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April, 2010 | The DC Times

The DC Times

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


Grading the ‘Boys, Part VIII: Defensive Line

We were going to analyze the film and statistics of the outside linebackers for this installation of “Grading the ‘Boys,” but the recent trade rumors surrounding Marcus Spears pushed us to do the defensive line instead.  We wanted to determine how effective Stephen Bowen and Jason Hatcher were in 2009, giving us a better sense of why Dallas may have been interested in unloading Spears.

Grading defensive linemen is difficult due to the variety of roles that each player can fill.  The statistics among players at other positions are generally comparable due to the equality of their on-field duties.  For example, whether the Cowboys have Alan Ball or Michael Hamlin in the game at free safety, their duties will likely be the same.

The rotation that is employed amongst defensive linemen, however, creates more situational roles for each player.  Defensive ends Igor Olshanksy and Marcus Spears, for example, are on the field a lot more during run downs than pass downs.  Thus, their statistics are not necessarily 100 percent compatible with those of Jason Hatcher and Stephen Bowen.

To combat this potential problem, we will weight each player’s overall grade to more properly reflect their personal contributions and duties.  The run and pass defense grades for both nose tackles (Jay Ratliff and Junior Siavii) will be weighted equally in determining their final grades.  For defensive ends Spears and Olshansky, it will be 3:2 run-to-pass, and for Hatcher and Bowen it will be 3:2 pass-to-run.

As always, the charts below display the best statistics within a particular group circled in blue, and the worst in red.


Nose Tackles

  • Jay Ratliff

Run Defense:  B+

We really don’t need statistics to tell us how dominant of a player Jay Ratliff can be on the football field.  Due to the nature of the position, nose tackles generally have a tough time racking up statistics.  Their primary goal is to eat up blocks and allow the linebackers to make plays.

Ratliff is so dominant, though, that he is able to overcome these limitations.  He is very “undersized” for a nose tackle, but uses his speed and athleticism to gain an advantage on blockers.  Pass-rushers gain glory through acquiring sacks, but Ratliff is just as solid against the run.

Pass Defense:  B+

As you can see, Ratliff’s sack rate of .82 percent was the highest of any Cowboys’ defensive lineman in 2009 (including the ends).  We know he would like to improve upon both that number and his total quarterback hits and pressures, but he is no longer an unknown commodity.  Opposing coordinators game-plan for him, meaning his statistics are even more impressive when you take into account the constant double-teams he faces.

Note:  If you are wondering why Ratliff didn’t receive an “A” in either category, it is because he committed eight penalties.  Expect that number to decrease in 2010.

  • Junior Siavii

Run Defense:  C+

Siavii’s snaps were certainly limited in 2009 (just 184 all season).  Still, he was able to tally 12 tackles, or one on 6.52 percent of all plays.  That is the best number of any Cowboys’ lineman, but it is important to remember that Siavii’s limited snaps mean he is always fresh and at full energy.

Pass Defense:  D

Siavii really struggled against the pass last season.  He was unable to record any sacks or quarterback hits, and just two quarterback pressures.  The Cowboys could really be in trouble if Jay Ratliff gets injured for a significant period of time.  The major drop-off from Ratliff to Siavii was probably a factor in the Cowboys drafting DE/DT Sean Lissemore.

Snaps: Spears-535, Bowen-478, Olshansky-648, Hatcher-386

Defensive Ends

  • Marcus Spears

Run Defense:  B

Soon after drafting Spears, it was apparent that his forte is stuffing the run.  His run defense is far superior to his pass-rushing ability, leaving some to label him as a ‘bust.’  It is the ability to stop the run, though, that allows guys like Demarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer to tee off on quarterbacks and rack up the sacks.

Spears’ tackle rate of 4.11 percent is solid, and he committed zero penalties all season.

Pass Defense:  C-

Spears is out of the game in a lot of pass-rushing situations, so we would expect his pass defense numbers to be a bit down.  Still, we would love to see him pressure the quarterback on more than 1.87 percent of all plays.

