The DC Times

A New Way to Look at the Cowboys, NFL, and Fantasy Football

By Jonathan Bales

Grading the ‘Boys, Part III: Running Backs

In Parts I and II of our “Grading the ‘Boys” Series, we analyzed the efficiency of six Cowboys’ offensive linemen in both run blocking and pass protection. In doing so, we attempted to isolate one component of the offense as effectively as possible to determine the worth of individual players.

In reality, of course, offenses are holistic systems. The productivity of each position indirectly affects the ability of players at each other position to properly perform. In the running game, the success of linemen is affected greatly by the talent level of the running backs, and vice versa.

In Part III of our “Grading the ‘Boys” Series, we will study the productivity of Marion Barber, Felix Jones, and Tashard Choice. These three players all contributed in different ways and in distinct situations, so we will keep this in mind when analyzing the statistics we gathered from our film study.

Marion Barber was surprisingly ineffective on runs up the middle in 2009.

Notes:

  • In this particular analysis, we will grade each running back on four components: short-yardage running, overall running, receiving, and pass protection.
  • The four components of the overall grade are not all equal. They will be weighted 15/45/20/20, respectively.
  • All totals include the playoffs.
  • As always, the best stats are circled in blue, the worst in red.

Grades

  • Marion Barber

Short-Yardage Running: D-

Barber had by far the lowest average on the team on runs up the middle and in short-yardage situations, averaging just 2.8 yards-per-carry and converting a ridiculously low 56.0 (14 for 25) percent of the time with just one yard to go (for either a first down or a touchdown). His yards after contact and number of broken tackles were both down significantly from prior seasons.

Would you have guessed Felix Jones led the team in broken tackles?

Overall Running: C

Barber was more effective on draws and counters than in short-yardage situations. His 4.2 average was mediocre, but he did carry the ball a lot more in these short-yardage and goal-to-go scenarios. He still scored seven touchdowns, but only about once every 29 carries.

Receiving: B

Barber was again solid in the passing game, although his receptions decreased due to the presence of both Felix Jones and Tashard Choice. Barber does an excellent job of disguising his intentions on screen passes.

Pass Protection: B

Marion gave up the most sacks of any running back (three), but he was also on the field during pass plays about twice as much as the other backs. He does a great job of taking on defenders much larger than him, usually coming out on top.

Overall Grade: 77.2 (C+)

  • Felix Jones

Short-Yardage Running: B+

Despite not receiving a lot of short-yardage carries (five), Felix Jones converted on them 100.0 percent of the time. His runs up the middle, which may be more indicative of his short-yardage abilities than such a small sample size, is still solid at 4.1 yards-per-carry. It is hard to relate this number to Barber’s, though, because Barber had more short-yardage runs up the middle which would have decreased his average.

Overall Running: A

Jones really displayed his value to the Cowboys in 2009. He averaged a ridiculous 6.2 yards-per-carry, including 220 yards on 22 counters. He also surprisingly led the team in yards after contact and broken tackles.

Receiving: B

Jones’ receiving numbers were solid, but with his explosiveness, we would expect them to be a bit higher. They should increase next season, particularly with teams focusing in on the run when he is in the game.

Pass Protection: B

We think Jones is underrated in pass protection. He gave up one sack on the season, but he is rather good at an aspect of his game which most believe is his biggest weakness.

Overall Grade: 89.8 (A-)

  • Tashard Choice

Short-Yardage Running: B+

It is difficult to grade this aspect of Choice’s game. He was a respectable 5 for 7 in short-yardage situations and also led the team (by a lot) with a 5.8 yards-per-carry average on runs up the middle. However, he averaged only 1.9 yards after contact and broke just three tackles all season.

Felix Jones was incredible on counter runs, averaging 10.0 yards per attempt.

Overall Running: B

Choice averaged 5.0 yards-per-rush on the season, with a large chunk of his rushing yards coming from the Wildcat formation. It seemed like he was more comfortable taking the direct snap than on other runs, as he was worst on the team in both counter and draw average. His 5.1 percent touchdown rate led the squad.

Receiving: B+

Choice led the team in reception average, which you would expect out of your third-down back. He isn’t incredibly fast or strong, but just solid in all aspects of the game.

Pass Protection: A-

Choice really has done an excellent job in pass protection since his rookie season. According to our film study, he didn’t allow a sack all season.

Overall Grade: 87.3 (B+)

Final Running Back Rankings

1. Felix Jones: 89.8 (A-)

2. Tashard Choice: 87.3 (B+)

3. Marion Barber: 77.2 (C+)

A lot of fans are calling for the Cowboys to trade Marion Barber. Other than the fact that his contract makes this basically impossible, we don’t think it would be a smart move. Barber still has his place on the team. If the ‘Boys would trade any of their backs, they would turn a positional strength into a possible weakness. The team would be just one injury shy of having only one experienced running back on the roster. Three good running backs is certainly a luxury, but it also is an important component in the success of the Dallas offense.

So how should Jason Garrett alter how he utilizes each of these players in 2010? First, Barber needs to get fewer carries. He received 54.3 percent of the regular-season rushes in ’09, with Jones garnering 29.5 percent and Choice 16.2 percent. In 2010, we would advise the following breakdown:

  • Felix Jones: 50 percent
  • Tashard Choice: 30 percent
  • Marion Barber: 20 percent

Some may argue that we would be giving up on Barber too quickly, but now is not the time to wait on players. The Cowboys are built to win now, and the most productive players should play.

