The DC Times

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

By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys 2010 Season Predictions: Six Lists of Five

  • Most Likely to Break Out in 2010

1.  Dez Bryant

Bryant’s got all the talent in the world.  He just needs to stay healthy.  His most immediate impact could come on punt returns.

2.  Victor Butler

Butler looked sensational in the preseason and his run defense is vastly improved.  He could see 250, maybe even 300 snaps this season.

3.  Jason Hatcher

A lot of people like Stephen Bowen over Hatcher, but Hatcher received the higher grade from me in 2009 and is more likely to break out this season because of his stout 4.40 percent quarterback pressure rate.

4.  Stephen Bowen

Bowen will get his opportunities too.  He’s Igor Olshansky’s primary backup, though, so he may not see the field much on first down.

5.  Doug Free

He’s looked pretty good in the preseason and, with such an elusive quarterback, he has a chance to keep his sack total down.

  • Most Likely to Be Gone in 2011 (Besides the Obvious)

1.  Marcus Spears

Spears is playing on a one-year tender and has two rising defensive ends on his heels for playing time.

2.  Marion Barber

If Barber continues to show a lack of burst through the regular season, Tashard Choice will take his place in 2011.

3.  Sam Hurd

Hurd may actually be gone before the start of this season.  There certainly won’t be room next year.

4.  Deon Anderson

If the Cowboys keep Chris Gronkowski, it likely means they are grooming him for the future.

5.  Roy Williams

If Williams’ contract wasn’t so hefty, he’d already be gone.  Releasing him will be easier next year if he produces little again in 2010.

  • Sleepers to Produce in 2010

1. Robert Brewster

I’d be willing to beat Marc Colombo won’t make it through the season unscathed, and Brewster is a more natural fit than Alex Barron on the right side.

2. Akwasi Owusu-Ansah

He’s already shown play-making ability on returns and I haven’t liked what I’ve seen from Alan Ball this preseason. ‘Kwasi is a cerebral player who won’t make mental errors.

3. Phil Costa

Like Brewster, Costa will probably be the primary backup to an aging player.  He’s earned the right to be the center (over Kyle Kosier) in the event that Andre Gurode goes down.

4. Cletis Gordon

He’s outplayed Orlando Scandrick of late and, while I didn’t believe it before, I now think there’s a shot that he eventually pushes for playing time in the slot.

5A. Josh Brent

He’s only got Junior Siavii to beat for the backup spot at nose tackle, and the ‘Boys would love to get Jay Ratliff more rest.

5B. Pat McQuistan

Just kidding.

  • Most Likely to Lead the Team in Penalties

1.  Jason Witten

Yes, believe it or not, Witten has always had a problem with false starts.  We ignore them because he’s so talented, but with Flozell Adams gone, Witten could lead the team.

2.  Andre Gurode

The way he got beat last week, he’ll need to hold defenders early and often.

3.  Marc Colombo

He had six last season in just 391 snaps–close to Flozell’s penalty rate.

4.  DeMarcus Ware

Ware jumps offsides sometimes (and even lines up there quite a bit) in an effort to get to the quarterback even quicker.

5.  Gerald Sensabaugh

With a plethora of Pro Bowl-caliber tight ends on the schedule (Dallas Clark, Owen Daniels, Greg Olsen, etc.), Sensabaugh has the potential to get beat and called for pass interference often this season.

  • Most Likely to Make the Pro Bowl

1. DeMarcus Ware

He’s as close to a sure thing as you’re going to get.

2. Tony Romo

His poor preseason play won’t carry into the regular season.  Trust me.

3. Jason Witten

He might see less targets this season, but the extra weapon outside (you know who) will open up even more room for Witten to roam in the middle.

4. Miles Austin

He’s be higher on the list but there’s so many talented wide receivers in the NFC.

5A. Anthony Spencer

He’s going to break out in a big way in 2010.  Don’t discount the possibility of 15 sacks.

