Monday, January 31, 2011

Enough of the Revisionist History

The Patrick Crayton comments last week have stirred up a lot of bad feelings about some of the offseason moves the Cowboys made last season. Crayton's ability to run his mouth has obviously not changed since he was shipped to San Diego before the start of the season. He has made comments about the Cowboys a few times in the media and it is pretty apparent that he is holding a grudge for the way things ended for him. His animosity is pretty ridiculous when you go back and look at how his departure actually played out. And most of his comments since he left have been completely off base and vindictive.

Crayton believes the Cowboys don't care about winning because they got rid of him, Flozell Adams and Ken Hamlin last offseason. Hamlin and Adams were cut for salary cap reasons as well as performance issues. Crayton was shipped out primarily because they Cowboys were afraid he was going to be a locker room problem. And let's not forget that Crayton actually requested a trade after it became apparent that he was going to be relegated to the #4 slot in the receiver depth chart.

What bothers me more than Crayton's comments are some of the fans who are actually agreeing with his comments. I can understand that Patrick is upset about how his time in Dallas came to an end. And I would probably be just as mad as he is with the Cowboys if I were in his shoes. But I think it is pretty obvious that his public opinions about the Cowboys are being influenced by his anger towards the team management and Jason Garrett.

I want to take a look at Crayton's comments that so many fans seem to be agreeing with one at a time. Let's start with Crayton's exit from Dallas. Patrick Crayton for some reason always had a mouth that was much bigger than his game. I don't want to minimize Crayton's value in Dallas because he was a big part of the offense and he was always a reliable punt returner. But he was never a top tier receiver and he was never going to be. When the Cowboys drafted Dez Bryant the writing was on the wall. Dez Bryant is not only a freakish wide receiver, he also returns punts.

So obviously Crayton was going to get shuffled down in the depth chart. He might be able to make an argument that he was more valuable than Roy Williams in the offense, but you know that Miles Austin and Dez Bryant are clearly superior to Crayton. Now throw in the fact that Patrick Crayton began to complain publicly early in training camp that he wasn't getting a fair shot at moving up in the depth chart. As much as Patrick didn't want to hear it, a supremely talented first round pick is always going to get a shot to play. And if Crayton couldn't even help on special teams it was hard to justify keeping him around. We're talking about a guy who asked to be traded, publicly complained about his spot in the depth chart, and wouldn't have contributed on game day unless there was an injury. You can't justify keeping a guy who could cause distractions in the locker room if he isn't even expected to be a significant part of the team.

Crayton's comments about Jason Garrett since he has been shipped out prove that he wasn't exactly on the Garrett bandwagon. In the end, I think it is pretty clear that Crayton needed to go since he apparently was at odds with his offensive coordinator or at least didn't care to play for Garrett. I shutter to think how Crayton may have responded when Garrett was named head coach.

Let's move on to Flozell Adams. He is clearly a player on the decline. Sure, it is great that he is going to start at right tackle for the Steelers in the Super Bowl. But let's not pretend that he was going to come back to Dallas to back up Doug Free at left tackle or move to the right side to replace Colombo. Flozell was overpaid and on the decline. I have serious doubts that he would have been willing to restructure his salary and take a demotion to back up tackle to stay with Dallas. And he was so bad early on with the Steelers that he was a back up player for them until injuries forced the Steelers to put him on the field. You could argue that he played better at right tackle than Marc Colombo and you would probably be right. But I don't think the Cowboys expected Colombo to play so poorly this season or they might have considered moving Flozell to the right side. The reality is that there wasn't really a way to keep Flozell Adams on the team once the decision was made to make Doug Free the starter. It sure would have been nice to have him but the reality is that keeping him just wasn't a real option.

That brings us to Ken Hamlin. The Cowboys screwed up when they signed Hamlin to a big money, long term contract after the 2007 season. They realized that mistake in 2008 and the problem became even more apparent in 2009. Hamlin fooled the Cowboys by having the best season of his career in 2007. The Cowboys had an opportunity to dump his salary during last year's offseason without any salary cap ramifications and they took advantage. Unfortunately the Cowboys failed to adequately address the position in free agency or in the draft. Was Hamlin better than Alan Ball? Definitely. But let's not pretend he was a great player for the Cowboys for more than one season. And he was so bad this year for the Ravens that he was cut midseason and finished the season at home on his couch just like you or me. But I do believe the defense took a hit by downgrading from Hamlin to Ball. Just remember that the Cowboys cut him for a reason.

