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Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins, Week 1: Initial Post-Game Notes



Play-Calling

  • This will sound ridiculous, but other than two or three plays, I loved Jason Garrett’s play-calling.  He actually did a tremendous job of being unpredictable, but it just didn’t work out. . .this time.  If he continues to call plays in this manner, the Cowboys will be successful on offense.  Trust me.
  • The play-calling out of “Double Tight Strong” was tremendous.  Remember how the Cowboys ran a strong side dive out of the formation nearly three-fourths of all plays last year?  Well last night, they ran a toss, a counter, and my personal favorite. . .a strong side dive which turned into a halfback pass.  It didn’t work out, but that was simply because Washington was in the right defense for it.  That sort of innovative play-calling from Garrett is new and will help the Cowboys win an extra game or two this season.
  • The most obvious exception to Garrett’s success, and the primary reason the Cowboys deserved to lose the football game, was the decision to pass the ball with four seconds left before halftime.  Play-calling is all about risk/reward, and the possible reward in that situation was almost nothing.  It is a shame Garrett’s improvements the rest of the night were wiped away by one dumb decision.
  • The Cowboys need to stop throwing so many smoke screens.  Last night, they threw them against what appeared to be man coverage, when the cornerback was too close to the wide receiver for them to be successful.

Offense

  • You have to at least be somewhat excited about Tony Romo’s ability to bring the troops back down the field and in a position to win the game with about a minute to go in the game.  He didn’t play his best last night, but he was at his best when the Cowboys most needed it.
  • Who thought the rookie from Oklahoma State would be the Cowboys’ most-targeted receiver last night?  He did some good things, but he also appeared to miss a few hot reads.  That will come with time.
  • It is great to get Bryant involved, but if it comes at the cost of not throwing to Jason Witten, then the Cowboys might have a problem.  He had some favorable match-ups last night, but the Cowboys went other directions.
  • Can we agree Miles Austin is the real deal?  He is a running back playing receiver–and a Pro Bowl-caliber one at that.
  • It has to be said. . .Alex Barron was awful.  We all know it, so I won’t go into detail until I break down the tape.  If you feel bad right now though, imagine how he feels.
  • Tashard Choice’s first career fumble came at the worst possible time.  Still, I blame the coaches more for that play than Choice, even though he should have known to simply go down.
  • The Cowboys used undrafted rookie fullback Chris Gronkowski quite a lot.  He looked good on his lone carry, but Dallas needs to be careful with the play-calling when he’s in the game.  His presence could tip the defense to either a fullback dive or a pass (otherwise Deon Anderson would be in the game).
  • Other than one play, Andre Gurode had a good game.  He manhandled Albert Haynesworth at times.
  • Mike Jenkins showed why he’s probably the Cowboys’ best cover corner, but he still needs to tackle better.  His form is awful.

Defense

  • I was really shocked with how much playing time Josh Brent got.  He appeared to be in most of the time with the nickel defense and even some other situations.
  • Victor Butler was one of the few Cowboys who didn’t play well against the run.  He held up well during the preseason, but last night he got overpowered at the point-of-attack.
  • Did we all see how important Marcus Spears is to the Dallas’ run defense?
  • DeMarcus Ware was absolutely everywhere last night.  That’s true every game, but he looked particularly amped up for this one.  Let’s hope his injury isn’t serious.

Special Teams

  • I think the Cowboys need to pick a return man and stick with him.  The revolving door of Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, Dez Bryant, and Felix Ogletree doesn’t allow one guy to get in a rhythm.  Akwasi should be the guy, in my opinion.

I am going to start breaking down the film.  I’ll post my findings within the next couple of days.

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10 Dallas Cowboys Under Most Pressure This Preseason

Jonathan Bales

This preseason is the most intriguing in years for Dallas due to the abundance of position battles and uncertain roster spots.  Many players are under a lot of pressure to perform well in these exhibition games, whether it is for a starting spot or to simply make the team.  Below are my top 10.

