Sunday, March 29, 2009

Remaining Holes on the Roster - Special Teams

The last remaining piece of the roster that I need to examine is special teams. This is the time of year that most people tend to forget about special teams. But after the mistakes on special teams last season that cost the Cowboys several games I am sure that the coaches and front office personnel are looking at ways to improve the special teams. Bringing in the fiery Joe DeCamillus was the first step, but there are some areas of need that will need to be addressed in the draft or via free agency. Let's look at all of the key pieces of the special teams.

Kicker: Obviously this is one area where things are in good shape. Folk has proven to be an excellent kicker over the last two years. The only concern here would be Folk's lack of distance on kickoffs but that may be fixed if directional kicking is eliminated from the kickoff coverage.

Punter: As long as Matt McBriar comes back healthy and can regain his pre-injury form the Cowboys will have one of the best punters in the NFL. The value of Matt McBriar's leg was shown when he went down on the blocked punt against Arizona. There was a notable loss in field position on every punt after McBriar went out with his injury.

Deep Snapper: Again, the Cowboys have no need at this position. L.P. Ladouceur has been consistently good for his entire career. The Cowboys are lucky to have a guy who is so reliable at deep snapper.

Punt/Kickoff Coverage: This is an area where the Cowboys could use a major upgrade. The statistics show that the Cowboys had a good kick coverage unit in 2008 but they always seemed to give up the big returns at the worst possible times. Hopefully the rookies brought in this offseason will have good kick coverage skills. It always seemed like the opposing returner was one man away from breaking the kick or punt return all the way. Poor tackling showed up on kick/punt coverage as well and hopefully a more physical training camp will help address the tackling issue on special teams as well.

Kick Returner: Several players on the roster have shown the ability to be a threat returning kicks, but there are questions about all of them continuing as returners now that they have moved up the depth chart on offense. Felix Jones is a threat to go all the way on every return but you have to wonder if the Cowboys want to risk getting him injured on special teams after last season. Miles Austin has also been a good returner at times but he will probably be the #2 or #3 receiver and is seems unlikely that he will be returning kicks especially after his injuries in 2008. Isaiah Stanback has shown a burst and the vision required of a great returner but he has never been able to stay healthy. I would expect the Cowboys to draft a receiver with great return skills and speed to fill the role of kick returner or at least a second returner in the event that Felix Jones returns to his role as kick returner. I am still keeping my fingers crossed that Keith Davis will come back to captain the special teams.

Punt Returner: The only remaining punt returners on the roster with experience are Patrick Crayton and Terrance Newman. Patrick Crayton does a great job fielding punts but very rarely makes even one man miss before going down. He also has a tendency to carry the ball away from his body which makes me cringe in fear every time he returns a punt. Terrance Newman has too much trouble staying healthy at this point in his career to risk putting him on the field for punt returns. I am hoping that the Cowboys draft a player who has the ability to break a return at any time. If not, I would guess they will just continue with the Patrick Crayton fair catch/8 yard return from the last two years.

It is important to remember how much the special teams hurt the Cowboys last season. I believe the new attitude that Joe DeCamillus will instill in the special teams players will be the biggest difference fans will notice. The more you look at the roster the more it becomes apparant that the Cowboys need to draft a guy who can be the speed receiver/punt returner/kick returner. That won't be an easy guy to find but I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Jerry Jones trade around at some point in the draft to find a player to fill the role. I would hope that the return man/speed receiver can be found using the best available player strategy and maybe Jerry Jones will make a move for a player if someone unexpectedly drops down in the draft who can fill the role. The rest of the players drafted need to be ready and willing to man the coverage unit. Since the offense and defense have most of the major holes filled, the Cowboys need to be drafting players who are willing to step in as role players. This means blue collar, hard working players with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder and a little dash of crazy to allow them to excel on special teams.

Related Blog Postings:
Remaining Holes on the Roster - Offense
Remaining Holes on the Roster - Defense

Thursday, March 26, 2009

What Is So Great About the Wildcat Offense?

You would think based on all of the talk about the gimmick offense that the Miami Dolphins rolled out last season that this was the greatest offensive innovation in the history of football. What people seem to be forgetting is that the Dolphins went to the offense out of desperation because their offense was completely inept. The wildcat is not the answer to any one's prayers for the Dallas Cowboys. It would be a great change up to be used in a similar fashion as any trick play would be used, but to put any more stock into it than that would be a waste of the players on the roster.

