Did the Cowboys do enough to improve and win?….

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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.

defense

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?

cowboysI 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?

cowboysThey didn’t make Free Safety a priority in the draft.  By the looks of it they are going to ride the J.J. Wilcox train.  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.  In the short term it really hurt his play, and in the long term, he like many of the Cowboys defensive players got hurt.  They also have Jeff Heath, whom I wasn’t, and still am not a fan of.  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.  Every year he gets hurt in preseason, and misses the whole season.  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.  He’s not only been the model of consistency, but gets better every year, and also avoids injury.  In my opinion, the wild card for the defensive backfield is Sterling Moore.  He’s shown flashes every time he’s played, but for some reason the Cowboys keep cutting, and resigning him.  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? 

cowboys

Talent wise the Dallas Cowboys are loaded.  I would venture to say that there aren’t many teams that can compare to the Cowboys talent wise.  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.  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.  There are 4 players under 25 with the best being Tryon Smith.  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.  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.  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.  The best part being what is now the strength of the team, the offensive line.  As the offensive line goes so goes the offense.

How does the offense get better on the field?

cowboysThis is my pet peeve.  As a former offensive coordinator, I was very frustrated last year from the play calling stand point.  And not just the play calling, but design also.  First off, the Cowboys absolutely refused to put Dez Bryant in motion.  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.  They also refused to use wide receiver bunch plays.  They would line up tight ends in bunch plays, but not wide receivers.  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.  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?  The other thing that the Cowboys seemed to not do was run the ball.  Not because it wasn’t effective as it certainly was, but just abandon it week after week.  Jason Garrett would stand up in his weekly press conference, and made excuses as to why they didn’t run the ball more.  He would also say they would have to focus on it more.  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.  They need to figure out how they’re going to fix this: I see it as a glaring problem.

So in comes Scott Linehan.  As previously mentioned he will be the offensive coordinator/pass game coordinator.  Will Coach Linehan fix the woes that faced the Cowboys offense last year?  Will Linehan run the ball more?  Will he move Dez around?  Will he use the screen play? Will he use more formations?  I remember that he moved Calvin Johnson around with the Lions.  He would put him in the slot, and also put him in motion.  He also was fond of the screen play using Reggie Bush.  I am concerned however, that he won’t run the ball enough.  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.  It’s a bit premature to make a prediction, so at this time I won’t .  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.

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  • Al

    Nice job on the piece Jeff. I have no worries about the offense, but I am still concerned about the LB, S, and CB position. I believe Carr and Scandrick will be ok, but that 3rd corner is a problem. I have no faith in Mo.

    • Jeff Kessinger

      Thanks, and I agree on the offense to a certain extent. The offense is probably the most talented the Cowboys have had in quite some time. My concern is them running the ball enough. The OL will be able to mow teams down, but the Cowboys under JG have failed to run the ball enough. For the first time in JG’s time in Dallas, the Cowboys had a 1,000 yard rusher last year. Even then he still didn’t run the ball nearly enough. Murray should have had 1,500 yards last year. I’m less concerned with the CB position of any on the defense, providing the keep the best CBs on the team. Last year they made a huge mistake in letting go of Moore IMO. He is a stud, and can play as he’s shown at every opportunity, but because he doesn’t play special teams they let him go. At LB they have some talent, and can be stronger if they figure out the MLB, and Carter has a bounce back year. Holloman was a rookie last year so with a year under his belt he’ll be even better, and he was a pleasant surprise last year. Wilcox will be a very good safety, and has shown promise when healthy, and playing. He showed some real flash of being a very good safety at times last year. Now comes the hard part…the DL. They have done at least the right thing in bringing in a lot of players to throw at the position, and let these guys battle to stick with the team. It also helps the DL that they’re going against one of the best OLs in the NFL. So if the defense can improve to middle of the pack the Cowboys will be a threat to any team with the offense they have.

  • californy

    Rome was not built in a day. It will take time for the boys to become competitive outside of the weakest division in the nfl. If the Cowboys goal is to make the play off they have a chance. It their goal to win a sb, with SF, Seattle, GB and NO in there conference, they are living on a prayer (Bon Jovi– LOL)

    • Al

      I have to agree. Jerry has never had a long term plan. He drafts on impulse too often.

      • californy

        It doesn’t take long to turn things around when you have a Good GM, GB rebuild a team in 2 years with 42 players who had under 3 years of experience, and with 17-21 player ON IR. They won a SB.

        Seattle GM, who came from GB SB team did it in 3 years. JJ been on the 18 year plan for turning it around, lol

    • Jeff Kessinger

      I don’t think the Cowboys are that far off…providing the defense can step up to middle of the pack. I’m, and some if not most will disagree that Wilcox will be an outstanding safety. I’m fairly confident that the Cowboys have thrown enough DL at the position to be a decent upgrade at minimum. The loss of Lee really hurt. The only good thing is he went down early, and gave the Cowboys plenty of time to figure out a replacement. To my bewilderment they are practicing Holloman at MLB? If they can get a solid starter at MLB the defense will absolutely improve in my opinion. But there are players they need to keep IMO, and Moore is one of them. I say this because last year they kept a draft flop in Webb, but cut Moore. They can’t afford to do that this year if they want to improve the defense.

