Thursday, March 22, 2012

Cowboys Mailbag - 3/23

Let's get back into the habit of the Friday Cowboys' Mailbag and knock out a bunch of emails. Then, starting Monday, we will start our video review of many of the candidates for the draft picks at #14 and #46. I am starting to find plenty of guys to like and dislike after watching more college football games from last fall than anyone should ever watch in February and March, and there is plenty to discuss on that front.

To be part of these good times, email in for next week's haul at

Let's get started -

Dear Bob,

I've decided what the cowboys should do with their first round pick and after hearing no one else make this sugguestion yet, im beginning to think i might be the draft expert. Dontari Poe. The 6'4, 346 pound, defensive tackle from Memphis. He is the perfect mold to plug into a 3-4 defense and take up two to three blockers every play. On top of this, he benched 225 forty four times and ran a 4.95 forty; he's clearly a freak athlete. The biggest reason why i sugguest this is because the cowboys could then kick Jay Ratliff out to defensive end where he'll actually be able to hold up for a full sixteen game schedule and put him at the position where i believe he's best suited for. On top of all this, put ratliff on the weak side next to Spencer or even Victor Bulter which should potentially give them more one on one's or even allow them to run free. Poe will certainly be there at 14 and i think overall this will help the cowboys bring more pressure without all the crazy blitz packages rob ryan throws out, letting them drop 6 or 7. The pass rush has become the most important part of being a winning football team in this now pass-happy league. I think im a genius, what says you?

The Number One P1,
Mike from Plano


I enjoy your style and your idea. There is no question that since about 2009, I have been a proponent of kicking Jay Ratliff out to defensive end. This has been a source of much argument as people cite that Ratliff is a solid nose tackle and that he says he enjoys playing over the center. But, I use a different approach altogether. My rationale is simply studying the most successful 3-4 defenses in the NFL and comparing the player that they attempt to play at the nose and comparing them with Jay Ratliff from a simple size standpoint. The results are not close. The Jets employ Sione Pouha at 6'3, 325. The Steelers have had Casey Hampton 6'1, 325. Green Bay has used Ryan Pickett at 6'2, 340. San Francisco uses Isaac Sopoaga: 6'2, 330. Baltimore uses Terrence Cody at 6'4, 350 (and Haloti Ngata at 6'4, 330). Big Vince Wilfork anchors the New England 3-4 (when they run the 3-4) and he sits at a hefty 6'2, 330.

Meanwhile, the honorable Mr Ratliff fluctuates between 290 and 295 most times, and while he effectiveness is not to be doubted, I just don't think that he can drop anchor and demand the same level of attention that players who weigh as much as 50 pounds more than him can sustain. He wears down as the season goes on and December represents his worst production on a tackle-per-game basis.

Against that backdrop, we also have the Cowboys with a revolving door at defensive end where they have not really had a difference maker since they switched defensive schemes so many years ago. Igor Olshansky, Chris Canty, Kenyon Coleman, Marcus Spears, Stephen Bowen, Jason Hatcher, and Kenyon Coleman (again) have all represented defensive ends who are not full time defensive ends. Some could play the run. Some could play the pass. Some were just warm bodies, but none of them made you say you were set at that position. And yet, Ratliff, seems to be a cinch to be a full-time defensive end if you found a proper nose tackle to carry out the scheme like the successful teams do. It seems to make too much sense, really.

So, why do the Cowboys continue to try to do the 3-4 their own way?

Maybe, because they have never been in a great spot to address the situation at nose properly. And perhaps, the draft will make that happen. Mike mentions Dontari Poe from Memphis, who we will look at closely in the next few weeks. But, I have major issues with his production while playing in Conference USA. Sure, Memphis is a bad team, but 1 sack when you are playing SMU, Middle Tennessee, Rice, and the rest? I enjoyed his absurd combine performance, but do you want to take a player based on a workout? His 40 time is crazy, but if my nose tackle is ever running 40 yards, the play is already a lost cause.

Personally, I am a much bigger admirer of Alameda Ta'Amu of Washington who really looked like a handful during the Senior Bowl. His quickness and size combination 6'3, 348 is something to behold. Even Baylor's Nick Jean-Baptiste looks the part and has better production against a better caliber of opponent and would not require pick #14 to take. I would only use #14 on a nose tackle if I was sure I was getting Wilfork or Ngata. I am not sure Poe could be considered anything close to a sure thing.

But, I agree that this is something that is long overdue as Ratliff gets older and older and the miles get higher on his odometer.

Hi Bob,

Possible topic for ask Sports Sturm or the FSSW site if you haven't already covered it. Or maybe someone has written on this you could point me to.

The QB or an OL generally point out which defender is "Mike" in the defensive set. Often it is not the MLB, but an OLB or SS.
I assume this is to set the blocking scheme and spots blitzers, but wonder how it is determined and what the real significance is?



Absolutely. You are right on in that the whole point of identifying the "Mike" is one of the most vital jobs of the pre snap reads for both the center and the quarterback. There is no doubt that with the league becoming far more heavy on the passing game, that defenses can only deal with it by attempting to stress your protection schemes and confusing your QB by giving some level of uncertainty with who is rushing and who is not.