Does anyone honestly believe that defensive coaches around the league have not already dissected the wildcat attack and figured out a way to shut it down? It was already losing its effectiveness as the season wore on. Do you want to put your franchise quarterback on the sidelines on a regular basis or, worse yet, line him up wide at receiver?

Us it as a change of pace once or twice a game, but any more than that would be a waste of the talent on the roster. The Cowboys have a top 5 NFL quarterback. His talents shouldn't be wasted on the sidelines or by lining him up at wide receiver. It is amazing to me that so many fans are buying into the media hype on the wildcat offense.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Remaining Holes on the Roster - Defense

A few days ago I looked at the offensive needs now that the big free agency moves appear to be over. Next I am going to take a look at the defense. There have been several big changes on the defensive side of the ball and a few holes have been created by some of the free agency departures and the trade for Jon Kitna. Here is the position by position analysis.

Defensive Tackle: Jay Ratliff continues to play at a pro bowl level at tackle, but the big question is who steps in to give Ratliff a break or, in a worst case scenario, who steps in if Ratliff gets injured. I expect this position to be addressed at some point in the draft. It looks like Junior Siavii will compete with whoever is brought in via the draft. Siavii has the size needed in the middle but is still a relatively unknown commodity with his limited experience.

Defensive End: Marcus Spears and Igor Olshansky are the clear starters here. The loss of Canty hurt but Olshansky looks to be every bit the player that Canty is. Depth at end is pretty good with Jason Hatcher and Steven Bowen backing up the starters. Marcus Dixon still might develop into a backup here too, so I don't see a major need at defensive end.

Cornerback: The depth took a big hit when Anthony Henry was traded to Detroit, but the remaining cornerbacks have all shown they are capable of playing good football in Wade Phillips' defensive scheme. Terrance Newman, Orlando Scandrick and Mike Jenkins will see most of the action but Alan Ball also stepped in last year and showed he can get the job done. The worry here is the fact that there are only four cornerbacks on the roster. I expect multiple draft picks to be used to build the depth at the cornerback position. A bargain free agent pick up isn't out of the question either.

Safety: Ken Hamlin is a clear starter, but there are question marks after that. Gerald Sensabaugh seems to be tabbed as the second starter, but there could be competition for that role if the Cowboys draft a safety as expected. Pat Watkins will hopefully return from his neck/shoulder problems to provide depth. The rest of the depth chart is filled with guys who may not make the roster depending on the upcoming draft picks. There is still a very good chance that Keith Davis will return next season to provide more depth.

Outside Linebacker: Demarcus Ware is a beast and an all-pro on one side but the second outside linebacker looks like a battle between Anthony Spencer and Greg Ellis. I wouldn't count out a Greg Ellis trade before or during the draft especially if Greg Ellis keeps complaining about his role. Either way it is time for Spencer to step up and prove that he was worth a first round pick. He was hampered by injuries last year but has shown flashes of his potential. Depth here is a major concern. There really isn't much talent on the roster here besides these three players so I would expect to see move made for an outside linebacker via the draft or free agency prior to the start of training camp.

Inside Linebacker: Bradie James and Keith Brooking are set to start as the inside linebackers. Bradie James has turned into the vocal leader of the defense and Keith Brooking should be able to help provide a spark with his enthusiastic attitude. The pass coverage in nickel situations took a big hit when Kevin Burnett left for San Diego. It is time for Bobby Carpenter to finally show what he can do. There are rumors that the Cowboys have shopped Carpenter but I would be surprised if there is much interest in him. I think Carpenter will be a solid player if he is given a real chance to play. He hasn't done much since 2006 when Bill Parcells was still here, but I believe he is a bad practice player who will get it done when it counts. The rest of the backups here are primarily special teams players who shouldn't be counted on to make big contributions to the defense. I expect an inside linebacker to be picked up in the draft. If Carpenter is traded then a bargain veteran will probably be brought in to be the primary backup.

The defensive roster has changed significantly since the season ended, but Wade Phillips seems to be getting the players he wants in his system. Hopefully the new players will be as successful in the Wade Phillips defenses as they have been in the past. The big issue here is going to be building chemistry on the defensive unit. Hopefully the tackling will improve this season since that seemed to be the biggest problem last year. I can only hope that the team will be tackling in training camp this year.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Thansgiving Game - Cowboys vs. Raiders

It probably seems like small news to most fans but any news on the schedule is big news to me and my family. The Cowboys will play the Raiders on Thanksgiving this year at 3:15 CST. That is the usual time slot but the big news for me is the opponent. First, it would appear that this will be a winnable game given the current state of both teams. And secondly, on a personal note, there is a good chance that I will be able to call a good friend who is a die hard Raiders fan on Thanksgiving Day to rub it in after the Cowboys tear them up. Most importantly to my family, this could and should mean a happy holiday after a Cowboys' win.

