Monday, January 19, 2015

Offseason Digest #1 - Randy Gregory, Championship Sunday

Given that this is my first offseason back with the Dallas Morning News, we (the DMN bosses and myself) may have to figure out exactly how we want this to print in the offseason.  But, the object of the next 4 months will be to walk you through the Dallas Cowboys offseason - along with many of their foes - from a NFL Draft and NFL Free Agency standpoint.
This includes examining players carefully by using their game tape to give you a fresh set of eyes perspective on each guy and how they may fit with the Cowboys (or if they fit with them at all).  The plan is to try to get at least a thumb nail sketch of any Top 100 prospect in the draft, and dig a little deeper on the Top 50 guys.  Meanwhile, in this spot - in the Offseason Digest (Or S.O.D), we will also try to answer your queries about anything Cowboys-related and of course, handle the day to day news, salary cap situations, and free agency issues that will abound all through the year.  Usually, by the end of May, things quiet down until training camp, but we will play this by ear.  If all goes well, you can expect one of these (length will vary) 3-5 times per week.
So, here we go with today's 3 distinctly different topics:
Well, if misery loves company, Green Bay's exit from the playoffs will make Dallas fans feel much better about what the last week has dealt them.  Look at the symmetry of it all.  In the Wildcard round, Detroit feels they outplayed the Cowboys and that Dallas required a series of events to all go in the Cowboys' favor or the Lions would have advanced, right?  Well, Dallas thought that was ridiculous and advanced.
Then in the Divisional Round, Dallas feels they outplayed the Packers and that Green Bay required a series of events to all go in the Packers' favor or the Cowboys would have advanced, right?  Well, Green Bay thought that was ridiculous and advanced.
Now, the day after the NFC Championship Game, it appears that Green Bay feels they outplayed the Seahawks and that Seattle required a series of events to all go in the Seahawks' favor or the Packers would be in Super Bowl 49.  Well, guess what, Seattle thinks that it is a 60-minute game and has labeled those claims as ridiculous and will march on to the Super Bowl.
Man, Detroit will have a score to settle with Dallas, while Dallas can't wait to get back at Green Bay, and now, the Packers look forward to a rematch with Seattle.  No wonder the NFL TV ratings are so healthy.
In the history of the NFL Playoffs, a team that won the turnover margin by a +3 or more in one of these games is a pretty solid 157-11.  That 94% win rate for that trend matches up nicely with the win probability of a team - like Green Bay yesterday that was up 19-7, had the ball after a Morgan Burnett interception at midfield after he had given himself up rather than attempt a Super Bowl-sealing return.  One can only imagine he thought that A) the Super Bowl was already sealed and B) visions of DeMarcus Lawrence fumbling a return to give the opponent new life were dancing in his head.
The Seahawks pulled off a Fake Field Goal for a Touchdown, an onside kick recovery, and a 2-point conversion that might be the most ridiculous single play in a playoff game since the David Tyree catch in Super Bowl 42.  Russell Wilson, who is quickly getting a reputation of a guy who just will not lose, was sitting a QB rating of 0.0 at the half and still managed to win with a beautiful throw to Jermaine Kearse in Overtime.  It was the 2nd playoff game (Edit 11:22am: Championship Game or later) to end on a Touchdown in NFL History, joining the 1958 NFL Championship Game Classic between the Colts and the Giants (Alan Ameche!).
Green Bay lost a game that they could not have asked to go more in their favor for about 55 minutes.  There will be books written about how they lost that game and it will be referenced for decades.  A historic collapse of epic proportions that certainly will help define perceptions about Mike McCarthy and his squad.
So with that and an unremarkable AFC Championship Game where the Patriots destroyed the Colts, we are now at Super Bowl 49 with the Seahawks and Patriots, or as some will no doubt point out, the Pete Carroll Bowl.  Carroll, of course, is the last man to coach the New England Patriots before Bill Belichick.  Now, they meet on the biggest stage with 2 teams claiming this era to be theirs.
Here is a look at the playoff success rate of the home teams and the #1 seeds since the NFL adopted this Playoff format in 1990.  The 2 columns on the right are the match-ups in the AFC and NFC Championship Games by Seed:
YearHome RecordAFC Champ SeedsNFC Champ Seeds
19908-21* vs 21 vs 2**
19918-21* vs 21** vs 2
19925-52 vs 4*1 vs 2**
19938-21* vs 31** vs 2
19948-21 vs 2*1** vs 2
19957-32* vs 51** vs 3
19968-22* vs 51** vs 2
19976-42 vs 4**1 vs 2*
19988-21** vs 21 vs 2*
19997-31 vs 4*1** vs 2
20008-22 vs 4**1* vs 2
20017-31 vs 2**1* vs 3
20028-21* vs 21 vs 2**
20036-41** vs 31 vs 3*
20046-41 vs 2**1* vs 2
20054-62 vs 6**1* vs 5
20068-23** vs 41* vs 2
20075-51* vs 32 vs 5**
20085-52** vs 64* vs 6
20097-31* vs 51** vs 2
20104-62* vs 62 vs 6**
20118-21* vs 22 vs 4**
20126-42 vs 4**1 vs 2*
20136-41* vs 21** vs 5
20148-21* vs 31* vs 2
(** = Super Bowl Champion, * = Super Bowl Loser)
As you can see, the #1 seed is massive.  That is why Green Bay (and to a lesser extent Dallas) will always remember December 14th, the day Green Bay lost to Buffalo as the day the seeding turned upside down.