These percentages could be attained by starting Jones and letting him play two series for each of Tashard Choice’s one. We would also use Tashard Choice on short-yardage runs, including a bit more Wildcat. Barber would come in to spell Jones and Choice, particularly on third down, and to finish games out. In baseball, closers are only successful because they haven’t pitched all game. The same is true for Marion Barber. By saving his energy, he could effectively return to the “closer” role, creating the most efficient Dallas Cowboys backfield possible.

In our next “Grading the ‘Boys” segment, we will analyze the productivity of the cornerbacks.

By Jonathan Bales

Top 75 NFL Draft Prospects

Although we are die-hard Cowboys fans, we are also fans of the NFL in general. As such, we love the Draft and form an annual “Big Board.” Below is a list of our top 75 NFL prospects, with potential Cowboys’ draft selections in bold.

1 Ndamukong Suh, DT, Nebraska

Ndamukong Suh's athleticism and intelligence make him a seemingly can't-miss prospect.

2 Gerald McCoy, DT, Oklahoma

3 Russell Okung, OT, Oklahoma State

4 Dez Bryant, WR, Oklahoma State

5 C.J. Spiller, RB, Clemson

6 Joe Haden, CB, Florida

7 Eric Berry, S, Tennessee

8 Sergio Kindle, LB, Texas

9 Earl Thomas, S, Texas

10 Mike Iupati, G, Idaho

11 Kyle Wilson, CB, Boise State

12 Brandon Graham, DE/OLB, Michigan

13 Bryan Bulaga, OT, Iowa

14 Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, USF

15 Derrick Morgan, DE, Georgia Tech

16 Rolando McClain, LB, Alabama

17 Jared Odrick, DT/DE, Penn State

We think many are underestimating the potential of Kansas WR Dezmon Briscoe.

18 Anthony Davis, OT, Rutgers

19 Maurkice Pouncey, C/G, Florida

20 Trent Williams, OT, Oklahoma

21 Dezmon Briscoe, WR, Kansas

22 Bruce Campbell, OT, Maryland

23 Sam Bradford, QB, Oklahoma

24 Brandon Spikes, LB, Florida

25 Jahvid Best, RB, California

26 Donovan Warren, CB, Michigan

27 Charles Brown, OT, USC

28 Brian Price, DT, UCLA

29 Jerry Hughes, DE, TCU

30 Carlos Dunlap, DE, Florida

Few even know the name 'Jason Worilds,' but we have him as a near-first round prospect.

31 Dan Williams, DT, Tennessee

32 Sean Weatherspoon, LB, Missouri

33 Morgan Burnett, S, Georgia Tech

34 Dexter McCluster, RB/WR, Ole Miss

35 Taylor Mays, S, USC

36 Arrelious Benn, WR, Illinois

37 Jimmy Clausen, QB, Notre Dame

38 Mardy Gilyard, WR, Cincinnati

39 Devin McCourty, CB, Rutgers

40 Jason Worilds, DE, Virginia Tech

41 Brandon LaFell, WR, LSU

42 Jon Asamoah, G, Illinois

43 Nate Allen, S, USF

44 Everson Griffen, DE, USC

45 DeMaryius Thomas, WR, Georgia Tech

Is there a possibility Jerry Jones takes a chance on the Golden Child?

46 Tim Tebow, QB, Florida

47 Golden Tate, WR, Notre Dame

48 Alex Carrington, DE, Arkansas State

49 Brandon Ghee, CB, Wake Forest

50 Terrence Cody, DT, Alabama

51 Patrick Robinson, CB, Florida State

52 Chad Jones, S, LSU

53 Jordan Shipley, WR, Texas

54 Perrish Cox, CB, Oklahoma State

55 Damian Williams, WR, USC

56 Myron Rolle, S, Florida State

57 Mike Johnson, G, Alabama

58 Aaron Hernandez, TE, Florida

59 Corey Wootton, DE, Northwestern

60 Reshad Jones, S, Georgia

61 Daryl Washington, LB, TCU

62 Jermaine Gresham, TE, Oklahoma

The Cowboys might deem LT Ciron Black a worthy selection in the middle rounds if they do not address the position earlier.

63 Eric Norwood, LB, South Carolina

64 D’Anthony Smith, DT, Louisiana Tech

65 Greg Hardy, DE, Ole Miss

66 Vladimir Ducasse, G/T, UMass

67 Clifton Geathers, DE, South Carolina

68 Jason Fox, OT, Miami

69 Javier Arenas, CB, Alabama

70 Micah Johnson, LB, Kentucky

71 Ciron Black, OT, LSU

72 Joe McKnight, RB, USC

73 Trevard Lindley, CB, Kentucky

74 Navarro Bowman, LB, Penn State

75 Mike Neal, DT/DE, Purdue


Notes

  • Some players not in bold would be good fits in Dallas, but we don’t see the team being in position to select them.
  • We are very high on Sergio Kindle, Kyle Wilson, Brandon Graham, Dezmon Briscoe, Jahvid Best, Dexter McCluster, Mardy Gilyard, Jordan Shipley, Alex Carrington, D’Anthony Smith, Jason Worilds, and Micah Johnson.
  • We are very low on Sam Bradford, Jimmy Clausen, Taylor Mays, Terrence Cody, and Jermaine Gresham.

Feel free to comment on which players you think we may be over or underestimating.

By Jonathan Bales

Top Six Reasons Randy Moss Would Be a Poor Fit in Dallas

Amidst reports that Randy Moss could be headed to Dallas (albeit from the biggest “gossip magazine” in sports, ESPN), we will detail six reasons why signing Randy Moss would be disastrous for the Dallas Cowboys.

Is this the kind of hair you want your #1 wide receiver to have?

