Friday, February 05, 2016

2/5/2016 - Cowboys Mailbag - DMN

Let's dive once again into your emails on this Super Bowl Week from San Francisco - 
Q: Would you take Wade or Marinelli if you were running the Cowboys and had the choice at DC?
A:  I very much enjoy this question as it is one that I have had rattling around in my head for quite a while.  The view - especially with watching Wade Phillips in charge of the Denver Broncos on the brink of the Super Bowl - has made many in Dallas think back to his years running the Cowboys and ponder what might have been.
Honestly, Wade Phillips and Jason Garrett have plenty in common from where I sit.  They both have a very strong scheme that has been quite productive as a coordinator, that when given top talent, can put them in an awesome position to succeed.  Some fans bristle at the thought that Garrett is a fine offensive mind, but the evidence shows that, while it perhaps has grown stale, the overall production is very difficult to attack.  
Yet, Wade and Garrett have never seemed to fully grasp the head coach responsibilities of being the highest link in the chain of command and demanding accountability of the players.  My theory is that this is simply what the job is in Dallas - it is what Jerry Jones has always wanted in a head coach - and they are simply filling the mold that existed all the way back to Barry Switzer and Dave Campo.  If someone truly checks all the boxes of a powerful head coach, then Jerry feels threatened and the relationship eventually dissolves.  But, in the case of Wade and Garrett, they both seem passive enough on media issues, controversy, and accountability that Jerry remains the de facto head coach in many of these categories - the "last word" and "final say" on the truly big issues.  
This, of course, leads everyone to say that Garrett and Wade are "fine coordinators but poor head coaches" which I tend to agree with.  But, I always wonder if this is only because of my perceptions of their runs in Dallas.  Wade had plenty of other chances to be a head coach in Denver and Buffalo and had reasonable success in both places and frankly his overall record in Dallas is pretty darn impressive.  But, we will never remember him as a great head coach in Dallas.  And as it stands right now, Jason Garrett is going to be remembered as the ultimate "win one, lose one" head coach.  He can still change that.  
Now, to circle it all back to who would you rather have to be your DC - Marinelli or Phillips - I would say that I really think they are both brilliant defensive minds that have very sound schemes that make sense and win games if they have top talent.  If they don't, then the scheme can only fix so much.  I have never really bought into the premise that scheme can cover up a major talent deficiency.  So, on this day that Wade is preparing for a Super Bowl effort with fantastic pass rushers, strong linebackers, awesome cover corners, and a defense with almost no talent holes, I will resist to take the bait that the he could have schemed up the 2015 Cowboys defensive talent the same way.  I think Marinelli is great at what he does.  But, man, it would be cool to have about 5 of those Broncos defenders to help him put his ideal scheme together.  Advantage Wade, but not as big as this season might make you think. 
Q:  Bob, let's get your Super Bowl pick on record!
A:  Fair point.  I am running out of time.  I really am looking forward to this matchup and I find both teams attractive to my sensibilities of how I enjoy seeing the game played.  I am also reminded the best/worst thing about football is that there is no true test to see who the better team is in our sport.  In the other big sports, they test over 2 weeks to find the winner.  Best-of-7 series reveal the best team on almost all occasions, but in football it is 3 hours to figure it out.  This leads us down the roads of randomness and flukes and sometimes it is the bounce of the ball or even worse, the odd pass interference call that decides these games.  You can't fluke your way into the Super Bowl, but once you are here, you can absolutely win without being the better team.
That should benefit Denver because they are not the best team at this Super Bowl.  While the Panthers arrival amongst the NFL's elite happened rather suddenly and without warning, the resume and the quality of their roster is pretty impressive and they have passed a lot of tests along the way that assure us they are not a mirage.  If they were dependent on one side of the ball for their success, we would be a bit more skeptical, but the combination of a QB who is on a roll with MVP caliber play and one that presents so many scheme headaches for an opponent along with a defense that has its own list of elite talent at so many spots, provides very little reason to believe that the NFC will not have the odds in their favor.  And they are.
So, when asked to make a pick, it comes down to whether I believe the Panthers can slow the Broncos and Peyton Manning down better than the Broncos can handle Cam Newton.  Wade Phillips is a brilliant man and the Broncos may have the better defense, but they also have a much more difficult challenge.  I wouldn't mind being wrong and seeing the Manning story end on a trophy stand, but I am not buying it and I will be taking the Panthers, 27-20.  
That said, they should still play the game.  
Q: If the Cowboys were almost ready to draft a QB in the first round 2 years ago, why in the heck wouldn't they be willing to draft a QB in the first round this year? Is this team really without precedent or logic--I am freaking out man.
A:  The only way to make the draft more complicated is trying to look for footprints about how this team thinks from draft to draft.  There is no pattern to follow.  We want there to be one because that would suggest logic is the winner at Valley Ranch, but from one draft to another this team doesn't follow logic all the time and they also purposely spread misinformation.  