  • Stephen Bowen

Run Defense:  C

Before watching the film, we thought Bowen was more stout against the run than what we ended up seeing.  Bowen recorded just 13 tackles all year (only Hatcher’s tackle percentage was worse).

Pass Defense:  B-

Bowen’s pass-rushing skills surprised us.  His sack and quarterback hit percentages led all defensive ends, and he wasn’t far behind in quarterback pressures.  He is a better rusher than Spears–perhaps one of the reasons the Cowboys were interested in trading Spears.

  • Igor Olshansky

Run Defense:  A-

Olshansky was brought into Dallas to stop the run, and he did just that in 2009.  He quietly was one of the Cowboys’ better free agent acquisitions in recent years.  His 33 tackles are outstanding for a defensive end.  We can count on one hand the number of times Olshansky got beat at the point-of-attack, meaning he often paved the way for the linebackers to make plays (in addition to his own).

Pass Defense:  C-

There is no doubt that Olshansky is a run-stuffing specialist.  His .62 quarterback hit percentage was the worst among defensive ends.  Still, Olshansky isn’t on the field during passing situations, meaning whatever he lacks in pass-rushing skills he makes up for in his ability to stop the run.

  • Jason Hatcher

Run Defense:  C-

We were quite disappointed with Hatcher’s 2009 performance against the run.  Hatcher’s seven total tackles was worst among defensive ends and his 1.81 tackle percentage was by far the worst among all defensive linemen.  Hatcher is a talented player, so we would expect these numbers to improve in 2010.

Pass Defense:  B

We always say that quarterback pressures are more indicative of a pass-rusher’s success than sacks (as evidenced by Spencer’s long sack drought).  Hatcher recorded only one sack last season, but he led the entire defensive line in quarterback pressures and quarterback pressure percentage.  Simple regression to the mean tells us that if Hatcher gets 17 quarterback pressures again in 2010, he will undoubtedly acquire more than one sack.

Final Defensive Line Grades

1.  Jay Ratliff  B+ (87.0)

2.  Igor Olshansky B (85.0)

T3.  Jason Hatcher B- (80.2)

T3.  Marcus Spears B- (80.2)

5.  Stephen Bowen C+ (79.8)

6.  Junior Siavii C- (71.0)

Overall, the Cowboys’ defensive line is adequate but not stellar.  Nose tackle Jay Ratliff is an All-Pro player and nearly stoppable inside.  With the attention he draws, you would hope the results of the defensive ends would be a bit better than what we observe.

Having said that, it is important for people to realize that 3-4 defensive ends are never going to put up big numbers.  They are the offensive guards and centers of the defense–they are quite important, yet gain little respect.

The Cowboys addressed the defensive end spot in the seventh round with Sean Lissemore out of William & Mary.  He is a high-motor guy who members within the organization are describing as “Ratliff-like.”  If that is even close to being true, the Cowboys found a gem.

Lissemore should be able to contribute at all the defensive line spots.  He could eventually become the primary backup to Ratliff inside.

With Spears, Bowen, and Hatcher all restricted free agents, expect defensive end to top the Cowboys’ list of needs for the 2011 draft.


Felix Jones Already Cowboys’ Starting RB

Chris Mortensen is reporting that Felix Jones has already moved to #1 on the Cowboys’ depth chart for this weekend’s mini-camp.  The move isn’t as surprising as the timing.  We knew Jones would ultimately snatch the starting gig, but we didn’t think it would come this quickly.

Nonetheless, it is a good sign.  The Cowboys have been known to let veteran players keep their jobs perhaps a little too long in recent years.  This move, along with the releases of Flozell Adams and Ken Hamlin, show that the Cowboys are committed to starting the player they deem the best at each position–regardless of his tenure.

Of course, running backs are rotated in such a way that whoever starts is almost irrelevant.  What matters is carry distribution.

In 2009, Marion Barber received 54.3 percent of the regular season carries among running backs.  Jones garnered 29.5 percent, while Choice checked in with the remaining 16.2 percent.