5B. Mike Jenkins

His tackling needs to improve, but his play-making ability could result in a bunch of interceptions–meaning he’ll get the fan vote.

5C. Pat McQuistan

No, seriously.

  • Top Five Fantasy Players

1.  Tony Romo

If he stays healthy, he’ll throw for 4,000 yards and probably 30+ touchdowns.  The way the offensive line is playing, however, means staying healthy is a big question mark right now.

2.  Miles Austin

Go ahead and project Austin’s ’09 numbers over 16 starts.  Holy crap.

3.  Jason Witten

He may not be as valuable in PPR (point-per-reception) leagues this year, but I can guarantee he’ll catch more than two touchdowns.

4.  Felix Jones

He may not start, but he’ll receive the most touches among Cowboys running backs.  If Marion Barber loses his short-yardage duties (which should have already happened), Jones will be a steal.

5A.  Dez Bryant

Bryant simply has more upside than Roy Williams.  He’s certainly one to target in keeper leagues.

5B.  Pat McQuistan

If you’re in a league that rewards points for being ugly and missing a ton of blocks, you might want to trade up to the first pick for this guy.

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By Jonathan Bales

“22 in 22″ Day 17: The Speech

“22 in 22″ Day 17: The Speech

Note:  This is the 16th part of a 22-part series.  Click to view Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6, Day 7, Day 8, Day 9, Day 10, Day 11, Day 12, Day 13, Day 14, Day 15, or Day 16.

Before Emmitt even arrived in Canton, Ohio for the enshrinement ceremony, we participated in a conference call with the Hall of Famer.

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Emmitt Smith’s Hall of Fame Enshrinement speech was arguably as important a moment as any during his playing career.  It was heartfelt, emotional, and the product of hours of tireless ’behind-the-scenes’ work–just like his on-field play. 

Emmitt Smith Hall of Fame Speech Part I

“Time Warp 22″. . .Remember When?

December 12, 2007

Emmitt is selected as the Florida High School Sports Athletic Association Player of the Century.  Wow.  Quite the accomplishment for someone coming from one of the top high school sports states in the nation.

By Jonathan Bales

Stephen McGee, not Tony Romo, will start Thursday night

The Cowboys will not risk losing quarterback Tony Romo on Thursday night when they play Miami.  Romo will sit, while third-string quarterback Stephen McGee will get the start.

Sitting Romo is the smart move, in my opinion.  There isn’t much to be gained from starting him.  We all know he can play, and does it really matter if he goes into the regular season on a “high note”?  He’s a professional athlete.  He will recover from a poor preseason.  The risk, on the other hand, is through the roof.

Perhaps the Cowboys should exercise the same caution with Dez Bryant.  I’ve already discussed why it is a bad idea for Bryant to play.

For McGee, the start could mean he isn’t guaranteed a roster spot.  Everything adds up to this being McGee’s final audition.  If he plays poorly, I think he’s going to get released.  I still think the ‘Boys need to give Kitna more reps.

By Jonathan Bales

Sean Lee Out of Cowboys’ Nickel Package

Rookie inside linebacker Sean Lee is no longer in contention for nickel linebacker duties.  The Cowboys want Lee to focus on special teams, which is a nice way of saying that he didn’t do enough to win the job.

I wasn’t a big fan of Lee when the Cowboys drafted him back in April.  I love his work ethic and leadership, but I’m scared that he worked so hard throughout his career that he peaked in college.

Lee’s demotion is great news for a few players, the first of which is Jason Williams.  He’s got to be the favorite to win nickel linebacker duties now because, well, he’s really the only other player on the team with experience there.

Other options, according to Dallas Morning News, are Keith Brooking and, shockingly, safeties Danny McCray and Michael Hamlin.  Williams and McCray are supposed to get the most reps at nickel linebacker on Thursday.  A strong performance by McCray could solidify his roster spot.  Right now, he’s squarely on the bubble.

