At NBC, I listed three players I would have kept in Big D:
LB Brandon Magee
Magee was among the NFL’s league leaders in preseason tackles, taking down the ball-carrier 20 times in just 102 snaps. That 19.6 percent tackle rate is remarkable, albeit in a limited sample; it was nearly twice that of Cowboys sixth-round rookie linebacker DeVonte Holloman. Magee didn’t make any splash plays like Holloman, but he was consistently around the football.
I’m so surprised that the Cowboys cut Magee because they decided to keep and trade for multiple veteran linebackers. There might be some uncertainty surrounding Magee, but that doesn’t make him risky. There’s a difference between those two traits—a difference it seems like the Cowboys still can’t recognize. Why not retain just one of Justin Durant and Ernie Sims, then pair Magee with Holloman as young outside backers with upside?
And three I would have cut:
S Danny McCray
McCray got some time with the starting defense last year because of injuries, and he looked exactly like we thought he’d look. McCray was picked on all year, getting targeted 42 times in only 658 snaps—a really high rate for a safety. He gave up a 71.4 percent completion rate, 12.2 YPA, and a 118.5 passer rating on those throws. Yikes.
My main issue with keeping McCray is that it was obviously done for special teams reasons. It’s popular to argue that special teams is “one-third of the game,” but it isn’t. It’s right around 10 percent of the game, and a highly volatile 10 percent at that. Special teams is obviously important, but the results are influenced more heavily by randomness than offensive or defensive play. In keeping a player around solely for special teams reasons, the Cowboys are just losing a spot for a young player who could potentially work his way into the starting lineup—where his play would really matter.
At NBC, I broke down the play of four players from last night’s game against the Texans:
QB Alex Tanney
A couple weeks ago, I published an article called Alex Tanney Isn’t the Answer for Cowboys. At that time, he was completing 55.6 percent of his passes for 5.6 YPA—well below the marks posted by Tony Romo and Matt Moore in their first preseasons. Playing against second and third-team defenses, young backup quarterbacks with promise are typically efficient, and Tanney hasn’t been.
On Thursday, Tanney completed 17 of his 31 passes (54.8 percent) for 177 yards (5.7 YPA), no touchdowns, and one interception. It’s basically a mirror image of the numbers we saw from Tanney to start the preseason. Although he’s reportedly showed talent in practice, Tanney shouldn’t make the 53-man roster.
And at Bleacher Report, I tackled 10 burning questions for Dallas this season:
Will the Cowboys Run More Play-Action Passes?
Last year, Tony Romo managed a 66.2 percent completion rate, 8.6 YPA and a 109.1 passer rating on play-action looks. Despite that, he attempted a play-action pass on just 10.0 percent of his dropbacks—the lowest rate in the NFL, by far, according to Pro Football Focus.
Actually, the difference between Romo and the next-lowest quarterback—Eli Manning—was larger than the gap between Manning and the next 11 quarterbacks.
The Cowboys likely limited their play-action looks because they couldn’t effectively run the ball, but there’s actually no correlation between rushing success and play-action efficiency. Five of the top 10 play-action passers in 2012 played on teams that ranked in the bottom 10 in the NFL in yards per carry.
Defenses tend to play situations, not pass-rushing efficiency, so the Cowboys should increase their play-action usage regardless of their running game.
At NBC, I posted a quick game preview for tonight:
RB Joseph Randle
Randle has averaged just 3.7 YPC through four preseason games. Some people on the Cowboys rave about the rookie, but I think he’s going to have a difficult time in the NFL. If he’s going to make it, Randle will need to become a dominant receiver and improve in pass protection. That’s really where he can make his mark, so let’s keep an eye out for Randle in the passing game.
DE George Selvie
Selvie has racked up three sacks this preseason, but he’s also been inconsistent at times. I think the defensive end with the 34.5-inch arms has a really good shot to stick, but he has to show more durability in the running game.
At NBC, I listed four underrated and four overrated performers for the Cowboys this preseason. Here’s one of the underrated players:
LB Brandon Magee
I talked about Magee in a previous article. Prior to the Bengals game, Magee was leading the entire NFL in tackles this preseason. He unfortunately suffered a setback with a concussion last week, but he was on fire with a tackle on 19.6 percent of his snaps through three games. In my opinion, he needs to make the roster, even ahead of veterans like Ernie Sims or Justin Durant. I’m not sure the Cowboys can sneak him onto the practice squad.
And one of the four overrated players:
S J.J. Wilcox
Wilcox is another young player that I really like, but he hasn’t really showed up much this preseason. He had a big interception in the end zone a few weeks ago, but he’s also missed two of the 12 tackles that he’s attempted. Wilcox has surrendered five catches on seven targets (71.4 percent) for 114 yards (16.3 YPA). To his credit, he has seemed to improve as the preseason rolls along. We all knew he’d take some time to develop with just one year of safety experience at Georgia Southern, but the idea that Wilcox is ready to start is wrong.
At NBC, I posted three things to keep an eye on tonight against the Bengals. Here’s one:
How will Doug Free stack up against the Cincinnati rushers?
I’ll have my eye on Free for the majority of the first half because I want to see if he’s truly a different player. The Bengals have two of the leagues most underrated pass-rushers in Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap. The latter defensive end lined up on the left side of the Bengals’ line on 92.4 percent of his snaps last year, so he’ll be the one that Free sees most. I think Free is going to struggle in a major way with the 6-6, 277-pound Dunlap, so it will be a great sign if he can hold up.