So how will offensive coordinator Jason Garrett distribute the carries in 2010?  In our “Grading the ‘Boys: Running Backs” segment (a good read, by the way), we proposed the Cowboys spread out the touches this season as follows:

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

In that article, we said:

“Some may argue that we have given 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 out games. 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.”

The numbers we gathered in that study support our proposed role for each Dallas’ running back.  It will be interesting to see how Garrett utilizes each player come September.


Dallas Cowboys Film Study: Short-Yardage Plays

I was just digging through our film database from last season and decided to take a quick look at the Cowboys’ short-yardage running in 2009.  I analyzed plays in which the Cowboys had one or two yards to go to obtain a first down.

For this particular study, I purposely ignored goal line plays due to their limited upside and the “all-or-nothing” approaches defenses tend to take when defending them.  A 2nd and goal play from the 1-yard line is much different than, say, a 2nd and 1 play from midfield.

According to our database, the Cowboys ran 31 plays with one yard to go for a first down, and 35 plays with two yards to go.  Of the 31 plays with one yard to go, 27 (87.1 percent) were runs.  This may be slightly high (particularly because 10 of those plays were on 2nd down), but still not much about which we can complain.

However, of the 35 plays the Cowboys ran with two yards left for a first down, only 16 were runs.  Over half of these 35 plays (18) were on 2nd down, a down when teams are basically free to run either a run or a pass.  We are not saying that running the ball on just 16 of these 35 short-yardage plays is too low.  We are simply pointing out that this particular ‘distance-to-go’ is one in which offensive coordinator Jason Garrett seemed to like to take shots downfield, or at least try to catch the defense off-guard with a pass.

When the Cowboys did run the ball in short-yardage situations, they were quite balanced in terms of the play direction.  Of the 27 runs with one yard to go, 14 were to the left side and 13 were to the right side (each side includes runs that were just to the left or right of center Andre Gurode).  Of the 16 runs with two yards to go, seven were to the left and nine were to the right.

The lineman the Cowboys enjoy running behind most should come as no shock–big Leonard Davis.  They utilized his size and strength on 24 of the 66 total short-yardage runs.

The Cowboys also ran short-yardage plays out of a variety of formations.  Below is a list of each one, along with the number of times they were utilized.

  • Gun Tight End Spread (20)
  • Double Tight Right (or Left) Strong Right (or Left) (19)
  • Gun Trips Left (7)
  • Double Tight I (6)
  • Wildcat (4)
  • Strong Right (3)
  • Gun Tight End Trips Right Empty (2)
  • Weak Left (2)
  • Twins Right Strong Right (1)
  • Gun Double Tight Ace (1)
  • I Right (1)

As you can see, the Cowboys ran short-yardage plays out of 11 formations, but the majority of them came out of just four.  Further, the two shotgun (Gun) formations are very similar, while the two “Double Tight” formations are nearly identical.  Thus, the Cowboys ran 52 of their 66 short-yardage plays (78.8 percent) out of basically two formations.

Diagrams of “Gun Tight End Spread” and “Double Tight Right Strong Right” are pictured below.

You can see that these two formations are very different.  “Gun Tight End Spread” is utilized by the Cowboys in both short and long-yardage situations and employs Tony Romo in the shotgun and a “spread-it-out” approach.  The goal of “Double Tight Right Strong Right,” however, is to load as many blockers into as small an area as possible.

Neither approach can be considered the “right one.”  In fact, game theory dictates that, should the two formations be comparable in terms of effectiveness, teams should utilize them equally.  The Cowboys certainly used their Shotgun and Double Tight formations nearly equally in short-yardage situations in 2010 (27 to 25), but were they equally effective?

The answer is no.  As the chart to the left shows, the Cowboys gained a lot more yards-per-play in short-yardage situations out of the aforementioned Shotgun formations as opposed to the Double Tight ones.  In fact, the Cowboys gained over 2.3 yards more per play out of “Gun Tight End Spread” and “Gun Trips Left.”

