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dallas cowboy tickets | The DC Times - Part 2

The DC Times

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

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Cowboys News and Notes: 3/17/10

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Is Doug Free Suited to Play Left Tackle?

Doug Free did a respectable job filling in at right tackle for the injured Marc Colombo last season. We gave him a ‘B-‘ in pass protection and a ‘C+’ in the run game in our 2009 Offensive Line Grades. In fact, he actually performed slightly better than starter Marc Colombo in our rankings.

Doug Free's ability to play left tackle is a big question mark for Dallas.

Cowboys fans and writers alike are assuming Free will eventually make the transition to left tackle. Not so fast. Free performed admirably for a backup player, but do we really think he is ready to protect Romo’s blind side?

The uncertainty surrounding Free’s ability to play left tackle is one of the main reasons we believe the Cowboys should retain Flozell Adams in 2010. At right tackle, Free rarely faced the opposition’s best pass-rusher (although he did effectively neutralize Jared Allen in the divisional playoff game).

Still, he has not withstood the test of time. Entrusting a player with only half a season of play under his belt with the task of keeping the franchise quarterback safe is risky to say the least.

Thus, expect the Cowboys to address the tackle position early (and perhaps often) in the upcoming draft. In our opinion, drafting a stud tackle to groom behind Adams for a year is the most rational path for Dallas to take and their most likely ticket to success. This rookie could prepare himself to start in 2011, with Adams then leaving the team or possibly moving to guard.

Free might eventually battle Colombo for the starting right tackle job, but he certainly makes a very trustworthy swing tackle.

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Top 90 2010 NFL Draft Prospects: Post-Combine

Below is our revised list of the top 2010 NFL Draft prospects, along with a rundown of big risers and fallers. Players changed positions not only based on Combine results, but also due to extra opportunity for us to study game film.

Risers

Sean Weatherspoon, Devin McCourty, Dan Williams, Morgan Burnett, DeMaryius Thomas, Arrelious Benn, Vladimir Ducasse, Golden Tate, Eric Norwood, Kareem Jackson, Ryan Mathews, Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, Geno Atkins, Roger Saffold, Ricky Sapp, Marshall Newhouse, Major Wright, Ben Tate

Fallers

Dez Bryant, Joe Haden, Anthony Davis, Dezmon Briscoe, Donovan Warren, Brandon LaFell, Jon Asamoah, Everson Griffen, Brandon Ghee, Chad Jones, Jordan Shipley, Damian Williams, Myron Rolle, Jason Fox, Aaron Hernandez, Micah Johnson

As before, players we see as potential Cowboys’ draft picks are listed in bold. Some players not in bold may be good fits in Dallas but the team just won’t be in position to select them.

Concerns about Dez Bryant's attitude and work ethic have dropped him on our board.

1 Ndamukong Suh, DT, Nebraska

2 Gerald McCoy, DT, Oklahoma

3 Russell Okung, OT, Oklahoma State

4 C.J. Spiller, RB, Clemson

5 Eric Berry, S, Tennessee

6 Sergio Kindle, LB, Texas

7 Earl Thomas, S, Texas

8 Kyle Wilson, CB, Boise State

9 Brandon Graham, DE/OLB, Michigan

10 Dez Bryant, WR, Oklahoma State

11 Joe Haden, CB, Florida

12 Bryan Bulaga, OT, Iowa

13 Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, USF

14 Mike Iupati, G, Idaho

We are very high on Devin McCourty, rating him as the 21st best player overall.

15 Maurkice Pouncey, C/G, Florida

16 Trent Williams, OT, Oklahoma

17 Derrick Morgan, DE, Georgia Tech

18 Rolando McClain, LB, Alabama

19 Jared Odrick, DT/DE, Penn State

20 Sean Weatherspoon, LB, Missouri

21 Devin McCourty, CB, Rutgers

22 Brandon Spikes, LB, Florida

23 Jahvid Best, RB, California

24 Dan Williams, DT, Tennessee

25 Brian Price, DT, UCLA

26 Jerry Hughes, DE, TCU

27 Sam Bradford, QB, Oklahoma

28 Morgan Burnett, S, Georgia Tech

Dezmon Briscoe, once our second-rated WR, has dropped due to his lackluster speed.

29 DeMaryius Thomas, WR, Georgia Tech

30 Arrelious Benn, WR, Illinois

31 Anthony Davis, OT, Rutgers

32 Dezmon Briscoe, WR, Kansas

33 Bruce Campbell, OT, Maryland

34 Donovan Warren, CB, Michigan

35 Charles Brown, OT, USC

36 Carlos Dunlap, DE, Florida

37 Dexter McCluster, RB/WR, Ole Miss

38 Taylor Mays, S, USC

39 Jimmy Clausen, QB, Notre Dame

40 Mardy Gilyard, WR, Cincinnati

41 Vladimir Ducasse, G/T, UMass

42 Golden Tate, WR, Notre Dame

43 Chris Cook, CB/FS, Virginia

44 Jason Worilds, DE, Virginia Tech

45 Tim Tebow, QB, Florida

Perrish Cox is one of a handful of players to comprise what we believe is a very underrated cornerback class.