  • californy

    Word has it the boys are counting on Webb to become one of their safety. Webb is an athlete more than he is a player. He only had one year of college ball playing CB, and last year he played Nickle and dime CB. So The Cowboys are reaching on a player who they are counting on to play a position he never played.

    • Al

      Webb has good intangibles, but he can’t tackle for shit.

  • californy

    When the Cowboys selected Hitchen the first thing that caught my attention is the lack of PD and name recognition. The best I see Hitchen doing this year is contributing on special team, those player you don’t have to draft but get them as non drafted players. Cowboys love the big hit in player. What they should love more is a player who play the ball, because at the point the man is beaten.

    • Al

      Don’t remind me about that pick. We profiled LB’s here that were much better and went undrafted. SMFH

      • californy

        My LB went in Rd one to Pittsburg, In Shazier, Van Noy went To Detroit in Rd number 2, ( I predict another Levy LB in him), and my last LB went to Seattle after Hitchen, In kevin Pierre. I heard he will be taking over for Cam Chancellor on the dpeth Chart, not as a LB but as a safety. ALl my Prospects where good cover LB.

        • Al

          Shazier is a joke when it comes to open field tackling. He can’t break down and take on a big RB head on. He will get run over.

          • californy

            Shazier has been the number 1 and number 2 person in solo tackles for the big 10 the last 3 years, when you factor in TFL, PD and sacks, , the negative plays account for 24% of his total tackles. I dont know what you are talking about but I can live with these number I am talking about./ I believe Pittsburgh in time may make him the next troy-polamalu. You dont see to many LB who can cover WR. He had 12 PD in 2012. http://nicepickcowher.com/2014/06/16/ryan-shazier-next-troy-polamalu-pittsburgh-steelers/

          • Gabriel Carrasco

            Shazier can cover, but he looks like a S playing LB. Bigger RB give him problems. I would be concerned if Marshawn, Morris, or Peterson were going his way.

          • californy

            He projected to be the starter, I trust in Dick Laboe, he usually doesn’t start rookie LB.. I believe in what they are doing in Pittsburgh.

          • Gabriel Carrasco

            Doesn’t change my concerns. I don’t hate Shazier, but his smallish body hurt him while he was in college against bigger RB. He was blocked one on one with a WR a few times.

          • californy

            Shazier was well tested in Practice when he had to face, their big back at Ohio state Hyde 235 RB.

          • Al

            My point exactly. The same with Morris or Lacy. How will he handle taking on NFL blockers at the next level or how will he fare against the big physical TE’s.

          • Al

            He also has a tendency to throw a shoulder at times rather than wrap up

          • Al

            there is a big jump in size and skill from the big 10 to the NFL. If he had those types of numbers in the SEC, I would be more impressed. I watched his tape. He has all of the intangibles, but needs to get much stronger.

  • Gabriel Carrasco

    I think the Cowboys are set for the next coach to take over, not saying it’s great, but they have solid depth now at just about everything outside of S and LB. He will have a high powered offense to lean on.

    • californy

      I want the Next Cowboy head coach to hired all of his staff. I believe the next Dallas HC is not under contract.. I think that a good thing.

    • Al

      Bring me Petersen. The more I study Boise, the more I see the next generation Landry. The guy is brilliant. There is no set game plan really. They have one, but he calls plays off the top of his head based on the current situation. He is the definition of innovator. His ability to make split second adjustments is impressive. His brain + the talent on this offense = championship run.

      • Gabriel Carrasco

        Well one thing is for sure, if Dez can’t get it down, it sure isn’t a lack of trying.

        • Al

          good point. He still runs a very limited route tree as a 4th year player

      • Jeff Kessinger

        I’m hooked on Gruden. I really want to see the Cowboys hire him if they let go of JG at the end of the season. Having said that I believe as a HC JG is very good, not so much as an OC though, and that’s been the problem.

  • Gabriel Carrasco

    Throwing the ball to the back is just as effective as running it. It forces the defense to second guess what we are doing, and key in on an extra player. Passes to backs are basically just extended handoffs. If Linehan uses Murray the way he is supposed to, then I can see Murray have the most all purpose yards from the RB position in the NFL.

    • Al

      That concept was pretty much pioneered by Bill Walsh. Martz used Faulk to incorporate the RB as a receiver concept in to the Coryell offense. Ginger uses the Coryell and I can’t figure out why he hasn’t done the same. Norv also used the Coryell and used Emmitt quite often as a receiver.

      • Gabriel Carrasco

        Just use Murray and the backs more even if you use them as WR get the ball into the hands of the RB.

        • Al

          I agree and they could even use Beasley out of the backfield as a receiver: he is a perfect fit for the Zebra