So, in the pre snap, the Quarterback is generally identifying the "mike" so that everyone on the offense who is involved in pass protection (somewhere between 5 and 8 players) agrees that "52 is Mike". Once everyone sees it the same way (as the QB sees it), then they simply have to count from the inside out to find the player they are responsible for.

In general, in pass protection, the rule of thumb is to always take the inside player on pass rushes. So, as a team uses fan protection or slide to either the left or the right, the offensive line works in concert with the tight end and or running backs to figure out who has who. This, of course, is further complicated with the fact that everyone on the defense that looks like they might rush are not actually rushing. And some who do not look like candidates to rush might be rushing. And still others are not rushing at first, but then take off for the QB. And, of course, through all of this, the QB has to keep an eye on those that he knows are unaccounted for. If, somehow, those players head towards him, he knows he is on his own and it is up to him to either get rid of the ball before he is reached or to make that unblocked man miss. Not easy.

But, it is mandatory that everyone sees that defense the same way - through the QBs eyes - and that is why he vocally declares who he determines is the middle man for which the entire protection scheme is based.


Considering all the press about how the league has changed into a passing league vs the Cowboy's strategy to not focus on Safety since they hit on Woodson, which could be better for them this year? The 2nd-5th rated CB or the #1 safety? I've seen Dre or Janoris ranked 2-5 by various folks but Barron is always the #1 safety.

Enjoy your articles/blog posts. Thanks!


Much like defensive end, there is no question that the safety position has been relegated by the Cowboys' brass as "whoever we can find for cheap" since Roy Williams and Darren Woodson were once a fantastic tandem in 2003. Since then, Williams play diminished year by year after the league started to figure him out and his obvious deficiencies. Otherwise, there have been a number of different safeties who have rolled through town and an equal number who have been conversion attempts from corner. Recently, Alan Ball washed out quickly and a draft day gamble named Akwasi Owusu-Ansah was the Cowboys 4th Round pick under the premise that they could teach him safety in 2010. Given that by year 2 he did not make the squad out of training camp and then they attempted to convert him into a wide receiver before cutting him for good at Thanksgiving 2011 tells you all you need to know. He is now on Jacksonville's roster and the Cowboys ability to scout and develop was called into question again.

Last summer, the Cowboys had a few chances to address safety, but again ignored it in the draft completely and then signed veteran safety Abe Elam for just a 1-year stop gap deal. His play exceeded that of Ball in 2010, but was not noticeable enough to approach about an extension and has not been mentioned during free agency despite giving the Cowboys 1,050 snaps last season.

Meanwhile, Brodney Pool has been signed, but honestly, he doesn't seem like much of an investment nor should expectations be high for a FS who only played much in New York because their starter Jim Leonhard was injured midway through the season.

I would very much enjoy a top safety as I am positively confused as to why the Cowboys did a long extension with Gerald Sensabaugh. He seems to be a box safety who doesn't particularly care for physical play. That seems like a substantial problem to me, but somehow it was worth a 5 year/$22.5 million extension with $8m in guaranteed dollars. Of course, the Sensabaugh deal does resemble the Nate Livings deal in that there is a rather safe language to the deal that makes it much smaller in reality if the performance is not where it needs to be. Beyond that, it is Pool, Barry Church (who many inside the organization still suggest to me might be the player to emerge) and Danny McCray.

So, now back to Mark Barron, the hard-hitting safety from Alabama. It seems to me that it is very important to put a few things out there about Barron as it pertains to the Cowboys situation. He appears to be a strong safety. Although the position is more and more interchangeable than it used to be where both safeties must be able to do both things (run support close to the line and center field play deep in the back), a safety still must be sound in coverage for the Cowboys to make sense. And Barron does not appear to be the best safety in the draft from a "center field" stand-point. His specialty is in the box, and if that was what the Cowboys needed the worst, I wonder if they would have targeted someone like Laron Landry (who ironically is now in New York with Pool moving on).

The other thing that makes this difficult is that you want to find match-ups against great QBs to evaluate his cover skills, and anyone who watched the SEC this season would know that it is rather difficult to say that the conference was a great passing league. Can he lower the boom against the run? Yes. But, I think it must be giving talent evaluators head aches that the 3 top DBs in the draft (Morris Claiborne - LSU, Dre Kirkpatrick - Ala, Mark Barron - Ala) are all SEC guys so there aren't many great passers to watch them against from 2011.

Adding to the interest is the idea that Kirkpatrick is a conversion candidate to free safety, perhaps. This idea gives me indigestion - to draft a player in the 1st round and then immediately ask him to play a position he has never played - but the idea of drafting Kirkpatrick is actually interesting to me, despite the signing of Brandon Carr. In my mind, you can never have too many cornerbacks, and with Mike Jenkins on the final year of his deal, I certainly could happily enter the year with 4 strong corners.

Next week, let's start breaking down players for the top 2 rounds that are on the Cowboys short list (or should be).

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