1. He will want too much money.

If Dallas trades for Moss, it is likely that he would want a new contract. With $45 million invested in Roy Williams and a Miles Austin long-term deal evident, there would just be too much money tied up in one position. Even without a salary cap in 2010, teams are hesitant to overspend (yes, even Jerry) because of the current economy and the uncertainty of future NFL economics.

If Moss was to be brought in for just this season with no long-term extension given, it would still be a poor fit for of the following reasons.

2. It will stunt the growth of Kevin Ogletree.

Ogletree showed signs of greatness last season. He displayed good hands, above-average route-running ability, and tremendous explosiveness after the catch. Ogletree’s opportunities were very limited in 2009 and would be all but non-existent with the addition of Moss. In much the same way that Dallas saw Miles Austin’s talent after the release of Terrell Owens, the only way to discover Ogletree’s worth is to give him a shot.

3. His addition could force Sam Hurd off the team.

It is possible that the Cowboys could cut Roy Williams if they brought in Moss, but it is unlikely due to Williams’ contract. The team would have to eat $11 million to let Williams walk and then still have to pay Moss.

More likely, the addition of Moss would spell the end of Sam Hurd’s tenure in Dallas. It is possible the organization would keep six wide receivers, but with three of them not on special teams (Moss, Austin, Williams) and the team likely to use two roster spots on kickers, retaining six wide receivers would leave the squad dangerously thin at other positions.

Thus, adding Moss would result in either a lack of depth at other positions or the loss of one of the team’s best special team players.

4. He is old.

Moss is 33 years old. Enough said.

5. He dogs it.

A lot was made of Moss’ performance against the Jets in 2009 where he was called out for dogging it. We watched the film of that game to see for ourselves, and we can guarantee that Moss played no differently than usual– because he always dogs it.

The Cowboys want to increase Kevin Ogletree's playing time, an impossible task with Moss on the team.

People can say all they want about T.O., but at least you knew he was going to do everything possible to prepare himself for both practice and games. His effort made our own players better, and we would even credit much of the success of the cornerbacks in 2009 to the fact that they faced Terrell Owens in practice everyday the prior season (longer for Newman).

The same cannot be said for Moss. He does not practice hard, and he does not consistently play hard in games. His sub-par route-running on plays he knows are not designed for him makes it harder for teammates to get open. When a free safety notices Moss not running full-speed, for example, he can shade another wide receiver and make it more difficult for the offense to complete a pass to anyone.

Overall, we would call Moss’ lack of effort and poor attitude on the field much more of a distraction than Terrell Owens ever was in Dallas.

6. He wouldn’t take a back seat to Miles Austin.

We are a bit surprised at some fans’ yearning for “a legitimate number one receiver” when the team has already found it. Miles Austin is the real deal. He is phenomenally talented, works hard, and has the attitude which will allow him to continue to improve.

If Randy Moss joined the ‘Boys, who would be the top dog at receiver? It should be Austin, but we find it hard to believe Moss would really be fine being the second option. He already dogs it as the focal point of the Patriots’ offense. Imagine what he might do as the number two guy.

Ultimately, the risks and downsides of signing Randy Moss far outweigh any possible reward. Some may argue that, at the very least, the team would be better in 2010. We disagree. Signing Moss would create authority issues at wide receiver that could not only backfire massively this season, but would also set the team back in future years.

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys Potential Draft Picks: Mike Neal, DT/DE, Purdue

Purdue defensive tackle Mike Neal would convert to defensive end in the Cowboys' 3-4 defense.

In our initial Mock Draft, we had the Cowboys selecting Penn State DT/DE Jared Odrick. Odrick was a defensive tackle in college but would move to defensive end in the Cowboys’ 3-4 scheme. We got a lot of flack for the pick, as people are anticipating the selection of either an offensive tackle or a safety.

With so many restricted free agents at the position (Spears, Hatcher, and Bowen), defensive end could become a big concern by 2011, or perhaps even this year. Marcus Dixon has a good shot of making the team this season, but it is tough to project the performance of practice squad players.

If Dallas does pass on defensive end in round one, expect them to address the position in the middle of the draft. Mike Neal of Purdue could be an option at that time.

Scouting Report

Neal has helped his stock tremendously lately by displaying that he can play as either a 4-3 defensive tackle or a 3-4 defensive end. He showed great athleticism and production at the Senior Bowl, consistently using quickness to beat offensive linemen off the ball. Some scouts thought he was the most impressive defensive lineman all week.

Neal should test fairly well at the NFL Combine this weekend. At 6’4”, 302 pounds, he has adequate size for a 3-4 DE. The majority of the weight is “good” weight, meaning he is very muscular. He may even have a frame capable of gaining ten more pounds, should a team want him to do that.

At his size, the sub-five second forty-yard dash that he is expected to run would be excellent. Thus, Neal is a good size/speed combination (meaning he will probably go to Oakland).

There are questions about Neal’s motor. He sometimes takes plays off, although this did not seem to be a problem at the Senior Bowl. He also doesn’t have incredible strength or size for a defensive tackle, but these may not be problems if he makes the switch to 3-4 defensive end.

Projection

Neal’s versatility, athleticism, and Senior Bowl performance have raised his stock. Originally a mid-to-late round prospect, Neal could go as high as the late second round, particularly if he runs a 4.8 this weekend. With that speed at over 300 pounds, at least one team would take a risk in round two.

If 4-3 teams view him as undersized in their scheme, though, he may drop a bit. Should he get to the back of round three, there is a great possibility that the Cowboys draft him. In fact, this may be a perfect scenario for Dallas as they would acquire a defensive end who is better than a third round talent, while also filling two other needs with the prior selections.

