Mailbag, 8/11/10: Marion Barber Still Starting, Red Zone Woes
Q: Why is Marion Barber still the starting running back? Felix Jones is clearly the better runner and gives the Cowboys a home run threat.
Allen Royster, Rochester, NY
A: Well, the starter is less important than the distribution of touches. I agree Jones should receive the highest percentage of carries this season, but Barber and Tashard Choice still have vital roles.
Don’t forget Barber played nearly all of last season with a hole in his quad, and before that he was leading the NFL in yards-per-carry. I actually think his pass-catching and protection abilities mean he should play more on third down.
Choice struggled a bit in the Hall of Fame Game, but he is an all-around good player. He doesn’t have the explosiveness of Jones, but he may very well be the Cowboys’ top short-yardage runner. I previously explained why the Cowboys should use Choice more in the Wildcat formation.
Don’t be surprised to see a split close to 40/40/20 this season. Although the Cowboys will likely use Barber in short-yardage and Choice in third downs, I would switch up those roles. Jones should receive 15 or so touches a game, and that can be done whether he starts or not.
I also saw an interesting stat today regarding Felix Jones: 29.8 percent of his career rushing yards have come on SIX carries! Not sure how that might influence your opinion of him starting, but it is at least noteworthy.
Q: Do you think Stephen Bowen will be the starting defensive end once Marcus Spears returns?
Mike Ringer, Dallas, TX
A: It is possible, but probably not. Coach Wade Phillips likes Bowen’s pass rush ability and considers him a better fit for right end. Teams typically put their strongest pass rushers on that side and their best run defenders on the left side of the defense because offenses are usually “right-handed”–they run slightly more to that side of the formation. Phillips considers Jason Hatcher a very strong run defender, so if someone pushes Spears out of the starting lineup, it will probably be him.
Q: What is with Jason Garrett’s red zone playcalling? The team is placing an emphasis on scoring touchdowns once they are there, but he keeps calling passes by the goal line.
Tyler Frederick, Los Angeles, CA
A: Remember that this was just one preseason game. It will take a multitude of games before we can decipher (with any statistical relevance) whether Garrett’s red zone playcalling has changed.
Here is ESPN analysts Mark Schlereth’s take on the Cowboys’ red zone issues:
There are a few problems with Schlereth’s reasoning here. First, the Cowboys ran a draw for a would-be touchdown on 1st and Goal from the five-yard line but Felix Jones fumbled the ball away (they got it back due to an offsides penalty).
Second, as I explained in my film study observations, the Cowboys actually had a run play called on the ensuing 1st and goal. Tony Romo made a signal to Roy Williams, checking out of the play and attempting a back shoulder fade (unsuccessfully).
The only play-call about which I have an issue is the 2nd and Goal call. The Cowboys again attempted a pass, but tight end Jason Witten was not in a route. In my proposal of how the Cowboys can fix their red zone woes, I explained why running the ball more inside the 10-yard line (and less outside the 10) and targeting Witten were two surefire ways to improve inside the opposition’s 20-yard line.
Q: What are your thoughts on Stephen McGee’s play in the Hall of Fame game? I thought he did well.
Krystal Gorgiano, Trenton, NJ
A: I was pleasantly surprised with McGee’s athleticism and arm strength. He was an option quarterback his first three years at Texas A&M, but he really scrambled better than I predicted.
He needs to work on his pocket awareness and hitting check downs. There were times when he panicked and jumped out of the pocket despite no immediate danger. He also missed a few open receivers underneath while staring down players running deep.
Overall, he made good decisions and performed pretty well. I gave him a “B+” for the game in my Preseason Week 1 Player Grades.
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