Hamlin doesn’t seem like a natural fit at the position.  He’s undersized and, from what he’s displayed this preseason, not really an upgrade over Jason Williams in coverage.

Actually, I’d rather see Barry Church be given an opportunity to win the job.  He’s been very impressive against the run this preseason, so he should be able to hold up physically.  Perhaps the fact that McCray is being given a shot at the job means Dallas prefers him over Church.

By Jonathan Bales

“Grading the ‘Boys”: Preseason Week Four, Cowboys vs. Chargers

Jonathan Bales

I’ve already posted initial post-game notes, “DOs and DON’Ts analysis,” film study observations, and what we learned from the Cowboys/Texans game.

Today, I will grade the players.  In my first three “Grading the ‘Boys” segments, I explained that it would be impossible for me to study every player as closely as I deem necessary for grading.  Instead, I watch a select group of players in great detail and report back to you on their performance.

Alan Ball: D

Didn’t look good in any aspect of the game; poor hips and awareness in coverage; got beat deep in Cover 1; missed a plethora of tackles

Alex Barron: C+

Looked over-matched in the run game; did decent in pass protection; better fit at left tackle

Robert Brewster: B-

The “bizarro” Alex Barron; did a solid job at left tackle but skill set better suited for right side

Travis Bright: B-

By far best game of preseason; still getting overpowered, but has shown improvement

Phil Costa: B

Eight Shotgun snaps with no errors; played much better than Gurode

Chris Gronkowski: C+

Gaining momentum from media, but I don’t see what they like; poor lead blocker whose pass-catching ability will make people think he’s better than he is


Andre Gurode: F

Worst game as a pro; two bad snaps; terrible stunt/twist recognition; unbalanced at times and beat with speed

Michael Hamlin: C-

Not making enough plays; looks tentative and afraid to make mistake

Bradie James: C

Good in pass coverage, but over-pursued on a number of occasions and got caught inside on others

Sean Lee: D

Blown backwards on most plays; long way to go as a run defender; not showing instincts

Akwasi Owusu-Ansah: B+

Really promising on returns; great decisiveness and explosion

Tony Romo: C-

Missed a few throws he normally makes; failed to score in three quarters

Orlando Scandrick: C-

Got beat by every receiver he covered; really improved in run support and tackling receivers after catch

Roy Williams: B-

Misread one Romo back-shoulder throw, but otherwise looked solid; appears to finally be playing with confidence

By Jonathan Bales

“22 in 22″ Day 16: The Heart of a Champion

“22 in 22″ Day 16: The Heart of a Champion

Note:  This is the 16th part of a 22-part series.  Click to view Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6, Day 7, Day 8, Day 9, Day 10, Day 11, Day 12, Day 13, Day 14, or Day 15.

Before Emmitt even arrived in Canton, Ohio for the enshrinement ceremony, we participated in a conference call with the Hall of Famer.

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This site is primarily about numbers.  I use statistics and math to represent sometimes complex phenomena in an effort to more solidly justify my arguments.  The numbers never lie.

Sometimes, though, there are times when the math just doesn’t do justice something.  Emmitt Smith had 18,355 career rushing yards, 164 rushing touchdowns, and is the only player in NFL history with 11 straight 1,000 yard seasons, though.  None of those accomplishments would have been possible, however, without the most important statistic of all:  1.  Emmitt was No. 1 in heart, determination, and perseverance.

“Time Warp 22″. . .Remember When?

September 19, 2005

On this day, Emmitt, along with Michael Irvin and Troy Aikman, was inducted into the Cowboys’ Ring of Honor.

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys vs. Texans Preseason Film Study Obervations


Jonathan Bales

I’ve already posted initial post-game notes, “DOs and DON’Ts analysis,” and what we learned from the Cowboys/Texans game. Now that I’ve finally had a chance to completely break down the film, here are my final observations.