I don't know about all of you, but my personal life is dictated by the Cowboys starting in August. I am fortunate to have a wife that understands that, so the sooner I can get the schedule the sooner I can start negotiating bye week plans and choosing games that I will attend. I wish I could afford tickets for all of the games, but it is so expensive that I have to choose two or three based on matchups and holiday travel plans.

I know the full schedule is not usually released until closer to the draft, but I hope we can get more information soon about the 2009 schedule. The only bad thing about schedule news is that having a date and time for the games reminds me how far away the season still is. We still have almost 6 months to wait for the opening game. That is just depressing to think about.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Remaining Holes on the Roster - Offense

Now that most of the major free agency moves appear to have been made by the Dallas Cowboys it is a good time to reassess the team needs. I am going to break it down position by position starting with the offense. The starters here are basically set, but the depth at a few positions is questionable.

Quarterback: The starter and backup positions are filled so the only remaining need here is a #3 developmental quarterback. I expect this position to be filled either in the late rounds of the draft or in rookie free agency immediately after the draft.

Running Back: With three starting caliber running backs on the roster it would appear that running back is not an area of need.

Fullback: Deon Anderson seems to have the fullback position locked up. I could see the Cowboys bringing in a rookie free agent to challenge Anderson, but I don't expect to see any changes between now and the season opener.

Tight End: Only one spot looks open with Jason Witten and Martellus Bennett entrenched at the top two spots here. Rodney Hannah has shown some flashes in preseason games in the past so he will probably be competing with either a late round draft pick or rookie free agent.

Wide Receiver: Roy Williams leads the most overanalyzed position on the roster. Miles Austin appears to be penciled in the #2 role and Patrick Crayton looks to be the slot receiver. Sam Hurd adds depth and a reliable backup in the even of an injury. The need here looks to be a pure speed receiver. Isaiah Stanback could fill that role but still seemed to have a long way to go last season in addition to having a chronic shoulder injury. I would expect to see a late round draft pick or a rookie free agent pickup here.

Offensive Tackle: Flozell Adams and Marc Columbo are locked in as the starters. There are backups on the current roster but their game experience is minimal so their ability is relatively unknown. Pat McQuistan has a few years with the team now so he will probably stick around. Doug Free is entering his third season in a backup role and will most likely be back again.

Guard: The lack of depth at guard was exposed last season when Kyle Kosier went down with a foot injury. At this point it appears that Kosier will be fully healthy for the start of training camp and Leonard Davis will obviously be starting at right guard. Montrae Holland showed promise last year in the few games that he played in before going down with an injury of his own. The big question mark here is Cory Proctor. Even with the tender offered to Proctor I would expect the Cowboys to look for another option at guard in the draft. Proctor is also the backup center and he may be better suited at center than he is at guard. I would not be shocked to see Proctor released or traded before training camp.

Center: Andre Gurode has developed into a very good starting center. His biggest weakness appears to be his occasional errant shotgun snap. The depth on the roster here is unknown. Proctor is listed as the primary backup but time will tell if the coaching staff is comfortable with Proctor filling in for Gurode in the event of an injury. I think the Cowboys tendered Proctor to cover their bases in the event that they cannot find another option during the draft.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The 2009 Cowboys Offense - Part II

Name me a team with three running backs better than the Dallas Cowboys. I certainly can’t think of one. Even if you can name a team I would be willing to bet it is debatable. My point is there is no reason that the Dallas Cowboys should not be a dominant, run-oriented team in 2009. Let’s take a look at all of the parts of the Dallas Cowboys running game.

Marion Barber is an absolute beast with the ball in his hands. I would hate to be the defender who ends up one on one with Barber in the open field. You would just know that you were in for punishment if you were given the task of tackling Marion Barber. He is an ideal short yardage back and clock killing machine in the 4th quarter. His effectiveness was severely limited near the end of the season in 2008 due to a toe injury but he should return in full force in 2009.

Felix Jones has game changing speed that cannot be taught. By the time Jason Garrett started to figure out how best to utilize the skills of Felix Jones he was lost for the season with a hamstring strain followed by a toe injury during rehab. With a full offseason of work in the offense and the trust of his offensive coordinator, 2009 should be a breakout season for Felix Jones. I would expect to see him get a much heavier percentage of the workload next season so that both he and Marion Barber can remain fresh throughout each and game and the entire season.

