Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Drop Your Pants - September 13th!

3rd Annual Drop Your Pants clothing drive is set for September 13th benefiting the Cornerstone Clothes Closet.  We will be collecting items from 10am-7pm in the American Airlines Center plaza and a drive up location on Valor.  We will be giving away 2 Dallas Stars tickets per person in exchange for a donation of clothing, toiletries or money.  We have 1500 tickets to give away while they last.  We need Men’s jeans, shorts, golf & polo shirts, t-shirts, & long sleeve shirts.  We are also collecting new socks & underwear for men & women.  We also need travel size toiletries, shampoo, conditioner, soap, & bodywash.   Cash contributions can be made to or a wheelbarrow full of cash or checks can be delivered to the American Airlines Center Plaza. Now “Drop your pants or cash for the Cornerstone Clothes Closet”

The Cowboys Roster Projections - August 31st Edition

This week is without question the most volatile of the 52 weeks in the NFL personnel department.  For the next seven days, players will be cut, signed, worked out, traded, snuck through to injured reserve and cut again.

This is the life and your two choices are to ignore all of the many, daily transactions or to try to keep up.  You know which one I choose, of course.

Nearly 1,200 players who were on NFL rosters when this week started will not be on rosters by Saturday.  This is obviously a massive number that puts very talented humans out in the wild for the pool of competitors to ask the very important question: "Is Player A who was just cut in Pittsburgh/Buffalo/Atlanta better than anything we have at the end of our roster?"  They have seen these last few guys here for six weeks, but would rather have that discard from the Cardinals to come take that last spot.  That is how teams try to get better at the last minute.  Sometimes, you want to keep four tackles but you know you don't have four in your camp who are worthy of NFL jobs.  So, now you shop.

But, it is no easy deal to juggle your cuts with the cuts of others.  You must then try to claim a player at just the right time for all of this to fall into place.  Meanwhile, those of us who cover your team are trying to chisel down our list to 53 from 90.  Last week, I put my first list out there and now the Cowboys are 12 names lighter in the last few days to get to 75.  They cut nothing but long-shots from that list, with the exception of the injury list players - Kellen Moore, James Hanna, and three of my roster favorites who all had injury issues pop up - Jeremiah McKinnon, James Morris, and Shaneil Jenkins.

So, with one more day until the final preseason game and three more days until the axe falls to 53, here is what my new sheet looks like.  By the way, I would love the NFL to explain why they have the 75-man cutdown before the final preseason game.  Those guys who are cut are the ones who need to play in that final game for a number of reasons.  The Cowboys have already said they will not play any starters, so you need bodies to play in the game.  Also, the guys being cut would love a chance to have all sorts of playing time to catch the eye of the entire league's scouts.  I don't get that.

Regardless, Here is my current worksheet.  The secured spots are in.  40 of them.

That leaves 13 spots from the bubble group (as well as those 6 roster exemptions from various injury situations and the odd case of Rolando McClain who I think we can safely say will never play here again - but still is technically a Dallas Cowboy) to sort through.  Here are the lists:


QB - 3Romo, Prescott

Showers, QB3
RB - 4/5Elliott, Morris, Dunbar

Jackson, K Smith, R Smith, McFadden - NFI
TE - 4Witten, Escobar, Swaim
(Hanna - Injured - PUP)
WR - 5/6Bryant, Williams, Beasley, Butler, WhiteheadStreet, A Jones, Mayle Brown
OT - 4Smith, FreeGreen, WitzmannMack
G-C - 4/5Martin, Frederick, L Collins, LearyLooneyBrendel,

I put the bold type on the bubble guys I think I would keep. 

So, here, QB is pretty easy.  It seems obvious they want someone else to be the #2 behind Prescott.  Austin Davis will be in town today and perhaps he is the guy they are looking for.  Showers just can't convince them he is the guy, which may be more of a matter of they don't want two guys who have no experience.

RB is based on Darren McFadden's trade prospects.  I think they want to flip him for a pick and get Darius Jackson on the roster.  I expect he would get claimed if they tried to slide him through to the practice squad.  They may also want Keith Smith for special teams.  

TE will keep four and I think Traylor is in until Hanna heals.  Gathers is a practice squad guy.  

WR is set, in my opinion.  I think the five are pretty clear.  I suppose they could try to keep six and go short elsewhere.

Tackle seems a real candidate to go pick someone up.  I bet Green makes it, but not by much.  

And interior seems to be a spot where they could still try to get something for Looney or Leary.  