10.  FS Alan Ball

Ball’s roster spot is obviously secure.  The same can probably be said about his starting job, although that is still somewhat debatable.  Nonetheless, Ball is under a lot of pressure to prove the Cowboys made the right decision in cutting veteran Ken Hamlin.  He must show he is physical enough to play safety and hold off the up-and-coming second-year man Michael Hamlin. I previously posted an in-depth breakdown of the Ball/Hamlin battle.

9.  LT Alex Barron

Barron probably won’t play tonight against the Raiders after injuring his ankle in the Hall of Fame game.  It is unclear when Barron hurt himself and how that affected his play, but he sure didn’t perform well.  His roster spot isn’t in jeopardy, but fans want to see enough from Barron to know the Cowboys got the best of the Barron/Carpenter trade.

8.  FB Deon Anderson

Anderson’s legal troubles have prompted some to dismiss him from their 53-man roster projections, but I’ve been saying since the end of last season that Anderson is extremely valuable to the Cowboys offense.  He’s in my latest 53-man roster projection, but his chances actually took a slight hit with the John Phillips injury.

Phillips moonlighted as a fullback, but his loss increases the probability of H-Back/TE Scott Sicko and FB/H-Back Chris Gronkowski making the team.  Both players are more versatile than Anderson, but I think the Cowboys value Anderson’s blocking ability enough to retain him.  Still, he needs to play well.

7.  TE Martellus Bennett

Bennett was in a tight battle with John Phillips for the No. 2 tight end job before Phillips was lost for the season with an ACL tear.  In my opinion, Bennett was going to lose that battle.  He is an excellent blocker( I gave him a “B+” in my 2009 Tight End Grades), but Phillips’ blocking appeared to improve enough that he may have overtaken Bennett.

Some of the pressure was lifted off of Bennett’s shoulders when Phillips went down, but there are still questions about his maturity, work ethic, and commitment to football.  He does appear to be working harder this offseason than in prior ones, but he still needs to show the coaches he can be counted on as the primary backup to Jason Witten.

6.  WR Sam Hurd

Hurd has always been a valuable special teams player in Dallas, but there are some talented wide outs behind him (Jesse Holley, Manuel Johnson, Terrell Hudgins) who may offer more potential on offense.

Further, there is no guarantee the Cowboys will keep six wide receivers.  If they only retain five, Hurd will be battling Kevin Ogletree and the three aforementioned youngsters for that final spot.

5.  NT Junior Siavii

Siavii didn’t perform terribly last season, racking up a tackle percentage that was actually over two times that of Jay Ratliff.  Siavii only racked up two pressures in 189 snaps, however, and didn’t even record a quarterback hit or sack.

The pressure on Siavii just skyrocketed with the supplemental draft selection of Josh Brent.  Brent has a tremendous motor and showed a lot of potential on Sunday night despite just arriving in Dallas.  His play-making ability appears to be greater than Siavii’s.

The Cowboys also selected DE/DT Sean Lissemore in the seventh round of the draft this year, so Siavii has a lot of competition for his roster spot.  If he doesn’t step up, he’ll lose it.

4.  LB Jason Williams

Williams said he learned more in one year from watching Brooking and James than he did in his entire college career.

Williams has so much athleticism and speed that you sometimes wonder if he relies on it too much.  In the NFL, a misstep in any direction spells disaster for any player, regardless of his speed.

Williams did okay in run support in the Cowboys’ first preseason game, but he looked lost in coverage at times.  That is a big problem since he is fighting to become the team’s nickel linebacker.

His battle with rookie Sean Lee will have to wait another week, as Lee is out for tonight’s game against Oakland.  Williams has a big-time opportunity tonight (and the rest of the preseason), and his roster spot is really on the line.  Don’t dismiss the idea of the Cowboys keeping a player like Leon Williams, who has already made some plays this preseason, ahead of Jason.