At NBC, I gave my thoughts on running back Kendial Lawrence:
Through three preseason games, Lawrence has totaled only 14 yards on five carries. One of those rushes was a seven-yard touchdown, meaning Lawrence had seven yards on the four other carries. He also has failed to record a reception. Playing only 16 snaps, there’s really not too much we can conclude from Lawrence’s preseason work.
So what do we know about Lawrence? Well, he’s just 5 feet 9 inches tall, 194-pounds, which is very comparable to Dunbar. That’s obviously not ideal, but Lawrence also has great speed. Actually, he’s probably slightly more explosive than Dunbar. Lawrence ran between 4.33 and 4.45 at his pro day. That’s a big range, but Lawrence’s 10-5 broad jump and 37-inch vertical suggest he has true explosiveness. He’s probably a high-4.3 or low 4.4 sort of running back, which is outstanding at any size.
The problem is that Lawrence wasn’t extremely productive at Missouri. Running back success is obviously largely dependent on the offensive line, but it’s still slightly concerning that Lawrence averaged just 5.0 YPC on 444 carries during his four-year career. He also caught only 10 passes per season and scored 21 total touchdowns.
At NBC, I broke down Brandon Magee’s impressive preseason:
Through three preseason games, Holloman has racked up eight tackles on 71 snaps—an 11.3 percent tackle rate. Six of Holloman’s tackles have been solo and two have been assists. Meanwhile, Magee leads all Cowboys players in both solo tackles (15) and assists (5). Actually, Magee has the most tackles of anyone in the NFL at this point, three more solo tackle than anyone in the league, and he ranks second in assists.
In accruing 20 tackles on 102 snaps, Magee’s 19.6 percent tackle rate is nearly double that of Holloman. Even more impressive, Magee hasn’t missed a single tackle, securing all 20 that he’s attempted. Meanwhile, Holloman has missed two of the 10 tackles that he’s attempted.
In coverage, Holloman obviously has the pair of huge interceptions. He’s also given up only four completions on nine attempts, allowing 24 yards (2.67 yards per attempt). When targeting Holloman, opposing quarterbacks have generated a passer rating of just 12.0. Magee has been good in his limited work as well. He’s been targeted only three times, giving up one completion for nine yards.
At NBC, I explained why I think the Cowboys should probably cut Alex Tanney:
Tanney was signed by the Kansas City Chiefs as an undrafted free agent in 2012, but he threw only one pass in the preseason. That means Tanney’s 2013 preseason action is all we really have to judge him against NFL-caliber competition. And against third-team defenses, Tanney hasn’t really been lighting it up like many seem to think.
Through three games, Tanney has completed 20 of his 36 passes (55.6 percent) for 202 yards (5.6 YPA), one touchdown, and one pick—good for a 69.4 passer rating. He’s also rushed four times for 17 yards, fumbling once. Obviously quarterbacks need time to develop, but we typically see signs of production from future starter-quality passers right out of the gate.
In Tony Romo’s first preseason action during the year he eventually became the starter, he completed 69.6 percent of his 92 attempts, averaging 9.1 YPA and totaling a 95.1 passer rating despite three interceptions to accompany his three touchdowns. Romo’s level of preseason play was far beyond that of Tanney; Romo averaged 62.5 percent more yards per throw.
We obviously can’t expect Tanney to perform up to Romo’s standards, but even Matt Moore—a talented quarterback who the Cowboys let go—was much better in the preseason. In his first four exhibition games, Moore completed 72.4 percent of his 29 attempts, averaged 6.3 YPA, and threw one touchdown to zero picks.
At NBC, I posted a few thoughts on the Cowboys’ loss:
– I like watching Barry Church play in the box. He doesn’t have elite measurables outside of the 4.17 short shuttle he ran, but that’s really quick at his size. You can see that quickness when he’s playing in short areas, where I think he belongs as a safety.
– I can’t tell you how bullish I am on DeMarco Murray this year. I’ve talked about why I usually don’t buy into the ‘injury prone’ label, and I’ve raised his projection twice already in the offseason.
– Orlando Scandrick has been the best player on defense this year, including both practices and games. I actually gave him my highest grade in 2012 because he had an extremely underrated season, allowing just a 51.3 percent completion rate, 5.72 YPA, and no touchdowns.
– I hope Lance Dunbar’s fumble doesn’t hurt him in becoming the No. 2 running back. He’s so much better than Joseph Randle it isn’t even funny.
– After George Selvie’s breakout against the Dolphins, I wrote an article explaining why I think he’s the real deal. One of the reasons is that he has massive 34.5-inch arms, which is really important for pass-rushers. He looked excellent again against Arizona, recording a sack and numerous pressures.
Here are some more.
At NBC, I broke down three players to watch for Dallas on Saturday:
RT Doug Free
Free was unimaginably bad in 2012. He allowed pressure on 6.2 percent of his snaps in pass protection, committed 13 penalties, and Cowboys running backs averaged only 2.58 YPC with him at the point-of-attack. If you remove DeMarco Murray’s 48-yard run in Week 1 on which Free didn’t do much of anything, the average drops to 1.99 YPC.
However, reports indicate that Free is playing really well in camp. He looked fine last week against the Raiders, and due to a lack of competition, he appears poised to hang onto the starting job. Let’s see if Free can maintain any sort of consistency against the Cardinals on Saturday.