I'm not trying to pretend that the Cowboys didn't make a lot of mistakes in their approach to the roster last offseason. They didn't adequately address safety, kicker or offensive line. But pointing at the decisions to get rid of Adams, Hamlin or Crayton is not getting to the root of the problem. All three of those players were replaceable. The problem is that the Cowboys thought that some of the younger players could step up and contribute and they were obviously wrong about that. They should have been more aggressive in free agency. Crayton's departure wouldn't even have registered on the radar if it hadn't been for a run of injuries at wide receiver. Last year's offseason was terrible for the Cowboys but not because of these three roster moves.

Monday, January 24, 2011

A Few Random Thoughts

News out of Valley Ranch has slowed to a crawl now that Rob Ryan has been hired as the defensive coordinator. But there has been a few small tidbits of information over the last few days that have interested me.

First and foremost, congratulations to Jason Witten on earning the second All-Pro nomination of his career. It was deserved and, in my opinion, the voters should have him first on the list more often. While guys like Antonio Gates, Dallas Clark and Tony Gonzalez are great players, Witten plays a great all around game while the other guys I mentioned are primarily receivers. Witten's ability and willingness to be a big part of the running and pass protection are what sets him apart from other players at his position. The stats that Witten compiled this year while playing with three different quarterbacks are nothing short of amazing considering the circumstances.

Here is my two cents on the Jay Cutler debate. I am absolutely disgusted by the way Cutler didn't even really put up a fight to stay in the game against the Packers. Sure, his knee was legitimately injured. But plenty of guys have played with injuries just as bad and done it successfully. Cutler's teammates are coming to his defense, but I would not be able to forgive him if I were a Bears fan. It wasn't just the fact that he didn't play. He also sat on the bench and basically sulked for the rest of the game instead of doing what he could to help the team out.

Just compare Cutler to some of the players on the 6-10 Cowboys team this season. Jason Witten looked like he was ready to knock out the doctor in the game against the Bears when the doctors wouldn't let him back into the game. And Tony Romo tried to go back into the game against the Giants with a broken collarbone. Cutler didn't seem to have much fight in him.

I personally have actually played quarterback with a sprained MCL. Sure, it was in high school but my injury was similar to the Cutler injury. It was the MCL in my left knee and it was taped up to the point I felt like I had a robotic leg. It hurt on every play and it hurt whether I was walking or running. But I played for several weeks with the injury. And I didn't even have a pain killing injection in my knee like the one's Cutler had available to him. They can say the doctor's pulled him if they want to make excuses but they wouldn't have let him back on the field in the second half if they didn't think he could play with the injury. I'll never look at Cutler the same way again and I think a lot of players in the NFL agree with me.

I really hope the owners and players are going to work out this CBA mess so that we don't get shortchanged on the usual excitement of free agency. The Cowboys have a lot of holes to fill on the roster so they really need a full offseason to sign players and develop they guys already on the roster. With Rob Ryan installing his defensive scheme it is going to be important for him to have time in mini-camps to get the new defense installed.

I'll be pulling for the Packers in the Super Bowl mostly because I don't want the Steelers to get a 7th Super Bowl title and pull further ahead of the Cowboys. Hopefully it will be an exciting game, but I don't need to hear any more about all of the Cowboy playoff records that the Steelers are breaking or tying. For one game at least...Go Pack Go!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Can Rob Ryan Cure What Ails the Cowboys Defense?

It appears that Rob Ryan has officially agreed to terms with the Cowboys to become their defensive coordinator. Jason Garrett searched extensively throughout the league for a defensive coordinator that could turn the defense around after their pitiful performance in 2010. Ryan certainly exudes the confidence of a man who thinks he can get the job done.

