Cowboys' Owner, General Manager, #1 Fan, and Overall Head Of All Things Jerry Jones was wearing his casual Cowboys gear underneath the stands at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Alabama for the Senior Bowl on Monday, as he spoke to the gathered media and offered his thoughts on many items of general interest.
The quote that will receive the most play will most likely be the part where he seemed to say that the difference between the Giants and Cowboys was Eli Manning. “I don’t want to take anything away, but the big difference was Eli came up here and started what seemed like a pretty significantly...But the quarterback play with Eli was the huge difference. But I was pretty impressed with how they’ve defense played the last three or four ball games...They are a great inspiration and what I hoped that we were going to be and that is a team that had good days and bad days and really took off on a run. They did it and we didn't.”
The truth is, if you can weed through the odd speaking cadence of Jerry that he was not saying anything negative about his own QB, Tony Romo, but rather properly placing credit for the Giants success in this last 2 months in part to the play of their QB. Confusing and dancing on the line of comparing the two and preferring the other team's QB, but in listening several times to his quotes, I don't believe it would be fair to say that he drove a bus over his own QB.
And, I do believe, as we sit here and ponder the idea of Eli Manning at his 2nd Super Bowl as Romo has never been past the quarterfinals, that QB is the least of the items that separate the Cowboys and the Giants. Just 3 weeks ago, these two teams were dead even heading into the 16th and final game of the season. Now, depending on perspective, there are some that position the Giants as miles and miles better than the Dallas Cowboys. If that is true, than it is also true that the Cowboys were one 3rd Down completion to Miles Austin in Week 14 from eliminating these same Giants from playoff contention altogether. And missing the playoffs is a long, long way from the Super Bowl - just ask the Cowboys.
But, as we do sort through what Jerry said yesterday in nearly 25 minutes of holding court with the media on pins and needles, I did see several other things that will generate fewer headlines but strikes me as more relevant to the big picture. Let's review those:
On the Defensive Backfield: "over in the secondary, I do think we will get better. We very likely will have new faces back there. How many, I can't tell you, but we will have new faces."
This one might be straight from the department of the obvious. It will be a priority to sort out the secondary in the offseason, and it appears that 3 of the top 5 are guaranteed to be back due to the recent contract extensions to Gerald Sensabaugh and Orlando Scandrick and the continued development of Mike Jenkins. That seems to pretty clearly put a target on Terence Newman and Abram Elam. Elam is a UFA who will be looking for multiple years, and I was a bit surprised that Sensabaugh was the safety to get the extension instead of Elam, but I suppose the team was using age as their guide. Sensabaugh is 28 and Elam is 30. The idea that the Cowboys could do better in the secondary is pretty clear, but the big question is how much of the available assets to use this spring on addressing another part of the roster that is on the perimeter of the game. If you have been reading my material for very long, you know that my feelings are clear about building from the inside-out. The game is won and lost at the line, and the Giants have a comparable secondary to Dallas, but an incomparable defensive line. Which brings us to his next comment:
On the Defensive Line: We had a couple young guys play pretty well there. Our defensive front is one of the strengths of our team. We know Baltimore is a team which we can look to and say that is what we would like to be
This one is where I spit coffee on my screen. The defensive front is one of the strengths of the team? I would like to respectfully and wholeheartedly disagree. The front is not anywhere close to a strength. If it was, then Eli Manning wouldn't have been able to come into your stadium and throw 50 times without having anyone lay a hand on him. We all saw that San Francisco hit Eli Manning repeatedly, thus keeping his ability to slice and dice them to a minimum. We saw the Giants front batter Tony Romo in Week 17 to the tune of 6 sacks and an almost comical level of chaos in his lap. We saw the Patriots blow up play after play with Vince WIlfork and friends destroying the line of the Ravens when they dared to run the ball. But, no, we never saw the Cowboys front do anything of the sort. And, if we are looking at Baltimore, then we better find that 350-pound nose tackle, like the Ravens have been basing their 3-4 around with Haloti Ngata. Start there, with a NT that demands a double-team (like Wilfork, Casey Hampton, BJ Raji) and then you can have linebackers blowing up plays from inside. Otherwise, you can watch the Ravens but you cannot duplicate them.
On the Offensive Line: "Possibly, in personnel, we may have gotten a little over zealous with some young players in the middle of our offensive line. We need to give them a chance to grow and have progress, and have the kind of protection that we want."
And finally, a quote that concedes the August idea of shedding veterans Andre Gurode and Montrae Holland in exchange for Phil Costa and Bill Nagy to start without ever winning the job was a horrendous idea. Not that Gurode or Holland were great players or that they should have been upgraded when the chance came along. But, moving Leonard Davis and Marc Colombo out was going to be a big enough mountain, why self-inflict even more issues with these cost-cutting measures. Was it a financial move or a football move? Tough to say since the owner and the general manager are the same guy. But, either way, it was obvious by Week 3 that it was a disaster, and then Tony Romo had to run for his life for much of the rest of the season. By December, opponents were running stunts and blitzes right at the young interior because they knew the results were unpleasant for the Cowboys' offense. Jerry learned a valuable lesson here, but you would think that by his 22nd year in power, he would have known that starting two unregarded kids in the middle of your offensive line was a crazy idea that better work. It didn't come close to working and they are lucky that it didn't cost them more than it did.
Now, the Senior Bowl is on the minds of the Cowboys' leader. Before long, the Combine and Free Agency will arrive. The moves that need to be made are right there to be seen. Let's hope he reads the evidence and comes to the proper conclusions.
But, sometimes, when he speaks, it makes you wonder.