By Jonathan Bales

Time to Shine: A Q&A With Cowboys’ ILB Jason Williams

Second-year player Jason Williams is eager to get on the field in 2010.

As an NFL rookie and the Cowboys’ first draft pick last season, inside linebacker Jason Williams was desperate to hit the field in ’09. After running a ridiculous 4.49 forty-yard dash and recording a 39” vertical leap at his Pro Day, there was a lot of anticipation surrounding Williams’ addition to the team. Fans and coaches alike were eager to see how Williams would translate his incredible physical tools to the field in his rookie season, but unfortunately it did not happen after Williams got injured and was only able to rack up three tackles.

Williams was justifiably disappointed about the situation. Every rookie wants to prove they belong in the NFL, but Williams never got that opportunity.

Perhaps, though, his injury was a blessing in disguise. Taking practice reps and getting playing time is very important, but just as vital to a player’s growth is mastering the mental aspect of the game.

Williams was able to sit back and learn from two of the most cerebral veterans on the team, Bradie James and Keith Brooking. The veteran linebackers not only displayed how to play the game, but also how to lead a team. We all saw how important the addition of Keith Brooking was to the mentality of the Cowboys, and Williams was able to soak everything in and really learn what he needs to accomplish to eventually become the heart of the defense.

This season, Williams is out to silence his doubters and take a gigantic leap forward. We recently spoke with Jason to discuss the upcoming season and learn a little more about the second-year player.

Q: How is your offseason going? When do you plan on starting offseason workouts, and what sorts of things will you be doing?

A: My offseason has been going really well so far. It’s my first time having time off in over a year so the first thing I did was take a mini vacation. I plan to start my workouts March 1st and I want to focus on both getting back down to 235 pounds and improving my lateral quickness.

Q: How frustrating was it to get injured last season? Do you think you gained a lot of experience in the mental aspect of the game while you were unable to perform physically?

A: It was really frustrating, mainly because I’ve never even missed a game due to injury, let alone four games.

Yes, I believe I grew a lot mentally. I took more of an outside perspective of the game. I would be in practice watching the veterans go through certain calls and not being out there actually kind of helped me see what it is that they were seeing. That experience aided me on the field once I returned.

Q: How did being able to watch Bradie James and Keith Brooking in particular help you during your rookie season?

A: Being behind those guys taught me what being a linebacker and a real leader is all about. I learned more just watching those guys than I did my whole college career.

Q: You were a quarterback in high school. What do you miss most about playing the position, and what aspect of switching to linebacker are you happiest about?

A: The thing I miss the most about quarterback is the control and the pressure. When you’re the quarterback, you are either the hero or the one that takes the blame, and I loved being in that position. No matter what happened everything was on me.

I guess the thing I like most about being a linebacker is now I’m in a position to punish opposing quarterbacks and running backs after being on the offensive side of the ball for so long.

Q: You surprisingly didn’t get invited to the Combine. Was this disappointing to you, and have you used the snub as motivation?

A: Yes, I was disappointed after not being invited to the Combine and it did motivate me to perform well. I don’t use that as motivation anymore, though, because even though I didn’t get invited I still got to where I wanted to be. Now I just have to prove I belong.

Williams believes he can translate the speed he displayed at his Pro Day to the football field.

Q: At 241 pounds, you ran a 4.49 at your Pro Day, while also recording a 39” vertical leap. Were these personal bests for you? How much of an advantage is it for you to have such incredible speed at linebacker?

A: Actually neither was a personal best of mine. My best vertical was 42″ and I’m sure I could have gotten that again if I would have had another jump at my Pro Day. Also, I was clocked at 4.42 at the Northwestern Combine, but the majority of scouts clocked me around 4.40.

I feel my speed is a great advantage because it makes me harder to block in space. I also use my speed to make up for any false steps I may take.

Q: How happy were you to be drafted by the Cowboys and how do you like Dallas?

A: I was ecstatic when I got the call from Jerry Jones. I don’t cry much but I definitely broke down that day. I love the city of Dallas. By me being from a big city like Chicago, it’s not too much of a difference.

Q: You lost your father when you were in eight grade. Do you feel like you are playing for your dad each time you take the field? Do you honor him in any way?

A: I do feel I’m playing in my father’s honor when I’m out there, but being the man he was, he would rather I play for myself instead of for him. But I do say a prayer to him before every game and I believe he’s with me whenever I step on the field.

Q: What do you think of players using Twitter and do you feel it gives you a more direct way to touch base with your fans than going through the media?

A: I feel Twitter is a good way for players to interact with their fans. The media frequently portrays players the way they want them to be seen, but Twitter gives us a chance to defend ourselves against anything that might have been taken the wrong way.

Q: Do you have any pre-game rituals?

A: The only thing I can say I do consistently is a sort of walk. I’ll pace back from about the 40-yard line to the 20 yard-line, just thinking about everything I could see out there. In college I had the same ritual and I’d also do a back flip before every game to get everyone going.

Q: Are you going to bring the back flip to the NFL?

A: Only when I become a starter.

Q: What sorts of things do you enjoy other than playing football?

A: Well, I’m in love with my Xbox (laughs). I can play video games all day. If I have to get out of the house, I’m a pretty good bowler and not bad on the pool table. I also practice a Brazilian martial art called Capoeira.

Williams said he learned more in one year from watching Brooking and James than he did in his entire college career.

Q: Do you feel Capoeira has helped you on the field?

A: It has definitely helped my flexibility, but I cannot say for sure if it has helped me in football because I have only been doing it for a few years.

Q: What are your goals for the 2010 season?