Play-Calling/Formation Notes

  • I’ve never seen a team blitz as much in a preseason game as what I saw from Houston.  They were clearly trying to send a message to Dallas, and that idea is supported by the fact that they immediately stopped blitzing once Romo and the first-teamers left the game.  Check out the chart below.

  • It didn’t take long to notice the Texans weren’t running just basic plays against the Cowboys, and a 66.7 percent blitz rate is absurd.  Garrett attempted to counter the multitude of blitzes with screens–Dallas ran four (for 34 yards) after running just six combined in the first three games.
  • I talked about this before, but the Cowboys ran the same play five times from “Double Tight Left Twins Right Ace.”

As you can see, the inside tight end runs a five-yard hitch while the outside tight end runs a flat. The inside tight end (usually Martellus Bennett) is the first read on the play.

On the opposite side, the slot receiver runs a little hook, sitting down in a weak spot in the defense, while the outside (Z) receiver has an option route. Depending on coverage, he either runs a 15-yard dig or a fade. If he beats his man off of the line (as Roy Williams did on the second quarter pass on which Romo overthrew him), the quarterback can hit him deep. If the defense is in a “safe” coverage, such as cover 3 or 4, the receiver turns his route into a dig.

The running back runs a swing to the double-tight side of the formation.

This was the play on which Jon Kitna threw a 24-yard touchdown to Kevin Ogletree.

  • Romo called four audibles.  One was the aforementioned draw play on 3rd and 6, one was a three-yard run, one was an incomplete pass, and the last was the play where he tossed the ball to Felix Jones as Jones was expecting a handoff.  Romo’s reaction seemed to indicate that he audibled to a toss and Jones made a mental error.
  • After watching the Jacoby Jones touchdown numerous times, it is clear that both Orlando Scandrick and Alan Ball are to blame.  Scandrick got beat inside and had poor position while in man coverage, while Ball, who was in Cover 1, bit up because Matt Schaub rolled out.  Ball then had a difficult time turning his hips to get back to the middle of the field.  Unfortunately for Houston, I don’t think that play will fool the Cowboys again.

Player Notes

  • It is a big problem that Andre Gurode is struggling to recognize twists and stunts.  As the center, he makes the line calls, meaning that, outside of quarterback, he plays the most cerebral position on offense.  If he doesn’t know who to block, who will?
  • Having said that, it looked like Marion Barber may have been able to pick up the blitzing Texan who sacked Romo in the first quarter after Gurode missed him.  It’s very difficult to tell whose responsibility it was, though.
  • The Cowboys gave fullback Chris Gronkowski a big-time opportunity on Saturday night.  He was in with the first team by the fourth series.  He’s obviously a better pass-catcher than Deon Anderson, but I don’t think Dallas needs (or can even use) another weapon on offense.  He’s also been lackluster as a blocker.  The Cowboys released Scott Sicko today, though, boosting Gronkowski’s chances of making the team.
  • I originally thought Romo’s interception was his fault.  He did try to squeeze the ball into an awfully tight window, but the pass was actually on-target.  It bounced off of Jason Witten’s hands and ended up being picked off, but the throw itself was actually quite impressive.
  • Despite having many detractors, Jon Kitna has proven to me that he’s a capable backup quarterback.  Will he individually win you any games?  Unlikely, but he can hold down the fort in the event of a minor Romo injury.
  • I do wish the Cowboys would give Kitna more reps, though.  Yes he’s a veteran, but right now, he’s much more valuable to the team than Stephen McGee.  The Cowboys should put themselves in a position where an injury to Romo wouldn’t be entirely debilitating, and adequately preparing Kitna is part of that.

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By Jonathan Bales

McNabb out for season opener? Don’t count on it

A couple of days ago, Redskins coach Mike Shanahan hinted that new quarterback Donovan McNabb may not be ready for the team’s first game against the Cowboys.  McNabb has a sprained ankle and will at least be out for the rest of the preseason.