46 Eric Norwood, LB, South Carolina

47 Kareem Jackson, CB, Alabama

48 Nate Allen, S, USF

49 Perrish Cox, CB, Oklahoma State

50 Daryl Washington, LB, TCU

51 Ryan Mathews, RB, Fresno State

52 Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, CB, Indiana of Pennsylvania

53 Brandon LaFell, WR, LSU

54 Patrick Robinson, CB, Florida State

55 Jon Asamoah, G, Illinois

56 Javier Arenas, CB, Alabama

57 Geno Atkins, DT, Georgia

58 Roger Saffold, OT, Indiana

59 Everson Griffen, DE, USC

60 Alex Carrington, DE, Arkansas State

61 Brandon Ghee, CB, Wake Forest

62 Terrence Cody, DT, Alabama

Mike Neal is a player Dallas may target as a defensive end in their 3-4 scheme.

63 Chad Jones, S, LSU

64 Ricky Sapp, DE, Clemson

65 Jordan Shipley, WR, Texas

66 Mike Neal, DT/DE, Purdue

67 Marshall Newhouse, G, TCU

68 Major Wright, S, Florida

69 Corey Wootton, DE, Northwestern

70 Reshad Jones, S, Georgia

71 Joe McKnight, RB, USC

72 Amari Spievey, CB, Iowa

73 Jermaine Gresham, TE, Oklahoma

74 Mike Johnson, G, Alabama

75 Ben Tate, RB, Auburn

Myron Rolle is very intelligent, but he displayed poor hips and ball skills at the Combine.

76 Lamarr Houston, DT, Texas

77 Carlton Mitchell, WR, USF

78 Cam Thomas, DT, UNC

79 Damian Williams, WR, USC

80 Myron Rolle, S, Florida State

81 D’Anthony Smith, DT, Louisiana Tech

82 Jared Veldheer, OT, Hillsdale

83 Tony Washington, OT, Abilene Christian

84 Jason Fox, OT, Miami

85 Aaron Hernandez, TE, Florida

86 Micah Johnson, LB, Kentucky

87 Zane Beadles, G/T, Utah

88 Greg Hardy, DE, Ole Miss

89 Clifton Geathers, DE, South Carolina

90 Navarro Bowman, LB, Penn State

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Terrell Owens Back to Dallas: Is it a Realistic Possibility?

Might T.O. be back in the blue and silver in 2010?

There have been rumblings among some Cowboys fans about the possible return of Terrell Owens to Dallas. Like every team for which Owens has played, Cowboys fans seem to be split 50/50 on his worth to the team.

We are about the biggest T.O. supporters you will find, but in this post, we will detail five reasons why Owens won’t (and shouldn’t) rejoin the Dallas Cowboys.

First, though, let’s talk about a few of the positives of T.O. wearing the blue and silver once again.

Pros

1. Owens practices harder than anyone.

A lot of times T.O.’s name gets grouped together with guys like Randy Moss and Chad Ochocinco, but that really is unfair to Owens. Unlike those players, T.O. brings 100 percent to practice each and every day. He consistently prepares himself as well as anyone in the league, year in and year out.

Not only are Owens’ on-field behavior and production a template for the younger receivers to follow, but his work ethic also allows the Cowboys defensive backs to go against the best every day in practice. Don’t shortchange Owens involvement in Dallas as a major factor in the success of the Cowboys cornerbacks in 2009.

2. Despite a down year in Buffalo, it is evident Owens still has something left.

We recently spent some time looking at a few of the Bills’ late-season games in ’09. While T.O. is obviously not what he was at age 28, he certainly can still play the game. His speed is still very much apparent. It would be very difficult for teams to try to take away both him and Austin deep, cover Witten underneath, and still stop the run game.

3. T.O. would likely draw a lot of single coverage with Austin and Witten receiving a lot of attention.

Make no mistake about it–Miles Austin is the Cowboys’ #1 wide receiver. Defenses will surely look to take him and Witten out of a game first next season, with or without the addition of T.O. Having said that, Owens would benefit from single coverage which he very rarely saw during his first stint in Dallas.

Cons

1. Owens is unlikely to embrace a role as the third receiving option on offense.

For the above reasons, Owens’ return to Dallas looks good on paper. In reality, however, there is just no way T.O. is going to accept a role as the Cowboys’ third receiving option (and probably fourth option overall). If Owens complained about not getting the ball enough when he was double-covered in Dallas, imagine how unhappy he will be if he does not get the ball when he is truly open.