There has been a lot of talk about the defensive rankings that Ryan has compiled as a defensive coordinator. There are some great statistics that give you hope but also some scary statistics that make you wonder if Ryan will really be the answer. Here is a comparison of the 2010 Cleveland defense versus the 2010 Dallas defense:

Points Allowed
Cleveland - 332 (20.8 PPG)
Dallas - 436 (27.2 PPG)

Yard Allowed
Cleveland - 5601 (350.1 YPG)
Dallas - 5628 (351.8 YPG)

Rushing Yards Allowed
Cleveland - 2070 (129.4 YPG, 4.1 per carry)
Dallas - 1734 (108.4 YPG, 4.3 per carry)

Passing Yards Allowed
Cleveland - 3531 (220.7 YPG, 84.8 QB rating)
Dallas - 3894 (243.4 YPG, 92.8 QB rating)

Cleveland - 19
Dallas - 20

Fumbles Recovered

Cleveland - 9 (9 forced)
Dallas - 10 (14 forced)

Defensive Touchdowns

Cleveland - 3 (3 interceptions)
Dallas - 4 (3 interceptions, 1 fumble)


Cleveland - 29
Dallas - 35

While the statistics don't definitively prove anything about Rob Ryan I think it does show us that we should expect improvement from the defense under his coaching. You have to keep in mind that Cleveland did not have the talent on defense that Dallas does. Out of the 11 Cleveland season opening starters only one was a former first round pick. The Cowboys had six former first round picks starting until Marcus Spears was injured. Obviously it will be an upgrade in talent for Rob Ryan. How excited do you think Ryan will be to have Demarcus Ware at his disposal?

Perhaps with more talent on the defense Rob Ryan will call a more aggressive, attacking style defense than we have seen in Dallas in a long time. Wade Phillips loved to dial up blitzes but they usually came from the middle of the field and they were very rarely disguised very well. Ryan's defense in Cleveland moved around a lot before the snap to help confuse the offense and keep them guessing where the pressure would be coming from. I would love to see the same tactics employed by the Dallas defense.

The defense will still need to be upgraded at several positions, but a great scheme can help cover up the inadequacies at some positions. I have to believe that the Cowboys will be looking for a new free safety this offseason along with more depth on the defensive line. There is a serious lack of depth at outside linebacker as well. And the two starting middle linebackers aren't getting any younger. I don't see how the Cowboys can possibly fill all of their holes in the defense in one offseason so the scheme is going to have to be the difference maker.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Watching the Playoffs Is Painful on Many Levels

This feels like a repeat of the 2008 season. The Cowboys were talked about as Super Bowl favorites by the media for months and months leading up to the season. In the end, both seasons ended without a playoff appearance. And watching the playoffs, while exciting, also brings up a lot of painful memories and emotions.

During the Seahawks colossal upset of the Saints yesterday I'm sure a lot of Cowboys fans were thinking back to 2006. The Cowboys held a 4th quarter lead against the Seahawks and watched it evaporate quickly. But Tony Romo led the Cowboys down the field to set up a potential chip shot game winner to allow the Cowboys to upset the Seahawks at home. We all know how that game ended. Romo botched the snap, picked it up and it looked like he would score a touchdown for a split second, but he was tackled from behind short of a first down and short of the end zone. The Saints have learned a lesson the Cowboys learned in 2006. It is tough to win in Seattle. I don't even want to get back into the talk about the conspiracy with a brand new ball being put into play by the Seattle field crew or the horrible spot on the previous play that cost the Cowboys a shot at a touchdown instead of a field goal attempt.

Watching the Seattle-New Orleans game also brought back painful memories of the 2007 Cowboys-Giants divisional playoff game. The Cowboys were the #1 seed coming off their first round bye and were favored to beat the Giants in Dallas. Again, we know how that one ended. But seeing the Saints get upset in the first round of the playoffs had to feel the same for Saints fans as it did for Cowboys fans in 2007. Misery loves company I guess because I found myself pulling for the Seahawks just because I wanted to see the Saints go down in embarrassing fashion like the Cowboys did in 2007.

And how can the Philadelphia-Green Bay wild card game not remind you of how far the Cowboys have fallen in just one calendar year? It feels like just a short time ago that the Cowboys manhandled the Eagles in back to back games to end their playoff drought. And yet here were are watching the Eagles play a playoff game while we talk about what could have been and what we are hoping for next season. It is just sad.

I hope the players are sitting at home watching these games feeling the pain that the fans are feeling. I know guys like Jason Witten, Tony Romo, Jay Ratliff, and Demarcus Ware would give anything to be playing right now. Anyone who doesn't feel awful about how the season went down shouldn't be back next season. Every player who will return next year should be taking mental notes of how horrible it feels to be sitting at home in January watching their peers play for a Super Bowl.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Jason Garrett Era Has Officially Begun

We all knew it was coming. Reports leaked on Sunday that the Cowboys had already made the decision to hire Jason Garrett as the permanent head coach. They still had to comply with the Rooney Rule so the official team announcement took a few days but it was understood by most that Garrett was getting the job.

