Jerry Jones says Cowboys Defense Can’t be Worse in 2014. Is he right?

Jerry points
Recently when asked about the Dallas defense in 2014, Jerry commented that they couldn’t be worse than last season. No place to go but up, he explained. But is that really the case? A former Cowboy who played on super bowl winning teams, Charles Haley, stated that actually it was the Dallas offense that needs to get it’s stuff together. Haley said,

“You know what, we need a better offense. And not worry about the defense. Because if we put some points up on the board, then teams gonna to have to just throw the ball. And what we’ve been lacking is the teams can run and throw. When you make them one-dimensional then you can defeat them better.”

I have respect for the Cowboy players who played on super bowl winning teams and pay attention to their assessments of the current situation in Dallas. But I must admit when I first read Haley’s comments, I thought here is another example of a NFL player with too many head injuries or something. But the more I thought about it, the more sense it started to make.

I’m not going to tell you that Dallas defense was good in 2013 because they weren’t. The numbers and rankings speak for themselves and I have pointed out their need to improve areas like the defensive line. There was Manning and the Broncos scoring 51 points and Brees leading the Saints to a record breaking number of first downs. Calvin Johnson having a season worth of yards in one game. When the Dallas defense was bad, it was VERY bad.

But at times, the defense played well in 2013 and I’m afraid it actually could have been worse, believe it or not.

Play in game Eagles:
In the final game where a win clinches a East title, the defense had an impressive goal line stand in that game and they had a big stop late in the game to give the offense a chance to win it. But a late interception thrown by Kyle Orton (the offense) actually ended their chances to win.

The Dallas defense produced one turnover but the Dallas offense committed three turnovers. Two INTs by Orton and an important fumble loss by Murray.

Another key play was the failed two point conversion by the offense that would have tied the game.

The defense wasn’t perfect in this crucial division game but I would argue it was good enough to give them an opportunity to win.

Eagles Game One:
The Eagles eventually won the division but in their first meeting, the Dallas defense was outstanding holding the Eagles to only a field goal in a game Dallas won 17-3. The Cowboys defense came up with three INTs in that game to offset two INTs thrown by Romo. The defense didn’t allow the Eagles to take advantage of the Romo turnovers.

An example of a great game by the Dallas defense in 2013.

Rams Game:
In week 3, the Dallas defense held the Rams to just 7 points in a nice win for the team.

Another game where the Dallas defense was solid.

Week 1 the Giants Home away from Home:
The Giants had dominated play in the Cowboys stadium in recent years but it was the defense that picked Manning off three times in the game including a game sealing 40 yard TD on a pick by Brandon Carr.

It was the defense that played a huge role in ending the Giants dominance in their home away from home.

Final Thought:
The short comings of the Dallas defense in 2013 were certainly well documented.

But in NFC East play in 2013, the Cowboys defense allowed an average of 19.6 points a game. Not bad. That should have been good enough to go undefeated in the East and lead to a playoff birth. And Dallas almost did go undefeated in the East and win the division if not for that loss to the Eagles in the final game. There is plenty of blame to go around for last season on both sides of the ball.

To Jerry’s point, at times the defense was absolutely awful and appears to have no where to go but up. But to Haley’s point, that Dallas offense could have been better at times too in 2013, and doesn’t deserve a free pass. The offense must establish a run game and then stick with it for the whole game. And avoid becoming one dimensional.

With the loss of Ware, Hatcher, and now Sean Lee on defense, I don’t dare say that defense can’t get worse in 2014 and if it does decline, the offense will need to step it up.


Update on the Dallas Cowboys Draft Picks after Rookie Camp and OTAs

Rookie Zack Martin

Rookie Zack Martin

Since the draft, the Dallas Cowboy coaches have had enough time to kick the tires of their draft class and perhaps take a little test drive. So far, who have impressed and who haven’t yet?