2. Bringing back Owens would stunt the growth of Kevin Ogletree.

The Cowboys want to get Ogletree more involved in 2010. There are even rumors that he could push Roy Williams for a starting spot in training camp.

Ogletree’s playing time would become all but non-existent, though, if Owens returned to the ‘Boys. Even if Williams got cut, Crayton would likely remain in the slot, meaning Ogletree would be just a backup to the X and Z receivers.

If the Cowboys want to see what they have in Kevin Ogletree this season, T.O.'s return is not an option.

3. The Cowboys would be unlikely to draft a young wide receiver due to a lack of roster space.

A lot of you are clamoring for the Cowboys to select a young wide receiver to groom as the eventual replacement for Roy Williams. While we still see an early-round selection of a wide receiver as unlikely (unless he is a return man), the Cowboys simply would not have the roster space to hold their current receivers, Owens, and a rookie.

4. Jerry Jones will not cut Roy Williams, meaning Dallas’ top three wide receivers would not play special teams.

Even if Owens came back to town, it is unlikely Jerry Jones would give up on Williams. He doesn’t want to admit he made a mistake on Williams, and in all fairness Roy has just one full season in Dallas under his belt.

Williams, as the third receiver, would not play special teams. This would create a problem, particularly if David Buehler does not win the placekicking job and the team has to use two roster spots on kickers.

5. Jerry Jones won’t bring back a player he cut immediately after claiming the Cowboys were searching for a “Romo-friendly” offense.

The reason Jones released T.O. was not because of his on-field play, but because of the perceived locker room turmoil which Owens was thought to have created. Why in the world would the Cowboys bring back a player they deemed to be the cause of the team’s lack of chemistry, particularly after winning their first playoff game in over a decade?

Conclusion

Owens is not coming back to Dallas. Despite the potential benefits, his return would create more problems than it would fix. Topping that list of problems is the fact that T.O. will not embrace being a role player and Jerry Jones will not disrupt his quest to create a “Romo-friendly” offense.

Despite this, we still suggest to all Cowboys fans, “Getcha popcorn ready!”

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Cowboys Potential Draft Picks: Lamarr Houston, DT/DE, Texas

Lamarr Houston has the athleticism of a linebacker at defensive tackle.

In a recent mailbag, we discussed the possibility of Dallas drafting a true nose tackle and moving Jay Ratliff to defensive end in certain situations (and subsequently why we believe it is a poor idea). Ratliff proved he is not an elite defensive end and that his speed and quickness are his ticket to success only when he is lined up at the nose.

While we wouldn’t rule out the possibility of the Cowboys selecting a true nose tackle, we think it would come later in the draft. The first few selections will be expected to make a near-immediate impact. Since Ratliff plays nearly every snap at defensive tackle and moving him to end is not a legitimate option, the upside of a rookie NT would be limited.

Instead, we believe the Cowboys will be searching for a player who can line up at both tackle and end in their 3-4 system. We have already mentioned Penn State’s Jared Odrick, UCLA’s Brian Price, and Purdue’s Mike Neal as candidates for this job.

In this version of our “Potential Draft Picks” Series, we look at the possibility of Texas DT Lamarr Houston making the transition to 3-4 end.

Scouting Report

At 6’3”, 305 pounds, Houston has size similar to current Cowboys’ defensive end Marcus Spears. Scouts at the Combine noted how little fat was evident on his frame. His 4.85 forty and 9’6” broad jump are exceptional for his size.

It is rather remarkable how much Houston has flown under-the-radar. He is a rather athletic individual (as shown by his Combine numbers) with great quickness. Of the DT/DE prospects we have studied thus far, Houston is the most like Ratliff. As is the case with Ratliff, he has a very high motor. He rarely disappears on film and there just is not much bad game tape on Houston. Coaches will love his consistency.

It is his lack of outstanding game film that may have him not rated as a top-tier tackle, but this could be due to the nature of Texas’ system more than anything.

Some people question whether Houston will fit better as a three-technique or five-technique player. For Dallas, he would be playing the latter, although we do think his similarities to Ratliff make him a candidate to also win the backup job inside at nose tackle.

For a big interior lineman, Houston also displays a wide range of pass-rush moves. If he can work on his run defense, he could become an excellent complement to Marcus Spears.

There are a few concerns about Houston’s character. He was arrested two years ago for a DWI and, although not necessarily a mark of character, Houston ran at the Combine in tights and bright yellow track shoes. Thus, if the Cowboys are not interested in players who draw attention to themselves, Houston may not be a good fit.

Projection

Houston’s stock has picked up a bit since the Combine, as he cemented himself as the top “second-tier” defensive tackle. Once regarded as a second or third round prospect, there are many draft analysts projecting him to go in the back of the first round. There is little chance he makes it to the end of round two, although with such a deep class, you never know.