So with such a large disparity, it is obvious that running short-yardage plays out of Shotgun formations is preferable to doing so out of Double Tight formations, right?

Not so fast.  Yards-per-play is certainly important, but it can often be very misleading.  A collection of 11 runs for 99 yards yields an impressive 9.0 yards-per-carry average.  However, if one of those 11 runs went for all 99 yards, the offense basically failed on 10 out of 11 plays.  Thus, an average is only significant in the absence of large outliers.  The 99-yard run is just that–an outlier–and significantly skews the overall yards-per-carry.

In the case of the Cowboys’ 2009 short-yardage plays, the existence of outliers makes the initial appearance not necessarily reflect reality.  There were six short-yardage plays run out of Shotgun that went for 10 or more yards, compared to just one from the Double Tight formation.

While you always want to maximize your opportunity for big plays, this is only beneficial to an offense if it does not significantly affect your percentage of negative plays.  However, of the 27 short-yardage plays run out of Shotgun, just 15 (55.6 percent) went for a first down.  In comparison, the Cowboys were successful in obtaining a first down on 20 of 25 (80.0 percent) Double Tight short-yardage plays, despite averaging just 3.40 yards-per-play.

Finally, it is worth noting that the effectiveness of plays run out of Double Tight Right Strong Right was limited by the lack of diverse plays out of the formation.  In our study on Double Tight Right Strong Right, we noticed the Cowboys ran a strong side dive out of the formation 83/116 times (71.6%), including an incredible 42/49 times (85.7%) when motioning into it.  The average yards-per-carry steadily decreased on these plays as the season progressed, showing that our short-yardage statistics are not immune to being altered by outside factors.


So, does the increased upside of Shotgun short-yardage plays negate the Cowboys’ lack of consistency when implementing the formation?

It is tough to say, but we do know that the statistics can (and should) be utilized to effectively alter short-yardage play-calling.  Specifically, the Cowboys could maximize their effectiveness by implementing a higher rate of Shotgun plays on 2nd and 1 and 2 to take advantage of the higher yards-per-play and increased upside the formation yields.

On 3rd and 1 and 2–situations when the team really needs to do everything possible to get a first down–employing the Double Tight formation would be smart.  This combination and timing of the two formations would allow the Cowboys to reap the beneficial characteristics of each while also limiting the harmful traits.

Interestingly, Dallas actually did not implement this strategy often in 2009.  Of the 27 short-yardage Shotgun plays, 17 (63.0 percent) were run on 3rd down.  In comparison, just 12 of the 25 Double Tight plays were run on 3rd down (48.0 percent).

Football is a game of risk/reward.  Perhaps the misuse of risk/reward in formation selection was a major reason for the Cowboys’ poor short-yardage success in 2009.


Mailbag: 4/29/10 (Darren Sharper, Dez Bryant, Sean Lee)

Q:  Are the Cowboys going to sign a free agent safety?  Why not Darren Sharper?  He would be better than Alan Ball and Michael Hamlin.

Gary Thomas, Ft. Worth, Texas

A: Despite reports yesterday that the Cowboys were eyeing Sharper, the team does not appear to have interest in the veteran safety at this time.  Don’t forget, Sharper is 34 and coming off surgery.  Further, the turnovers he forces are negated by the big plays he yields.

We still expect the Cowboys to sign a free agent FS, though.  Rams safety O.J. Atogwe seems like a better fit in Dallas than Sharper because he is younger (28) and still possesses the ball-hawking ability for which the Cowboys are searching (15 interceptions in the last three seasons).

We are even projecting Atogwe to be on the Cowboys’ final roster.

Q:  What kind of impact can we expect for Dez Bryant in his first season?  When do you think he will take over as a starter?

Amy Regal, Trenton, NJ

A: Some think Bryant will start very early in his rookie season, but we aren’t as convinced.  Roy Williams will be given an opportunity to retain his starting gig.  Perhaps we are being naive, but we think Williams will play much better in 2010.