3.  RT Robert Brewster

Coach Wade Phillips half-heartedly praised Brewster’s play in Dallas’ initial preseason game, but that may have been to boost his confidence.  I intently watched Brewster multiple times on each of his plays, and he really struggled against Cincinnati.  He displayed poor footwork, even at his more natural right tackle position.  At left tackle, he was severely over-matched.

It will be difficult for Dallas to release a second-year player with so little game film, but with roster spots basically guaranteed for Doug Free, Marc Colombo, and Alex Barron, Brewster may be in a competition with rookie Sam Young for a roster spot.  The Cowboys could potentially move Brewster to guard.

2.  CBs Jamar Wall/Cletis Gordon/Bryan McCann

I’ve detailed the fourth cornerback battle in the past.  Gordon is leading the pack right now, but the gap between the three players isn’t enormous.  With Alan Ball and Akwasi Owusu-Ansah at safety, the Cowboys have two “extra” cornerbacks at another position.  Thus, I predict only one of the three cornerbacks listed above will make the final roster.

All three players look uneasy on returns, so the winner of the battle will probably be whoever displays the best combination of coverage ability–both on defense and on special teams.

I personally like McCann to win the job, but his recent injury (along with Gordon’s) has opened the door for Wall (opened the door for Wall, get it?) to step up.  Frankly, Wall has looked awful in coverage in practices and the first game, but the Cowboys did invest a draft pick in him.

1.  K David Buehler

This shouldn’t be a surprise.  In fact, I’ve talked about the pressure on Buehler so much in the past that I’m not even going to add anything here.

If you’re curious about my thoughts on Buehler, click here.  Or here.  Or here.  Or here.

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Cowboys Training Camp Battles, Part V: Doug Free vs. Alex Barron


By Jonathan Bales

In the first four parts of my Training Camp Battles Series, I analyzed the future of the nickel linebackerdefensive end, free safety, and cornerback positions.  I gave slight edges to Sean Lee, Marcus Spears, Alan Ball, and Bryan McCann in winning each job.

Today, I will address the left tackle position.  K.C. Joyner of ESPN recently wrote an interesting piece on how the diminishing salaries of left tackles show that NFL teams are now placing less emphasis on the quarterback’s blind side.  I tend to agree, and perhaps the Cowboys’ release of Flozell Adams in favor of the unproven Doug Free shows they do as well.

In addition to Free, remember the Cowboys also traded first round bust Bobby Carpenter to St. Louis for Alex Barron.  Barron has loads of skill but, like Carpenter, has yet to consistently utilize it on the field.

Scouting Reports

  • Doug Free

Free is the opposite of what the Cowboys generally seek in an offensive lineman–a fact that could lend insight as to the organization’s offensive mindset and philosophy moving forward.  He is somewhat “undersized” (as far as Dallas’ linemen go), but extremely athletic.  Free did well (but not outstanding) in pass protection last season (I gave him a “B-“) and his quick feet should aid him in his transition to the left side.

On the other hand, Free isn’t particularly dominant in the run game (here are Free’s 2009 run blocking grades).  He is the “anti-Flozell Adams,” meaning the ‘Boys may be transitioning to a more athletic offensive line to combat the pass protection problems which arose in Minnesota during the playoffs.

I gave Free a “B-” overall grade, ranking him at No. 19 on my list of 2009 Cowboys grades.

  • Alex Barron

Barron’s skill set is similar to that of Doug Free.  He probably has more natural ability than Free (having been a first round pick), but potential means nothing without production.

The biggest knock on Barron has been his penchant for penalties (particularly false starts), but I completed an interesting study detailing why false starts, although annoying, are not as costly as they seem.

In my comparison of Barron and Flozell Adams, I gave Barron a “C+” overall grade for his 2009 play.  He has appeared eager to get to work thus far in offseason activities, and if he can finally maximize his potential, he could be a real asset to Dallas.

Pros/Cons of Starting. . .