For Dallas, selecting Houston in the first round just does not make sense. It would be poor value and there will be better options on the board at the time. If they trade into the early-to-mid second round, then Houston will become a legitimate option. Like we said, though, the grade the Cowboys give Houston will depend on how much of a character concern he is deemed.

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Cowboys Film Study- Weak Side Runs

Throughout our film study articles, we have chronicled the trends of the Cowboys in certain specific situations, attempting to isolate the cause of their success or failure. Some statistics are subjective, such as missed tackles, but we strive to obtain statistics that are objective as possible.

In this study, we will analyze the Cowboys’ weak side runs. Like prior pieces, there is some “gray area” here. What is a weak side run? Is the weak side always opposite the tight end?

For this analysis, we have designated the weak side of the formation that which is opposite the tight end and has less than three skill position players. Thus, in “Twins Left,” the right side is the strong side. In “Twins Left, Weak Left” (below), however, the left side is strong.

If a formation had no tight end, the strong side is simply the side with the most skill position players. Also, a multitude of formations have no strong or weak side, such as “Ace” (below). These formations were not counted toward our results.

The findings we gathered are listed below. The Cowboys averaged 5.2 yards-per-carry on weak side runs, compared to just 4.7 yards-per-carry on strong side runs.

Why did the Cowboys have more success running weak side than strong? One possibility is that it surprises the defense. Dallas ran weak side on just 19.5 percent of all run plays. Thus, with the defense generally anticipating a strong side run, the success rate of running weak side increases despite a lesser number of blockers.

The lack of blockers to the weak side can also be a good thing because defenses generally line up according to the formation. Less blockers, then, means less people to block, and less chance for mistake.

Still, if this theory is correct, we might expect the Cowboys percentage of big plays to increase when running weak side. This is actually not the case. The Cowboys ran for a play of 10+ yards on 15.3 percent of all weak side run plays in 2009, compared to 14.5 percent on all strong side runs. This small difference is not statistically significant enough for us to draw meaningful conclusions.

Further, the percentage of negative runs is also approximately the same (9.4 percent on weak side runs versus 11.0 percent on all strong side runs).

With this lack of outliers, it appears as though weak side runs are just slightly more effective for the Cowboys than strong side runs. The results are not simply skewed by a pair of 80-yard rushes, for example.

How should this information affect the Cowboys and Jason Garrett’s play-calling? Well, as we detailed in our Witten blocking study, the play-calling should shift until it reaches the “Nash Equilibrium.” Simply put, this is the point when the overall yards-per-rush will peak.

Jason Garrett will maximize offensive efficiency by always being one step ahead of defensive coordinators.

Note that Garrett cannot simply call all weak side runs because football is a game of opposing minds. A drastic increase in weak side runs would obviously be met by a large percentage of defensive weak side blitzes.

Instead, game theory suggests Garrett should slowly increase the number of weak side runs until the average yards-per-carry is maximized.

But how will we know when that number is reached? The answer would be simple if we assumed those people drawing up plays to try to stop the Cowboys offense–the opposing defensive coordinators–were perfectly rational. In that scenario, the defense would call an increasing number of weak side blitzes until they minimized the overall yards-per-carry. They would in effect create their own Nash equilibrium.

Of course, defensive coordinators do not always call plays in a rational manner. Their knowledge is not unlimited, and so sometimes they may call too many weak side blitzes or not enough. Perhaps sometimes the number of weak side blitzes they dial up has no correlation at all with the offenses’s weak side running rates or successes.

Garrett’s job, then, must be to take into account the thoughts and tendencies of defensive coordinators (perhaps easier said than done), and then adjust his play-calling accordingly. If Team X calls an inordinate amount of weak side blitzes, for example, then the Cowboys own Nash equilibrium will be shifted to include more strong side runs (and vice versa).

Thus, play-calling (or effective play-calling anyway) is not simply about knowing your own players. It is about successfully predicting the calls of defensive coordinators by knowing their tendencies. This may sound extremely difficult (and it is from the standpoint of one individual play), but aberrations tend to flatten out over the course of a game in such a way that, despite not knowing individual play calls, a team can assume a “regression to the mean” of sorts where a team’s overall tendencies will always eventually shine through.

For Garrett, this means being one step ahead of the game. Instead of simply knowing what you want to do, you have to know what your opponent thinks you are going to do, then adjust accordingly. When playing against a really stealthy coach, you may have to know what he thinks that you think that he thinks about what play you are going to call.

If you are an offensive coordinator and have called three straight weak side runs in a row, for example, your natural inclination may be to deviate from this tendency. You might do this in an effort to “mix it up.” But game theory suggests you should take into account the opposition’s thoughts before making a decision.