A: Well now that I have a year under my belt and I am a year wiser, I plan to be a bigger part of both our special teams and defense. I want to see a lot more of the field. It’s my time to step up.

Q: You will likely play special teams for the Cowboys in 2010. Have you ever played on special teams, and how do you feel about doing so?

A: I played special teams all throughout college and have no problem doing it. I love special teams.

Q: What is one thing you want all of your fans to know about you?

A: I want all of my fans to know that I am going to do everything I can to be the best player than I can possibly be.

Williams is doing everything possible to get on the field in 2010. While it was disappointing to not see his talent on display last season, the knowledge Jason was able to garner from the veterans may be just the blessing in disguise needed for Dallas fans to begin seeing back flips performed on the Cowboys Stadium turf, and perhaps sooner rather than later.

You can follow Jason Williams on Twitter: @TheRealJWill58

By Jonathan Bales

Mailbag: 2/25/10

The Cowboys may sign CFL kicker Sandro DeAngelis, Canada's all-time most accurate kicker.

Q: What are the Cowboys going to do about a kicker? Are they going to draft one or let Buehler do all of the kicking? People continue to blame Romo for everything, but he can’t do it all. He isn’t Chuck Norris.

Amber Leigh Hartman, Southlake, TX

A: Actually Chuck Norris had a tryout in Dallas yesterday, so we’ll see if the Cowboys decide to sign him. The NFL likely won’t allow roundhouse kicks, though, so it is unlikely he will be effective.

In all seriousness, the Cowboys absolutely must make upgrading the kicker spot a priority this offseason. It is unlikely that they either draft a kicker or let Buehler kick full-time, though. Sure, it would be great to have Buehler kick field goals and not have to use two roster spots on kickers, but he is just nowhere near where he needs to be, in terms of accuracy, to step in be counted upon. Drafting yet another kicker, to us, also seems improbable, because the uncertainty that comes with a rookie kicker would probably be too much for Jerry Jones & Co. to take.

Kickers are like fine wine in that they generally get better with age, so expect Dallas to sign a veteran. They may be close to doing so, as they worked out the CFL’s most accurate kicker, Sandro DeAngelis, last Friday. DeAngelis connected on 42 of his 49 career attempts in five seasons with the Calgary Stampeders.

After the tryout, DeAngelis said, “I’m pleased with [the audition], but you really have no idea what they’re thinking. They don’t exactly jump up and down or anything so you don’t have a gauge of where you stand. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.”

Let’s keep our own fingers crossed that Dallas fixes the kicking situation in 2010.

Q: Do you see the Cowboys making any big trades before the season?

Safety Ken Hamlin and other vets may get released, but don't expect them to be involved in any blockbuster trades.

Joe Michotti, New York, New York

A: Probably not. They may try to get a late round pick or two for players that might not be around anyway, such as Cory Procter. The big names that many of you are screaming for the Cowboys to trade, such as Ken Hamlin, Marion Barber, and Flozell Adams, just have contracts that are too heavy for another team to take them on.

Remember, trading for a player is kind of like drafting one. You always want to receive value. When you trade for a guy that has a terrible contract, it is like drafting a player three rounds to early. The risk-to-reward ratio just isn’t there, and there is no reason to make the deal. Sure, the player may be talented and could help your team, but your squad could be improved even further be spreading out the cash to fill multiple needs.

Even in the upcoming uncapped year, teams are unwilling to overspend. Most organizations have set their own spending limit and, because of the uncertainty of the salary cap in coming years, are treating this season no differently than any other. Thus, the contracts that come with Hamlin, Barber, and Adams are a barrier to completing a trade.

If the Cowboys want to part ways with any big-money veterans, they will likely have to release them.


Next: An interview with Cowboys’ LB Jason Williams

By Jonathan Bales

Potential Draft Picks: Javier Arenas, CB, Alabama

Alabama CB Javier Arenas could be the Cowboys' third round selection as a return specialist who would add depth at CB.

The Cowboys trio of cornerbacks are just about as good as one could hope for. Starters Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins were Pro Bowlers. Nickel second-year man Orlando Scandrick did take a step back from his rookie year, but improved vastly in the second half of the 2009 season.

Despite being on the field for just 573 snaps (as compared to 944 and 1,007 for Jenkins and Newman, respectively), Scandrick was targeted nearly as much as the starters. In fact, Scandrick was targeted on 14.5 percent of snaps which he took the field, highest in the entire NFL. While a large part of this number is certainly due to the talent of Jenkins and Newman, Scandrick did struggle a bit in the slot. His speed allows him to nearly always be in position, but he just did not make plays on the ball.

Still, Scandrick is a solid third cornerback. The Cowboys, if you remember, even began the 2009 season rotating starts between Scandrick and Jenkins before ultimately handing the job over to Mike.

As we all know, though, you can never have too many talented cornerbacks. Newman stayed healthy all of last season, but that is a bit of a rarity. The team cannot expect that again and should be well-equipped to deal with an injury or two down the stretch.

The depth of the position allows the team to not necessarily focus on cornerback, but simply select one in the middle or late rounds if he is the best player on their board. Alabama CB Javier Arenas, who we profiled as one of our ten players to watch at the NFL Combine this week, might be a good selection. The versatility he provides with his return abilities would justify the pick.

Scouting Report

Let’s start with the physical: Arenas is small. He might have been a first round selection if it wasn’t for his 5’9” frame. At that height, you would want Arenas to have blazing speed, but he doesn’t. He may run a mid-4.4 at the Combine.

Despite his lack of top-end speed, Arenas is a very good athlete. At corner, he has very fluid hips and adequate ball skills. He may have trouble competing to get the ball at its highest point, so his vertical leap could be more important than it is for other prospects.