Ok, on to the other side of the ball...


DT - 4/5T Crawford, Thornton, M Collins, T McClain
Coe, Wood, 
DE - 4/5Mayowa, J Crawford, Tapper, Irving
(Lawrence, Gregory - suspended)
RussellOkoye, McAdoo
LB - 6Lee, Hitchens, Wilber, Wilson
(J Smith - PUP, R McClain - DNR)
Durant, Gachkar, Nzeocha, AkunneKing, Hepburn
CB - 4/5Carr, Claiborne, ScandrickOlatoye, Thomas,  BrownSwanson
S - 4/5Jones, Church, HeathWilcox, FrazierFrey
ST - 3Bailey, Jones, Ladouceur

Because Shaneil Jenkins got hurt, things are now clear.  The four DT spots are locked in and the four defensive end spots are set.  Ryan Russell hangs in limbo.  

LB is based completely on the health of Gachkar and Nzeocha.  Both have issues and I assume Durant gets one spot to provide a little veteran cover.  The other needs to be a special teams ace.  

I think I am keeping 10 DBs.  I think they may go 9 and 7.  But, I like Brown and Olatoye quite a bit.  I know people are thinking Wilcox is out, but I think at his money this year he is too talented on special teams to pass up.  

That said, because I am light on DL with just eight, they may very likely grab the best of the cutdown there.

- 53
40 Roster Locks  (+ 6 exemptions)21  Bubble Players                      14 Longshots        

So, 40 locks and 13 more bold names on the bubble get you to 53.  But, I expect the Cowboys to fill spots #51, #52, and #53 with players on other rosters right now.  

There you have it.  By this time next week, the 53-man team picture will have been taken and we will be preparing for Week 1.  

We almost made it, everyone.  

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Know Your Defensive Coverages

Over the summer, I took on the project to study the Cowboys defensive coverages by going through all of the 2015 games and charting it to the best of my ability.   Now, this is an ambitious project since there are about 1,000 defensive snaps and it requires a fair amount of detective work to try to figure out exactly what they are doing.