Perhaps you know that he is thinking that you are thinking that he will call a weak side blitz to combat your recent success. Knowing this, you would assume he may call a strong side blitz (or none at all), and you would be correct. Thus, despite three straight weak side runs, the best play call is yet another weak side run.

Being “unpredictable” isn’t about changing play calls just for the sake of changing the play, but about adjusting your tendencies according to your opposition’s tendencies to create an environment where potential success will be maximized.

That may be the motto for the 2010 Dallas Cowboys– “maximize your potential.” Should they do that, the team might just be playing in the first ever home Super Bowl.

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Mailbag: 3/12/10 (Brandon Marshall, O.J. Atogwe, Jesse Holley)

Brandon Marshall is an incredible receiver, but signing him really isn't an option for Dallas.

Q: Why is there not more talk of the Cowboys signing Brandon Marshall? He received only a first round tender from the Broncos. The Cowboys have a late first-rounder and Denver probably wouldn’t match an offer. Marshall could take over for Roy Williams.

Jimmy D, Grand Rapids, MI

A: Marshall is certainly an incredible athlete and wide receiver, but the move just doesn’t make too much sense. Sure, he could help the team, but at what price? The Cowboys already have players on their own team they need to sign long-term, i.e. Miles Austin.

If Dallas signed Marshall to an offer sheet, they would be on the hook for three huge contracts to players at the same position. That isn’t exactly business-savvy. The uncapped year won’t a ticket to spend unlimited amounts of cash, as the Cowboys have already stated they are implementing their own cap.

Further, despite the opinions of most fans, the Cowboys are not really weak at wide receiver. Austin is a legitimate number one, so our expectations for Williams need to be lessened. Of course you would like to see your $45 million man play to his potential, but with Austin, Jason Witten, and the Cowboys’ running game, people need to realize that Williams’ upside is limited.

Lastly, the front office just spent last offseason ridding itself of players they deemed distractions. We think locker room chemistry is overrated, but apparently the Cowboys’ brass does not. That doesn’t help Marshall’s case.

Any chance of signing FS O.J. Atogwe hinges on the Cowboys' draft outcome.

The only wide receiver that may join the squad is probably a middle-to-late round draft selection who is versatile enough to return kicks and punts.

Q: I have heard Dallas might be interested in signing Rams’ free safety O.J. Atogwe. What are the chances of this happening, and what would the ‘Boys have to give up? Do you think it is a smart move?

Anna Orr, Dallas, TX

A: Unlike a lot of the rumors circulating the internet, there is actually a realistic chance of the Cowboys signing Atogwe. We wouldn’t call it an outstanding chance, but a possibility nonetheless.

Atogwe offers a trait the current Dallas’ safeties do not possess–ball-hawking ability. Atogwe has picked off 15 passes the last three seasons despite playing for a St. Louis team that does not get thrown at a lot.

The issue for the Cowboys will be if they see Atogwe as a significant upgrade over Ken Hamlin. Atogwe should receive a decent size contract, but the Cowboys may want to just invest a high draft pick in a free safety rather than one who is already 28 years old.

The good news for Dallas (which makes a deal more likely) is that they will not have to give up any picks to sign Atogwe. The Rams are able to match any offer sheet Atogwe signs, but if they do not, they do not receive any compensation.

On June 1, however, Atogwe becomes an unrestricted free agent, meaning any team can sign him and St. Louis holds no right to match an offer. It is likely teams will wait until then to offer Atogwe a contract.

Thus, for the Cowboys, the chances of signing Atogwe hinge on the path they take during the draft. If they draft a safety in rounds one or two, Atogwe likely will not be in Dallas. Should they pass on a safety in the early rounds, however, Dallas may just become the favorite to sign the 28 year old ball-hawk.

Still, the Cowboys are in no rush to sign Atogwe. If they do deem Ken Hamlin a liability, chances are they will look to draft a stud rookie safety before giving big money to a veteran.

Jesse Holley overcame long odds to make the Cowboys' practice squad, and he will have to do it again to make the 53-man roster.

Q: What are the chances of the “4th and Long” winner Jesse Holley making the Cowboys’ roster?

Daniel Wagnor, Palmdale, CA

A: Very, very slim. Holley isn’t a bad player, but there just is not much room. Despite the notion that wide receiver is a weak link for the Cowboys, it is actually very deep.

The team generally keeps five wide receivers on the 53-man roster. Austin, Williams, Crayton, and Ogletree are all basically locks to make the squad.

The odd man out, if there is one, would be Sam Hurd. If Hurd makes the team again, it will be due to his special teams ability. At a certain point, though, special team players have to step up into a positional role. Hurd may be capable of doing that, but Jerry Jones may decide he wants a player with more upside.

To obtain that upside, the Cowboys also could draft a wide receiver fairly early in the April draft. We don’t see that as likely, but if it does happen, Holley’s shot of making the roster is all but gone. In a nutshell, although we like the guy, he will probably have to hope for an injury.