The most curious part of this development is that Shanahan is also sitting backup quarterback Rex Grossman in the Redskins’ final preseason game.  That move would seem to indicate that he is truly worried about McNabb’s health.

Don’t buy it.  Shanahan may not be as secretive and manipulative as Bill Belichick, but he’s been known to play some mind games of his own.  If the Cowboys don’t know who is going to start at quarterback for Washington until kickoff, it could affect their pre-game preparation.

Shanahan knows this and will likely milk this “injury” up until the night of September 12.  Is sitting Grossman a detriment to the Redskins?  Yes, a small one.  Is it as great as the potential gain the Redskins would acquire from having Dallas be forced to prepare for two quarterbacks?  Not even close, and Shanahan knows it.

But the Cowboys should simply disregard this information and prepare as usual for Washington–meaning they should assume McNabb will play.  If by some chance he doesn’t and the team hasn’t prepared for Grossman. . .so what?  It’s Rex Grossman.  He’s gross, man.

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys Release Three

The Cowboys have released safety Pat Watkins, tight end Scott Sicko, and wide receiver Terrell Hudgins in their first round of roster cuts.  The team needs to be down to 75 players by tomorrow.

Watkins release was inevitable.  With his injury history and young, promising rookies behind him (Owusu-Ansah, Hamlin, Church, and McCray), there simply wasn’t a spot for Watkins, even with his solid special teams play.

I also didn’t anticipate the release of Sicko, at least not so soon.  The Cowboys were able to coax Sicko into signing a free agent contract with the team, so they obviously liked something about him.  His play in the preseason was poor, though, and it’s probably never a good idea to save a roster spot for someone who may not be 100 percent committed to football.

With only DajLeon Farr and Martin Rucker sitting behind Jason Witten and Martellus Bennett, however, I thought Sicko would at least stick around for the last preseason game.  His ability to motion and transition into an F-Back type role is something Bennett can’t really do.

His release means the Cowboys might be willing to run less two-tight end sets in 2010.  This makes sense with the weapons they have at receiver. 

It is also good news for fullback Chris Gronkowski.  I still don’t think it is a good idea for the team to retain two fullbacks, but maybe they envision Gronkowski as more of a fullback/tight end hybrid who can fit into a role similar to that of John Phillips, circa 2009.

By Jonathan Bales

Dez Bryant to Play Thursday?

Last night, Dez Bryant tweeted that he will be “back in action Thursday night.”  A lot of fans are stoked about the possibility of finally seeing the rookie in action, but I’m not as excited.  High ankle sprains tend to linger, and although Dez is young and obviously a fast healer, I don’t see the reward in playing him.

Sure, you’d love to see your first-round pick get some live game action before the first regular season game, particularly for a player who hasn’t stepped on a football field (competitively) in about a year.  But to me the dilemma is a simple math problem:  is the risk of playing Bryant less than the potential reward? I simply can’t see how that could be the case.

What is the best thing that can happen if Bryant plays on Thursday night?  He goes off and shows everyone he is the real deal?  Well, we kind of already know that.  There isn’t much he can do against the Dolphins’ backups that is going to impress me more than what he’s done against the Cowboys’ starters.  You beat Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins deep in successive practices, and you’ve caught my eye.

The downside of letting Bryant play, even for a little, is gigantic.  What if he hurts the ankle (technically shin) even more?  Even a small setback would be a devastating blow, mentally, for a team that doesn’t appear to be very confident right now to start.

Further, it isn’t like Bryant is going to take it easy (nor should he), particularly against Miami–the team whose top dogs reportedly asked him if his mother is a prostitute.  Think he doesn’t want to get back at them?

Don’t give him the chance, Jerry. . .er, I mean Wade.  Sunday night, September 12 is a whole lot more important than the fifth preseason game.