Saturday, August 25, 2012

Cowboys Mailbag - 8/25

Let's get back to responding to your emails and tweets for another week. I cannot promise we will have time to do one of these each week, but hopefully on Friday or Saturday, we can roll out a few responses before covering another game is upon us as we roll through another NFL season starring your Dallas Cowboys.

Here are today's items:

Love your writing and analysis. I’ve got two questions which should both tee up nicely with your view of Cowboys football. I agree with you, and the Giants/Steelers, that the game is fairly simple and is won in the trenches. For some reason, the Cowboys seem to think that that the game is won on the outside with WRs & DBs. The novice would say that the Cowboys are just clueless, a premise I’ve shared on many occasions. But I have to give Garret, the Jones’, and the Scouts some more credit than that.

We’ve heard both JJ & Ryan slobber over the Cowboys D-line, which has to be taken with a grain of salt. But I also saw a quote from Mike Mayock (a dude that sounds really smart) talk about the Cowboys’ SB quality D-line. My 1st question: now that you have closely analyzed the 2011 season, do you still believe that the Dallas D-line is substandard?

On the other side of the equation, everyone agrees that the interior o-line last year was worthless. So the Cowboys made moves, albeit modest, to address the OG position in the offseason. For some reason, the center position was effectively ignored. My 2nd question: would it be possible to look at Costa’s performance from last year? Is it possible that he was improving enough throughout the season to convince the Cowboys that he could be an effective starter?

Obviously, I’m trying comprehend Dallas’ offseason moves….
Thanks and keep up the great work!

Thanks, Erik.

These are a few topics I feel very strongly about. There is no question in following this team that at times they have chosen to throw their resources at skill positions rather than in the trenches. The 2008 draft followed by the Roy Williams trade a few months later that not only further invested in skill positions, but did so at the expense of the 2009 draft continues to haunt this team's depth. That, in turn, caused them to allocate even more resources to trade up to get Dez Bryant. Meanwhile, the offensive and defensive lines eroded to the point of being among the weakest links on the roster.

I have not heard Mike Mayock's views on the Cowboys defensive line. However, I would be shocked to hear anyone rank them among the NFL's elite. In their division alone I would see the overall DL groups in New York and Philadelphia as far superior. And I cannot imagine too many people would disagree with that point.

However, I feel that going into the 2012 season, I am as optimistic about this group as I have been in years. Jay Ratliff is the constant, but now he has high-motor players with natural skills like Tyrone Crawford and Sean Lissemore joining a veteran like Jason Hatcher who appears to be breaking out before our eyes. Hopefully the days of Marcus Spears and Igor Olshansky just taking up space and not really impacting plays or freeing up space for LBs to fly in and make plays are behind us. I don't think Kenyon Coleman or Marcus Spears are locks to make the squad and that is a good thing. I have nothing against them, but the competition level has been so low around here for so long on the DL that the veterans have kept their jobs without being challenged by anyone behind them in the depth chart. It appears that situation is changing. It appears they have players who are young and explosive now in the group. Are Robert Callaway and Ben Bass in that group, too? We shall see on cutdown day, but I am excited about what they are building now.

As for Costa and his room for improvement, I have gone to great lengths to point out his issues on the OL. He was not strong enough and that became a problem as the season wore on and as word got out to the league what the Cowboys issues were. Understand, when a defensive coaching staff sits in a meeting room they are asking two questions: What is the offense's greatest strength and what is the offense's greatest weakness? They want to game-plan to take away the strength and expose the weakness. So, as 2011 went on, I believe the circle was right on the starting interior OL of the Cowboys. Costa was at the center of that target. He had strength issues, confidence issues, and recognition issues. And as the year came along, there was a ton of twisting, stunting, and blitzing right at Costa and his A-gaps. There is no sympathy in this league. If a guy is struggling, the opponent is now going to find a way to ambush the player with their best player. You might remember the stunt the Eagles pulled off that almost destroyed Romo early in Week 16 when Jason Babin stunted inside right at Costa. It wasn't pretty.

Are the Cowboys better equipped this year to handle the challenges? We shall see. Everyone says he is very smart and very determined. They are confident he can handle the line calls and blitz assignments. And most of all, their confidence is higher because of 2 veteran guards who were signed to flank him and help with those A-gaps. We will wait and see before we declare it fixed.


The Cowboys drafted Amendola, but then let him go - only to see him thrive now in St. Louis. In light of that, I can understand them drafting Harris. However, why do they take Beasely before they even see how Harris develops? Basically, while I like them both, I don't see them both making the roster. How many small guys can you carry? Nobody will trade for one of these guys, they'll just pick them up at cuts. Odds are they already knew that they'd be going with Holmes, Harris, Ogletree or a vet at cuts, so couldn't we have benefited more from taking a player a position of greater need? Say OL?

Dave in Richmond, VA

Well, Dave, we must start with an overall view of how the NFL personnel system works. Both Amendola and Beasley are undrafted free agents. This year, every team goes to camp with 90 players. Given that 53 make the team, that means 37 do not for each of the 32 teams. That means 1,184 players will be cut during training camp alone in the NFL. That number is staggering and should demonstrate just how difficult it is to make a roster in any capacity.

