Monday, October 31, 2016

The Morning After - Cowboys 29, Eagles 23 OT

Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett hugs quarterback Dak Prescott (4) after a 29-23 win over Philadelphia Eagles in overtime on Sunday, October 30, 2016 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. (Ashley Landis/The Dallas Morning News)
Staff Photographer
Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett hugs quarterback Dak Prescott (4) after a 29-23 win over Philadelphia Eagles in overtime on Sunday, October 30, 2016 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. (Ashley Landis/The Dallas Morning News)
When you analyze a fascinating game with countless twists and turns, it is easy to get caught up in the final outcome, even if that outcome was only achieved by many variables falling just right.  But, it is equally easy to take trips down the many side routes that were narrowly avoided on the path to an ugly victory in Arlington for the Cowboys over their most hated rivals these days, Philadelphia.

The Eagles had no intention of conceding the division last night, and in nearly every situation they demonstrated that their defense is up for a 3-hour street fight if that was what it called for.  They seem like a very talented bunch and gave this Cowboys offensive front all it could handle and a message that they will see them again in December in cold Philadelphia. 
This one was far from easy.  In fact, for most of the night, it was an ugly grind that required a fight against frustration, because for the first time in a long time, it didn't come easy to this young team -- and more exactly, this young QB. 
Dak Prescott had a really difficult night.  For a guy who has made nothing look tough until last night, it was almost important for him to demonstrate at some point that playing QB in the NFL is one of the most difficult things a human being can be asked to do, and he had fooled us into the impression for a few months that it is no big deal.  Last night, however, he struggled to find answers to all of the questions the Eagles were asking. And for much of the night it looked like a defeat was in order.  Even his facial expressions showed more of a high-stress performance where the opposition was in no mood to get rolled over by this dynamic duo of rookies in Dallas. 
He missed some open throws, threw many others "up for grabs" under the duress of all of the blitzes that the Eagles created, and looked visibly rattled for much of the proceedings.  Then, Ezekiel Elliott, perhaps the real driving force behind so much of this offensive success, also found the going difficult.  Those wide runs where he can get to the corner against anyone were destroyed on this occasion.  The inside runs were still fruitful, but the Eagles were not going to give up the flanks and suddenly, the Cowboys offense looked stifled at times. 
In fact, by halftime, Prescott had a QB rating of 39 and had thrown the ball over the field like a rookie often will against a very strong defense.  The crowd had begun to murmur, and you could see the D-FW QB narrative had taken a 180 back in the other direction again.  Dez Bryant had returned and he was hit for a deep pass down the right sideline, but for the most part, it looked like Prescott figured the best idea was to keep going back to him, and the connection was not there to be found.
Meanwhile, with the wind in the defensive sails, the Eagles were enjoying wonderful field position and some shorter fields with their special teams advantage.  The other rookie QB in the game, Carson Wentz, looked pretty sure of himself and able to frustrate the Cowboys by finding open receivers.  Dallas seemed to be giving him too much time, and despite having almost no weapons that threaten a defense, the Eagles had reached the high-water mark for points allowed by Dallas this season with 23 by the early fourth quarter as they took a 23-13 lead.   Tyrone Crawford and Sean Lee were making more plays than the Cowboys defense had received from either of them all year, but the win probability showed the Eagles at over 90% with under a quarter to play. 
So, a frustrated offense and a frustrated defense were playing before a frustrated stadium that was pretty sure they were the better team at roughly 10 p.m. 
Who would have thought that the solution to all of this frustration was going to be the Cowboys coaching staff scoring a big win over the Eagles counterparts?
I cannot think of any other way to describe the outcome on Sunday. 
Jason Garrett has had a weird impression on all of us over the years with the way his track record have many of us thinking his allergic to taking chances.  He leaves the tags on his mattress to avoid federal prosecution for their removal and this world view allows us to surmise that doing risky things when coaching is never a help, always a detriment to the cause - even though we see every week how sometimes taking a chance can steal a win here and there.
Well, steal a victory he did, last night.  The fake punt will be long remembered as an effort to steal some momentum from the Eagles performance and turn the game back in the other direction.  We see fake punts.  But, we don't see fake punts from deep in your own territory very often. 
Fake punt, they did.  And as Chris Jones is sprinting down the sideline, the Cowboys were pulling themselves back into the game.  That doesn't mean that the Eagles were going to go quietly into the night, but it did represent a setting where it was clear that the game was back on.
That put some pressure on new Philadelphia coach Doug Pederson, and given some of the late game decisions he made -- a horizontal play that took his own team out of field goal range and not calling any timeouts at the end of regulation to force a punt -- it was clear that the difference in coaching decisions in the second half and overtime made the difference in the game.
Oh yes, overtime.  In what might possibly be the least "Jason Garrett decision" of all time, he decided to go for a fourth down within field goal range in a tie game.  He has made some risky decisions in the past, but almost everyone I can think of was with his team behind (fourth-and-6 against the Lions in the 2014 playoffs).  But, this game was on the foot of Dan Bailey and the trust in his defense to play with the lead.  Instead, he knew that the best defense is to never let them on to the field. 
"Let's go get this game" was what the cameras appeared to capture after he stared down the situation before that fourth down and a yard.  He stood up so fast that he knocked his chair over as he shoved all of his chips in the middle of the table and declared, "All in!"  Dak Prescott gives him his best option on short yardage as he barrels ahead to easily move the chains. 
By this point, Prescott had turned his game around.   His 39.9 first half QB rating was turned into a 99.7 rating in the second half and overtime. 
In other words, he had shown he could "find his stuff" as a game went on if you just stay on target.  Yes, he still flirted with disaster a time or two, because the Eagles were not respecting anything.  They blitzed and blitzed and blitzed.  You can argue that they may or may not do that with Tony Romo, but the way Prescott stands tall with the pocket breaking down shows that he is capable.  He has tons of determination and after that 4th down was converted in was just a matter of time.
Second and goal, the pocket is collapsing a bit and he has to spin to keep things alive.  He spins to his left -- something Romo has done many times and finds Jason Witten in the end zone. 
They turned this game around.  It wasn't pretty, but that doesn't matter in this league. 
They stayed determined.  They stayed calm.  And they made one more play than the Eagles did. 
Winning a game where they didn't play very well is just another sign that this is a good team.  And now they have a coaching staff that is trying to find the balance of believing in them with rolling the dice at the appropriate times. 
This team is 6-1.  They have a QB who has now twice overcome double-digit deficits to get a victory. 
He had a chance to relinquish his job last night.  And just as he was hanging from the ledge, he pulled himself back up and saved the day.
This team is on a run right now.  You ride that wave until it disappears.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Decoding Linehan - 6 Week Checkup