  • Doug Free

Free has experience with the offense.  Although he has yet to play on the left side of the line, his skill set makes him (on paper) a good fit to protect Romo’s blind side.  Free isn’t going to dominate in the run game, but he is probably (at this point) a safer pick than Barron.

  • Alex Barron

Barron’s upside is incredible (even more so than that of Free).  Like Free, he probably won’t be as efficient in the run game as ex-Cowboy Flozell Adams.  Barron must limit his penalties, but his natural ability is outstanding.  Perhaps a change of scenery is just what the former Florida State Seminole needed.

Advantage

Overall, I like the Cowboys’ situation at left tackle.  It is the primary reason I wrote an article on why the Cowboys were smart to not trade for Jammal Brown.

As of now, Free’s experience in Dallas gives him the advantage to win the job.  The Cowboys obviously have a lot of confidence in him as they released Adams and did not address the tackle position until late in the draft.

I listed Doug Free as a player who will break out in 2010, but Barron is an X-factor.  His presence is a great thing for Free, as both players know that poor play will result in no play.

Normally, the loser of this battle might become the “swing tackle” (the backup at both offensive tackle positions), but I don’t see the Cowboys using Barron on the right side.  Instead, Free may be a rare “starting swing tackle”–the starting left tackle who would move to right tackle in the event of an injury to Marc Colombo.  In that scenario, Barron would step in as the starting left tackle.

As of now, expect Free to win the starting gig in camp (although Barron’s talent makes this a battle to monitor closely).  You can almost label Barron as starter 1B, however, as an injury to either offensive tackle position could force him into the starting lineup (even if he isn’t a swing tackle).


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Should the Cowboys Have Traded For OT Jammal Brown?

By Jonathan Bales

There is certainly a ton of mystery surrounding the Cowboys’ offensive tackle position. Current starting left tackle Doug Free has very little experience at the position, having backed up Marc Colombo at right tackle last season.  He did an admirable job filling in and his skill set is probably better suited for left tackle anyway, but the question mark remains.

Colombo was solid (but not spectacular) at right tackle last year before breaking his leg mid-season.  He turns 32 this year, so Dallas certainly needs to search for his future replacement.  Perhaps they have already performed that task, having drafted Robert Brewster out of Ball State last season and Sam Young out of Notre Dame this year.

Newly-acquired tackle Alex Barron has a ton of talent but has yet to properly utilize it on the football field.  He commits a ton of penalties (although I showed why false starts aren’t as costly as you might think), but he could become a very valuable asset to the Cowboys.

Thus, despite the addition and rearrangement of a lot of players at offensive tackle, the future of the position for the Cowboys is unknown.

Now, Pro Football Talk is reporting the Cowboys tried to attain former Saints (and now Redskins) tackle Jammal Brown.  The development came as a bit of a shock to me, particularly on the heels of the Barron acquisition.

PFT lists three possible reasons for the Cowboys’ interest:

1. The Cowboys were not overly pleased with Doug Free during spring workouts. Free is entering his first full season as a starter. Though he flashed promise in spot starts last season, Free remains something of an unknown.

2. Jerry Jones’ team is concerned with 31-year-old right tackle Marc Colombo’s possibly imminent decline. Colombo broke his right fibula last November. Upon return in the playoffs, Colombo was embarrassed by Vikings defensive end Ray Edwards. In the scenario that Dallas’ goal was to upgrade over Colombo, Free could kick over to his more natural right tackle position with Brown manning Tony Romo’s blind side. Alex Barron would remain the “swing” tackle and Colombo would be released.

3. The Cowboys threw their hat into the Brown bidding just because they knew the Redskins wanted him. Dallas and Washington are division foes. Even if the Cowboys’ roster looks to contain significantly more talent, the Redskins are a threat, and will be even more so if they keep new quarterback Donovan McNabb off the injured reserve list.

To me, the first option is quite unlikely. Although spring workouts have become rather intense, it is unlikely the Cowboys would judge Free’s future 2010 success off of OTAs and mini-camp.