Tashard Choice was the surprise discovery of the 2008 season. If it weren’t for the injuries to Barber and Felix Jones then Choice probably would have never had a chance to show what he can do at the NFL level. He doesn’t possess great size, speed, or quickness but he seems to find a hole or crease every time he touches the ball. He is one of those players with great football instincts. Jason Garrett can use Tashard Choice in any situation because he has shown the ability to not only run with the ball, but catch catch passes out of the backfield and pass block as well.

The offensive line of the Dallas Cowboys is built to dominate the defensive line. It is much easier for them to block while moving forward while run blocking than while trying to protect the quarterback while pass blocking. Jason Garrett will have to utilize the size and strength of the offensive line more now that the passing game is going to be less explosive. Offensive lineman love to overpower the defense by running the ball, so they should be a happy bunch in 2009. I expect to see Leonard Davis, Andre Gurode, Marc Colombo, Flozell Adams, and Kyle Kosier grinding the running yards out regularly next season.

The key to all of this is the coaching staff. There has to be a commitment to the run and a rotation designed to utilize all of the talent at the running back position. I hope to see Marion Barber and Felix Jones spitting time with Tashard Choice given a series or two per game to give the other two some rest. Last year Jason Garrett seemed to struggle with getting just two backs on the field, so he is going to have to figure out a rotation and commit to it during the entire season for all three running backs. A run-first scheme would allow more consistency to develop in the offense and open up more plays in the passing game. And a rotation of the backs would allow Marion Barber to grind out the clock in the 4th quarter of games because he will be fresh when the defense is tired.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The 2009 Cowboys Offense - Part I

Now that Jerry Jones has delivered on his promise of major changes to the team during the offseason it is clear that there are going to be some major changes to the overall offensive strategy. You don’t remove a player as dynamic and physically talented as T.O. from the equation without impacting every facet of the offense. Let’s start with the most obvious change. The passing game no longer has a player with the ability to turn any pass into a touchdown. There are still some solid receivers remaining but none of them possess all of the physical skills that T.O. did. But the receivers who remain each possess one or two special abilities that will have to be utilized to allow the passing game to continue to operate with the efficiency that will be needed for success in 2009.

Roy Williams excels at catching the ball in traffic and will provide a red zone threat with his size and excellent hands. The biggest challenge here is that Tony Romo is accustomed to having his receivers running free on crossing routes. Roy Williams doesn’t always separate from his defender but he will make the catch even if he is blanketed in coverage. Hopefully Romo and Williams are developing the chemistry they will need in 2009 as we speak since they are already working together in advance of the official start of offseason workout at the end of the month.

Miles Austin has the size and blazing speed you want from a receiver. He seems to be slotted in the #2 receiver role based on the comments from Jerry Jones over the last few weeks. We all got a glimpse of his potential in the preseason last year and in several of the regular season games throughout the season. His game changing speed is going to have to serve as the threat to the defense that forces them to keep the safeties deep so the running game can work consistently throughout the year. The big question mark about Miles Austin is going to be his durability. You have to wonder if he will continue to be utilized in any way on special teams since his health is going to be a concern.

Patrick Crayton has skills that will best suit him to continue his role as the slot receiver. He can make the tough catches over the middle of the field and seems to have a knack for being on the same page with Romo when the play breaks down. His quickness hampers his effectiveness, but he is a solid player who should be expected to be a major contributor to the offense. I expect that he will put up better number than Miles Austin even if Austin ends up on the field more than Crayton.

Sam Hurd is the forgotten talent of the wide receiver group. He will never be a top tier receiver due to his lack of speed but he has shown the ability to make plays in the offense. He missed nearly the entire 2008 season, so many fans and members of the media have written him off. But he did show a lot of promise in 2007 and should be able to step up and contribute any time we go to a 4 wideout set. His skills would also fit if he had to step into the #2 role in the event of an injury to Miles Austin. An injury to Austin would expose the biggest weakness in the receiving corps which is a lack of speed in the depth chart. Maybe a draft pick or Isiah Stanback could step in but those are both big question marks at this point.

Jason Witten has size, hands, impeccable route running ability and the trust of his quarterback. I know there is an expectation that the defenses are now going to roll the double teams that went to T.O. last year over to Witten but I think that tactic would only last a game or two. Roy Williams and Miles Austin are going to have to show the ability to make the defense pay for leaving them isolated on the outside a few times before the Witten double teams will end. And don’t forget about the respect that a healthy Felix Jones will demand out of the backfield. I don’t expect 90+ catches from Witten again but somewhere in the 70-80 range seems very likely. I will be surprised if Jason doesn’t end up as the #1 option in the passing game in 2009.