Having said that, Bryant will certainly take over should Williams continue to struggle.  Our final stat prediction for Bryant: 45 catches, 650 yards, 4 TD.  Probably not the eye-popping numbers for which you may have been hoping.

Q:  Nice interview with Jay Ratliff.  It is obvious that filling the team with high-character guys like him is the reason for the success in 2009.  Do you think this was a factor in the team’s draft this season?

Steven Gomez, Tucson, AZ

A: Thanks for reading the Jay Ratliff interview, Steven.  Jay is certainly a stand-up individual and a huge reason for the team’s success.

We do think the Cowboys have shifted their mindset on personnel in the last year or so.  They want not only high-character players, but also guys who stay a bit more low-key (thus the release of T.O., Tank Johnson, Pacman Jones).

Now you may be screaming “But what about Dez Bryant!?”  However, Bryant isn’t a trouble-maker and he doesn’t have a flamboyant personality.  One look at any of his interviews since becoming a Cowboy shows he is humble and even nervous in front of the camera.  With the pieces the Cowboys already have in place around Bryant, there is no doubt he will constantly observe the “right way” to do things.

The other five Cowboys’ 2010 draft picks all seem to be extremely smart and self-motivated.  Lee, Owusu-Ansah, Young, Wall, and Lissemore all impressed us with their intelligence and enthusiasm.  The organization has really done a nice job of securing players like this who are not only talented now, but will work their hardest to become even better in the future.

Q:  Don’t you think the Cowboys should be worried about Sean Lee’s injury history?  I don’t see why they would trade up for a player who tore his knee a year ago.

Mark Rosenberg, New York, New York

A: The torn knee was a bit more than a year ago, but you are right that teams should be concerned over injuries.  The key is to determine if the injuries will affect future play or if they are not at all causally related to a player’s current condition.

Obviously teams had worries about Lee’s injury because he slid to the second round.  We have talked with multiple scouts who claim Lee is a first round talent.  The Cowboys obviously rated him as such on their big board.

A lot of times you can obtain incredible value from a player sliding due to his injury history.  The Cowboys feel they have done just that with Lee, so his selection makes sense from a value standpoint (assuming he checked out medically).

Now, whether or not they should have traded up for him is a completely different issue.


Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys: Behind the Scenes



Cowboys Film Study: 3rd Down Play-Calling

Note: This is a two-page entry.

Perhaps our favorite statistical analysis of 2010 was the study we conducted on the Cowboys’ 2nd down play-calling in 2009.  We discovered that offensive coordinator Jason Garrett was extremely predictable in his play-calling on 2nd down–so much so that he was 2.95 times more likely to run on 2nd down after a 1st down pass than after a 1st down run, even when the distance-to-go was identical.

In that particular analysis, it is important to note we are not criticizing the team’s run/pass ratio in general.  Garrett could dial up a pass on 2nd down 95 percent of the time and we would have no qualms–as long as that percentage remains stable in similar situations whether the previous play was a run or a pass.

Unfortunately, that stability is not apparent.  We concluded this was the result of Garrett attempting to “mix it up.”  Human beings naturally tend to think the next item in a random sequence will be different from the previous one.  This is not the case, however, meaning Garrett’s attempt to “mix it up” with his play-calling has (quite ironically) led to his predictability.

The strength of correlation between Garrett’s 1st and 2nd down play-calls led us to question the relationship between his 2nd and 3rd down play-calls.  Before delving into the results, it is important to note that these relationships (that between 1st and 2nd down play-calls and that between 2nd and 3rd down play-calls) are not identical.  Plays on 1st down are (almost) all run in the same situation–1st and 10.  2nd down play-calls, however, are more closely linked to the ‘distance-to-go’ due to the varying nature of this distance on 2nd down.