Arenas is a tremendous return man that is capable of returning both punts and kickoffs. In 2009, he averaged over 15 and 29 yards on punt returns and kick returns, respectively. He displays outstanding vision on returns and doesn’t take too many wasted steps, getting upfield smoothly. He often resembles a running back once he gets his hands on the ball.

Overall, Arenas’ fluidity and return ability reminds us of Boise State prospect and fellow cornerback Kyle Wilson. Again, if Arenas was two inches taller, we believe he would be a borderline first round selection.

Projection

With teams placing an increased emphasis on the return game, the ability to return both punts and kickoffs could vault Arenas into the second round. To go there, though, he would have to prove to a team that he is capable of playing as a nickel CB.

Arenas would be an incredible pick in the back of the third round (Cowboys select #91). If he drops that far and Dallas has not yet upgraded the returner spots, expect Arenas to be a possibility to come in and become a return specialist who will add depth to the cornerback spot, perhaps pushing Alan Ball to full-time free safety.

By Jonathan Bales

The Spread Offense: Six (Very Bold) Predictions and Their Effect on the Dallas Cowboys

NFL teams will continue to transition toward the spread offense, forcing a ton of personnel changes.

Variations of the spread offense, such as the pass-happy version the Patriots run or the Wildcat in Miami, are taking over the NFL. In this article, we will explain how the transition of NFL offenses to the spread will affect the game, providing six fairly bold predictions and detailing how these changes will alter the Dallas Cowboys’ personnel philosophy moving forward.

1. Within ten years, all NFL teams will be running some form of the spread as their base offense.

We’ve already seen this prediction become a reality for some teams, such as the Patriots and Saints. Not coincidentally, these teams also generally score the most points. Even teams that have traditionally been known as running squads, such as the Steelers and Ravens, have transitioned to a more spread-like attack in recent years.

A conversion to a spread offense, however, does not necessarily mean more passing. The Dolphins version of the offense is extremely run-heavy, proving that the spread can allow for a diverse array of play calls.

A quick peak at college football can also yield great insights as to what the pro game will become in the near future. There are spread offenses that throw nearly every play (Texas Tech, Hawaii), and spread offenses that run the ball a ton (Florida).

But why would college football get it right before the NFL? First, there is no “right” offense to run. The NFL goes through cycles where offenses adapt and defenses counter, creating periods where sometimes big, strong players are in vogue and other times small, fast players are the norm.

Second, NFL coaches are on such a short leash that a complete shift in offensive philosophy would just take too much time to manifest itself in a winning team. A coach that leads a 5-11 team with a traditional offense is much more likely to stick around for another year than one who led the same team with an unconventional offense. NFL owners, GM’s, and fans just have not seen enough results from a spread attack to know it will work, and thus are hesitant to embrace change. Eventually, however, NFL offenses will slowly become more aggressive and spread offenses will become prevalent.

Impact On Cowboys: The Cowboys are still running a “traditional” offense, implementing two tight ends more than any team in the NFL in 2009. Still, Jason Garrett is no stranger to spreading the field. The team ran Shotgun an incredible 460 plays this season, or 46.3 percent of their meaningful plays (discounting spikes, quarterback kneels, etc).

This transition to a spread attack will continue to grow in 2010. The Cowboys have been fairly predictable in their playcalling out of certain formations recently (see our study on Double Tight Right Strong Right). Expect that to change in the coming years, with more and more running plays called out of Shotgun formation.

The versatility of hybrid players such as Dexter McCluster will become very valuable in the coming years.

This means that the number of two tight end sets will eventually decline. In 2009, the team implemented two or more tight ends on 556 plays (55.9 percent), making it their base offense. Despite the presence of three excellent tight ends, that number could dip to around 50 percent by next season. Also expect the Cowboys to move their tight ends around the field even more when they are in the game, creating natural pre-snap running lanes.

2. Much like the OLB/DE 3-4 hybrid position, NFL offenses will see more and more RB/WR hybrid players.

Running backs with great receiving skills have been around for awhile (Marshall Faulk comes to mind as the ultimate RB/WR), but the game is seeing a shift from running backs who can catch the ball to true hybrid players. Reggie Bush and Percy Harvin are two current players whose games are predictive of what we will see in the near future. College stars such as Ole Miss’s Dexter McCluster and Florida’s Jeffrey Demps are blurring the line between running back and wide receiver more than ever before.

The nature of most spread offenses is the reason for these sorts of players. Ironically, the various personnel packages and subsequent specialization that the spread has created has led to the importance of these do-it-all-players.

The reason a great pass-catching tight end is so valuable, for example, is because of his versatility. Tight ends that can block make defenses stay in their base personnel grouping, meaning the pass-catching ability of these players will be on display with a slower linebacker in coverage. Should the defense bring in nickel personnel and put an extra cornerback in the game, the tight end’s blocking ability then becomes an extremely lucrative asset.

Much like the tight end position, these RB/WR hybrid players create matchup nightmares for defenses. A personnel package that contains a player or two whose running ability is as indefensible as his receiving ability gives the defense no hint as to a possible play call, thus creating the inability to make the proper personnel substitutions.

Impact on Cowboys: This shift in the fundamental nature of offensive positions will force the Cowboys to eventually shift their personnel as well. This could happen sooner rather than later. While we believe the addition of Reggie Bush could create nightmare matchups for a defense and provide the Cowboys with the sort of offensive threat to which they are not accustomed, there are also a variety of players in this year’s draft who have similar traits.

The Cowboys figure to use Choice more in 2010, particularly in the Wildcat formation, which they ran 16 times in 2009.