If Green Bay had won that game, they would have been the #1 seed in the NFC at 13-3.  Dallas would then have been #2 by virtue of their head-to-head tie breaker at 12-4 with Seattle.  So, Seattle plays Detroit on Wild Card Weekend, while Dallas had a bye.  Then, Dallas would have hosted Seattle last week (perhaps), and the NFC Championship Game could have likely been Dallas at Green Bay.  Then that Dez Bryant play might have been for the Super Bowl and surely, the Dallas indigestion would have been even worse.
All thanks to Buffalo, the road went through Seattle, and despite the Seahawks playing their worst game, they still advanced.
The other thing that pops in your head is that these teams are not that far apart.  Detroit is not much worse than Dallas.  Dallas is no worse than Green Bay.  Green Bay may not be worse than Seattle.  The margins are close and you might need a call or a home field advantage to split the two teams up.  In other words, you need to be good to get into the playoffs, but then it is often the flip of a coin.  As Al Pacino famously said, "The inches are all around us, and when you add up all those inches, that is what makes the difference between winning and losing."  Mere inches.
You cannot beat the NFL Playoffs.
(Each issue of S.O.D., we shall tackle another draft prospect.  No, I have never been a scout or a NFL General Manager, but I am willing to watch a ton of football.  By watching about 200 snaps of each prospect, we can really get a feel for a player and then know what we are talking about a bit better.  It is no exact science, but the NFL hasn't quite figured out drafting either, so we are going to do the best we can.)
Randy Gregory, DE/OLB, Nebraska - 6'6, 240 - Age 22
One of the first rules of draft evaluations is to avoid mock drafts and rankings as to not just go through an exercise of confirmation bias.  We want to assume nothing about these guys and just let our eyes be our guide.  That said, anyone who watches college football knows that Gregory has been at the top of the lists all year long.  He is a very impressive specimen.  I watched the USC, Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Miami games.
What I liked:  He is clearly a sight to behold with very long arms and a slender build that makes you think Aldon Smith as a possibility on the edge just ruining plays.  He can be a very active pass rush guy and when he sees something in front of him, he has this explosive gear that is uncommon.  They also try to move him around and he can either stand or put his hand down and has some Clay Matthews explosion and versatility from all sorts of spots.  Some games he looks like he can get off the ball quick, but others he is the last guy out of his stance.  On his game, he attacks in a blur. He is clearly far more a tools prospect than a finished product and unfortunately, his 2013 was more productive than his 2014 in almost every category.  Against the run, he can get to the sideline with a runner and keep contain.  That speaks to his future as a LB or a very athletic pass rush DE.  His best attribute might be his swim moves.  Very solid.  He is active on pass rush and he plays faster if he can smell the ball.  He is great using his hands on a tackle to gain an edge.
What I did not like:  I really look for a high motor in my front 7 defensive players as I know Rod Marinelli wants that badly.  We will trade motor for ability to a certain point, but for the most part, I need a guy that is always chasing.  I did not see that consistently from Gregory.  Some weeks, every play looked important.  Other weeks, it did not.  I am not sure what his true position is because as a 4-3 defensive end, he is not strong enough for me.  His weight is a red flag (too light), but I have seen guys make that weight work because they are quite strong.  He is slender and is not winning much on leverage or power, so I think he has to be an outside LB on a 3-4, most likely.  His pass rush moves seem awfully under-developed and raw.
Summary: There is no doubt he has off-the-charts upside and rare physical traits that the NFL loves to value.  I don't think he is a scheme fit in Dallas and while he might be a guy who develops into a monster, I am looking for a bit more polish for my projected Top 5 picks, usually.  I like him, but I sure expected more.  The Miami game was fantastic, but his final game - the Bowl game against USC was not very impressive as a whole.
Today's Email/Tweet Of The Day:
Well, Stag, this one is interesting.  So, all things are equal, and the Cowboys have the 27th pick and I can go get a solid player at any spot I want.  Ok, under those parameters, let's make a mental list.  It is our biggest asset of the offseason, so we better not be too flippant about how we spend it.
Running back - if I allow DeMarco Murray to go, can I get Melvin Gordon there?  Tempting.
Right Tackle - Do I keep adding to the offensive line and replace Free/Parnell?
Defensive Tackle - What would a stud next to Tyrone Crawford look like inside?
Defensive End - Can I find a long-term DeMarcus Lawrence bookend with 10 sack range?
Cornerback - Do I keep adding to a secondary and allow myself to move on from Carr?
Safety - Do I finally invest in a centerfield prospect who can make QBs pay downfield?
Those are my options and they all are worth considering.  As we sit here on the eve of Senior Bowl week, I would rank them from most preferred to least preferred:  DE, S, DT, CB, RB, RT.
I really want a power pass rusher at defensive end.  One who demands your attention and double teams or he gets to your QB.  The issue is that those "can't miss" edge rushers are usually long gone before #27.
On Tuesday, we get cracking on the Senior Bowl and look at Missouri DE Shane Ray.

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