By Thursday, our full attention will turn to the Sunday night affair with the Philadelphia Eagles. This is a vital division game that can really help the Cowboys set the tone for the second half of the season if they can get this into the win column.
But let's spend a few moments this morning looking at the data from the first six games. The Cowboys offense has been a force of nature so far, and to describe how far that is above expectations will be difficult. As you surely know, we have been led to believe there is simply no offense without Tony Romo in Dallas. He is the man who makes everything happen and brings it to levels that cannot be attained otherwise, regardless of adjustments or ideas. The whole franchise is simply dependent on No. 9 forevermore.  
At least, that is what 2015 made us think. And why wouldn't it?
Forgive many of us for still not fully believing what we've seen from this offense in 2016. Now, it is much too early to declare anything's conclusive, because it is a long season and posers will still be exposed (not to mention that the Cowboys will likely rush back to Romo as soon as possible). But, doggone, the job that Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Scott Linehan and friends have done in six games is nothing short of phenomenal.  
Now, you might say that phenomenal can mean a few different things. Are they good compared to a putrid 2015 or are they just good? I would say neither. They are better than good. They are bordering on being declared a top NFL offense if they sustain this performance -- and there are very few signs that the NFL has many ideas on how to slow it down. This is why upcoming tests with some defensively strong sides (like the Eagles) are so widely anticipated. We expect Fletcher Cox, Jim Schwartz and those boys from Philadelphia will have some ideas. But, so far, nobody else has made heads or tails of anything resembling a sound plan to stop Dallas.

Just look at the NFL rankings in all of these categories. Solidly in the top 10 in the NFL in every single category that we hold dear. Let me say this again for those who missed it the other times -- even if Tony Romo was running this offense, we would be impressed. This is beyond impressive for a backup QB or a rookie QB, or both.  
That is why talk about who your QB should be is a legitimate conversation at this point. We no longer are discussing poise or composure or intangibles. Now, we have rather tangible evidence that this offense runs very, very well under Dak Prescott. Of course, we have never seen Tony Romo and Ezekiel Elliott together, but, there are almost no reasons to suggest that wouldn't be pretty devastating as well. And then, if you add in a dynamic wide receiver, well, you can understand the natives getting excited.
This is a powerful offense. I was skeptical, but they seem to have tapped right back into the 2014 recipe. Yes, the mysteries of 2015 remain, but they rediscovered the recipe. And, to everyone's delight, it does not seem fully dependent on a QB who is so old and beat-up that it cannot operate without him.
Let's look at a piece of art from my guy, John Daigle, who helps me with charts and graphics on these pieces here every week. This is the full season:

Our first impressions here are "look at all of the blue!" and look how they continue to make smart passes to the outside where Prescott is very comfortable working matchups and not tempting the middle of the field. Also, because of the running advantage, he is able to work against man coverage a lot, which means that it plays to his strengths there and resembles what he saw in college for the most part.
Also, and we can't stress this enough, there is but one yellow dot. They are staying out of trouble. Like I said, turnovers will happen when trying to make plays. But, the ratio has to be right.  And at the moment, this young man has his ratio more than right. He has been near-perfect.
Let's look at how they have racked up all of this production via personnel groupings.  

We knew "11 personnel" -- shotgun or under center was going to be great by adding Zeke. What we didn't know was how would the team fare with multiple TEs in "12" and "13" personnel. This is where things have really taken off where they are starting to gut teams with their run/pass balance looks that just cause so much stress on a defense. It makes them "never right" as they try to anticipate what is coming next.  
You can see their run numbers with a fullback (in 21 and 22) are still pretty poor, but with multiple TEs it is strong. We know as a league that the fullback is a dying breed because a TE causes many more issues for a defense than a fullback. The Cowboys offense shows this. Fullbacks are seldom receiving concerns, but if you load up to stop the run, then the Cowboys kill you with those play-action waggles which have 2 TEs running routes at different levels. It is quite a mess to sort through.
Normally, this would be easy.  I would say to keep doing what you are doing and your path is rather clear.  For the Cowboys, they have a very odd decision to return to their golden boy or ride the hot hand.  I assume this offense is good enough that both would be successful, but make no mistake, they are doing things that you would not ask Tony Romo to do.  Not that he can't do this stuff, but it would jeopardize his health and we have learned that is not a great plan.
Romo can do things Dak can't do and Dak can do things Romo can't do.  I really don't know how we got here, but we are in a place that I would probably continue to ride a team that is performing at this level for as long as I can.  
On the other hand, the No. 1 issue with Romo has been his durability and what happens if he gets hurt.  It appears the Cowboys now have an injury-proof insurance policy for Romo.  His name is Dak Prescott.
In other words, this is a very good position to be in as we crank up another game.  Tomorrow, we start on the Eagles.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Resizing the NFC Playoff Race

