Wednesday, January 29, 2014

2014 Cowboys Draft Weekly Notebook - Episode #2

I realize this is a slight departure from strict draft previewing and such activities, but surely the coaching developments at Valley Ranch all connect and relate to what we are attempting to do here in preparation for May.  That said, the Cowboys bringing in Scott Linehan to assist in the most confusing spiderweb of offensive coaches and philosophies in the NFL continues to take shape.  Meanwhile, of greater headlines and lesser impact, Rod Marinelli takes over as the defensive coordinator at the present, something this blog has been suggesting he was already doing.  And perhaps the most "Jerry" move of them all, Monte Kiffin and Bill Callahan appear to be still employed with the Cowboys and will continue to serve in some capacity that is certainly vague, which confounds all involved.

Now, rather than spending too much of this column with cynicism on why the Cowboys are hopelessly tangled in agendas, pride, and an overall refusal to organize in a proper and accepted manner in this profession that most resembles the military power structure in the majority of organizations, let's look at why this particular move of Linehan joining Garrett to attempt to sort out the offensive issues with play-calling, tactics, and utilizing the assets in the best possible ways (for instance, it is clear that the entire Gavin Escobar episode is a real chaffing issue).

Linehan is a coach who has his plusses and minuses of course.  Every coach - especially those who are easily available at this time of year - are not going to have such a glowing resume that we run to his arms in January and he comes in and fixes everything.  Rob Ryan had a list of doubters who said he had never won anything.  Monte Kiffin's doubts were based on his last several years of work.  Bill Callahan still had to answer for Super Bowl 37 and his very odd relation ship with players.  Rod Marinelli coached a team that went 0-16.  The list goes on and on.

Well, in Linehan's case, my initial concerns are based completely on my over-riding issues with the offense.  I have long thought that the Cowboys offense is too finesse and does not value the ability to (at times) bully the defense into submission with clock-controlling, demoralizing, and punishing football that shows the opponent that this is going to be a very long day.  I think that it seldom hurts to defend against the Cowboys and that they run only as an afterthought.

Now, I do not believe in the wishbone, the veer, or any ridiculous running to extreme that is sure to anger any advanced metrics folks.  In fact, I consider myself one of them.  But, we cannot lose sight of the fact that the sport of football is one of disposition and attitude at its core.  You cannot watch the Seahawks and 49ers take over the NFC with this bully-football and ignore it.  There has to be some recognition that physicality is still alive and well in the NFL and it is still a blocking and tackling league.

I am sorry, but dropping back into shotgun and pass protection play after play is like a boxer who is never allowed to attack.  He must simply accept punishment as an offensive lineman and never dish it out.  I don't like that and I never have.  I also don't believe that many great coaches believe in it either.  Yes, this is a passing league and the numbers have never been higher.  So, why then, did Seattle and San Francisco take over the conference without a QB who can throw for 200 yards on a regular basis?

Smash-Mouth-Football.  Offensively and Defensively.  They are going to make you cry.

Can the Cowboys mimic this?

Or should they do just the opposite?

Here is the run/pass balance for the last 5 season for Scott Linehan in Detroit, Jason Garrett in Dallas, and the NFL average for playoff teams.  We should obviously dig deeper on this topic, but here are just broad, general numbers based on the question, does this team run the ball?

Well, by rankings, many of them between 30th-32nd in the league, Linehan might be one of the few NFL coaches that values the run less than even Garrett.  Now, there, of course, are personnel considerations and you can see how Reggie Bush being brought into Detroit affected their conviction level substantially, but overall, you can see that these guys feel like the running game is an overall nuisance as it pertains to their ideal view of football.

Year Linehan - Det Garrett - Dal NFL Playoff Avg
2009 39.4% Run 42.7% Run 44.3% Run
2010 38.0% Run 41.4% Run 43.9% Run
2011 33.6% Run 40.1% Run 43.5% Run
2012 33.7% Run 33.8% Run 45.2% Run
2013 40.4% Run 35.1% Run 44.3% Run

My dreams of smash-mouth football with Travis Frederick, Tyron Smith, and even Doug Free capable of dishing out running game punishment looks unlikely, to be honest.  

On the other hand, if you consider the lack of creativity and insistence on getting the ball to Dez Bryant, we can look on the bright side and imagine Linehan bringing all of his tricks on how to use Megatron and his mates to create match ups around the field and get his monster the ball at any and all times.

Also, unlike Callahan, there is reason to believe that Garrett and Linehan consider themselves friends and share agendas and loyalty and even football philosophy.  So, from that standpoint, I can sell this idea to myself quite easily.

But, overall, if you, like me, consider the Cowboys finesse approach to offense to be one of the consistent weaknesses that you would like addressed, just know that Linehan wants to pass even more than Garrett and did not really harness Matthew Stafford's impulse throws very well.


As for fall-out from the Senior Bowl week and how it effects the Cowboys look at where they will head with that 1st Round pick, we surely were properly introduced to the first ideal target of their top pick.

In talking with NFL people yesterday, including CBS' Pat Kirwan, most agree that in the post Ratliff-Hatcher world of the Kiffin/Marinelli/Pete Caroll defense the Cowboys desire to run, their main issue is a proper 3-technique who can excel, penetrate, and cause issues upfield in a Warren Sapp mode and fill the spot for an extended period of time.

That is why just about everyone I have talked to after Mobile seem to agree that of those candidates at the Senior Bowl - and keep in mind most of the 1st round does not go to the Senior Bowl - has put the Cowboys as a likely destination for Aaron Donald from Pitt.  He is a 6'1, 288 Defensive Tackle who won the Outland Trophy and appears to be tailor made for that position on the field in this particular scheme.  I don't know what you consider a productive college career, but I might argue 28.5 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, and 4 forced fumbles is a fine college career.  Only with Donald, that was just his 2013 season.  

That is right, 28.5 TFLs and 11 sacks in 13 games!  39.5 explosives in 13 games?  In a major conference?  Where do I sign and how can he actually get to the Cowboys at 16/17?

His lone wart might be his size, but I bet he can get to 300 or 305 if you want to put him up there, but as we are seeing with Arizona State's Will Sutton, gaining weight is not always something you want to happen.  

Check out all of his work at draft's site and his player page there.  It is great to watch him play in space and he played some real strong opponents, too.  

Here is his game against Florida State to start with:

And then here he is against Georgia Tech:

He wears 97 and you can see his ability to deal with double teams and penetrate and generally cause havoc in the backfield.  He answered the questions I had for him with great ease on his film.

It is early, but with Louis Nix, Rashede Hageman, Timmy Jernigan, and Sutton also on many 1st round lists for defensive tackle, Donald laid down quite a claim to be that primary target as we leave January and head for combine month.

But, we all know our opinions change plenty between now and May 8.  

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