From a fan's perspective I think the majority of people are on board with the move. But there is a significant minority who are not happy with the decision. I am definitely with the majority. I like Jason Garrett before he took over as interim coach and I have liked him more with each passing day since he took over.

Jason Garrett is exactly what this team needs right now. He is no nonsense. He sets very clear expectations and rules for the team to follow. And he is constantly upbeat. His approach is to focus on the little things each and every day, and, if you do that, the big things like winning games and winning championships will take care of themselves.

During his introductory press conference today Garrett talked about how he would continue with full pad practices during the upcoming training camp and regular season. A lot of the conspiracy theorists out there who think the Cowboys didn't run the ball well early in the season because Garrett was trying to get Wade Phillips fired are overlooking the importance of practice. When Garrett took over he immediately changed the tempo and the physicality of practices. Surprise, surprise the running game slowly but surely improved from that point forward. High school coaches say it until they are blue in the face because it is play like you practice.

Getting Jason Garrett locked in as the full time head coach was only step one in what is going to be a big offseason of change for the Cowboys roster and coaching staff. I'm expecting a new defensive coordinator to be named at some point in the next few weeks and we'll probably see some new position coaches as well. There are a lot of roster decisions to be made before the start of free agency (assuming a deal is made to prevent a lockout) and the draft is going to be extremely important this offseason.

According to Jerry Jones he is going to allow Jason Garrett to have the final say on the coaching staff and on any player on the roster. We can only hope that isn't just lip service and that Jerry's words hold true for the long term. Garrett needs to be allowed to surround himself with coaches he believes in and who will accept him as the head coach. And he needs to be allowed to acquire players who will buy into the system, work hard, and put the team first.

The Cowboys probably aren't immediate Super Bowl contenders just because they have a new coach, but it sure feels like this move gets the Cowboys headed down a winning path again. Time will tell, but the only evidence we have shows us that Jason Garrett can coach his team to victory. He wasn't perfect during his time as interim coach but I believe he learned on the job and will only be better as time goes on. I think the playoffs are a real possibility next season but only if there are major changes made across the board with the coaching staff and the team roster.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Season Ends on a Winning Note

It was an ugly game. The Eagles sat most of their key starters. And the defense still struggled to stop Kevin Kolb and his cast of backups. Stephen McGee was terrible until the Cowboys needed him the most. But in the end...a win is a win and I'll take it. How can you complain about a victory after the way this season has gone?

Demarcus Ware was clearly too good for the Eagles to block. Of course he was going against backups, but the three sacks he got in the game count just as much as the rest he got this season. He is the best player on what was a horrible defense. But at least the Cowboys know they have the best pass rusher in the NFL to rebuild the defense around.

Jason Witten came up with the big plays on the winning drive after being shut out up to that point. He ended the season with 94 catches and over 1000 yards. Great numbers under any circumstances but even better when you take into account that he played with three different quarterbacks this season.

Stephen McGee was awful. But you have to give him credit for making the big play in the big moment for the second week in a row. McGee was terrible against the blitz for the majority of the game but he at least scrambled well and didn't turn the ball over. And making the passes in the last two minutes count for a lot when you try to decide if he is worth keeping around long term.

Jason Garrett finished the season 5-3 as the interim head coach. And many reports have stated that he will be named the permanent head coach some time this week. He has earned the job with the way he pulled the team together after their 1-7 start. He didn't completely transform the team but he did start the process of getting back to fundamental football and the team is learning how to win again. Hopefully this win will help propel the Cowboys into the offseason.

I think it is pretty obvious that the defense needs a major overhaul. The offensive line will have to be addressed. David Buehler is going to be forced to win the kicking job this offseason now that Kris Brown is on the roster. Jerry Jones, the rest of the front office and the coaches will have their work cut out for them to get this team back to the playoffs next season.

But Jason Garrett has proven to us that there is still enough talent on this roster to win. With a second and then even a third string quarterback the Cowboys have battled and won a lot of games people picked them to lose during the second half of the season. With some roster improvements this offseason we should be expecting to see the Cowboys in the playoffs next year.