Martellus Bennett is also a very capable receiver in the passing game. His size and speed from the tight end position can’t be taught. I expect Jason Garrett to utilize a 2 tight end set more often this season to get both of his tight ends involved in the passing game. Bennett has too much talent to keep off the field.

The running backs are going to be the key to making the defensive secondary susceptible to the big play. They all need to do a better job picking up the blitz next season. After the way the offensive line was exposed by the Eagles in the last game of 2008 you can bet that teams are going to keep using the same tactic until the Cowboys find a way to consistently beat it. Biltz pick up is the first priority but they will also need to make the defense pay when they focus too much attention on Witten, Williams and Austin. I like the sound of a swing pass to Felix Jones in the flat that isolates him with a linebacker. Who do you think is going to win that matchup 90% of the time?

The biggest problem that the offense had last season was poor offensive line play. Tony Romo was running for his life more than any NFL quarterback should ever be expected to. The injury to Kyle Kosier turned out to be a killer but he is expected to be back healthy in 2009. Hopefully some depth will be added so the line doesn’t fall apart if an injury occurs along the line again next season. Most defensive coordinators across the league seem to understand that you can’t let Romo sit back in the pocket for too long or he will beat you so they are going to be using exotic schemes every game against the Cowboys. The line has got to adjust on the fly better. If the line can give Romo time I have no doubt that the passing game will click.

You can argue that the Cowboys have a lack of proven talent at the wide receiver position but there are still a lot of options for Romo in the passing game. I am glad that Jerry made the move to go with the younger receivers even if it meant the release of the most dynamic playmaker the team had at receiver. Romo should benefit from getting back to running the offense and simply finding the open man. The passing offense may not be as explosive next season but it should be more consistent and reliable in big moments.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

More Random Thoughts

Would the NFL be better or worse without Drew Rosenhaus? He is just so slimy. I guess it must be the money he makes that allows him to sleep at night. He reminds me a lot of Jerry Maguire early in that movie. One of the players Jerry Maguire represents gets arrested and you hear him telling the media "listen, there's no proof of anything except this guy is a sensational athlete." Doesn't that sound just like something Rosenhaus would say? I am surprised he is criticizing the Cowboys when he knows he will have to work with them in the future.

The Dallas Cowboys are now Tony Romo's team after the release of T.O. I can't imagine that Jerry Jones didn't consult with his franchise quarterback about a move of that magnitude. It is great news to hear that Tony is working 3 days a week before the official start of offseason workouts with Roy Williams so that they can get their timing down. They are setting a great example for the rest of the team to follow. The fact that they started working together weeks ago so that makes me wonder if they knew something back then about the T.O. decision. Some of the players seem skeptical about T.O.'s release so Tony is going to have to prove that they can succeed with out #81.

What is the deal with Keith Davis? It seems like re-signing him should be a no-brainer but the deal is still not done. Maybe all of his free agency visits are setting the market for his new contract in Dallas. I hope so because the Cowboys need a guy like him to lead the coverage units. He is fearless and truly relishes the knockout blows that he delivers on special teams.

I hear Pacman Jones got into a brawl during the filming of an episode of Pro's vs. Joe's. Cutting him was a great move but he never should have been a Dallas Cowboy to begin with. He is just a waste of humanity. It was a major mistake by Jerry Jones because Pacman has permanently tarnished the star. He will forever be referred to as "former Dallas Cowboy" Pacman Jones. That just disgusts me.

I'm glad to see that the team is addressing the gaping hole at safety on defense but I have major questions about Gerald Sensabaugh. Why didn't the Jaguars want him on their team any more if he is so good? Why were the Cowboys able to get him for such a bargain rate? What is the deal with all of his gun/driving issues? An AK-47...seriously? What would you need that for? He is a big question mark but at least the team didn't overpay if they end up having to cut him loose. I guess Jerry isn't worried about cleaning up the locker room anymore? See what I mean? A lot of unanswered questions.

Jay Cutler has finally wrestled the media attention away from the T.O./Dallas Cowboys saga. Thank you, Jay Cutler. I am actually watching ESPN once in a while again.

I hear there are rumors that the Cardinals are looking for a trade partner for Anquan Boldin. Let the speculation about the Cowboys begin. If Jerry was being honest the other day when he spoke about needing to get rid of T.O. so some other members of the offense could get more touches then there should be no moves by the Cowboys for Boldin. I don't think the offense needs him and a trade for him would put the offense right back where it started. There are plenty of weapons on offense already so I hope Jerry doesn't get into the Boldin sweepstakes.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Can Roy Williams Be The #1 Receiver?