A look at how their picks are doing after rookie camp and mixing it up with some veterans in OTAs. Going in the order they were picked during the draft.

1. Guard Zack Martin:
The Cowboys immediately moved Martin from tackle which he played at Notre Dame, to guard. Martin started off OTAs with the biggest play so far when he pulled out on a screen pass and crushed LB Sean Lee in open space. Unfortunately Lee was losing his footing a little before contact with Martin and he suffered a season ending knee injury with a torn ACL.

Martin has lined up at both left and right guard and even took a few turns at center as the coaches try to diversify his skill set on the line. But all indications are, Martin will start at right guard for Dallas. So far, the news has been that Martin looks very comfortable at guard and is picking things up quickly.

I look for Martin and center Travis Frederick to work well together in the middle of the line. Just got to make sure the big fella doesn’t hurt any more of the Cowboy defenders in preseason.

2. DE DeMarcus Lawrence:
The Cowboys wasted little time in seeing what Lawrence has got by sending him up against all pro tackle Tyron Smith. And word is, Lawrence has held his own against Smith which is a good sign for sure. In fact this battle has been one of the better ones during OTAs and should be fun to watch during preseason camp.

The rookie Lawrence showed up with some pass rush moves in his arsenal and the Cowboy defensive line coaches are developing more of them for Lawrence. Some scouts have been surprised at the strength he has displayed in going against the very large Smith.

I look for Lawrence to start at right DE for Dallas.

3. LB Anthony Hitchens:
Hitchens was drafted as an insurance policy for the often injured Sean Lee but no one could have known that Dallas would have to cash in that policy after the first OTA when Lee suffered his injury. Dallas quickly took a look at Hitchens at MLB but recently, have been playing him more at the weak side LB where he played at Iowa. Hitchens appears to be learning things quickly and I think he will see action at both LB positions during camp.

Hitchens does have some developing to do in pass coverage.

4. WR Devin Street:
Dallas has had Street line up outside and in the slot receiver spot during OTAs. Street has had some drops during workouts and has looked sharp at times too. The word seems to be he has developing to do before being ready which one would expect this early. He will likely be expected to play at multiple WR spots to provide depth.

I would compare Street to Terrance Williams who as a rookie last season, came on as the season progressed. Street will get better in time and find his groove eventually in the Dallas offense.

5. DE Ben Gardner:
Gardner has been sitting out of workouts with a sore hamstring. The Cowboys seem interested in not only playing Gardner at DE, but also give him a look inside at DT. Unfortunately so far the only look he is giving them is on the stationary bike on the sidelines.

6.LB Will Smith:
Losing Lee makes picking Smith look even better and while he has been quiet in camp so far, many think he will shine when the guys put their pads on and start the tackling. Cowboys scout Bryan Broaddus has described Smith as struggling to get through the traffic at first but showed significant improvement quickly. Watching Smith on video of college play, he definitely shows a real nose for the ball and when the preseason games begin, I think Smith will capture fans attention.

Smith played at the “Will” LB spot in college but Dallas will likely move him around to all the LB positions during camp to determine where he fits best.

7. Safety Ahmad Dixon:
Dixon sat out of rookie camp with a hip strain suffered during the Senior Bowl. During his time at Baylor, Dixon only missed starting one game. The word “learning” comes up often when discussing Dixons play in OTAs but the injury has slowed progress.

I view Dixon as more of a big hitting, run support safety with just OK cover skills and I believe that is going to prove to be the case this season.

8. DT Ken Bishop:
Bishop has looked impressive in OTAs and it appears Dallas will line him up as a one technique DT. After the draft, I referred to Bishop as a “poor man’s Timmy Jernigan” and I’m sticking with that comparison.

Coach Marinelli will build a rotation of players for the DT positions and I definitely look for Bishop to be in that rotation.

9.CB Terrance Mitchell:
After missing practice time back at Oregon finishing school, Mitchell had a couple good practices during recent OTAs. He has shown some maturity to his coverage skills for a rookie in preseason. He figures in the mix to battle BW Webb and Sterling Moore to make the roster.