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Grading the ‘Boys, Part IV: Cornerbacks

In Parts I-III of our “Grading the ‘Boys” Series, we analyzed the production of the offensive line and running backs. We now swing over to the defense to critique the play of the Cowboys’ top three cornerbacks.

As is the case with every position in football, the success of the defensive backs is very dependent on the play of other positions, particularly those rushing the passer. Thus, it can become difficult when comparing CB’s from different teams because the efficiency of their respective pass-rushers is directly correlated to the cornerbacks’ own success.

It is easier to compare CB’s on the same team, particularly if they do not match up with specific receivers. This is the case on the Cowboys, as Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins generally play one side of the field regardless of where the opposition’s receivers line up.

Playing in the slot can be a bit different, and so we must be careful when comparing Orlando Scandrick’s stats with those of Newman and Jenkins. The percentage of snaps that Scandrick is targeted, for example, will be higher than the starting cornerbacks because he is on the field in all passing situations, but not necessarily on running downs.

Still, we can gather the numbers and effectively isolate a player’s success to the best of our ability. Below are the results of the Dallas cornerbacks’ 2009 play and the corresponding Dallas Cowboys Times grades.

Notes

  • Chart Key: TA=Thrown At, Rec=Receptions Yielded, PD=Passes Defended, Yds/Att=Yards Per Attempt Thrown At
  • The best stats are circled in blue, the worst in red.
  • Some of the stats were provided by Pro Football Focus.
  • The final chart details our own custom statistic, the Dallas Cowboys Times Pass Defense Rating. It incorporates the factors we believe are most valuable in evaluating the success of a cornerback. The amount of points a player scores in each category is less important than the difference between his score and the average score. For example, a point total of 20.0 in a category where the league average is 5.0 helps a player more than a score of 100.0 in a category whose league average is 90.0.
  • The final grade is weighted 4:1 in terms of pass defense versus run defense.

Grades

2009 Cornerback Pass Defense Totals

  • Terence Newman

Pass Defense: B+

So much has been made of Mike Jenkins’ progression in 2009 that people tend to forget how outstanding Terence Newman played. Newman’s health and ability to perform at his best was undoubtedly one of the primary reasons for the success of the Dallas defense.

Newman was the least targeted Cowboys’ cornerback in ’09, getting thrown at on just 9.49 percent of all snaps. This statistic is very representative of the way opposing coaches feel about a player. Newman may be underrated among general fans, but those in the league are very aware of his ability.

Newman recorded an impressive .728 passing yards allowed per snap, surpassed only slightly by Jenkins. The 7.66 yards-per-attempt against Newman was the worst of all three cornerbacks, but this could be due to the fact that quarterbacks do not generally test him. When Newman does get thrown at, there is a good bet his receiver is fairly open.

2009 Cornerback Pass Defense Efficiency

A common knock on Terence throughout his entire career has been his inability to make a play on the ball. It is a valid criticism, as Newman logged just three interceptions last season, and we see it as his biggest weakness. The largest difference between Newman and Jenkins in ’09 was this ability to make big plays. Nonetheless, Newman is almost always in position, which surely aids his teammates in their quest to force turnovers.

The statistic which we value most, our own Pass Defense Rating (below), has Newman ranked slightly behind Jenkins in terms of 2009 pass defense efficiency. Newman checked in with 236.39 points. In comparison, Darrelle Revis, the most dominant pass defender by far last season, recorded 336.38 points.

Run Defense: A-

The most underrated component of Newman’s game is his willingness to stop the run. He recorded the most tackles and missed the least of any cornerback on the team last season. In fact, his 8.5 percent missed tackle percentage was one of the best in the league.

  • Mike Jenkins

Pass Defense: A-

No player on Dallas took as big a leap forward in 2009 as Mike Jenkins. Jenkins, remember, began the season in a rotation with Orlando Scandrick as the Cowboys’ starting cornerback. His play soon justified his stay in the starting lineup.

Jenkins gave up a completion on just 49.1 percent of passes thrown his way, leading the team. He also led all three CB’s in yards-per-attempt, yards-per-snap, pass deflections, and, most importantly, interceptions (six).

2009 Cornerback Run Support Statistics

Because interceptions can sometimes be fluky and vary greatly from year to year, we do not put an extreme emphasis on them in our custom Pass Defense Rating. Despite this, Jenkins led the team with 267.96 points. Rankings among teammates, more so than among competitors, are very accurate because teammates deal with the same pass rush and game situations.

While we would rate Newman’s ability to purely cover as equivalent or superior to Jenkins’, the former USF cornerback gets the better grade because of his increased play-making ability.

