Bengals team that has made the AFC playoffs back to back seasons. This represents a good opportunity to see if any progress has really been made compared to last season.

Here are four things that I will be looking for in the dress rehearsal game.

1. Commit to the Run:
Last season Dallas had one of its weakest run attacks in the history of the franchise finishing ranked 31st in the NFL with a shameful 79 yards per game. For them to win in 2013, it must improve.

In preseason play, they got off to a good start in the HOF game with 170 yards rushing against the Dolphins but it has gone back to primarily throwing the ball since then. Dallas only had 70 yards rushing against the Raiders and then it fell to a measly 44 yards against the Cardinals. In fact in the Dolphins game, they had more rushing yards than passing yards which is the only time it has happened this preseason and interestingly, it is the only preseason game they won.

In the Cardinals game with their starters playing, Dallas faced a very manageable 2nd and 1. They ran the ball but came up short then on 3rd and 1 by default, Romo went to the obligatory shotgun formation and threw an incomplete pass. Too often that happened last season where they just abandoned the run, and put it on Romo.

I would prefer to see Dallas run the ball two times in a row in that situation to pick up that 1 yard. Let’s face it, if a team can’t pick up 1 yard running the ball in two attempts, then they aren’t going to win championships anyway.

When the starters are in the game, I am looking for a commitment to run the ball and not abandon it quickly the first time it doesn’t seem to work. Romo would benefit greatly from having a legit run attack in 2013.

2. Offensive Line:
It’s well documented that the offensive line was a weak area last season and while Jerry Jones once again failed to improve the guards, they did add a center in rookie Travis Frederick. In the Cardinals game, I noticed that tackle Tyron Smith struggled to protect Romo’s blind side and he was consequently pressured some. While the starters are in the game Saturday, I’m looking for this offensive line to play together as a cohesive unit in forming a reliable pocket for Romo to pass.

3. Win turnover battle:
Last season Dallas gave the ball away much more often than they took it away. In fact, they ended the 2012 season with a -13 deficit in turnovers. That would be why Rob Ryan was bounced as defensive coordinator and replaced by Tampa 2 guru, Monte Kiffin who is implementing their new 4-3 defense. It’s designed to create more turnovers.

However in the Cardinals game, Dallas had a ridiculous 6 turnovers while only managing to take the ball away one time. That deficit in take aways was all too common in games last year, and it must improve this season.

While the starters are in the game, I’m looking for Dallas to take the ball away more times than they give it away.

4. Secondary Struggles:
The too generous Cowboy secondary is a familiar issue. So far in preseason games, Dallas has allowed an average of 259 passing yards per game. That is the 3rd most of all NFL teams. If that isn’t a concern yet, it soon may be. Second year CB Morris Claiborne has been out the entire preseason so his “minor knee injury” is beginning to make me wonder just how minor it actually is? Yes, there have been a lot of reserve players flying around in the secondary contributing to their weak performance but in the dress rehearsal game, I’m looking for some consistency back there.

In particular, the Safetys need to step up and make plays for this Cowboys defense to get it done in 2013.

FINAL TAKE:
It’s the preseason game that may tell us the most about the 2013 Dallas Cowboys. From the offense, I’m looking for a commitment to the run game and improved pass protection. From the defense, I’m looking for improved secondary play and to win the important battle of turnovers.

How they perform in these areas may tell us if our expectations should increase for this year or if we are looking at another dismal 8-8 disappointment. Or perhaps even worse…..

Progress Report for Dallas Cowboys 2013 Draft Picks

 

Frederick, Williams and Escobar

Frederick, Williams and Escobar

Three preseason games are in the bag with two to go, so now may be a good time to take a look at the progress of the 2013 draft picks. It’s been enough time for the fans and coaches to have an idea of what they have in these picks.  

I’m not ready to assign them grades at this point but I want to look at who is most likely to make an impact this season. 

RANKED FROM MOST EXPECTED IMPACT in 2013 TO THE LEAST:

1. Travis Frederick– The rookie center was the Cowboys first pick and while I was critical of the fact that they could have gotten him later like in the 2nd or 3rd rounds, his value this season is going to be significant. He has earned the starting center spot and has proven he can play guard too if needed. When Frederick is in the offense, I don’t see defenses getting that big push up the middle that occurred too often in 2012. Romo will learn to like him at center very quickly.  Frederick is clearly intelligent enough to make the protection calls at the line and that could make a difference.

