Did the Dallas Cowboys do enough to improve and win?
It’s great to be getting back into some Cowboys football. The National Hockey League season is over, congrats to the Los Angeles Kings, and the National Basketball Association season is over, congrats to the San Antonio Spurs.. Major League Baseball is in full swing, and so is the racing season (NASCAR, F1, Indy Cars, World of Outlaws) season. That means one thing: the NFL has finished off Organized Team Activities and mandatory mini camps.
Some NFL teams have a lot more work to do this off season than others. Teams like the Seattle Seahawks are just fine tuning what they did last year coming off their first ever Super Bowl win. Teams like the Cleveland Browns, Oakland Raiders and such, have done a lot of work and will still need to strive to be competitive.
Where are the Dallas Cowboys in all of this and what questions need to be answered?
The Dallas Cowboys had one of the worst defenses in the National Football League last year and one of the worst in franchise history. So, in an attempt to address it they went and drafted defensive players 7 times with their 9 picks.
The most notable was Demarcus Lawerence; a defensive end out of Boise State. He wasn’t the most notable because of his draft status or his expectations. No, he became most notable because he was drafted to replace one of the all time greatest players to ever don a Dallas Cowboys uniform; DeMarcus Ware.
The Dallas Cowboys made some notable moves very early in the offseason. It had nothing to do with player personnel, and more to do with the coaching staff as they demoted (although he doesn’t see it that way) Monte Kiffen and promoted Rod Marinelli to defensive coordinator. Then they demoted (yet somehow kept him on the staff) Bill Calahan from offensive coordinator and hired Scott Linehan to be the offensive coordinator/passing game coordinator. It sure seems like it could be a situation of too many chiefs and not enough Indians, but time will tell.
I like the change in the coordinators, but it was obvious that if they fired Kiffen, then Marinelli would walk. I wonder what keeps Callahan around though? He’s a solid coach and could be more than a run game coordinator/offensive line coach on a lot of teams. So here’s some of the questions that need to be answered.
Can Rod Marinelli make the defense better after losing DeMarcus Ware, and Jason Hatcher?
I know he was depending on the leadership of Sean Lee to build around, but as we’ll address later, that’s not going to happen. At this point, Rod Marinelli must build the Cowboys defense without Sean Lee, Demarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher. If Rod Marinelli can make this defense decent, he would get my vote for the assistant coach of the year award. I like Rod Marinelli and believe in his ability as a coach, but he has a long road ahead of him. He doesn’t have any star power on the defense. There are questions at every defensive line position and free safety as well. Not to mention replacing his best linebacker. If you would have said to me at the end of last season that the best player on defense going into training camp would be Orlando Scandrick, I would have laughed in your face, but that’s where the Cowboys are now.
Will they find a replacement for Sean Lee?
Rod Marinelli is already in a pickle after losing his best defensive player. The Cowboys drafted Anthony Hitchens in the 4th round and it was obvious, to me at least, that he was drafted to fill in for Lee if he were to go down for a short period of time. The Cowboys didn’t plan on losing Sean Lee so early in an OTA. I don’t think that the Cowboys planned on playing Hitchens from day one of the season.
Now they have to figure out who’s going to play middle linebacker. Will it be Justin Durant? DeVonte Holloman? Orie Lemon? Bruce Carter? Sean Lee was more than a great athlete. His ability to dissect a play was second to none. The only silver lining to come out of his injury is that it happened early. This will give the Cowboys plenty of time to replace him.
How will the defensive backfield look?
They didn’t make Free Safety a priority in the draft. Â By the looks of it they are going to ride the J.J. Wilcox train. Â Last year that was the plan also, but unfortunately the day they named him starter he left training camp to go to his mother’s funeral. Â In the short term it really hurt his play, and in the long term, he like many of the Cowboys defensive players got hurt. Â They also have Jeff Heath, whom I wasn’t, and still am not a fan of. Â And of course there’s good ‘ole Matt Johnson competing for the spot…AGAIN. Matt Johnson has been on the team 3 years, and has yet to play in a regular season game. Â Every year he gets hurt in preseason, and misses the whole season. Â This may be the year that the Cowboys part ways with Mr. Johnson if he can’t stay healthy.