For example, 2nd and 1 plays are likely to be the result of a 1st down pass–a nine yard gain is more likely from a pass than a run.  On 3rd and 1, however, the previous play is more of a mystery.  The chances of the preceding play having been a run are probably just as likely as it having been a pass.

Nonetheless, we can still draw meaningful conclusions from our film study-derived results.  Those findings are below.

The first thing we notice is that the discrepancy between 3rd down passes after a run and those after a pass is nowhere near as great as those on 2nd down (shown below).  For example, while the rate of passes on 2nd and 3 to 7 was 2.95 times as high after a 1st down run as opposed to a 1st down pass, the largest discrepancy between 3rd down play-calling occurred on 3rd and 1 to 2, when the Cowboys were 1.75 times as likely to pass after a 2nd down pass as opposed to a run.

2nd down run rate is directly related to 2nd down pass rate, as the pass percentage is simply (100-run percentage).

Another interesting characteristic of Garrett’s 3rd down play-calling is that the relationship between passes after a 2nd down run and those after a 2nd down pass is positively correlated, i.e. as one increases, so does the other.  This occurs in each distance-to-go subset of 3rd down plays and is in direct opposition to the negative correlation displayed in the ‘2nd and 3 to 7’ subset of 2nd down play-calls.

A final intriguing note is that, while the type of play (run or pass) that Garrett dialed up on 2nd down was in opposition to his 1st down call, his 3rd down play-calls were more likely to be the same as those on 2nd down.  Put simply, the Cowboys were actually more likely to pass on 3rd down after a 2nd down pass than after a 2nd down run.

All of that is basically a complicated way of saying Garrett was much less predictable in his play-calling on 3rd down than on 2nd down.  Still, he wasn’t perfect.  Like we said, he was 1.75 times as likely to pass on 3rd and 1 to 2 after a 2nd down pass as opposed to a 2nd down run.  The situation is identical, so a perfect play-caller would have an identical pass rate regardless of the call on the previous play.  We by no means expect Garrett to be perfect, but we would certainly hope for a more closely linked relationship.

Click Page “2” to read the rest of this analysis.


Cowboys News and Notes: Darren Sharper Could Be Visiting Dallas

We argued that Crayton’s ability in the slot would override the Cowboys’ acquisition of two new returners in the decision to keep or release him.

A lot of fans will be excited about this, but we aren’t thrilled.  Sharper made a lot of plays last season, but he is a gambler who has also consistently yielded big chunks of yardage throughout his career.  We will watch more film on him, but we don’t think he is an upgrade over Alan Ball at this time.

We are planning on doing something similar once we finish our 2009 grades.  Interestingly, Watkins has Dez Bryant already listed as the Cowboys’ 10th-best player.

Reliving the Dez Bryant selection

The 3-4 defense is certainly becoming “in vogue” in the NFL, meaning offenses will soon adapt to it.  The defenses which can best adjust to these offensive adaptations will be the most successful.

Sicko is a longshot to make the roster anyway, but we personally don’t think he will succeed in the NFL.  Granted, we know literally nothing about his skill set (at least we are honest), but players who thrive at the highest level are generally those who love the game.


Cowboys’ Wide Receiver Situation: A Closer Look

Earlier today we posted our Dallas Cowboys 2010 projected depth chart.  We are predicting that, barring a trade, the ‘Boys will keep six wide receivers on the roster. Since neither Patrick Crayton nor Sam Hurd were dealt on draft day, it is unlikely another team is going to yield a draft pick for them.

But will one of the Cowboys’ pass-catchers be released?  NFL Network recently took a look at the situation:

If a Cowboys’ wide receiver is cut, it will almost certainly be either Crayton or Hurd. Obviously Miles Austin and Dez Bryant are locks to make the roster.  It won’t make many fans happy, but Roy Williams isn’t going anywhere either.  We can also throw Kevin Ogletree in that group, as his play in 2009 justifies his stay (particularly at such a young age).