These 3 Undrafted Rookies Impressed During Cowboys OTAs

The Cowboys wrapped up their OTAs this week and now focus on training camp that starts in July. Undrafted rookie free agents offer an opportunity to find some talented players that some how got over looked in the recent NFL draft. That’s how they found their current QB Tony Romo.

The Cowboys invited 23 undrafted rookies to OTAs. Did Dallas find any UFAs that will be worth keeping an eye on during preseason camp?

Kiffin man crush on Patmon

Kiffin man crush on Patmon

1. CB Tyler Patmon, Oklahoma St.
Patmon’s name has come up as making plays during OTAs right away prompting former defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin to develop a bit of a man crush gushing,

“I see this guy No. 20, this defensive back, I don’t even know the guy,” Kiffin said. “I want to see him out there. He reminds me of Ronde Barber. I don’t know that he’s Ronde Barber now. It’s exciting.”

The guy catching Kiffin’s eye was Patmon but let us not forget that last year Kiffin was all giddy about BW Webb. Webb has been disappointing so far and he is already having to share reps during OTAs with the new kid Patmon. While Dallas drafted a CB this year with their last pick, Mitchell missed rookie camp finishing school. It’s Webb that will likely find himself in a battle to fend off Patmon for a roster spot.

At OSU in 2013, Potman led the team with nine pass break ups. His strength is breaking on a pass and getting his hands on the ball. Last year the Dallas Cowboys didn’t get stellar play from their corners so Patmon will get an opportunity to show he may be able to add depth. Special team play will be critical for Potman to make the roster.

Ryan Smith, Auburn

Ryan Smith, Auburn

2. Safety Ryan Smith, Auburn
Smith posses excellent size for a free safety at 6-1, 195 and brings impressive speed. During OTAs, Cowboys analyst/scout Bryan Broaddus has commented that Smith tends to be in the right place at the right time and displays composure on the field. Often rookies can panic in coverage but none of that with Smith who is familiar with playing on a big stage like the national championship game with FSU.

Barry Church will hold down one safety spot but in my view, the other spot is wide open with competition among young and inexperienced safeties. Smith should be able to compete with Wilcox, Heath, Johnson, and Hamilton for playing time right away. Finding a way to contribute on special teams will increase Smith’s chances of making the roster.

Dontavis Sapp,

Dontavis Sapp,

3. LB Dontavis Sapp, Tennessee
With veteran Cowboy LB Sean Lee going down with an injured knee during the very first OTA, this position is more open than before. Sapp has impressed early during OTAs even running with the 2nd team at MLB. He was known at UT as being a vocal leader and having a good attitude for the game. He finished college with 108 tackles and 11.5 for loss.

The Cowboys drafted two LBs (Will Smith and Anthony Hitchens) so they are looking for answers from young players.
Sapp’s chance to make the roster may be long but he is off to a good start and Dallas has a lot of questions at the LB position currently.

Johnny Football Just Carrying on a NFL “Family Tradition”

Is it Manziel? Probably just carrying on a NFL family tradition.

Is it Manziel? Probably just carrying on a NFL family tradition.

A photo allegedly of Johnny Manziel aka “Johnny Football” surfaced of him on a swan with a large bottle of champagne at Club Rio in San Antonio. STORY

At first glance of the photo, Cowboy fans may think owner Jerry Jones was right to pass on this hell rasier. He is no Roger Staubach when it comes to self restraint, after all. It’s even enough to make some fans ask “what the hell is the NFL coming to?”? But actually when it comes to rowdy behavior, nothing has really changed except the addition of social media and camera phones at everyone’s finger tip.

In fact when considering past NFL players over the years, Johnny Football is just carrying on a NFL family tradition as the Hank Jr. classic goes.