There has been a lot of talk about the wide receiver depth since T.O. was released last week. I have heard endless debate about whether Roy Williams is capable of being the #1 receiver for the Cowboys. I decided to find out exactly what it means to be a #1 receiver by looking at the top 10 NFL offenses last year. I compiled the reception totals, yardage and receiving touchdowns for the top receiver for each of the top 10 offenses. I determined the #1 receiver for each team based on the 2008 statistics.

1. New Orleans Saints: Lance Moore (79 rec., 928 yds., 10 TD)

2. Denver Broncos: Brandon Marshall (104 rec., 1265 yds., 6 TD)

3. Houston Texans: Andre Johnson (115 rec., 1575 yds., 8 TD)

4. Arizona Cardinals: Larry Fitzgerald (96 rec., 1431 yds., 12 TD)

5. New England Patriots: Wes Welker (111 rec., 1165 yds., 3 TD)

6. Atlanta Falcons: Roddy White (88 rec., 1382 yds., 7 TD)

7. New York Giants: Steve Smith (57 rec., 574 yds., 1 TD)

8. Green Bay Packers: Greg Jennings (80 rec., 1292 yds., 9 TD)

9. Philadelphia Eagles: Desean Jackson (62 rec., 912 yds., 2 TD)

10. Carolina Panthers: Steve Smith (78 rec., 1421 yds., 6 TD)

13. Dallas Cowboys: Terrell Owens (69 rec., 1052 yds., 10 TD)

Things get really interesting when you average out the number from each category for the top receivers in each of the top 10 offenses. Here are the results.

Top 10 avg. receptions: 87
Top 10 avg. yards: 1194.5
Top 10 avg. TD’s: 6.4 TD

Roy Williams had his best season with the Detroit Lions in 2006. The numbers he put up are suprisingly similar to the averages of the top 10 #1 receivers from last season. Here are his numbers from 2006.

Roy Williams 2006 season stats: 82 rec., 1310 yds., 7 TD

What these numbers show me is that Roy Williams has the ability to serve as one of the focal points of the offense but he is going to have to prove that he has the work ethic to earn the trust of Tony Romo. I don't think Roy Williams has to put up typical #1 receiver numbers to earn his keep since there are so many weapons for Tony Romo to choose from. Jason Witten is certainly still going to be a primary target and Felix Jones will need more touches in 2009. At least we can rest easy knowing that Roy Williams has shown the ability to be a top receiver in the past. Now it is time for Roy to prove his worth to his teammates, the coaches, and the fans in 2009.

Monday, March 9, 2009

T.O. Is Gone For Good

We have all had a few days now to get used to the fact that Terrell Owens is no longer a Dallas Cowboy and is now a member of the Buffalo Bills. The whirlwind of his departure took place so fast it made my head spin, but everything is starting to calm down and come into focus for me. There are several realities that the team, the fans, and the media must now face. The Cowboys no longer have one of their primary offensive weapons but they also don't have the media circus that came with him. He is officially gone for good and it is time for everyone to move on.

To the media...the T.O. gravy train is over. You will have to start doing some real reporting now that the lightning rod is gone. I am hoping that the fans can now start getting some information about the other players on the team now that T.O. is gone. I want to hear stories about the players on the team or players who could potentially join the team via free agency or the draft. I know it was easy to crank out a "T.O. is a distraction" piece when the news got slow but you are going to have to get back to giving your readers some actual news again.

To the players...this move should serve as a message to all of you. Everyone on the team is replaceable. No one is bigger than the team. T.O. may have been and maybe still is a friend of yours, but he is no longer your teammate. Accept it and stop telling the media how shocked and disappointed you are. Preparations for the 2009 season should already be under way and it is going to be a new team and a new attitude. Start working like champions now so we can all be happier next season.

To the got what you wanted. The excuses about players undermining authority should be gone. It would appear that Jerry Jones is serious about setting a the tone for this season and making it a team first locker room. One of the biggest pieces of the offense is gone so get to work on revamping the offense to maximize the talent available to you.

To the owner...maybe you finally are starting to understand that it isn't all about assembling the most talent. I don't know who finally convinced you that team chemistry is important but please continue on the path you are now going down. More role players and high character guys are still wanted and needed, especially at safety and on special teams. Your work is cut out for you but the draft should provide opportunities to fill a lot of holes and to do some wheeling and dealing for better picks and/or veteran talent. Get Demarcus Ware re-signed ASAP so that we can get a handle on what is available under the salary cap.