While Crayton and Hurd were on the trade block, both still have valuable roles in Dallas.  Crayton may have lost his return duties, but he is still the team’s only true slot receiver. He doesn’t do anything extraordinary, but he is a reliable player who goes over the middle and rarely drops balls.  The #1 reason he would be released is financial–he is certainly getting paid more than a #4 WR should make.  Still, Austin, Bryant, Williams, and Ogletree are big, physical receivers who aren’t necessarily well-suited for slot duties.

Hurd’s main role on the Cowboys is on special teams. He is arguably the team’s best player in that area.  Don’t think for a second the Cowboys don’t value his contributions in the oft-overlooked third phase of the game.

If the Cowboys do release a wide receiver, we expect Hurd to be the one to leave. However, the Cowboys are in a position to truly keep the best (or near the best) 53 players.  Is Hurd really on the fringe with players like Curtis Johnson, Marcus Dixon, and Travis Bright?  We don’t think so.

Ironically, the Cowboys’ wide receiver situation may be linked to the foot of kicker David Buehler.  If Buehler can win all kicking duties and save a roster position, Dallas may be able to afford the luxury of keeping six wide receivers.  If Buehler struggles, the most likely roster spot to suffer would be the sixth receiver spot.


Trading Up For Dez Bryant and Sean Lee: A Numbers Game

Posted by Justin Shoemaker

A few weeks ago, I mentioned how the Cowboys should trade up in the first round to secure the player they coveted most (should he drop).  At the time, everybody and their brother thought that player would be an offensive lineman.

As it turned out, the Cowboys did move up to get “their guy,” but it was (a bit shockingly) Dez Bryant.  Still, Dallas made the correct move.  According to their big board, Bryant was ranked either 11th or 12th (despite Jerry’s declarations that he was in the top 10).

Prospect rankings can be considered exponential in nature (as evidenced by the current rookie pay scale), such that the #4 overall selection can be thought of as twice as valuable as the #8 overall selection, and so on.  Thus, securing your #12-ranked player in the 24th slot is equivalent to drafting a player with a third round grade in the sixth round.  In short, the value is tremendous.

Bryant’s one-year layoff from the game surely contributed to his drop.  He is a dynamic player with top five ability.  Not only can Bryant add a new dimension to the receiver corps (which, contrary to popular opinion, was already one of the best in the NFC), but he can also bring that much-needed flare to the return game.  As we noted before, his return skills made him one of the best values in the draft.  The selections of Bryant and Akwasi Owusu-Ansah prove the Cowboys placed as much emphasis on upgrading the return game as we did.

Ultimately, trading up for Bryant (and Sean Lee) really showed us a lot about the Cowboys.  They could have sat back and grabbed players such as Boise State CB Kyle Wilson or Penn State’s Jared Odrick (they certainly seemed to be infatuated with Penn State prospects this year) in the first round.  However, when push come to shove, the Cowboys knew that the selections of Bryant and Lee not only held tremendous value, but they could also help them win right now.  They didn’t waste any time pulling the trigger.

Trading up in the draft is all about obtaining value–the numbers have to work out in your favor.

Here are some of those numbers to chew on:  The Cowboys had no trouble moving the football last season (2nd in total yards), but some major issues scoring (14th in points).    Dez Bryant scored 29 touchdowns in 28 collegiate games.

You do the math.


The Epitome of Professional: Q&A With Cowboys NT Jay Ratliff

Want a chance to see the Cowboys play and meet Mr. Ratliff in person?  Simply visit Jay’s site for details.
In our article on Clemson (and now Philadelphia Eagle) defensive end Ricky Sapp, we talked about how being “boring” can be a good thing for a football player.  Demarcus Ware, Jason Witten, and Terence Newman are all “boring” players.  Of course, we aren’t talking about ‘boring’ as in uninteresting, but as determined, methodical, and professional.

If we use the latter descriptions as our definition of ‘boring,’ then we can surely add Cowboys’ stud nose tackle Jay Ratliff to the list.  Since being selected in the seventh round of the 2005 NFL Draft, no one has outworked Jay.  He has used his low draft stock as motivation to succeed, becoming perhaps the league’s most devastating nose tackle in the process.