The offensive line was an area that Dallas really needed to improve and while I’m still convinced they didn’t do enough, Frederick is an addition that will improve the line play.

2.  Joseph Randle– Before the season Dallas released the often injured RB Felix Jones and then drafted Randle to help back up Murray. Randle got off to a slow start with a thumb injury from college play but during preseason games, he has proven that he will help this team in 2013. I like the way Randle runs with some attitude and determination which is needed in the offense. He has shown that he can catch the ball out of the back field effectively and he has done a nice job at the goal line getting the ball in the endzone.

If Murray gets injured, Randle will become more valuable quickly but I expect to see him included in the offense even with a healthy Murray.

3. DeVonte Holloman– In my humble view, the Cowboys got a steal in landing LB Holloman in the 6th round of the draft. In analyzing his play in college, I noted that he tackled real well and expected him to be good in pass coverage. So far he has exceeded expectations with 2 interceptions including a long pick six in the HOF game.  He also created a fumble while blitzing in the Cardinals game. The officials ruled it an incomplete pass but Holloman showed what he can do on a blitz.

At this early point, Holloman is not a starter but Kiffin will be wise to get this play maker and turnover maker on the field as much as possible.  On passing downs, I would get Holloman on the field. Soon to be a starter.  

4. JJ Wilcox– The Cowboys need help at safety and I think they may have found it in this draft pick. Against the Raiders, Wilcox made a nice interception in the endzone to stop a score. On that play, he demonstrated a strength which is good ball instincts. Wilcox has also proven himself a capable open field tackler and when he hits, he brings the “proverbial wood”.

At this point, Wilcox will not start at safety as he needs more development in pass coverage. He may be a year away from starting or perhaps even less, but I look for him to get on the field and make plays for the defense in 2013.

5. Gavin Escobar– To be honest, I was surprised that Dallas drafted another TE since they already had Witten and Hanna.  Garrett intends to use more multiple TE sets and while Escobar needs development as a blocker, his hands are outstanding.  Escobar had 5 catches in the Cardinals game including his first TD grab. While his speed isn’t outstanding, he is tall at 6’6″, and he catches the ball well in traffic. Bottom line is he can make plays in the passing game and excellent speed isn’t required to do it.

At this point, Escobar is not a starter but I look for him to be included in the offense and I believe he will be a big help in the redzone. As a basketball player, Escobar knows how to jump up and get the ball away from defenders.    

6. Terrance Williams– Williams was a very productive WR at Baylor and we finally got to see him in action in the Cardinals game. Early in the game, Williams broke free down the sideline for what should have been a TD catch but Romo way over threw him. Later Romo said that Williams changed to the wrong route but it sure looked like the right route to me since he was streaking down the sideline all alone!  Romo just missed that throw in my view. Hey Romo, don’t throw it where he should be, throw it where he is.

Williams did make his first catch in the game on a 5 yard gain on the sideline. What I liked about that otherwise unspectacular catch, was how he came back to meet the ball.  Good fundamentals.

Williams has more to learn is what Romo was trying to tell us but I really like how he uses his size and strength to get open and get position on defenders. Due to an early injury in camp, I don’t think Williams is ready to start at WR just yet. But I do expect Williams to develop into an effective target as the season progresses. His size could prove to be valuable in the redzone/goal line situations.  

7. B.W. Webb- This pick surprised me too since Dallas had made efforts to sign two CBs the previous year in Carr & Claiborne. They also have Scandrick locked up in a big contract too. 

Webb had a game against the Raiders that he would like to put behind him with a muffed punt, missed tackles, and blown coverage. Clearly Webb isn’t ready to play in the NFL yet and after watching him in college film at the Senior Bowl and at William & Mary, I couldn’t really figure out why Dallas drafted him to be frank.

Webb proved himself to be a capable punt returner in college but in preseason games, he has shown a lack of confidence by allowing the ball to bounce instead of fair catching the ball.  Webb does have very good quickness and may develop into a good CB later but for now, (and it’s very early) I smell a bust in this pick.