This morning, with many teams having played 7 games already while others are still on 6, I thought it might be enjoyable to take a quick roll call on where everyone is in the NFC race to finish in the Top 6.  We seldom have the opportunity to look around and evaluate where the Cowboys sit, so let's make room for that exercise right here and right now.
Teams that are completely on to next season:  Chicago  (1-6) and San Francisco (1-6) -- These two teams have really had no impact on the season thus far aside from providing some teams with a confidence-builder Sunday along the way.  Somehow, the Bears beat the Lions and the 49ers took out the Rams, but both of these teams are miles and miles away from contending.  We have already written more than they deserve.
Teams that are pretty unlikely to factor in this race: New Orleans (2-4), Los Angeles Rams (3-4), Tampa Bay (3-3), and Carolina (1-5) -- I confess that I hate to quit on Carolina, because for some reason I can still see them going on an 8-2 run to finish in the wild card race, but perhaps I need to give it up.  I just remember the Panthers have a pretty salty roster that lost twice last season with once being in the Super Bowl.  It really makes no sense.  Otherwise, New Orleans can't stop anyone, the Rams can't score and has no QB play at the moment, and Tampa Bay likely is in a similar boat -- although maybe I should not put them any lower than Detroit on this list.
Teams that I still am not really buying despite a shiny start to the year:  Detroit (4-3) and the Giants (4-3).  The Lions still are a team that seems to have very little on defense at the moment and the Giants spent all that money and still never touch the QB and don't even pretend to run the football.  I really don't buy it and I am happy to tell you I expect swoons that take them out of the race for the Top 6 as the season moves on.
So, I have dropped 8 teams out of a 16 team race where the top 6 move on.  So let's do this now in the race for the top:
Washington (4-3) - The Redskins are secretly decent right now, with an offense that is better than you think but a defense that seems to limit their upside.  Their schedule will not help them much as they don't seem to have another softie on their schedule until late, late in the year.  This next stretch looks pretty brutal.  First place comes with a price the next year, and if they make the playoffs, they will have earned it.
Philadelphia (4-2) - This is likely to cause controversy, too.  But, I do not buy that the Eagles are ready to contend.  I believe the book is out on Wentz and that his group of skill position players and the Lane Johnson suspension are killers.  Their defense is legit so they will be in many games, but if you want to see a tough stretch, look at what Philly is about to endure for the next six weeks.  I think they would be thrilled with being 7-5 after 12 games.  But, I suspect 6-6 is about right. 
So, here are your 6 playoff teams from the NFC if someone was to predict on Oct. 25:
Arizona (3-3-1) - This might be a stretch, but I think Arizona is still a very good football team with many of the things I look for when I examine quality.  They have a lot of tough games ahead and that road schedule may be their undoing, but overall, I think the Cardinals will figure out a way to get one of the two spots that the NFC West will surely secure. 
Atlanta (4-3) - The Falcons are very difficult to fully comprehend.  If you didn't know better, you would say they are approaching "Lions with Megatron" status as they continuously force the ball into Julio Jones.  Their defense is still problematic, but they are now at least approaching average in certain categories (like pass rush) and I assume they will win their division (someone has to).  The schedule is no picnic, but they have a running game and a small amount of depth -- which is more than usual in Atlanta.  I don't trust Matt Ryan a whole lot, but they have appeared to have found a bit of a groove.
Green Bay (4-2) - The Packers season has been a mess.  The offense has looked feeble and the injuries have stacked up to where they have no running backs or corner backs and have already had their bye.  They also play four of the next five on the road.  But, they appear to have a strong offensive line, a very good defensive front, and a QB that will now throw 50 times a game that has a pretty decent resume.  I still think they might win the North, but that might be with 10 wins.
Minnesota (5-1) - The Vikings have many weaknesses and their start seems a mirage by just about all statistical accounts.  Their offense just doesn't do much of anything and there are very few signs that will improve down the stretch.  However, the Vikings haven't played Chicago or Detroit yet, so they have a chance at four wins right there on the horizon.  Their defense carries them, but I still assume their defense is only about the third best in this playoff race (Seattle and Arizona).  This many wins in the bank make them a cinch for the playoffs, but their offensive line is going to get their fragile QB hurt if something drastic doesn't change. 
Seattle (4-1-1) - The Seahawks are a pleasure to watch on defense and have been for as long as anyone can remember.  I am not sure they are on the same level as they were, but they are on a level that is plenty good enough.   Their problem is also their offensive line, which is a disaster.  They are very, very bad on offense and have already limited Russell Wilson.  There is no doubt they make the playoffs, but there is also no doubt that they appear too one-dimensional to do much after that.  Their schedule will push them here in the next few weeks, too.
Dallas (5-1) - I can't believe this, but the Cowboys look like they have an easier schedule than just about anyone, fewer question marks due to injury, and are no longer reliant on Tony Romo staying healthy.  They actually now have Tony Romo insurance.  So, not only do they have the best record in the NFC, but also the easiest schedule going in, and players returning from injury.  Not only are they the favorite to win the division now, but they are also a favorite for a bye week in the playoffs.  Even 3-2 in the next five through Thanksgiving puts them at 8-3, which should keep them on top of the NFC entering December. 
In other words, I think the NFC is asking to be won right now.  All of the normal heavyweights look flawed.  And the Cowboys look rested. 
That is the way I see it.  But, that doesn't really matter.  Let's see what happens next.  On any play in any game, an injury might change this whole thing.  But right now, the Cowboys position looks ideal.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Gameplan - Bye Week - Patience With Coaching Staff Has Paid Off