Run Defense: C+

Jenkins was ridiculed for dodging a tackle against the Giants in his rookie season, and it was obvious he placed emphasis on improving his run support in 2009. Still, this part of Jenkins’ game needs work. He recorded less tackles than Scandrick despite playing significantly more snaps. He also missed 14.6 percent of all tackles he attempted. This is not horrendous, but it can certainly improve. Newman has proven that run support is more about “want to” than being physically-imposing.

  • Orlando Scandrick

Pass Defense: C

Scandrick took a step back in 2009. The fact that he even had a chance to start this season after being drafted in the fifth round in 2008 is a testament to how well he played in his rookie season.

Our Pass Defense Rating ranks is capable of effectively ranking cornerbacks who play on the same team.

In ’09, however, Scandrick was one of the most targeted defensive backs in the NFL (13.91 percent of all snaps). Despite this and giving up completions on 62.9 percent of passes his way, Scandrick did a good job of limiting the yards-per-attempt to just 6.83 (Jenkins was only slightly better at 6.71).

Scandrick tallied only 151.90 points in our Pass Defense Rating, though, because of his high target rate and inability to make plays on the ball.

The problem with Scandrick was not that he was out of position or got beat a lot. As we watched the film, it was apparent Scandrick’s speed and quickness allowed him to cover well, but, for whatever reason, he got outplayed once the ball was in the air.

Thus, his number one offseason priority may be working to get his head turned around in coverage to locate the ball, then subsequently using his athleticism to make a play.

Run Defense: B-

Scandrick is slight of frame, but he doesn’t get manhandled in the run game. He actually recorded three more tackles than Jenkins This number could be inflated, however, because Scandrick lined up closer to the ball-carrier and also gave up a significant number of completions where he was able to immediately make a tackle.

Still, Scandrick had a lower percentage of missed tackles than Jenkins. Tackling from the nickel position is generally more difficult than it is for a cornerback lined up out wide because a nickel cornerback is in the open field and does not have the ability to utilize the sideline as an extra defender.

Final Cornerback Rankings

1. Mike Jenkins: 89.8 (A-)

2. Terence Newman: 88.2 (B+)

Orlando Scandrick may have competition in 2010, perhaps from Javier Arenas.

3. Orlando Scandrick: 76.6 (C)

So where do the Cowboys go from here concerning the cornerback position? It is obvious they are highly talented on the outside with Newman and Jenkins, but should they upgrade the nickel spot?

In our opinion, Scandrick has the ability to significantly improve his performance in 2010. It is quite apparent that he is very close to taking that next step. The most important aspect of his success will be gaining experience. With experience comes knowledge, and with knowledge comes success.

Sometimes it appeared as though Scandrick was a bit hesitant on the field in ’09, and the knowledge he will gain from more experience will allow him to “stop thinking” and let his natural ability take over. There is no doubt that he has the requisite talent to be an incredible cover corner.

We could also see the Cowboys addressing the position during the middle or late rounds of the draft. One player we are very high on is Alabama CB Javier Arenas. Arenas primary role in Dallas would be as a return man, but he could also push Scandrick for the nickel spot. Perhaps a little competition is just what Orlando needs to thrive in 2010.

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Martellus Bennett and the Cowboys: Is it Time to Move on?

“I think I can be one of the all-time greats. It’s part of the system. I think the Cowboys are a great fit for me. The system has to change for me to produce. There’s some things they have to do on the coaching side of the ball to make me . . . fit into the system. It’s not just all on the player. There’s different things that have to be done to put me in a position to make those plays.”

Which Cowboys player, current or former, would you initially guess uttered these words?

Antonio Bryant?

Nope.

T.O.?

Wrong again.

These are the thoughts of none other than the Cowboys second-string (perhaps soon third-string) tight end, Martellus Bennett. You can view the full sit-down conversation with Bennett below.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xVae78Tu_aU&feature=player_embedded]

Quite the statement for a player fresh off of a 15 catch season. But are Bennett’s struggles really due to the Cowboys’ coaches? Are his limited opportunities the result of their ignorance or, perhaps, Bennett’s own incompetence?

In an attempt to possibly light a fire under the now third-year tight end’s, well, end, owner Jerry Jones said this after the 2009 season:

“There’s a big difference in the ‘down to business’ of those two guys (referring to Bennett and Anthony Spencer). Spencer has been down to business since he walked in the door. Bennett can get down to business. I know that he can. We all see what a tremendous weapon he is and can be. His blocking is really as impressive as his ability to be a big target for Romo.

I’m confident he sees that. He is extremely smart. He can get it. I think ‘focus’ would be the word. He will get a lot more tweets if he is a big-time ballplayer than he will just off of his creative ability.”

Jerry hit the nail right on the head. As of now, Bennett seems more focused on making music and getting on Twitter than learning the playbook.