RB/WR/Returner Dexter McCluster out of Ole Miss comes to mind first. We love his skill set so much that we labeled him as the Cowboys’ second round pick this year. Even players such as Cincinnati’s Mardy Gilyard who do not possess the versatility of McCluster are altering what a “prototypical” wide receiver looks like. It is no secret the Cowboys value big, strong pass-catchers, but expect the team to add at least one smaller play-making hybrid player before the start of the 2010 season.

3. The “Wildcat,” as one version of the spread, will flourish with better passers taking the snap.

In some ways, the Wildcat offense was already around when Michael Vick was in Atlanta. In that version of the offense, however, the snap-taker could throw the ball incredibly well. Before Ronnie Brown went down for the Dolphins, they had been running the Wildcat very effectively with a running back who has limited passing skills. Imagine the efficiency of that offense with a player who could throw the ball like Michael Vick.

The reason that the Wildcat can be so effective is because the offense can use an extra blocker with the snap-taker running the football. No quarterback is needed to hand the ball off. Offenses can also stay in base personnel if their regular passer is versatile enough to run. This will keep defenses off balance in both their personnel groupings and their play-calling. It is much less risky to blitz both cornerbacks with Ronnie Brown at “quarterback” than it would be to bring pressure with Vick taking the snap.

Pat White was the first player truly taken to be a Wildcat “QB,” and there are more of them coming. Of course, Tim Tebow is the ultimate spread offense, Wildcat-type college quarterback, and, consequently, the ultimate question mark for NFL general managers. The range of opinions regarding Tebow’s skills varies greatly, but any team that selects him will have to implement a Florida-like spread attack to be successful.

Michael Vick was truly the originator of the Wildcat. Dual-threat quarterbacks like him will become the norm in the future.

Only time will tell if these running quarterbacks and the Wildcat offense are just fads, but we believe that, once the NFL embraces all variations of the spread, both will have their place in the league.

Impact on Cowboys: The Cowboys tried their hand at the Wildcat a bit more in 2009, running a play out of the formation 16 times. All 16 plays were runs by Tashard Choice, five of them being inside the opponent’s 10-yard line. Jason Garrett was smart to implement the Wildcat in goal line situations because, with little room to throw the ball and defenses expecting run anyway, the Wildcat allows the offense an extra blocker.

Despite running the ball in many short-yardage situations with limited upside, the Cowboys were fairly successful with the formation, averaging 5.7 yards-per-carry. Expect both the number of Wildcat attempts and the average yards-per-attempt to increase next season with additional practice.

With such a talented quarterback at the helm, though, the Cowboys do not have as much need for the Wildcat as a team like the Dolphins. Still, if the teams continues to find success with it, there is no reason to stop.

4. In much the same way that teams have utilized two or three running backs, the majority of NFL teams will regularly use two quarterbacks.

There is no doubt that one of the main reasons against using a running quarterback in the NFL is economical. The majority of signal-callers get paid so much money that franchises are just too invested in one player to let him get injured.

To overcome this conundrum, NFL teams will begin to use two quarterbacks. One may be more of a passer than a runner, and the other vice versa, but both will be versatile enough so that the defense cannot predict the play call simply from the personnel. By having two, or even three, viable running quarterbacks, offenses can make any play call without hesitation, knowing that an injury to one player would not set the team back incredibly far, either economically or from a personnel standpoint. Traditionally, an injured quarterback basically means the end of all Super Bowl hopes for a team, but with the implementation of a two-quarterback system that the spread will invoke, this is not the case.

Furthermore, we will see teams use both quarterbacks on the field at the same time. This will allow teams to become more aggressive in their play-calling, using more throwbacks, reverses, and so on where these hybrid players can throw downfield.

Imagine the Dolphins Wildcat system, for example, with Tim Tebow taking the snap (instead of Ronnie Brown) and Michael Vick running across on the read (instead of Ricky Williams). There is no doubt that Brown and Williams are incredibly talented runners, but neither holds the passing ability to truly keep defenses honest. With two QB/RB players running that scheme, the options for an offense become seemingly endless just from one play. Tebow could keep it and run, keep it and pass, give it and have Vick run, give it and have Vick pass, give it and have Vick throwback, and so on.

Impact on Cowboys: This scenario is much further down the road than the other predictions. Still, just as Dallas transitioned from a one-running back offense to a three-headed rushing attack, the same sort of alteration will take place at quarterback. Instead of being worried about the season being flushed down the toilet with an injury to the star quarterback, the Cowboys will be able to let these playmakers run free without hesitation.

Jason Witten's ability to block is the primary reason for his pass-catching success.

Further, the money that will be saved by not dishing out tens of millions of dollars to a franchise quarterback can be used to stockpile talent at the other positions. Eventually, however, the value of these hybrid players will decrease and, like all NFL trends, the cycle will repeat itself.

5. The pure pass-catching tight end will die out and be replaced by a more versatile hybrid player.

As I explained before, tight ends are so valuable to an offense because of their versatility. Defenses must stay in base personnel to account for the tight end’s ability to block, creating mismatches on the tight end when he goes out in a route.

More and more, however, NFL teams are drafting tight ends who simply cannot block well. This allows defenses to substitute nickel personnel when the tight end is in the game, knowing that he will not be able to block well enough for his offense to sustain a viable rushing attack. The extra cornerback who is in the game can usually match up well with the tight end, who, although he has good receiving skills, is not as quick or talented as a pure wide receiver. Thus, the entire reason for using a tight end– to create a mismatch– is ruined.