Max McGee:
Go back to the very first super bowl and the guy who scored the very first touchdown in a super bowl. Max McGee was from Overton, Texas (what is it about these boys from Texas?) played tight end for the Packers, and was known to like to go out and have a good time. Now Max wasn’t doing it in the month of May before OTAs like JF, he was out partying past curfew the night before the super bowl!

As back up TE, McGee didn’t think he would play in the game and even told a teammate he was in no condition to play after his night on the town, “I hope you don’t get hurt. I’m not in very good shape”, but his number got called.

It seems unbelievable today but Max had to actually borrow a teammate’s helmet because he left his in the locker room. (Let that sink in with the NFL concussion concerns). He went out and made a nice one hand catch of a Bart Starr pass for the first TD in super bowl history. McGee finished with 7 catches and 2 touchdowns while the Packers went on to defeat the Chiefs in super bowl I.

Paul Hornung:
McGee’s Packer teammate running back Paul Hornung was known to be fined on several occasions for coming in past curfew. The Playboy type was quoted as saying, “Never get married in the morning – you never know who you might meet that night”. Hornung was once suspended by commissioner Rozelle for gambling.

Joe Namath:
Namath is the partying QB poster child who showed how it was done back in the day. And if half of what we hear of him is true, then he gives Wilt Chamberlin a run for his money. On the field, Namath led the Jets to the first super bowl win by an AFL team in the third super bowl.

Namath started a bar named “Bachelors III” but Rozelle eventually asked Namath to divest his interest from the bar. Namath’s drinking continued and who can forget that Monday Night game in 2003 where he kissed ESPN reporter Suzy Kobler? Too much champagne blamed for that miscalculation. Kind of like trying to ride a swan I suppose.

My Take:
My intention isn’t to defend Manziel’s off the field decisions or glorify past partying by NFL players. I’m simply saying let Johnny Manziel be who he is and ultimately he will be judged by how he performs on the field under pressure and what kind of teammate he is.

Some of the past NFL “bad boys” had outstanding performances on the field and were highly regarded by their teammates even many years after playing football.

I know what I saw in that bowl game with Duke when Manziel’s Texas A&M team was far behind and looked lifeless. Manziel kept fighting and rallied teammates to a come behind victory. It was an inspiring effort. VIDEO And if the Cleveland Browns can look past the off field antics like swan riding, they may have a special player here. Time will tell.

Four Big Questions for the 2014 Cowboys

DeMarco Murray

DeMarco Murray

We have seen the Cowboys 2014 schedule and it doesn’t look easy to try to improve on a 8-8 finish in 2013. Games against the tough NFC West teams and a stretch in December that can be summarized as “brutal”, await them. I look at four questions that will be critical for the Cowboys next season.

1. Commit to the Run Game:
Last season the Cowboys ranked 31st (second to last) in rushing attempts. They only had 94 rushing yards a game but it wasn’t because they couldn’t run effectively as they produced a respectable 4.5 yards per attempt. And Demarco Murray had an impressive 5.2 yard average while making the Pro Bowl with over 1,000 yards.

The problem last year was the Cowboys play callers would simply abandon the run during the course of the game. Just look back (if you can stand it) to the Packers debacle where Dallas had a nice 26-3 lead but foolishly went to the pass and ended up losing a game they should have won. I noticed that most of the Cowboy’s rush attempts occurred early in games during the season while late in the game, rush attempts were scarce.

In 2014 the Cowboys will put first round pick guard Zack Martin next to center Travis Frederick which should clear a nice path for Murray, but not if the play calling is allowed to get pass happy.

Garrett is bringing in a new play caller Scott Linehan from the Lions, where he certainly had a tendency to pass the ball more than run. Seems like they are putting gasoline on the fire. The Lions were at the top of the NFL in pass attempts while Linehan was in charge of play calling but at this early point Linehan is saying the right things about running the ball.