But, to Bennett’s credit, Mr. Jones was also correct about his blocking ability. It is difficult to quantify run-blocking stats for a tight end, but the Cowboys appeared to flourish when running outside to Bennett’s side. Our numbers indicate the ‘Boys backs galloped for a gaudy 6.5 yards-per-carry when running behind the former Texas A&M standout.

Our film study also shows Bennett also allowed just one sack and four quarterback pressures on the season, despite staying in to block on pass plays quite often.

Still, Bennett’s on-field production has not coincided with his off-field attitude. Of course confidence is a necessity in any successful football player, but questioning the offensive scheme is a pretty big “no-no” for someone with 35 career receptions.

The Cowboys rid themselves of someone who questioned authority last season in Terrell Owens. But with all that has been made of T.O.’s locker room destruction, we would argue he is actually a better teammate than Bennett.

First, he produced. Even in his last year in Dallas– a “down year”– Owens hauled in 10 touchdown passes. Bennett had zero last season.

Second, and more importantly, Owens practiced as hard as anyone on the team. As much as T.O. was ridiculed, he never let his off-field attitude pollute his tremendous on-field effort. That does not appear to be the case for Bennett, at least not currently.

So what should the Cowboys do with Martellus?

Cut him? Not going to happen, nor should it.

Trade him? That boat may have already sailed. Cincinnati reportedly offered a first round selection last year for Bennett. The team might be happy to get a third for him now.

Of course, the future of Bennett is linked to the organization’s feelings on John Phillips. As we detailed in our Phillips v. Deon Anderson study, the second-year tight end was a bit over-matched in the run game. Further, having three solid tight ends is a must for a team that runs Double Tight formations more than anyone in the league.

Thus, the Cowboys are likely to stick with Bennett for at least another year and pray they can obtain his undivided focus. If Bennett can get ‘down to business’ and cash in his ticket, the sky is the limit.

He certainly has the potential to be one of the all-time greats.

Just ask him.

Bennett certainly has the potential for greatness, but at a certain point, potential is irrelevant.

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Miles Austin’s Future in Dallas and the “Poison Pill” Contract

After the Cowboys signed players to free agent tenders, we briefly discussed here why the Cowboys will not let Miles Austin get away. Austin signed a first and third round tender, but he is free to sign with another squad. If Dallas does not match that offer within seven days, Austin would be gone and the Cowboys would receive a first and third round pick from the team that signed him.

The Cowboys, though, are expected to match any potential offer Austin might sign.

But what if they can’t? What if the nature of the contract is such that it is impossible (not just economically speaking) for Dallas to match it?

This sort of contract would contain what is referred to as a “poison pill.” A “poison pill” contract contains characteristics with which one team is able to comply but another is not. The concept began in 1996 when San Francisco signed running back Rodney Hampton to an offer sheet which mandated he must be on the field for 70 percent of the offensive plays the next two seasons.

Hampton’s current team, the Giants, had just drafted Tyrone Wheatley and would be unable to meet the clause without significantly stunting Wheatley’s growth.

That contract offer was never completed, but another “poison pill” offer sheet did go through in 2005 when Seattle guard Steve Hutchinson signed with Minnesota. Hutchinson’s offer sheet stated he must be the highest paid offensive lineman on the team. Minnesota knew Seattle left tackle Walter Jones’ contract would make it impossible for Seattle to match their offer.

Despite the inherent lack of fairness in these deals, the current CBA states that they are still legal.

So, is it possible that Miles Austin could sign an offer sheet containing such a “poison pill”? Jerry Jones recently addressed the subject, claiming:

That’s always a concern and that’s one of the things that needs to be addressed in the new collective bargaining agreement. Those are called unintended consequences there. What turns into trying to be competitive among clubs and what turns into trying to be fair for a player turns into being a disadvantage for the clubs.

Thus, Jones is aware of the possibility of losing Austin.

Miles Austin should be partying in Dallas for awhile.

Still, the chances of it coming to fruition are extremely low. First, teams are simply not eager to create such discontent and animosity around the league. They may win the battle in securing the player for which they yearn, but could end up losing the war because teams may become less willing to deal with them in the future.

Second, despite Austin’s tremendous season, there are still a limited number of organizations willing to part with two high picks for a player who has yet to start a full season.

Lastly, and most important, the future of Austin is really up to him. He (or more likely his agent) will be very aware of any “poison pill”-containing offers. Miles seems to enjoy playing in Dallas, and we doubt he is chomping at the bit to pack up and buy a ticket out of here. While he is undoubtedly seeking a long-term deal, Austin would likely come back to the Cowboys and allow them to match any offer before putting the Cowboys in a no-win situation.

Thus, while it is theoretically possible that Austin may be wearing something other than the silver and blue this fall, it just is not a realistic scenario. Cowboys fans can rejoice in the fact that, barring a catastrophe, Miles Austin will be the team’s number one wide receiver now and in the future.