Morris Claiborne is looking to have a bounce back season, and Brandon Carr is ready “to take over the league” as he put it recently. Of course we can’t forget probably the best player on defense right now, and that’s Orlando Scandrick. Â He’s not only been the model of consistency, but gets better every year, and also avoids injury. Â In my opinion, the wild card for the defensive backfield is Sterling Moore. Â He’s shown flashes every time he’s played, but for some reason the Cowboys keep cutting, and resigning him. Â Last year, and probably again this year it will come down to Moore and a player that contributes to special teams. The problem with that is that Moore is easily the 4th best CB on the team if not the 3rd best.
Talent wise can the offense improve?Â
Talent wise the Dallas Cowboys are loaded. Â I would venture to say that there aren’t many teams that can compare to the Cowboys talent wise. Â You have a top ten QB in Tony Romo, you have a top 3 wide receiver in Dez Bryant, you have the best all around tight end in Jason Witten. Â Demarco Murray has one of the highest average per carry of any back in the league, (when healthy). The offensive line is probably the strength of the team right now. They are young and hungry. Â There are 4 players under 25 with the best being Tryon Smith. Â They drafted another young stud again this year in the first round; grabbing Zach Martin out of Notre Dame. By all reports he has the right guard spot locked up. Â This follows last years first round pick Travis Frederick, who at the time was a questionable pick, but by seasons end proved every bit of a first round selection. Â There’s a solid fight for the left guard position between Ronald Leary, and Mackenzie Bernadeau, with the winner playing in between Smith and Frederick. Doug Free looks to have the right tackle position sewn up after a solid season in which he took a pay cut so he could prove himself. In the offensive line department the Cowboys will be very good for some years to come. Although the offense didn’t need the attention the defense did, they have improved. Â The best part being what is now the strength of the team, the offensive line. Â As the offensive line goes so goes the offense.
How does the offense get better on the field?
This is my pet peeve. Â As a former offensive coordinator, I was very frustrated last year from the play calling stand point. Â And not just the play calling, but design also. Â First off, the Cowboys absolutely refused to put Dez Bryant in motion. Â They would line Dez up, and let the defense dictate to the Cowboys that he was going to be double covered, and taken out of the game. Â They also refused to use wide receiver bunch plays. Â They would line up tight ends in bunch plays, but not wide receivers. Â It was baffling to me as a coach why they wouldn’t do all they could to get Dez single coverage. I realize that teams can double someone if they dedicate their whole defense to it, but teams didn’t do that because the Cowboys made it too easy to double Dez by not doing the above mentioned.
Another play that was sorely missing was the running back screen. Â I couldn’t for the life of me understand how they have a talented running back with great vision, solid hands, and not run that play? Â The other thing that the Cowboys seemed to not do was run the ball. Â Not because it wasn’t effective as it certainly was, but just abandon it week after week. Â Jason Garrett would stand up in his weekly press conference, and made excuses as to why they didn’t run the ball more. Â He would also say they would have to focus on it more. Â Now we know that Romo will check out of it sometimes, but the coaching staff needs to put in run plays that he can’t check out of so easily. Â They need to figure out how they’re going to fix this: I see it as a glaring problem.
So in comes Scott Linehan. Â As previously mentioned he will be the offensive coordinator/pass game coordinator. Â Will Coach Linehan fix the woes that faced the Cowboys offense last year? Â Will Linehan run the ball more? Â Will he move Dez around? Â Will he use the screen play? Will he use more formations? Â I remember that he moved Calvin Johnson around with the Lions. Â He would put him in the slot, and also put him in motion. Â He also was fond of the screen play using Reggie Bush. Â I am concerned however, that he won’t run the ball enough. Â He’s been up in Detroit and had Megatron, and depended on him a lot to move the offense.
These are the things I’m looking for as far as improvement this season. Â It’s a bit premature to make a prediction, so at this time I won’t . Â I will say that if the defense can improve to at least middle of the pack, and the offense can produce at least what they did last year, then the Dallas Cowboys will win more games and get over the hump of 8-8.