In regards to giving the ball to Murray Scott said, “That’s going to be our strength, being able to lean on that running game a little bit more than they have in the past.” It’s what we want to hear but to quote Mike Tyson, “Everyone has a plan ’til they get punched in the mouth.” It will be interesting to see if Linehan sticks to the run while in battle, and if Romo is not allowed to change from a run to a pass on every play.

There is no reason the Cowboys shouldn’t effectively run the ball next season but the question is will they commit to it for the entire game in 2014?

2. A Healthy Henry Melton:
The Cowboys defensive short comings in 2013 have been well documented in their first year of implementing a 4-3 defense. A critical piece of making Marinelli’s defense a success is having high productivity from the important 3 technique defensive tackle spot. Having a quick, athletic DT that can provide pressure up the middle is what makes this defense go and to address that need, Jerry Jones signed veteran DT Henry Melton.

Melton was a pro bowl DT for the Bears in 2012 before suffering a major knee injury in 2013. So far, Melton has sat out of OTA workouts to continue recovery but he is expected to be on the field when camp opens in July.

If the Cowboys get the 2012 healthy version of Melton this season, then it will make the entire defense better. Getting pressure from the defensive line should make the often exploited secondary in 2013, look much improved. Melton’s play will be critical to the success of the defense.

There is little doubt that a healthy Melton makes their defense better but the question is will Melton be fully recovered from the knee injury in 2014?

3. A Healthy Tony Romo:
QB Tony Romo missed the last game with the Eagles in 2013 with a back injury, and has been recovering in the off season. All indications are he is on course to play but no one really knows how he will hold up after taking some hits in the season. Having a backup plan for Romo if he can’t play, will be important for Dallas in 2014.

Jerry Jones passed on Heisman Trophy winning Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel in the draft which displayed a big commitment to Romo and confidence that he will play.

Back up QB Kyle Orton has been a no show so far in OTA workouts and it appears that he plans to retire. It’s becoming clear that Dallas shouldn’t expect Orton to help them in 2014.

Jerry did sign veteran QB Brandon Weeden who would appear to be Romo’s backup at this point. In two seasons with the Browns, Weeden had a record of 5-15 as a starter and a dismal 71.8 passer rating. Perhaps a change in scenery could benefit Weeden but I’m not buying into it and think things could get ugly if Romo goes out with injury.

In 2014 Dallas is counting on Romo to be fully recovered and hold up for 16 games and if not, they are counting on Weeden to step in and get it done. I don’t feel good about either one of those things happening. Can Dallas win without Romo in 2014?

4. Get the Ball to Dez:
Dez Bryant enters the 2014 season as the main target for Dallas in the passing game. Bryant has all the tools to have a big season but it will be important for the Cowboys offense to not move completely away from Dez when he draws double coverage. Remember the scene on the sideline during the Lions game last year between Dez and Romo? It wasn’t pretty and the Cowboys lost yet another game they were in a good position to win.

Dez has the ability to use his size and strength to make catches in traffic and new play caller Scott Linehan made good use of WR Calvin Johnson while with the Lions. Johnson put tremendous pressure on opposing defenses and Bryant should be able to do the same but he can’t just disappear in games like he did too often last season.

There is no question Dez Bryant can be a tremendous weapon in the passing game which creates opportunities for other receivers. The question in 2014 is will they find ways to get him the ball even when defenses are trying to take him out of the game?

Final Take:
During preseason camp in July, it will be important to see how Melton looks. His play will be an important part of the defense returning to respectability. How Romo holds up to taking some hits will be important as I fear Jerry Jones doesn’t have a solid backup plan for a injured Romo.

We aren’t going to know how committed to running the ball new play caller Scott Linehan is until we see him perform under pressure in game situations. Based on his past and Jason Garrett, I look for Dallas to remain a pass happy offense.

Opposing defenses will focus on taking Dez Bryant out of the game but how the Cowboy offense keeps him involved will be very important to their success.