As the self-described “shyest player on the team,” Jay is anything but timid on the football field.  His aggressiveness is the result of his professionalism–the hard work and dedication he exhibits during the week allow his athleticism to take over on Sundays.  On game day, “Rat” is a beast.

Off the field, however, the personality of the league’s most athletic defensive tackle might surprise you.  We often hear news of players’ wrongdoings, but it is men like Jay–caring, intelligent, and professional–who make the NFL (and the Dallas Cowboys) what it is today.

Jay likes to spend time with his daughters–they enjoy dancing and having tea time, of course.  Having trouble imagining a man who is so aggressive on the football field sitting down for tea time?  You aren’t the only one, but there is more to Jay Ratliff than meets the eye.

In a day and age where knowing the intimate details of a player’s life is the norm, Jay is the exception.  We spoke with Mr. Ratliff to try to uncover a little more about the most mysterious man on the Dallas Cowboys.

Q: How is your offseason going?  What sorts of things are you doing in terms of working out?

A: Well I had surgery this offseason on both of my elbows but I’m fine. I’ll be doing a lot of rehab work to strengthen them.  I had to get the surgery because they caused me so much pain.  It was something I really should have done about three years ago.

Q: Did you gain any motivation from being selected in the last round of the draft?

A: Yes I did.  As a matter of fact, it still fuels me today.

Q: What was the first thing you purchased after signing your five-year contract extension in 2007?

A: The first thing I bought was a house.  I had rented up until then because I wanted to be sure that I would be here.

Q: As a 3-4 nose tackle, you are considered “undersized” at 303 pounds.  Do you feel your low playing weight allows you to maintain your quickness?

A: Yes it does, but I feel like technique is far more important than speed and strength.

Q: What aspects of playing defensive tackle do you enjoy?  What are some perks to moving outside to end?

A: I enjoy being in the middle of everything at nose.  The game is much faster and more violent.  At defensive end it is the complete opposite.  One perk (at defensive end) is it is less wear and tear on the body.

Q: Do you feel the addition of another capable defensive tackle might allow you to move to defensive end in certain situations?  Is this something you would be eager to do?

A: I feel that Junior Savaii is more than capable of playing the position.  He is a great friend and athlete.  As far as me moving, I would if I had to but I wouldn’t say I’m “eager.”

Q: The season obviously did not end as you would have hoped.  What do you believe is the most important aspect of your own game that you must work on to improve upon last year’s results, and the most important thing the team must do as a whole?

A: Good question.  Great question.  There are plenty of things I can get better at.  I think of myself as a “pup.”  I’m constantly learning and trying to get better.  I think the main thing is that I’ll be healthy next year.  As a team, well we have to do just that–be a team.  We also have to be focused and not get caught up in all the hype that surrounds the Super Bowl being played in Dallas.

Q: Do you feel Twitter provides an avenue through which you can connect directly with fans?

A: Yes I do.  I’m also on Facebook as well.

Q: Who is the funniest player on the team?  Smartest?  Shyest?

A: Funniest: Tashard Choice.  Smartest: Stephen McGee.  Shyest: Barber or myself.

Q: Could you beat Tony Romo in a race?

A: Of course I can! (laughs)

Q: What are your goals for the 2010 season?  Do you set an individual goal, such as a sack number, in addition to your team goals?

A: I do set goals but I keep them quiet until I accomplish them.  I will make sure to get back to you once that happens.

Q: Do you have any pregame rituals?

A: Yes, I like to listen to reggae or classical music.  Before kickoff I pace back and forth and talk to myself and pray.

Q: Other than football, what else do you enjoy doing?

A: I enjoy spending time with my daughters.  We go to amusement and water parks.  Their favorite thing is having tea time and dancing.

With an unmatched dedication and drive, it is impossible for Jay Ratliff to do anything but succeed.  He is a warrior.  He is a champion.  Most importantly, he is a professional.