Monday, July 22, 2013

Live From Oxnard: Crawford Down; Depth Discussions

It may only be July 22, but the depth chart is already being tested for the Dallas Cowboys as on July 21, they lost a key member of a thin defensive line to what appears to be a season-ending achilles injury as Tyrone Crawford, a 2012 3rd Round pick, went down in a heap early in the practice #1.

Regardless of the propaganda peddled by Jerry Jones back in April, the defensive line is not a position of great strength by any means.  They were incredibly thin as a starting 4, with at least 2 players (Jay Ratliff and Anthony Spencer) attempting to play positions that do not appear ideal to learn for both size reasons and age reasons - and now their more promising reserve goes down for the entire season.  

Crawford, of course, is the guy that came quickly to mind when they would internally discuss replacements next winter as 2 of the starters - Spencer and Jason Hatcher - both head into unrestricted free agency.  He could still be that guy, but as far as having any sort of preparation for the 2014 season before he is handed the job has now become very unlikely.

And, more urgently, let's remember the entire focal point of a Monte Kiffin/Rod Marinelli defense; that is, they will base most of their defense on the premise of generating a pass rush with just the front 4 getting to the QB, and dropping 7 into zones (often 5 shallow/2 deep) and a 4 man pass rush is born almost completely from having a rotation of 6-8 linemen who can rotate and stay fresh throughout 4 quarters and sometimes 50 pass plays.  So, to lose the only regarded reserve who can offer some versatility and cover multiple spots is not a small matter on any level. 

Here is what Jerry told the Dallas Morning News (and the rest of the media) back in April:  

“[Tyrone] Crawford is certainly going in that right direction,” Jones said. “In no way do I think [Jay] Ratliff has injury issues. He did last year but that was pretty unique. I think [DeMarcus] Ware’s an exception. Spencer and these guys are young 30-year-olds. Don’t get me wrong, I’m interested in long term but I’m real interested in what’s happening in the next 24-36 months. That’s really what you ought to be looking at.”
If the Cowboys had stayed at No. 18, many experts believe the best fit would’ve been one of the following defensive tackles: Florida’s Sharrif Floyd or North Carolina’s Sylvester Williams.
Floyd was projected to go as high as No. 3 but slipped to the Minnesota Vikings at No. 23. 
We feel like defensive line is a position of strength for us,” Jones responded when asked about Floyd. “In our system, we would probably put a premium on a quick-twitch potential three-technique. We [graded] him as not that, but that he certainly may be capable of getting there. That’s a case where are switch from a 3-4, he was obviously a nose tackle that had a lot of promise there at nose tackle. He’s an outstanding football player. … Again, I think you got to put our decision-making with a real focus on doing something with the interior of our offensive line.”

Obviously, there is going to be gnashing of teeth about passing on Shariff Floyd even more the day when Crawford gets hurt, but understand, this is what the set-up was even when Jay Ratliff was unable to pass the conditioning test without pulling his hamstring.  They just don't have very many options on this key spot on the roster.

They were taking an enormous gamble by not addressing the defensive line somewhere with their 4 picks in the top 80.  That was already true with a healthy Ratliff and a healthy Crawford.  Now, I am really not sure how we can expect Kiffin and Marinelli to generate a proper 4 man rush through 4 quarters (and one that is stout against the run) without having enough pieces.

This isn't about Sharrif Floyd - although the selection of Floyd would have allowed Crawford to slide back to your 3rd best interior guy or your 3rd best outside man.  Then Crawford and Sean Lissemore are part of a 7 man rotation that now has just 5 (assuming Ratliff can start 16 games).

And this isn't also about the folly of taking offensive linemen - because they needed that, too.  They also needed depth at WR, RB, and a plan about safety.  What they addressed in the draft, with the possible exception of using such a high pick on a 2nd TE, were all sound football decisions that filled needs that were obvious.

What this is more about is the macro view of Dallas Cowboys football in this current era.  It is feeling devastated about losing a reserve lineman on July 21.  It is about scrambling and wondering if someone is going to cut a guy who can instantly beat everything you have on your depth chart to fill his role - and knowing cuts won't happen for a month.

It reminds me of what we wrote about back in April:

When you have too many holes you are in a situation where there are no wrong answers (any pick you make will address a need, most likely) and there are no right answers (no matter who you pick, there will still be some major needs that don't get addressed).  This is the curse of the 2013 Cowboys draft.  They had needs and needs and needs.  They had too many holes and not enough plugs.  They shocked the NFL with all of the street free agents that they signed mid-season (in 2012) who stepped right onto the roster and into the huddle because of their absurd lack of depth.  They could not afford injuries in a sport that injuries are part of the deal.   
So, when they entered this weekend, they were at a distinct disadvantage against the league for 2 reasons.  1) they had more needs than your average team and 2) they had fewer picks than your average team.   
When you do look at those NFL Draft grades that I asked you to ignore, you will find that it starts with your pick load.  The Ravens and 49ers are celebrated for their awesome draft.  Well, they entered with the 2 most picks.  Green Bay was congratulated for their draft.  Well, they had 10 picks on Day 3 to use and trade with.  Minnesota graded well - I should hope so with 3 1st Rounders.  You will generally see that the teams with volume are going to hit the target more often. 
And this is why the Cowboys operate from a distinct disadvantage.  This is the macro view.  They butchered several drafts in a row by most counts.  2006-2010 have very little left to show for it.  We have discussed this at great length and if you compare them with the power teams in the league, you will see that the issue lies there - not with what they do in the 2012 or 2013 draft.   
Imagine a car in a race that is 4 laps down before it finally gets its set-up right.  It would make no sense to criticize them too hard for whatever happened after that.  They were too far behind to recover.  And that is where the franchise stands.  Too many holes and no matter who they take, it is the wrong answer.
This really is just the current situation.  A massive hole from the 2008-2009 drafts that now comes home to roost when players from those 2 drafts are hitting the start of their 2nd contracts and their NFL primes on other teams (contenders).  This massive hole does not take months to dig out of, but rather years.  

I believe that the Jason Garrett-led drafts might have a chance to fix this, but that won't be realized until they, too, hit their 2nd contracts and their primes in the 2015-2016 seasons.  On July 22, 2013, nobody wants to hear that noise.

Losing Tyrone Crawford hurts.  But as you can see, that is just the result of Mike Jenkins, Felix Jones, Martellus Bennett, Bobby Carpenter, Roy Williams, etc.  

Everyone in the NFL gets injuries.  Just like in real life, everyone gets a car accident or an unexpected expense of $1,000 or $2,000 once in a while.  Some people have money in the bank where that does not cripple them, and others are left without a solution.

Unfortunately, there are no savings accounts right now in the Cowboys talent bank.  

In 2013, they are already scrambling.  

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