Friday, September 13, 2013

Cowboys Mailbag - 9/13

On Fridays, we check for your emails and prepare briefly for the next opponent:

So, let's talk about the Chiefs briefly.  I readily admit that I would like to spend 2,000 words on the upcoming opponents like I used to, but the way we are doing the blog these days has put far more emphasis on the game behind than the game ahead and most seem to enjoy the Tuesday-Thursday breakdowns.  Unfortunately, that comes a bit at Friday's expense, so forgive me.

The Chiefs are a team that finished 2-14 last year and honestly have a bit of a history of being a team you "should beat", but everyone needs to get that out of their head.  This game is going to be a real test for the Cowboys offense.

In 2013, the Chiefs cleaned house again and hired an entire new football operation starting with John Dorsey who was very high on Ted Thompson's staff for a long time to be their general manager.  Then, Andy Reid to be the head coach.  But, the hire that will have the biggest impact on Sunday is Bob Sutton the defensive coordinator from the New York Jets.  What that means, is that we should expect the Chiefs defense to resemble the chaos that the Jets 3-4 has tried to throw down for many years with great success and in a stadium that is likely to be shaking on Sunday, this will greatly test this new offensive line that is gaining confidence of its own.

The Chiefs, as has been documented, has significantly more talent than your average 2-14 team, and many - including myself - have projected them as a wildcard team in the AFC.  They have elite quality defenders in Tamba Hali, Derrick Johnson, Eric Berry, and Brandon Flowers.  Meanwhile, Justin Houston and Dontari Poe seem to be poised to be elite soon.  I remember disagreeing with the masses on Poe on draft day, and it looks like the Chiefs won this gamble.  They added free agent Mike Devito to play that 5-technique in this 2-gap defense and Sean Smith to play the opposite corner that was vacated a season ago by Brandon Carr.

I think this will be a fantastic evaluation game for Travis Frederick.  We have seen him make almost no mistakes since coming to Dallas, but now, with blitzes from every direction crossing up the protections and with a loud stadium and high pressure shotgun snaps, on top of a large nose tackle right on top of him, I think if Frederick gets out of this clean, we will have to be impressed.

Whereas the Giants seldom brought pressure and enjoyed dedicating more players to coverage, the Chiefs will likely do just the opposite, and perhaps this will mean a bigger role for Dez Bryant.  Make them pay for their blitzes.

Clearly, running the football is the way to quiet a high-pressure environment and to settle your offense down and this will be a key.  The Chiefs - if their first game is any indication - are going to try to smother you in pressure.  Now, the Cowboys need to demonstrate that this isn't Blaine Gabbert and the Jacksonville Jaguars they are dealing with.

On the other side of the ball, I am interested to see the Cowboys deal with Jamaal Charles - who we will assume is in reasonable health.  He has a competent offensive line and they can run the ball.  But, now they have a coach who has never really believed in running it, so we are a bit fuzzy on how those two ideas will mesh long term.

Do not kid yourself about Alex Smith.  Sure, he is never going to fully live down being #1 overall and being taken ahead of Aaron Rodgers, but he has turned a corner in his career.  Since the start of 2011, he has a record of 21-5-1 and has 32 Touchdowns and 10 interceptions with a QB rating of 95.1 and a 7.25 Yards Per Attempt - ahead of guys like Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler.

He will not beat himself and he will certainly take the high percentage option, which makes him a real fit with Andy Reid.  Dwayne Bowe will cause matchup issues and Donnie Avery underneath should be slippery.

I have no delusions about the difficulty of this game.  It will be a real battle and one where points might be difficult to get.  Don't forget Week 2 in Seattle in 2012.  I have the Cowboys, but barely, and in a low-scoring Dan Bailey-winning affair.

Now, on to your emails!
Hey Bob-
Any chance you can break down the special teams rosters for the first game?  Last year that was helpful to get an idea on why the team makes certain players inactive on game day.
Absolutely!  You know I keep a notebook on all of this sort of thing, so let's start with the Cowboys inactives in the Giants game:

The Dallas Cowboys have declared DL Anthony Spencer, OG Brian Waters, LB Caesar Rayford, WR Cole Beasley, SS Danny McCray, OT Darrion Weems, RB Lance Dunbar inactive for Week 1.

Now, clearly, we can explain Spencer, Waters, McCray, and Dunbar away as health issues that kept them from being at the top of their game.  In the case of McCray, he is the type of guy who is only on this team to help with special teams, so we know he will be active when he is healthy, or he won't really be on the roster for long.

That leaves Rayford, Beasley, Weems, and perhaps Dunbar as the guys you might say are roster surplus for now and if they are not making your game-day roster - then they are on the fringes roster and the most likely to be freed up if something better comes along.  We have had these discussions about Cole Beasley and Lance Dunbar in 2012.  If they cannot cover kicks and punts up to the standards the team has, then they will have to be very special in the offense or there is just not room for them in the NFL level.  A guy like Dwayne Harris can do so much more for you if he can handle 20 special teams plays AND then get a dozen snaps on the offense.

Anyway, with that said, here are the week 1 special teams units - Pay special attention to the players that show up on all 4 groups.  Click each to enlarge:





Again, after looking at something like this, you se that it is vital for a guy to show he can handle anything the team asks of him if he wants to hang around and get on the field.  DeVonte Holloman, Kyle Bosworth, Jeff Heath, Ernie Sims, Phillip Tanner, and  Edgar Jones are what you would call the core of these groups to start the season.  McCray will knock someone off these groups, but continuity is important to find a comfort zone where everyone knows what to expect of those around them to either spring a big return or keep them from happening.  And make no mistake, KC can make you sweat with Dexter McCluster back deep.

Hi Bob,Thanks for all the great posts you do. I would love to know what books or other resources you would recommend for learning how to watch offensive and defensive line play.David Green
Well, this is a question I get periodically, and I will tell you that there has never been a better time to be a football fan who really enjoys learning about schemes and strategy.  It is a growing group and there information is excellent.  The more you learn about football the less you care about the soap opera discussions and actually dive into talking ball from a standpoint of what wins games.  I have spent about 8 years with almost no fantasy football in my life and tons of coaching/strategy books and DVDs and even coaching clinics and feel like - even though I will never coach - that I have learned the game on a much deeper level and I can't get enough.

The two books I would order today if this is interesting to you are these:  

Pat Kirwan's Take Your Eyes Off The Ball and Chris Brown's the Essential Smart Football

Once you read those and want more, there is no end to the material.  You can find clinics and speeches from the greatest minds in coaching all over the internet and it is fascinating.  I highly recommend it.

Email me anytime at and maybe you will be in next week's group.

Enjoy the game and we will see you back here on Monday.

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