Further, the Cowboys have an insurance plan in Barron. Why would they attempt to acquire yet another tackle before seeing those two even play in a game?

Scenario number two may be just as unlikely.  Colombo is getting older, but he is still a capable player (the ’09 pass protection stats for all Dallas linemen are to the left).  I find it very hard to believe that Dallas would cut Colombo in favor of a player who missed the 2009 season and struggled in 2008 (I will show how Brown struggled in a bit).

PFT also writes, “Free could kick over to his more natural right tackle position.”  But is right tackle really Free’s more natural spot?  Sure, he played there last season, but his athleticism, in my opinion, makes him a better fit on the left side.  The Cowboys apparently agree.

Moreover, although the Cowboys are a bit thin behind Colombo, they did recently draft Brewster and Young.  While I see one of those players being released this summer, the addition of Brown would probably force the Cowboys to cut either Colombo or both Brewster and Young.  I just explained why I don’t see Colombo being released, and it seems rather apparent that Dallas will not let go of two young tackles.

Thus, PFT’s third proposition seems to be the most astute.  With the current numbers game in Dallas at both tackle positions, any interest the Cowboys showed in Brown may have been deception.  If the ‘Boys knew of Washington’s interest in the former Saints tackle (which is probable), getting “involved” in the bidding could increase the compensation due to New Orleans.

Now, a skeptic might claim that if Dallas wanted Washington to know of their “interest,” they would have made it more public.  However, NFL teams often gain insights into another team’s strategy (or faux strategy) in ways other than through the media.  Leaking a bunch of information to the media could have tipped off Washington that Dallas’ interest in Brown was a blatant attempt to raise his price.

If this is the case, Dallas did one heck of a job.  They forced the Redskins to (in my opinion) overpay for a player who did not play in 2009 and, although he made the Pro Bowl the prior season, did not perform at that sort of level.

So why am I so low on Brown?  Take a look at his numbers to the right (provided by Pro Football Focus).  In the last season he played, Brown did a decent job in the run game and allowed only three sacks in 921 snaps (568 were passes).  However, he yielded 15 quarterback hits (second-most in the NFL) and 27 pressures.  He also committed 10 penalties.  PFF had him ranked as the 47th-best tackle in the NFL in 2008.

In 2007, Brown was even worse.  PFF had him ranked as the 52nd-best tackle in the NFL during that season.

If I was to grade Brown’s play over his last two seasons, I would provide him with a “B” in run blocking and a “C-” in pass protection.  According to my offensive linemen grading system, this would result in a 77.8 (C+) overall grade for Brown.  Last season, I gave both Free and Colombo a “B-” overall grade.

Why pay the price of a draft pick for a player who graded out lower than the current starters at his position?  The Cowboys would obviously never do such a thing, leading me to believe the team’s perceived interest in Brown was nothing more than a bluff.

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Alex Barron, Flozell Adams, and False Starts: How Costly Are They?

Peter King of Sports Illustrated recently noted that newly-acquired offensive tackle Alex Barron has racked up 43 false starts over the past five seasons–even more than ex-Cowboy Flozell Adams.  Fans cringed every time Adams moved prematurely, and his false starts became somewhat of a running joke in Big D.

When you play in St. Louis, however, your indiscretions (and unfortunately your successes, too) don’t get quite the attention as in Dallas.  Thus, fans likely were unaware (until now) of Barron’s similar penchant for jumping the gun.

But just how costly are false starts to a team’s win probability?  They certainly aren’t as costly as, say, holding penalties.  Still, they set back the offense not only in terms of yardage, but also momentum.

