Monday, September 06, 2010

The Choice for Choice

As seen Here:

Plenty of news and speculation over the weekend about how the Cowboys decided to build their roster to start the 2010 campaign and with that arrived reports that Marion Barber could join "the Patricks" - Crayton, Watkins, McQuistin - on the outside of the Cowboys 53.

Nothing became of it - most likely because the Cowboys would have a difficult time moving what is left of his quite sizable contract. Let's be honest: Barring an unforeseen turn of events, MB3 likely joins Roy Williams as those who are on a year-to-year audition for their Cowboys careers - especially once the NFL salary cap comes back into our lives. If they are here in 2011, it is because they were awesome in 2010.

Which moves us to the topic that is on the minds of Cowboys fans and Fantasy Football fans, too. How will the Cowboys work 3 RBs who all appear to have a claim to the job into the mix in 2010? Or asked another way: When will Tashard Choice get his chance?

Choice is brought up time and time again by those who follow this team, and with tremendous reason. When he gets the chance he has proven to be more than capable. His 5.5 yards per attempt last year were over a full yard-per-carry more than Barber (Felix Jones was the true home-run hitter at 5.9). He is now entering year 3 for the Cowboys and it is quickly becoming that time of a man's career where a team must decide whether he is a nice utility man or a possible full time RB.

Interesting in this entire discussion is what seems like a consensus throughout the land that Felix Jones must be managed carefully. Never the full time back at Arkansas or Dallas, it is all but assumed that his injury issues would only get worse if the Cowboys decided to increase his work load too much. Having already missed 12 games in 2 seasons, most are pretty comfortable knowing Jones will be brilliant - but in smaller doses.

So, I am asked quite frequently why the Cowboys don't allow Choice a real consideration to take over the #1 spot from Barber. Isn't 5.5 a carry much better than 4.4? And wouldn't Choice absolutely love the opportunity? And, as I was asked on Twitter this weekend, doesn't the fact that I like things the way they are all but prove I don't like Choice?

Allow me to explain.

The Cowboys are not worried about furthering Choice's personal agenda - nor should they be; rather, they have a roster to build and 16 intense battles to fight. They must make sure all of the pieces fit.

The question in the NFL is not necessarily who is the best to do each job. The question is often, "do I have enough guys on this team that can do enough different things?" Right now, Dallas has 3 different guys who can take the ball on 1st and 10 and do a reasonable NFL job of carrying the mail. Maybe not 22 times a game for an entire season, but whether Choice, Barber, or Jones is out there to start the game, the Cowboys are well covered.

But, there are 2 places where the Cowboys use Choice and would rather not use Jones or Barber much:

1) - 3rd Down/2-min Drill back - When the Cowboys go to their 3rd Down package (which I will refer to as "S11" this season as it is Shotgun with "11" Personnel - 1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) they have become a team that prefers Tashard more and more. This is for a number of reasons. He reads the blitzes very well. And, he can block them with success. By the way, it should be noted that across the league in has become common logic that the "full-time" RB should not handle 3rd Downs. Not because he isn't capable. But rather the punishment that is sustained on blitz pick up is adding to the wear and tear on a player's body. If you have 20 carries and then 8-10 collisions with Linebackers and Safeties in pass protection then we can safely say that is the same as 30 carries. The NFL is all about managing their players so they can keep them on the field. So, if the big money RB is going to be involved in a collision, they want it to be with the ball in his hands as often as possible - not in blocking.

Choice also catches the ball well and runs the shotgun run plays with great burst and generates reasonable success. How many snaps a game would you guess constitute this responsibility? Assuming the Cowboys run between 60 and 64 offensive plays a game, I would guess that puts Choice on the field in that scenario 25 times (adding 3rd Downs and the 2-minute offense which uses the 3rd Down package).

2) - Special Teams - It has been a long time since Barber returned kicks. As 2009 came to a close, it seemed that the Cowboys knew that Felix Jones was losing his inspiration on kick returns. He just wasn't hitting the holes with the same reckless abandon that he was when he was a healthy rookie. But regardless of Jones future as a kick returner, that is the only way he would serve your special teams. Barber won't ever touch the field on special teams either. So, do you think the Cowboys want to employ 3 Running Backs who don't assist in special teams at all? That would be crazy in the day of 45-man game day rosters to not have 1 of them helping out with Joe DeCamillis' crew. Choice will be part of punt coverage this season again and if needed, he can easily be inserted in punt return and kick coverage.

For fun, you should print up the Cowboys current depth chart and do what the coaching staff has to do to insure that their special teams are special. Deactivate 8 names off the 53 for game day scratches to get to 45. Then, eliminate the 20 names of starters and high-salary guys who you don't put on the field for special teams. Then, subtract all of the Quarterbacks, Kickers, and Punters who are not candidates to be part of your kickoff or punt cover/return teams (and no, I don't think David Buehler can do it anymore since he kicks Field Goals now). What you are left with is about 20 names for all of your special teams.

Then, make sure you have enough speed to track down DeSean Jackson or someone like him on a punt return, because one special teams play can decide a game. This is why you need Tashard Choice (and guys like Sam Hurd make your team in the first place) on special teams. Because if you try to fill your coverage units with nothing but fullbacks, tight ends, and linebackers, you are going to give up huge plays. Speed kills.

So, in 2010, Tashard is a victim of being too versatile and too useful. He is basically not a candidate to be your #1 RB because then nobody else could be your #3 (this may be tough to understand to some in the stands, but it would be pretty awkward to demote Barber and ask him to start covering punts at this stage of his career). Choice is needed as your primary 3rd Down back and a special teams stud. He is also needed because we know that Barber and Jones don't play 16 games. In 2011, the Cowboys may say goodbye to Barber, promote Choice, and bring in a young 22 year old who can run with the special teams.

But, for now, I think the Cowboys are doing this right.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good point Bob