To the fans...T.O. is gone and he isn't coming back no matter what you say. I think the feelings on the departure of #81 are pretty mixed, but there are some of you who want to keep the T.O. debate going. He is no longer a member of the Dallas Cowboys but you are free to change your allegiance to the Buffalo Bills if you can't get past the Cowboys releasing him. This is easy for me to say because I was never much of a fan of his anyway. But at some point you have to decide if you want to keep crying over spilled milk or move past this and support the team. What's done is done. T.O. is no longer a Dallas Cowboy.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Cowboys Got a Good Deal With Olshansky

I did a little research on Igor Olshansky to try to figure out just what the Cowboys got when they signed him. The side-by-side comparison below seems to indicate that the Cowboys got a bargain replacement for Canty. Although the production of Olshansky is slightly lower than Canty, the overall run defense support is what is important. Both players were operating in the same Wade Phillips 3-4 scheme and it would appear that they are almost interchangeable in terms of size and the ability to support the run. I think Jerry Jones made a very good move for the Cowboys especially when you look at the impact each player has on his team's salary cap.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Good and Bad of the Release of T.O.

Mixed emotions. That sums up the feelings I have. I have followed this team through thick and think for 30 years now. I can't remember a decision of this magnitude during any previous offseason. Overall, I know this was the best move for the future of the team and I am happy to have the last major distraction removed from the locker room. But there is also a tiny, gnawing feeling at the pit of my stomach that knows we will miss the talents of T.O. once the 2009 season gets started.

I live and die with the wins and losses of the Dallas Cowboys so it has pained me to no end to deal with the antics of Terrell Owens over the last 3 years. I was outspoken in my belief that the Cowboys should not bring him to Dallas when the rumors started that he would be coming to Dallas in 2005. I have never been able to forgive him for disrespecting the Dallas Cowboys by running to the star on the 50-yard line not once, but twice when T.O. was with the 49ers in 2000. That was nine years ago and I still can't get past it. That kind of garbage has no place in sports in my eyes and it showed that T.O. only cares about himself and getting his name in lights. I'm not going to say I didn't cheer when he made plays for the Cowboys, but the cheers were the plays he made for the team and not for him as a person or player.

I feel like I have had the last of the weight from 2008 season removed from my back. Last season was the most stressful campaign that I have ever endured as a fan. There was so much to deal with both on and off the field that it almost was overwhelming at times. I had many sleepless nights during the season which often happens after tough losses, but T.O. and Pacman had me tossing and turning during the week all season with the distractions they were causing off the field. If I had that much trouble focusing on the games just imagine what that did to the players and coaches on the team. Whether the distractions are caused by T.O. or the media is a moot point to me because the distractions are real and they hurt the team and somehow #81 was always in the middle of the controversy. It would seem that Jerry Jones heard the same thing from so many different people that he finally had to give in and do what was best for the chemistry of his team.

I'm not sitting here fooling myself into thinking that the Cowboys won't miss T.O. next season. His talent will be missed. I know he was a game changer and the defenses were forced to adjust based on where T.O. lined up for every play. But I also know that his skills have diminished over the last few years. A truly elite receiver cannot be shut down by simple bump and run coverage with safety help over the top. A dominant receiver makes plays regardless of the defense that is run. T.O. can no longer do that even if he is still a very good player.

The offense will have to adjust next year but I believe they have enough players to make up for the loss of T.O. The salary cap has even more dead money with the release of T.O. and I'm sure Jerry Jones is not happy about the money he wasted on the new contract he gave to Owens. But there is still a lot of talent on the offense to fill the void left by Terrell Owens. The job of filling his shoes will have to be taken by several players. As things stand right now Felix Jones, Miles Austin, and Patrick Crayton all stand to take on a new level of responsibility in the offense. I hope they are all up for the task and can stay healthy. Tony Romo will have to step up and prove that he is the quarterback that some of us think he can be. He won't have to force the ball to anyone so they won't have an emotional breakdown, so that should help him settle down and focus on running the offense. Jason Garrett can just call the best plays based on defensive matchups without worrying about T.O. coming to him during the week to complain about his role.