Perhaps a better way to measure the negative impact of false starts is to determine the impact they have on a team’s “Expected Points.”  Put simply, ‘expected points’ is the average points a team can expect to score on any particular drive based on their down and distance and field position.  Advanced NFL Stats, the creators of Expected Points, puts it like this:

Suppose the offense has a 1st and 10 at midfield.  This situation is worth +2.0 EP.  A 5-yard gain would set up a 2nd and 5 from the 45, which corresponds to a +2.1 EP.  Therefore, that 5-yard gain in that particular situation represents a +0.1 gain in EP.  This gain is called Expected Points Added (EPA).  Likewise, a 5-yard loss on 1st down at midfield would create a 2nd and 15 from the offense’s own 45.  That situation is worth +1.2 EP, representing a net difference of -0.8 EPA.

Thus, not all false starts are created equally.  A false start on 3rd and goal from the 3-yard line is much more debilitating to an offense than one on 3rd and 25 from midfield.

According to ANS, Barron’s false starts were responsible for the loss of 24.4 expected points over the course of five seasons, or about five points per year.  In essence, each false start cost the Rams 1/2 expected point, which is in line with league averages.

Expected points are one thing, but how do the false starts and subsequent loss of expected points affect a team’s win total?  Well, five points over the course of a season translates to just about .12 wins.  Thus, Barron’s (and those of Adams) false starts were annoying, but not as costly to a team’s success as you might believe.

That isn’t the end of the story, however.  Remember that Barron’s false starts cost his team about five points per season–but that total is only applicable as compared to a flawless offensive lineman.  In reality, even the best tackles commit false starts from time to time.  Let’s say our Pro-Bowl level replacement tackle commits just three false starts per season.  This translates to 1.5 expected points, and about .04 wins per season.

Ultimately, the difference between Barron and a lineman who commits just three false starts a season is only about .08 wins per year.  In comparison, we discovered that the difference between a good kicker (90% accuracy) and a poor kicker (70% accuracy) is approximately 1.05 wins per season.

Now, that does not mean kickers are 13 times as valuable as left tackles, but simply that false start penalties are nowhere near as costly as they may initially appear.

For the sake of Alex Barron’s sanity this season, let’s hope Cowboys fans around the country are made available to this information.

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Cowboys News and Notes: 5/11/10 (Sean Lee, Alex Barron, Dez Bryant)

We agree, but only if Buehler shows he is not ready to handle all kicking duties.  The extra roster spot freed up by retaining just one kicker may seem minuscule, but it can really make a dramatic difference.  Players such as Marcus Dixon, Curtis Johnson, and Patrick Watkins will become huge Buehler fans this summer.

Still, kicker is such an important position that the Cowboys must make sure they are comfortable with whoever is kicking field goals.

Interestingly, the Patriots called Dallas.  Pats’ owner Bob Kraft opened with, “Hi Jerry, are you in the dealing business?”  Also significant is the fact that Coach Belichick appeared to be on the phone with the Ravens while Mr. Kraft was finalizing the deal with Jerry.  Said Belichick, “Hey Ozzie (Baltimore’s GM), Dallas is coming up here in front of us, unless you want to take it.”  This was followed by a prompt “okay” and Belichick hanging up the phone.

The draft is a cut-throat business, and the Patriots do it about as well as anyone.  Luckily for Dallas, the Ravens weren’t willing to make the move for Dez Bryant.

You probably know we are very high on Williams.  From a physical standpoint he is basically a rookie, but he does have a year of mental reps under his belt.  Williams is also immensely athletic–by far the defense’s fastest non-secondary player.  Lee also has underrated athleticism, however, so this will be an exciting battle to watch.

Cowboys’ undrafted rookie safety Barry Church, Pre-Draft

Overall, this was a great trade for Dallas.  Barron has disappointed thus far in his career, but so did Marc Colombo and Leonard Davis before joining the ‘Boys.  Barron has the right mindset to turn his career around.  We expect him to be the primary backup to Doug Free at left tackle, with Free moving to right tackle in the event of an injury to Colombo.

The Cowboys also rid themselves of Bobby Carpenter–the player we determined to be (by far) the worst on the entire defense last season.  We gave him a “D+” overall grade.

