The DC Times

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

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A whole bunch of Cowboys analysis: Position Grades, 10 Things We’ve Learned

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For those who don’t know, I joined Bleacher Report in August and I’ll be writing daily for them throughout the season. I’ve been crazy busy with, um, fantasy football drafts, so I haven’t updated here in a few days. But check out some of my latest work, and as always, click the links for the full articles. . .

10 Things We Learned About Dallas in Preseason

Monte Kiffin’s Defense Is Working so Far

Kiffin was really brought into Dallas for one reason and one reason only: to generate more takeaways.

He’s actually in a really, really good position because the ‘Boys are pretty much guaranteed to force more than the 16 takeaways they had in 2012. That would likely happen even if Rob Ryan were still here just because they probably won’t get so unlucky.

But I also think Kiffin’s scheme is structured in a way that promotes turning over the ball.

The cornerbacks can usually keep their eyes on the quarterback, which is really important when you have playmakers like Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne on the outside. Kiffin’s one-gap scheme should allow for more pressure up the middle, leading to some easy picks for the Cowboys’ top-notch cornerbacks. Actually, I’ve shown that pressure is by far the most important factor in getting takeaways.

Cowboys Position Report Card

Running Backs
The key will be his health, but we don’t really have too much of a reason to label Murray as ‘injury prone’ yet. He’s been in the league just two years, so there’s a good chance that he’s just been unlucky with injuries thus far.I’ve already argued that Murray is going to have a big-time season.

Dunbar’s early-season status is up in the air, but he’s earned the No. 2 job. Even though he’s undersized, I really like Dunbar’s future. Historically, fast running backs have been far, far better options than those with even moderate speed.

Actually, straight-line speed is the best predictor of future success at the running back position.

Dunbar has it.

Unfortunately, fifth-round selection Joseph Randle does not. He clocked in at 4.63 at only 204 pounds, which really makes him a borderline NFL talent. The coaches reportedly like what they’ve seen from Randle, but I have my doubts that he’ll ever be an effective runner.

GRADE: B-

What’s New for Dallas?

A More Balanced Offense?

On the other side of the ball, head coach Jason Garrett will hand over play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Bill Callahan. Callahan will likely try to run a more balanced offense in order to take pressure off of Tony Romo. The theory might not pan out. Prior to the 2012 season, I wrote this:

Running the ball is strongly correlated with winning, so teams obviously need a powerful rushing attack to win games, right? Not really. Teams that are already winning rush the football to close out games, creating the illusion that running often is the impetus for team success. In reality, teams generally acquire the lead by throwing the football with great efficiency.

The Cowboys are no exception to the rule. Since 2008, they’ve won just 27.6 percent of their games when they pass on greater than 57 percent of their offensive plays. Wow, better keep it on the ground, right?

Before jumping to conclusions, soak this one in: That win rate miraculously jumps to 63.6 percent when the ’Boys pass on at least 57 percent of plays through the first three quarters, compared to only 41.9 percent when they pass on fewer than 57 percent of plays. The Cowboys are a passing team, built to win on the back of Romo and his arsenal of pass-catching weapons.

In general, the ‘Boys should be attacking defenses through the air early in games. The rushing game is important in short-yardage situations and late in contests, but early rushing success isn’t going to propel the team to victory too often.

Snubs, Surprises for 53-Man Roster

Magee was far and away my top “snub” for Dallas.

He quietly dominated the preseason, recording 20 tackles in just 102 snaps. He didn’t have the same big plays as DeVonte Holloman, but those types of things are relatively fluky. By that, I mean we can’t really tell much about a player from a handful of plays, one way or the other. The Cowboys should be looking for consistent production, which they got from Magee in the preseason.

Plus, you might recall that the ‘Boys reportedly had Magee higher than Holloman on their board. They chose Holloman because they figured they could sign Magee as an undrafted free agent, and they were right. So we know that Dallas really liked Magee from the start.

And now the team has placed Nate Livings on injured reserve and traded for veteran linebacker Edgar Jones. That seems like a bizarre move; why not just keep Magee from the start?

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