The best example of this practice is the absurd notion that the entire city now repeats as if it is gospel, which is that the Cowboys were going to take Bobby Wagner in the 2012 draft.  Seattle ended up with him and he ended up being amongst the finest LBs in football, but I don't believe for a moment the Cowboys were really taking him.  Why?  Common sense says it is highly unlikely that a team would seriously spend a 2nd round pick on Sean Lee in 2010, an even better 2nd round pick on Bruce Carter in 2011, and then another 2nd round pick in 2012 for the exact same position.  Sure, they are playing a 3-4, but none of those 3 have any sort of pass rushing chops so they were all strictly inside linebackers.  I don't believe for a moment that they were going to take inside linebackers with their 2nd round picks in 3 consecutive drafts, but evidently, I am about the only person who covers the team that doesn't believe that story.  I believe it was intended misinformation to make the trade for Mo Claiborne look less expensive.  I wrote about it extensively back in 2012 here.  But, perhaps I am too cynical.  
Now, back to the QB premise.  People are going to say what they are going to say.  But, I am a big believer that they will strongly consider QB at #4.  I know many say they won't and they are allowed to feel that way.  But, I think the Cowboys will take a QB high if they are convinced he is worth the investment.  And, I do think that you can talk yourself into 3 different QBs being Top 10 potential in the right situation.  So, there is no doubt that whether you are talking about Jared Goff, Paxton Lynch, or Carson Wentz, we better be ready for the Cowboys to eye them all and take the one that makes sense.  Or, pass on them all because the price is too high.  They can't decide they are or are not taking a QB as a hard rule.  That is stupidity.  They must keep an open mind and consider all options between now and late April.  I believe that is what they are doing and are willing to examine each path until the end of the spring.  As they must.
Q:  Despite Jerry Jones' belief to the contrary, wouldn't the enabling circus in Dallas make the worst home for a troubled player? Wouldn't Johnny Manziel have better chance at getting it together 30 other places?
A: Of course.  Or Course.  OF COURSE.  
It only things that are obvious to us were obvious to him.  Manziel's sabotage routine of the last 60 days has likely chased any of the still interested out of the race, but this is a crazy league that needs QBs and he is still just barely 23 years old.  I was reviewing his report before the 2014 draft that I wrote up back then and can be found in complete form here.  Here is a bit of it:  
He also has a major league arm (I don't know how people can watch him play and question his arm strength as he delivers a lot of frozen ropes) and also has the best completion percentage of any of these Tier 1 guys. He seems to have no problems finding guys and hitting them to move the chains.
Then, his next-best trait, which is his ability to almost never get hit hard when on the move. He runs like a RB and that is not just something Barry Switzer said. It is true. He ran for over 2,000 yards in 2 seasons as a QB and a yards per carry of 6.3 - again, in the SEC against NFL-ready defenders.
But, more than anything, he seems to have the knack of competitive drive that is really clear through the screen. He wants the ball and demands your attention and will not go down without a battle on his hands. I know this is very difficult to measure and count on at the next level, but enough NFL people are saying that this is the closest to Favre we have seen since Favre that you are willing to at least give it all a chance. 
Now, the very clear negative is his build. He does take a beating in the pocket and he is not 6 feet tall, nor overly muscular. We saw Michael Vick take beatings and miss time in an awful lot of seasons despite being elusive. We also saw Duke knock Manziel senseless during the bowl game and I can tell you that the NFL has athletes that Duke doesn't have. There have been many a folk hero carried off on a stretcher on Sundays and that is really going to be the entire game with this guy. 
Highest ceiling? Absolutely. In fact, if you need a QB and don't take him, you better be ready to explain that to your fan base for the next decade if he is what we think he might be. But, he is surely a guy who comes with a fair amount of risks and of course, the possibility of some headaches, too.  Will he be a diva at the next level? We would be silly to say it is impossible.  I would bet on Manziel, but I would also not tell you it is a sure thing.
Clearly, I might have wished a bit of a more conservative approach when I wrote him up, but I promise that if you simply grab any 3 tapes from his 2 seasons in college, you can't help but see his upside.  At no point there did it appear anything was more important than being great at football.  Now, we wonder if our perception then was wrong or if he changed.  Was he good enough that he could live from party to party and still carve up the SEC?  I bet on Manziel back then, but after his last 2 years of acting like a fool at the NFL level, I would certainly not double down at this point.  Nobody can be that dense, right?  Especially if you are the franchise that has your team walk through a bar on its way to the field.   
Q:  Could the Cowboys have banned Injury risk Sean Lee from the Pro Bowl. Do you feel the Pats intervened to keep their players out?
A:  I suppose they could ask him nicely, but you would have to be some crazy operation to ask a guy to sit out his first ever Pro Bowl when you don't need him to play football again for 8 months.  Sean Lee is an injury risk anytime he steps on the field after his history, but doggone, after the season he put together where he played the 3rd most snaps on the defense and played well, you would have a lot of nerve to not want him to be recognized for his year and celebrate his personal contributions to your team by taking the trip to Hawaii.  
He deserved it and he had an interception.  The Pro Bowl doesn't mean much, but I bet it meant a lot to Sean Lee this year.  He has really persevered through some dark times and is due some rewards (however modest) at this point.  

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