Now, ask any player or coach, and they will confirm to you that there are dozens of different coverages.  In fact, anyone who has played Madden knows that there are a dozen ways to play each coverage.  If you line up in "Cover 1", you can actually offer many variations to try to keep an offense off balance.
I will not pretend to be able to offer a great understanding on this to the level of a normal football coach, because that would be impossible given that I am just a radio guy and part-time blogger.  But, I wished to be able to increase my understanding to at least a basic level over the summer and now I wish to pass that along to you.    We will keep it simple, so as not to lose our audience here.  But, I would like to - for one morning - try to familiarize those who are interested in what the basic coverages that the Cowboys run would be.  And how often they run them.  
Please understand that this is my scorecard and while it may not be 100% accurate (if a QB can't always identify the coverages he sees, you shouldn't expect that I can), it is my best effort.  I believe these numbers to be very close to the truth.
Here are the results of identifying the coverages (on pass plays only) from 2015.  
As you can see above, despite Rod Marinelli being called a Cover-2 or Tampa-2 coach, I would attempt to verify that the Cowboys ran Cover 2 just 146 times (25%) out of a total of 576 passes.  The Tampa-2 variation (which is a Cover 2 subcategory) was run less than 25 times all year.  So, next time someone in the National Media identifies Marinelli as a Tampa-2 guy, feel free to change the channel.  They aren't watching the Cowboys play enough to consider their opinions.
I wanted to show you a still photo to replicate what the players see on the sideline.  They don't get moving video.  They get 2 photos (from 2 angles (sideline and end zone), so technically 4 photos) from each play.   One is taken at the snap and one is taken about 1-2 seconds into the play.  This is how they see coverages.  So, I showed you the still from the sideline view to show each coverage.  
They ran Cover 1 (and its many variations) about 47% of the time.  That was easily the coverage they ran the most as the season went along.  I found this interesting because I know they wanted to do more of that, but once Orlando Scandrick was lost in training camp, I expected to see it far less.  
Below is a look at Cover 1.  
You can identify it from seeing a single-high safety combined with man-to-man coverage underneath.  
Now, Cover 1 is man coverage, but there is an extra man available to use as well.  This man, in the picture above, is Sean Lee.  He stands on the 15-yard line and is playing at a shallow depth to either spy or act as a robber on an underneath coverage.  As you can see, everyone else is locked in man and then your single-high safety patrols deep to make sure nothing causes trouble down the field.  
I would call this the default Cowboys coverage.
Of course, the issues it runs into will be when you don't have guys who cover well in 1-on-1 situations, mismatches, and the dreaded rub-routes or pick plays.  Veteran teams with veteran QBs love seeing you in Cover 1, but it does make sure that targets don't get much space.
The next most frequent coverage is Cover 3.  This is the Seattle coverage that has taken over the NFL as Cover 2 has gone down in its use.   In fact, I have talked to many Cowboys operatives that have often said that this is the defense they were attempting to pattern themselves after from an Xs and Os standpoint.  The Seattle Cover 3 is run all over the league now, and it is a zone coverage with the corners forcing their threats into the single-high safety by generally playing outside leverage.  
The other thing you are looking for is to see the shallow defenders playing a 4-across zone underneath all with their eyes on the QB.  This is usually the 3 linebackers and the other safety.  By the way, the Cowboys often run Cover-3 from a Cover-2 shell, which means that they look like Cover 2 at the snap, only to have one safety move to center field high while the other races down to join the linebackers.  
This defense deploys eight men to stop the run but also can adjust to drop seven into coverage and can allow all sorts of options for a coordinator to play aggressive defense without a whole lot of weaknesses exposed.  
QBs do like to work the sidelines behind the first line of defenders to attack this, but otherwise, they often check down and now the defense flies to the balls in front of them in packs.  
The biggest issue with this coverage is if  you don't have Richard Sherman (a corner who can play man concepts while playing zone) and Earl Thomas (the industry leader at FS).  It requires a real solid centerfield safety and the Cowboys are hoping Byron Jones is now that guy.  Because, if you have a safety that plays poor angles and always gets there late, big plays happen.
That leaves Cover 2 for most of the remainder (25%).  They are pretty much just in these three coverages and this is more of the "let's be careful" coverage.  You will see it on most 3rd and long situations and in most 2-min drill situations.  When the Cowboys are just trying to survive a situation, chances are they are in a Cover 2 or even a deep Cover 2 that almost becomes a Cover 4.   Both of those are zone coverages that intend to flood the deep areas with so many defenders that you will see no choice but to accept the check down targets and therefore limit your gains and eat more of the clock.  
Again, see what will become a 3-underneath, 4-deep type coverage as the corners carry their guys deep and try not to allow any window (the Cover 2 beaters) to the deep sideline - beyond the corner but in front of the safety.   Cover 3 is 4-underneath and 3-deep.  This is the opposite. 
Of course, you can beat a Cover 2 in front of the safeties.  
They ran this a lot, but not a lot on 1st or 2nd downs.  Although, they did show a Cover 2 shell a lot.  I suggest that the opponents saw that this was largely a bluff, though.  
This Coverage was run in the first 4 weeks some and then pretty much disappeared.  It is 2 safeties high and man coverage underneath.  We saw it quite a bit in Week 3.  
And then, for reasons I don't totally know, they stopped running it.  I don't remember them being bad at it, they just went in another direction.  
As you can see, it is very much the same as Cover 1, except both safeties are deep.  The Cowboys run Cover 1 with a safety deep and a middle linebacker shallow to take away underneath things, spy the QB, and even blitz.  
Here is the coverage breakdown by downs:
Beyond those four coverages, they ran a handful of other looks here and there, but this is the majority of what they do.  
I hope this helps.  Leave any follow up questions below.  

Monday, August 29, 2016

Reviewing Ezekiel Elliott's Preseason Debut

Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) rushes against the Seattle Seahawks in the first half of a preseason NFL football game, Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016, in Seattle. The Seahawks beat the Cowboys 27-17. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)
Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) rushes against the Seattle Seahawks in the first half of a preseason NFL football game, Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016, in Seattle. The Seahawks beat the Cowboys 27-17. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)
There is no question that today is yet another day dominated by the quarterback conversation in Dallas. And why wouldn't it be? After a disastrous 2015, when the only quarterback performances were bad ones, the hope in 2016 was that the franchise quarterback would be back to show us how it's done.