We actually don’t think Dez Bryant will receive enough targets to be in the 65-70 catch range.  Expect Roy Williams to open the season as the starter and for Bryant to attain somewhere in the vicinity of 45 catches for 650 yards and four touchdowns.

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Mailbag: 5/8/10 (Alex Barron, OJ Atogwe, Jammal Brown)

Q:  The Bobby Carpenter/Alex Barron trade is going down on Monday, pending physicals.  What are your thoughts on Barron?  Will he compete for the starting left tackle job or just be a swing tackle?

Steven Frederick, Austin TX

A: We did an analysis of Barron’s 2009 stats and a comparison to Flozell Adams a few days ago.  Barron has been about average during his time in the NFL.  Last season, he gave up less sacks and quarterback pressures than Adams, despite protecting for a quarterback who moves as well as Roger Staubach does right now.  However, Barron also racked up 14 penalties–one more than Flozell.  Unfortunately, penalties have been a trend thus far in his career.

Overall, we gave Barron a ‘C+’ overall grade.  Is he an upgrade over Adams?  Maybe, maybe not. . .but he is at least younger.

We expect Barron to compete for the starting left tackle job in camp but ultimately lose out to Doug Free.  Free played fairly well at right tackle last season (we gave him a ‘B-‘ overall grade), but his athleticism and footwork are better suited for the left side of the line.  The loser will most likely be the primary backup to both left and right tackle.

Even if Barron isn’t an All-Pro-caliber player, his addition is important because it actually provides insurance for two positions.  Had the Cowboys not addressed the backup tackle spot, Leonard Davis probably would have kicked outside in a pinch.  This would force either Cory Procter or Montrae Holland into the lineup at guard (yikes!), and Davis wasn’t exactly stellar at tackle during his pre-Dallas days in Arizona.

Q:  How do I sign up for regular e-mail updates from Dallas Cowboys Times?

Fictional character I created for this question

A: You can register with Dallas Cowboys Times here.  Don’t forget we are also selling our entire 2009 Cowboys film study database for just $14.99.

And if you are really in a giving mood, feel free to make a donation to our training camp fundraiser.  This will allow us to attend and report live from Cowboys training camp this season.  Our goal is $1,000, and we have already raised nearly $200.  Thanks so much to all of you who have already donated!

Q:  Could the trade with the Rams for Alex Barron open the door for their free safety, O.J. Atogwe, to come to Dallas?

John Coleman

A: Well, remember that the Cowboys wouldn’t talk to the Rams about Atogwe.  He is a restricted free agent until June 1, meaning he is free to sign with any team.  If Dallas is interested in him, they likely have already talked to his agent and will make an offer on or shortly after June 1.

Jammal Brown is a solid player, but unlikely to come to Dallas in 2010.

They could also sign him now without giving up a pick, but the Rams can match any offer.  It doesn’t seem like a long-term deal between Atogwe and the Rams is on the horizon, so it is smart for teams to wait it out.

Despite the lack of activity surround Atogwe right now, we are still projecting him to be a Cowboy in 2010.

Q:  Jason LaCanfora speculated that the Cowboys could have interest in another free agent offensive tackle–Jammal Brown of the New Orleans Saints.  How likely are the Cowboys to acquire Brown and would he be a good fit in Big D?  Thanks!

Joe Williams, Aurora, CO

A: Brown is unlikely to come to Dallas in 2010.  First, he is a restricted free agent, meaning the Cowboys would have to trade for his rights.  He is a decent player, but probably not worth whatever New Orleans is seeking.

Secondly, the Cowboys would have to then sign Brown to a long-term extension.  With all of the confidence the team has displayed in Free so far this off-season, it seems improbable that they would just give up on him by signing Brown.

Further, Brown may not even be an upgrade over Free.  Remember he missed the entire 2009 season due to injury, and he wasn’t all that outstanding prior to last year.

With Alex Barron almost certain to become a Cowboys on Monday, the team is most likely finished upgrading the offensive tackle position.