In my mind all of the excuses about distractions have been removed from the team. The T.O. circus is finally packing up and leaving town. I know the frenzy that follows him around isn't all his fault, but at this point I am just glad that the distraction is gone. Jason Witten and Tony Romo have got to step up and lead the offense vocally. Roy Williams has to prove he was worth the draft picks and money Jerry Jones gave up to get him. I hear that Tony Romo and Roy Williams are already meeting three times a week to work on their timing so that is certainly a good sign for next season. The undeniable talent and skills of T.O. will be missed but I believe the team will be better off without him.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Say Goodbye to Roy Williams

According to various sources Roy Williams has requested to be released or traded by the end of the day today. Barring a minor miracle he will not be with the Dallas Cowboys next season. It is now early evening so it looks like he might have to wait for another day to get his walking papers. I have mixed emotions about seeing him leave. My head tells me that he is no longer the player that he was in his first few years in the league and remembers how he has been exposed over the last few years. My heart only wants to remember the great plays he made as a member of the Dallas Cowboys.

My favorite memory of Roy Williams will always be the interception returned for a touchdown late in the game against the Eagles in 2005. With less than three minutes remaining and the Cowboys trailing 20-14 Roy intercepted a pass from Donovan McNabb and returned it 46 yards for the game winning touchdown. That may well have been his last great play as a Dallas Cowboy. Sadly it was also a gift interception from Donovan McNabb but it was still a great memory.

My worst memories all involve the embarrassing performances he had against the Giants and Redskins over the last couple of years. Somehow Jeremy Shockey and Chris Cooley always performed like hall of famers against the Cowboys when they were able to isolate Roy Williams in coverage. It was heartbreaking to see him exposed as a one dimensional player but the truth always hurts. He is a great hitter but that appears to be all he can do and now he even seems to have lost that ability.

I wish him all the best of luck in the rest of his NFL career if he does go as expected (except when he is playing the Cowboys, of course). I hope he can rediscover what made him great in his first few years in the league. Maybe a new defensive scheme will be the answer but that seems unlikely. I hope he proves me wrong. He always seemed like a good guy, but something changed in his demeanor a few years ago and he seems to have lost the swagger he played with at Oklahoma and early in his career with Dallas. Goodbye and good luck, Roy Williams!

Monday, March 2, 2009

A Few Thoughts As The Dust Settles

With Chris Canty heading to New York, Steven Bowen and Jason Hatcher appear set for a possible training camp battle barring any major moves to acquire a defensive lineman. There is still the option of moving Ratliff to end if the Cowboys can find a defensive tackle to plug up the middle in free agency or the draft but I wouldn't be disappointed if the Cowboys start Spears, Ratliff and Bowen or Hatcher. Hatcher has made some plays before but he will have to prove the he can handle the full load of snaps required of a starter. It is easy to be explosive when you only have to play in short stretches during the game. Ratliff is quite a luxury to have since he is able to create havoc from either the end or the tackle position.

How much would the Dallas media and ESPN have criticized Jerry Jones if he had signed Chris Canty to the same contract that the Giants gave him? Of course now that the Giants overpaid for his services they are deemed to have made a brilliant move. The constant criticism of Jerry Jones as a general manager is really getting old. Who assembled all of the talent on the current Dallas roster anyway? I guess Jerry gets no credit for that. He has made mistakes, but at least he aggressively tries to improve his team. There are many owners out there who just run their team as a financial investment but Jerry Jones does anything he can to try to bring a championship to Dallas.

Anyone who honestly believes that Tony Romo will get benched in favor of Jon Kitna at some point during the season needs to get their head checked. I don't know how else to explain it, but Tony Romo is the franchise quarterback now and for years to come. The "fans" planning to chant Kitna's name the first time Romo struggles need to decide if they are really fans of the Dallas Cowboys. Tony Romo is the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys. Deal with it. Kitna is a major upgrade at the backup position, but he is only going to be the backup.

Keith Brooking seems like a solid addition but he will have to prove that he still has something left in the tank. I thought Zach Thomas was going to be a great addition last season and it became apparent early in the season that there was a reason the the Dolphins let him move on. Thomas had an ok year but it was obvious that he was not the player Dallas had hoped he would be. I pray we don't come to the same realization with Brooking. He seems like an active, aggressive, fiery player and I believe he can make a significant impact next season as a player, leader and team motivator. Brooking is a big believer in the defensive scheme that Wade Phillips runs and has experience playing in it so that can only help his chances to be successful.

Losing Anthony Henry doesn't suddenly make the Cowboys thin at the cornerback position. Orlando Scandrick and Mike Jenkins are primed to step in and play great football in their second seasons. And don't forget about Alan Ball. He was forced into duty during the Tampa Bay game last year and made several plays down the stretch to help win the game. Safety is still a major concern, but the Cowboys still have four good players at the cornerback position.