Well, that didn't last long. Three snaps in Seattle, in fact.
Unfortunately, this basically means the past three injuries have been sustained on the last handful of times Romo has been smashed by NFL defenders. I don't have the exact number, but let's just say the regularity of these damaging blows is going in one direction.
Nobody wants to face the possibility that we might be much closer to dusk than we want to admit, but this is really not abnormal in NFL history. Thirty-six years old is certainly the time that many QBs through time have had their bodies begin to give out and the player ponders his future, while the franchise ponders the same. It is sad and uncomfortable, but it is also far more common than a player celebrating his 40th birthday in a huddle.  
It is the circle of NFL life. The end is pain and a realization that the body can't do it anymore. The beginning is filled with 21-year-olds that think they are indestructible and plan on dominating the league with sheer power.
Enter the fourth overall pick, Ezekiel Elliott.  We looked at him back in the spring time and marveled at his skill set. There is no question that running backs often don't make sense that high in the draft, but with Romo's future in question, it is sure enjoyable to have someone this talented to help Dak Prescott.
They took off the bubble wrap for 14 plays in Seattle on Thursday night, so I thought we might enjoy taking a look at what he did and how he did it on this Monday review:
First chance is a rather uneventful middle run where he keeps the legs turning. Expect to see plenty of that, as his outside speed is made far more dangerous because he is a real threat between the tackles. This isn't Felix Jones. This is a battering ram to the inside and jet to the outside, which keeps everyone honest.
The darn thing about this injury is that this is not an easy pickup for the RB on the blitz. KJ Wright is bearing down from across the formation and Elliott gets over there on the blitz pickup and has everything coordinated. He goes low (which is something you can do, but not too often) and buys Romo time to get the ball off. Sadly, Romo did not get rid of it, and instead tried an improv that will be debated for a while. But, I thought No. 21 did fine here for his first big test.
Here is Prescott's first play and you can see he went to Beasley, but watch Elliott lose his linebacker with great ease on the arrow back to the middle. That is Bobby Wagner No. 54 that just lost his footing with Elliott shaking his hips a bit. Nice.
This is subtle, but they want to go 11 personnel and then line up in empty. This is such a weapon if you have a RB that can do this, because with 11 personnel, you want to force the defense to match your group for an entire possession.  If you have Elliott, you can make the defense wrong all the time.  If they bring in a group to stop the run, you spread them out with 5-wide in empty and crush their run stoppers trying to cover. If they bring out cover guys, then you shift Witten and Elliott back inside and ground and pound them with up-tempo. I promise, this is a plan they are showing and plan on using this season.  All-purpose offense is where the league is headed and it takes versatile 11-personnel packages.  
Here is Elliott's second blitz pickup. Really, nothing remarkable to see. Which is how you like it. He just stones his man and gives his quarterback some time.  
Second Possession:
This is the play that had everyone buzzing. Look at the jets here. Simple zone right, but the afterburners are crazy against the Seattle first-stringers.  This is to the short side of the field and he still beats everyone there by enough to turn the corner. This offensive line and this running back should do some real damage.
Next snap and a similar look on a right side run (although 70 appears to be pulling) and he cuts back inside against the pursuit and watch 71-Collins in space. This group should be pretty impressive. He is looking to finish every run which I love, but also scares me in terms of knowing many a college hot-shot running back has come to the NFL and learned that over five months of football, it is tough to give and take that amount of punishment and stay fit and right.  
But, on this night, he was looking to show the league he belongs.
Next play, find the biggest and baddest safety in the league -- Kam Chancellor -- and try to run him over. Yes, this line is good. With Elliott, get ready for a lot of this. He is untouched into the secondary and then tries to truck Kam.  
You didn't think Kam was going to like that, did you? Here is a penalty to send the message back to Elliott that you shouldn't do that.
And here is how the young rookie making his NFL debut responded.
Next, another strategy point. Elliott causes so much consternation that everyone crashes to him, and that is when Dak keeps around the corner for nine easy yards. This should happen quite a bit this year.
And here on the last play is the final Elliott vs Chancellor moment, where Elliott again demonstrates his quality.  He spins right away from the big hit and falls forward.
The Cowboys got a good one here, no doubt. I hope he doesn't try to run over everyone in this league because he isn't 260, he is 225. But, it is great to see he has the ability to use these traits when needed. The imperative for him will be to make sure he stays on the field and out of the training room. He must play in 16 games this year for this team to have a chance now. So, pick your spots.
He is unreal in his ability. But, the cliche does say that "the most important ability is availability."
They need Dez and Zeke to carry the rookie quarterback along this year until Romo returns.  
Most teams starting  a rookie running back and a rookie quarterback combination would be a favorite for a top-five draft pick, not a division title. It will be interesting to see what Elliott can do for this team on a week by week basis.  
There appear to be all sorts of options to use his ability.