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Report: Bobby Carpenter to St. Louis for Alex Barron Deal Close

Pro Football Talk is reporting that the Cowboys and Rams are closing in on a deal that would send nickel linebacker Bobby Carpenter to St. Louis for offensive tackle Alex Barron. The main deterrents to a possible trade are the contracts of both players.  Carpenter is in the final year of his contract and Barron is a restricted free agent.

Assuming the teams are able to overcome the financial issues, the deal appears to be a good one for Dallas.  In our projected 53-man roster, we had Carpenter being cut.  We feel the Cowboys will be lucky to receive anything for him.  The Rams likely feel the same way about Barron.

In our Inside Linebacker Grades (run defense stats shown to the left), we gave Carpenter a D+.  He is very limited in Coach Phillips’ 3-4 scheme.  The addition of second-rounder Sean Lee and the possible emergence of second-year linebacker Jason Williams means there is very little room for Carpenter on the Cowboys, even as a nickel linebacker.

A more important question might be how well Barron would fit in Dallas.  The Cowboys’ coaches seem confident in newly-appointed starting left tackle Doug Free (who we provided a solid overall grade of B-).  Barron would likely compete with Free for the starting gig, with the loser becoming a (very above-average) swing tackle.

We can’t help but wonder, though, whether the Cowboys would have just been better off keeping Flozell Adams.  To determine the answer, we decided to compare the 2009 statistics of Adams and Barron (shown below).

As you can see, the numbers of the two players are quite similar.  So the Cowboys would have been just as well off to keep Adams, right?  Well, not necessarily.  Remember that sacks, hits, and pressures are all dependent not just on offensive linemen, but also the mobility of the quarterback.  With Rams quarterback Marc Bulger basically a sitting duck for opposing defenses, it was very difficult for any St. Louis lineman to attain quality numbers last season.

Note: 'Snaps' category includes pass plays only.

Further, we consider quarterback pressures to be the statistic which is most indicative of a lineman’s success in pass protection.  Sacks are a bit too fluky and are represented by too small a sample size to be completely statistically significant.  Moreover, they are much more dependent on the mobility of the quarterback than pressures–a stat which is more ripe for comparison between linemen on different squads.

Adams yielded 1.57 times the quarterback pressures of Barron in 2009.  We feel confident in saying that the number of sacks and hits Barron gave up would have been significantly lower had he played for the Cowboys (and consequently protected for an athletic, mobile quarterback) last season.

Of course, pass protection isn’t the only component of linemen duties.  Without a database of statistics similar to the one we have compiled for the Cowboys’ 2009 plays, it is difficult to determine how effective Barron was in run blocking.  According to Pro Football Focus, Barron was a slightly below-average run blocker in 2009.  PFF does a fairly decent job in grading game film, so if we take this assessment to be true, how much of an upgrade (if at all) is Barron over Adams?

Well, we provided Adams with a ‘D+’ in pass protection and a ‘B’ in run blocking, for a ‘C-‘ (73.4 percent) overall grade.  We would give Barron a ‘B-‘ in pass protection and (according to PFF) a ‘C-‘ in run blocking.  This would result in a ‘C+’ overall grade (79.0 percent).

Thus, we feel Barron is an upgrade over Adams.  The increase in pass protection ability from Barron to Adams also makes the upgrade even greater than the 5.6 percent grade differential, as the Cowboys could probably benefit more from a quality pass protector (particularly on Romo’s blind side) than another solid run blocker.

The issue fans should be most concerned about regarding Barron’s play is his penalty count.  Everyone knows how much Adams struggled with penalties throughout his career in Dallas.  Well, Barron had one more penalty than Adams in 2009.  If Barron can limit this number to single digits, the upgrade in pass protection that would come with his addition would likely mean a Carpenter-for-Barron swap would bring with it very high upside and opportunity for success.

**UPDATE: The St. Louis Post-Dispatch is reporting the deal will happen as soon as tomorrow.