One of the most surprising discoveries for Cowboys fans this season must be the revelation that this coaching staff has provided a clear and obvious advantage most weeks.  
Now, there is no way to say that without sounding offensive and condescending to some very wise football men. But hopefully they can understand the cynicism after a 2015 season where they seemed to have almost no answers for the questions that were being asked of them.
The job Scott Linehan has done with the offense has been as top notch as any Cowboys offense in recent memory.  Combined with the job Rod Marinelli continues to do with his rather anonymous personnel on the defensive side of the ball, the Cowboys appear well-coordinated and organized.  Then, Jason Garrett ties it together with some rather uncharacteristic ruthlessness and aggressiveness.  
Linehan could not make heads or tails of his challenging personnel issues last year and the offense could not execute on even the most basic levels.  Garrett then reacted to this and reeled in everything to a level of conservatism that made Cowboys games slightly less entertaining than the peeling of paint.  Marinelli’s squad fought hard but ultimately collapsed under the pressure late in games.
By the end, it seemed that a side with less patience might decide that the coaching staff required a major overhaul and that fresh eyes might do better in charge of this roster.
But, to the credit of all involved, the boss himself did not even think of changing his coach.  This is notable because, to be honest, very few head coaches get to their seventh season without anything more to show for it than a solitary Wild Card win in year five (to be fair, the fourth full year).  
So the coaches and the front office went to work.  And to their credit, they worked feverishly to conceive of some plans that would withstand the potential of attrition once again offering major changes.  Football is a game of attrition.  Injuries will occur.  You will lose important pieces.  So, any design that requires the presence of Tony Romo  and otherwise would collapse without him is a poor design as Romo tried to begin his second decade under center.  They had to begin to plan for life without him.  Surely they had time, but it was speeding in their direction.
It turned out they didn’t have time.  Romo was hurt immediately.
Week after week in 2016 -- all without Romo, most without Dez Bryant -- this offense has been characterized by its design.  It has base plays that are effective.  It then has change-ups off that design that have been impressive.  Now, with things like last week when they showed several new ideas, they showed change-ups off the change-ups.  Same formations, same pre-snap movements, but then as many as four or five different options are executed off the same look.  Most offenses have this in theory.  Scott Linehan has demonstrated they will use them all on game day, and the opposing defenses have looked overwhelmed.   
Oh, and all with a rookie QB who required almost no investment to acquire.  And a rookie RB who has already fulfilled the incredibly high level of promise that preceded him.
That is the story here in the bye week.  
Not that this team has a QB controversy or a surprising start, but that this team is consistently outcoaching its opponent.  With the same staff that was looking pretty feeble last fall.
Chances are they are the same coaches as they ever were.  But, now, things have finally come together to let them prove it here. 
Patience appears to be paying off for the Cowboys.  

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Marinelli Report - Week 6 - Packers

Marinelli Report

Today's topic, as we discuss defense, revolves around the simple question of: "How many points is a reasonable amount to allow in a game?"
It is important to remember that this is a league in which the margins are very close and every opponent has some exceptional talent on it. If you want a level of football where you play several games against completely incompetent opponents, the NFL isn't for you. This is the highest level of the sport and therefore, even the worst teams have many unreal football players on it. Parity. It is what this league is founded upon.

And for that reason, expectation levels for any defensive coordinator need to remain in the realm of reasonable rather than fantasy. Of course, you would prefer to give up no yards and no points, but let's understand that most of the time, even the poor teams are able to eat up statistics.
The NFL has a pretty constant "average points per game per team" number in the past several seasons. It sits at about 23 points per team.
So, as a defense in this league -- especially a defense that is in Dallas and doesn't seem to ever get its fair share of resources (premium draft picks, salary cap space) -- you are just competing against that number. In other words, you realize that having the best defense in the league is not reasonable without investment. But, the plan on this side of the ball has always been -- to steal a phrase that I like -- "trying to get to average."
If you want to be a top team in this league and in the mix for a Super Bowl every January, I would contend that very rarely does a team come along that is "top five" in offense and defense. If there is, it is usually for just a flash. Instead, you want to get one side of the ball to "elite" and the other side to league average. This seems to put you in the mix for a Super Bowl.
With that in mind, the Cowboys are trying to get under that 23-points-per-game barrier. And they have done a nice job of it with Rod Marinelli. You can tell it is easier when the offense is what it was advertised to be (elite). But this season the level has dropped substantially, in a good direction, and after two weeks of facing supposed playoff offenses -- to which they allowed 30 points over two games -- optimism is bubbling over.
So the line is 23 points per game. That is league average for any offense to score, or for any defense to allow. It is early, but getting below 23 has never been easy, and when they have, they barely did so. I cannot stress how impressive the first six weeks have been for this defense. In fact, the season high they have allowed was 23 points to Washington. Nobody has surpassed 23 points even once against Marinelli's crew. Nobody!
Now let's look at it from a perspective of what I would consider "great games." These are games in which you do not allow 21 -- games in which the Dallas defense allowed 20 points or fewer.
Those are all full seasons, you guys (except this year). This year is just through six games! They have 10 games to go. They have allowed 20 points or fewer in five of six games. They have really done well in the bend-but-don't-break defense and pursuit of average. For now, they have flown by average to a point where we'd better start asking whether their plan has really worked brilliantly.
And for that plan to work, they needed big performances from guys you didn't expect and that the league knew nothing about.
Sunday was all about those guys. Look at the names on the splash chart. By the way, the pure number of splashes is the highest since I started keeping this stat -- 21 splash plays! They got to 20 splashes three different times in 2014, but that flurry at the end of this game, when they kept stripping the ball loose, put them in a new place.