Impact on Cowboys: In many ways, the Cowboys have already made this prediction a reality. All three of their tight ends, in addition to being viable receiving threats, are superb blockers. This ability to block is actually what leads to their success in the passing game. Does anyone truly believe Witten is a more talented receiver than, say, Sam Hurd? In terms of athleticism and quickness, it is not even close. Witten is much more effective than Hurd and almost all NFL pass-catchers, though, because his blocking ability allows him to attain matchups with linebackers who simply have no shot at covering him.

Although superb in man coverage, Terence Newman has the strength and versatility to convert to any defensive scheme.

6. True man coverage will all but disappear and more teams will run a 3-4 defense.

The reason for the disappearance of man coverage is two-fold. First, the NFL’s illegal contact rule has made man-to-man coverage nearly impossible. Even when teams appear to be in man coverage, the cornerback generally has safety help over the top.

Second, with the offenses transitioning to running quarterbacks, the risk of playing man coverage, or even 2-man under (man coverage underneath with two safeties deep), is just too great. With defenders’ backs turned to the quarterback, it will just become too easy for the quarterback to scramble. This man coverage-less defensive scheme was used against Michael Vick when he was quarterbacking Atlanta.

This will lead team’s to use a zone blitz for the majority of their pressures. More and more teams will convert to a 3-4 to allow more athleticism on the field for these zone schemes to work. Having a 350-pound defensive tackle drop into zone coverage may work once or twice a game because it can confuse a quarterback, but with the majority of blitzes becoming of the zone variety, defenses will need smaller, quicker players to combat how offenses will attack.

Impact on Cowboys: The transition to the 3-4 to combat spread attacks is obviously something Dallas has already completed. Eventually, this could even morph into a 3-3-5 (five defensive backs and three linebackers, as compared to four of each in a 3-4).

The Cowboys are one of the few teams left that plays a lot of man coverage, but they get away with it because of the talent they have in Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins. Further, Wade Phillips rarely dials up all-out blitzes, so the corners often have a safety or two back deep to help.

Eventually, if opposing teams acquire running quarterbacks, the Cowboys will have to ditch some of their man-to-man schemes. Right now, though, the abilities of Newman and Jenkins allow the Cowboys’ current system to flourish.

Conclusions

The Cowboys implementation of a 3-4 defense and Wildcat formation could be seen as changes caused by the popularity of the spread offense. As we stated, further alterations are inescapable. Some of these could include:

  • More Shotgun and less two tight end sets
  • Acquisition of a Reggie Bush/Dexter McCluster type hybrid player
  • More Wildcat, including the possible acquisition of a true quarterback to run the system
  • Utilization of more dime packages on defense (four cornerbacks, two linebackers)

These predictions are certainly very bold and definitely not immune to criticism. Feel free to leave feedback regarding anything with which you may agree, and anywhere you think we may have gone wrong.

By Jonathan Bales

News and Notes

Tashard Choice Mic’ed Up

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H_Qavmfl-Xk&feature=channel]

Note: Tomorrow we will be posting an interview with Cowboys’ LB Jason Williams.

By Jonathan Bales

Potential Cowboys Draft Picks: Trent Williams, OT, Oklahoma

Oklahoma OT Trent Williams is not the typical Cowboys' lineman.

Having just completed our Offensive Linemen Grades segment, it is apparent the Cowboys must make an upgrade at tackle (particularly left tackle). Despite being solid in the run game, we gave LT Flozell Adams a “C-” grade for the year. He was awful in pass protection, yielding nine sacks and a near league-high 42 quarterback pressures.

Right tackles Marc Colombo and Doug Free were a bit better, but both still received grades (B-) worse than all three interior linemen. Doug Free does provide a viable backup “swing tackle” option right now, but there are questions about how effective he would be as a starting left tackle.

Further, Adams is unlikely to be on the team after this season, so Dallas is in near-desperation mode to find his replacement. After their dismantling in Minnesota, the Cowboys may be more eager to ditch their mass requirement for offensive linemen to add a more athletic body who excels in pass protection.

Scouting Report

Trent Williams is an excellent athlete with a knack for protecting the quarterback. At 6’5”, 310 pounds, he is a bit smaller than the typical Cowboys lineman, but still within reach. Williams is very patient in his stance during pass protection, but sometimes he allows the defender to get into his body and he loses his leverage. Thus, Williams can sometimes struggle against bigger defensive ends who use a bull rush to overpower him.

You would like to see Williams be more aggressive at times in both pass protection and when run blocking. He can sometimes play a bit soft. Many people see Williams as a right tackle prospect only, but we disagree. 2009 was Williams’ first year at left tackle, and he played well enough to be a first round draft pick. With more experience, he should be a respectable left tackle who can be counted on in the NFL.

His inexperience at left tackle did show at times, as he misread blitzes and stunts. In fact, the play against BYU during which quarterback Sam Bradford injured his shoulder was the result of Williams misreading a defensive stunt and getting his QB killed. If the Cowboys think that Williams’ run blocking can improve, he may be an option in the first round. It would be a sign that the team is going a different direction concerning the characteristics of their linemen.

Projection

Williams is unlikely to drop to pick 27. He is probably not going to get passed San Francisco at pick 17. Dallas could make a move up to get a tackle, a decision we are currently advocating, but with so many other tackles available (Maryland’s Bruce Campbell and USC’s Charles Brown may still be on the board), it probably would not be a smart decision to move that far. If Williams slips into the 20′s, which is certainly a possibility, Dallas may have a tough decision on their hands.

Ultimately, though, we don’t see much difference between Trent Williams and Charles Brown. Brown should be available at less of a cost, so he is probably more on the Cowboys’ radar than Williams.