As an aside, I am prone to arguments on the radio show I work for (the Bob and Dan show, 12p-3p Weekdays, on Sportsradio 1310 the Ticket in Dallas). And this week, we started to discuss the fact that Bobby Carpenter appears to be on his way to making the New England Patriots roster. In fact, he could be their 4th linebacker. In most circles, Carpenter is certainly thought of as a bust for not living up to his level of expectation after his 1st round selection in the 2006 NFL Draft. And there is no question that when selected, the Cowboys were sure they were taking a safe pick who could start for them for many years at linebacker. He was a quality college player and had the bloodlines to say this may not be a superstar, but he will be a strong player for years.

However, we all know that he is near the top of worst personnel moves in the last decade around here and his name is mud locally. That wasn't the argument. The debate was started when I made the claim that at some point, you would have to declare his career salvaged as he continues to make NFL rosters. Yes, his level of expectation was very high because some team or teams thought he was worthy of a Top 20 pick. But, when a guy is playing in the NFL for 7 seasons, that constitutes a nice career for anyone who hopes to play football for a living. If he can make it to the 10 year mark then I think there is no question. Donovan Lewis argued that he has stunk his whole career and therefore cannot be considered as having something to be proud of. Perhaps we were arguing 2 different things, but I hold to the idea that making a roster in the NFL is very, very difficult. To do it 10 years in a row suggests that whoever does it, they have put together a career to be proud of. Not Hall of Fame worthy nor Ring of Honor worthy. But to make 10 NFL teams constitutes a very nice accomplishment in my book. This may be a discussion that falls on deaf ears, but I think too often we like to marginalize things that are very impressive if you stop to think about 1,184 players being cut in the next 10 days.

Anyway, back to Dave's question, remember that since Amendola and Beasley were undrafted, that made them automatic long-shots to make the roster. I think the term "camp bodies" would apply as they are usually there to make sure that during the grind of training camp, the league wants to make sure that even during times of mass injuries, the teams still have enough healthy bodies to run a successful camp practice. So, they allow teams to bring along more players than are actually needed. That is different than having a chance to earn a job, although some of these players do make their way through the cracks and into the mix to make the team. As you know, no teams has been happier with undrafted free agents than the Cowboys over the last decade. To find a franchise-leading Quarterback and a top receiver from that same bin of scraps that were passed over about 250 times in the draft is quite remarkable and frankly quite difficult.

So, understand that they throw numbers at a given job. They did not spend a pick on Amendola. They spent a 6th rounder on Dwayne Harris. This is a resource used, but hardly a premium resource as the odds of a 6th rounder having an impact are still quite difficult for most to overcome. Then, this year, they invite Cole Beasley to compete for one of the many jobs as well. One thing you learn about the NFL is that there is always competition. These jobs are difficult to get and more difficult to keep. So, no, I don't think it is ever a bad idea to push Dwayne Harris and make him hold off competition at camp this year rather than offer the baseball mentality that preaches patience. In that sport, you may bring a guy along slowly through the minor leagues. In the NFL, you are either ready or you are unemployed. Every year. Every week. It is a very tough business. And that is why I think at some point, Bobby Carpenter deserves some credit for being a bust in 2006, but still a member of the league in 2012 and perhaps, beyond.


I really enjoyed the Splash Play Series.

My question; will you be tracking Splash Plays during the season? I hope you do.

Enjoy the Raider game,

Gregory Smith
Union City, CA

Yes, sir. I have plans of making Splash Plays part of the weekly breakdown for each game. On a normal Sunday game, the plan is to write the "Morning After" essay on Monday, continue our "Decoding Garrett" series on Tuesday, Examine the defense and the splash plays on Wednesday, study a X's and O's moment from the game on Thursday, and then end the week with a game plan/mailbag column on Friday or Saturday. At least, that is my goal before I realize that I cannot pull all of that off. But, I shall try.

For those that missed it, I highly recommend you spend time on the Splash Play Series. Here they are: Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - and - Part 4.

Or, if you just want to see the database for all splash plays in 2011, click here for that.

And one more on Splash Plays:

Newman’s pick - 1 splash play or two?

I knew exactly what you meant by splash plays. We had them in high school but we received stars on a chart when we made them. On one play, I made 3.

I tackled the RB five yards in the backfield, knocked the ball loose and then recovered the fumble. Coach said the only thing I could have done differently is scored a TD.

I got one for the tackle for loss.
I got one for causing the fumble.
And one for recovering the fumble.

I think I should have gotten two. The tackle and the strip were the same thing. The fumble recovery normally isn’t by the guy who brings the ball carrier to the ground and I did wrap him up and take him to the ground before jumping over on the ball.

If someone scores on defense, is the score a 2nd splash play? You have to admit a pick-six or a fumble recovery for a TD is not the same as an interception or a fumble recovery.


I totally agree, Kevin. I think I need to figure this part out a bit better. Perhaps we need to define a normal splash from a super splash or something. Thanks for bringing it up and I will try to designate that for 2012 improvements.

Enjoy the St Louis game (assuming that one can enjoy a preseason game) and enjoy your weekend.

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