Anthony Brown, Terrell McClain and David Irving? Who are these guys? Ryan Davis? Benson Mayowa? Is this a no-name defense, or what? I could see it if they were led by Sean Lee and DeMarcus Lawrence or Tyrone Crawford. Instead, many of the biggest plays from this big day at Lambeau Field were made by guys making a million dollars a year or less. Bargain-basement production surely is the key to figuring out how to skin a cat with no resources.
It is also interesting to see how many splashes I had to share between two guys. I try to avoid this, but on many occasions Sunday, two guys arrived at the exact same time on players. In other words, Rod continues to get all these guys to fly to the ball and make plays.
Let's look at the tape, coach:
This is Anthony Brown. Hopefully you are up to speed with his fine work by now, but he is their sixth-round pick out of Purdue (one of several sixth-rounders, actually). This guy has had to fill in for Orlando Scandrick almost every week this season, and given that you haven't seen him make too many mistakes, we should be happy. Now he is getting confident and showing off one of his best attributes -- tackling. That's Randall Cobb in the open field.
Here is Jordy Nelson trying to get to the sticks on third down. Also, notice the three-man rush from the Cowboys. The Packers hate this. Rodgers has all day but is being kept in the pocket. Eight players in zones trying to give him nowhere to go.
Here is Anthony Brown one more time. Not sure what the lead blocker is doing here as he runs by Brown on his way to nowhere, but Brown closes fast and gets a big tackle for a loss. Starting to wonder if this is the best draft class in decades around here. And we haven't even seen Jaylon Smith yet.
There's my favorite defensive player these days. Terrell McClain has just been a pleasure this season. So much so, that I may try to get him signed during the bye week because he already has earned an extension from me. Look at that. He plays it like a linebacker, scraping to the play and then putting a form tackle on Eddie Lacy. Gracious.
Look at McClain blow up the center here and score another tackle for loss. Such a great combination of strength and quickness.
Finally, my other offseason delight was David Irving. I hope you read this during training camp. I still don't know why his snap totals are so low. But, they won't be able to keep them down if he keeps taking over games like this. He just turned 23. And he was unreal in this game with six splashes. Yes, he was given double credit if you can strip a fumble and then recover it.
He is such an active and massive body. And look at him go -- he strips Rodgers, then goes and gets it out of the pile. Awesome stuff, No. 95. And did you see they had Nos. 97 and 95 together inside on that play?
And this is the three-man rush again. But, Irving still gets to the ball to knock it loose. Nobody is open again. This is a coverage sack and the ball comes out.
Those three players -- Brown, McClain and Irving will make a total of $2.1 million combined this year. In a league where Jeff Heath makes $1.9 million, I would say there is some value in that trio.


I realize the Cowboys might have just had to hand the Packers the rope and they would fashion their own noose, but Dallas should not apologize for an awesome four-takeaway performance in which it did not allow Green Bay into the end zone until it was too late and held it under 400 yards and 20 points at Lambeau.


Those blue dots on the right were the constant swing passes to safety valves that Rodgers had to continuously settle for, most of them as the Cowboys decided to drop deep into coverage to simply allow things underneath. Rodgers did miss some throws down the field, but the plan was perfect.
And here it is. Give him time, but no options -- here is how Marinelli deployed his pass rushers:
See, don't rush him. Frustrate him with no open spots to throw. Keep him in the pocket with a spy, but flood the zones and make him make perfect throws. Some times, Rodgers can. Right now, he obviously cannot.


If you expected the leaderboard to look like this, you should gamble. I never imagined it would materialize like this.


Many of the statistics should remind us to remain suspicious about whether this model is sustainable. To be honest, we don't fully know how much of their early success is completely "situation-reliant" and a testament to the offense's play right now.
The Cowboys are 23rd in yards per rush allowed and 20th in yards per pass; 23rd in sacks per attempt and 29th on third downs.  
A lot of things need to improve and can improve. At the same time, it seems a story is worth telling about this first stretch for the defense beyond just the offense being so great. If you watch the games, it is worth seeing that they fly to the ball and seem to make opposing offenses frustrated.
Honestly, we will need to see more before we offer any proclamations, but they are off to quite a start with a lot of unknown players stepping up.