Friday, September 08, 2017

Cowboys Mailbag - Sept 8

Enjoy this last weekday before the season begins.  Well, actually, I know you won't because you will be distracted by the ruling out of Sherman where the fate of Ezekiel Elliott will be determined.  But, try to enjoy it anyway because by Sunday night something will happen that will change everything.  You won't feel the same about the 2017 Cowboys by Monday morning.  It could be a big win, a crushing loss, a massive injury, or something that we can't even imagine - but, by Monday, everything will be feeling different for you.  So, enjoy how it all feels right now.  Fresh optimism of a new year where in your head, anything is possible.  

Before we get too far into your emails, I do want to roll out two of my annual reminders before the gun sounds on the 2017 season (despite the gun having already sounded last night) to help you predict your playoff teams.
The first is our 10-year rolling playoff attendance chart for the AFC/NFC.  
First the NFC - 2007-2016








St L

Now, the AFC - 2007-2016
There you can see who is in the playoffs every year and who has had a decade of nothing to do in January.
Next, here is a long list from the year the NFL expanded its playoffs to its current 12-team format.  What we have here is a list of how many new teams make the playoffs each year.  So, we take 2015's 12 playoff teams and compare them with the 2016 field and see six new teams.  To understand the history of the last almost three decades to see the league has never come close to duplicating a playoff field:















Year# NewNew Teams making Playoffs
20166Dal, NYG, Alt, Det, Mia, Oak
20154KC, Hou, Minn, Wash
20145Dal, Arz, Det, Pit, Bal
20135NO, Phi, Car, KC, SD
20124Was, Sea, Min, Indy
20116NYG, SF, Det, Cin, Hou, Den
20105Sea, Atl, Chi, Pitt, KC
20096Dal, GB, NO, Cin, NE, NYJ
20087Phi, Atl, Car, Min, Arz, Mia, Bal
20076Was, TB, GB, Pit, Ten, Jac
20067Phi. Dal, NO, SD, Bal, NYJ, KC
20057Was, Car, TB, NYG, Chi, Cin, Jac
20045Min, Atl, SD, Pit, NYJ
20038Stl, Car, Dal, Sea, NE, KC, Bal, Den
20025NYG, Atl, Ten, Cle, Ind
20016SF, GB, Chi, Pit, NE, NYJ
20006Phi, NYG, NO, Den, Bal, Oak
19997Det, TB, StL, Was, Sea, Ten, Ind
19985Arz, Dal, Atl, NYJ, Buf
19975NYG, Det, TB, KC, Mia
19965Min, Car, Jac, Den, NE
19954Phi, Atl, Ind, Buf
19945Chi, Mia, Clev, NE, SD
19935Det, GB, NYG, Oak, Den
19926Min, SF, Phi, Mia, Pit, KC
The AVERAGE number of new teams each year in the field is 5.3.  So, basically, I should ask you: Which five teams from last year's playoff field are going to miss this year?  
The NFC had Atlanta, Green Bay, Dallas, New York, Detroit, and Seattle.
The AFC had New England, Pittsburgh, Miami, Houston, Oakland, and Kansas City.
Which five are missing?  To be honest, I have nine teams returning to the playoffs.  Apologies to the Dolphins, Giants and Lions.  
On to the email....
Q: Bob I'm already having visions of Brandon Marshall tearing up Nolan Carroll and/or Anthony Brown. Talk me out of it? Or is that definitely going to happen?
Well, we will start with the idea that it seems likely Odell Beckham will either miss the game or not be his normal self.  Either way, I think with the Giants' annual tradition of not running the football and Beckham not being up to his normal standard will allow the Cowboys to closely monitor the formidable Brandon Marshall.   He has had some very nice days against the Cowboys in his career.  In fact, between his days with the Broncos, Bears, and Jets, you could argue he has been as big a Cowboys killer at WR as just about anyone.  I'll never forget his catch and TD against the Cowboys in Denver back in 2009.  You may recall his last trip to the Death Star in 2015 when Ryan Fitzpatrick found him several times against the Cowboys secondary as the Jets left with a win.  Marshall is a nice addition, but he is certainly not in a spot in his career where he can do things as the main threat much anymore.  Expect plenty of zone coverage and keeping help over the top to limit his fingerprints.  
Q:  Probably won't happen in Week 1 but do you think Rod Smith will see some carries when it is him, Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris as the RBs?
I sure hope so.  Rod Smith has done a nice job transitioning into an RB body and showed some nice ability in the preseason.  I know the Cowboys love their veterans, but Rod Smith is exactly the type of backup RB you really like.  Young, cheap, and able to help in many parts of the squad with his special teams abilities.  I think he is a very interesting candidate to be the RB2 behind Zeke in a pure meritocracy.  Of course, we know that this isn't that, but I believe they have a nice prospect there.  
Q: Time to embrace debate Bob: Who is the most reliable Cowboy? I think it's Dan Bailey. And don't say Jason Witten just because he's on your show every week!
Reliable?  I will start with Tyron Smith who has pretty much kept Cowboys QBs from being touched for six seasons at left tackle where he seldom gets any assistance at all.  You can name all of the bad games Travis Frederick has been a part of on one hand.  Zack Martin is reliable.  Dez Bryant doesn't let you down too much.  Dan Bailey is as good a kicker as there is in the business.  And yes, Jason Witten has been counted upon since 2003 and has delivered over and over.  There is a nice list.  I embrace that debate.
Q:  What situations do you think Jaylon Smith will struggle the most and be the most successful the most?
Two things give me pause about Jaylon. No. 1 is if he gets put in man coverage.  I don't know that he can turn his hips and run with an RB.  We saw last night QBs are looking for matchups where LBs have to run with RBs or slot guys down the field.  I don't think I have seen him do that because the Cowboys have almost exclusively asked him to drop into zones where you are facing the QB at all times until the ball comes out. No. 2 is how he holds up with fatigue.  He looks great when he is fresh and then in the preseason after 10 snaps he looked different.  If he is to play 30-40 snaps, I wonder how he holds up.  
I guess there is one way to find out, but we shouldn't be surprised if Justin Durant gets a lot of run in his place for now.  It is a long season and hopefully a long career, so there is no reason to be in a hurry to throw everything at him right away.
Q:  Do you think Maliek Collins can eventually be our best D-lineman? Who's got the most potential out of that group do you think?
I was having this conversation with a Cowboys personnel department member recently and it was suggested that perhaps Maliek Collins is the 3-technique that the Cowboys thought Tyrone Crawford was when they locked him up to that contract.  
I think Collins has a chance to be fantastic.  I really love what I saw last season and if he takes that Year 2 jump, he might be at the Pro Bowl in five months.  Who has the most potential?  I still think it is DeMarcus Lawrence.  Unfortunately, because of health and suspensions, we are still waiting for his best and guess what?  He needs a contract by year's end.  In other words, he might be playing for someone else in 12 months.
Q:  Do you think the division is going to be a two-team race between the Giants and Cowboys this year?
Yes, I do.  I have the Cowboys winning Sunday and winning the division.  I think the Giants are the clear wildcard favorite from the division, but I think the West and the South will produce the wildcard teams (Arizona and Atlanta for me).  
I think the Cowboys win 10 games this year and that will get them the division and they will be the first repeat winner of the NFC East since the 2004 Eagles.  That is a staggering number.  
Q:  How concerned should fans be about LG and RT?
I am not very concerned.  La'el Collins will have some growing pains.  I can't believe that they are going with Chaz Green at LG, but he should be fine if he stays healthy (which he last did in high school).  Jonathan Cooper is the guy for me there, but time will tell.  
There are many other departments of the Cowboys that will be more worthy for your concern than that.  
Q:  How would you assess the Cowboys evaluation and development of defensive backs? They have cap $, but don't seem like they want to spend, either. It may very well be the position that keeps them from a deep playoff run. Doesn't that make it an urgent position to fix??
In 2012, the Cowboys spent two massive resources on corners to "fix" the position for good.  They spent a huge first-round pick (after a trade up of a 1st and 2nd) on Morris Claiborne.  Then they spent $50 million to go get the best corner on the market in Brandon Carr.  Needless to say, the results were not what they expected.  
But, since 2012, the Cowboys have definitely started to believe in the "homegrown" way in so many parts of their roster.  They want to develop their own.  Now, that is a great theory, but in the end, Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis are going to have to prove they can play.  But, if you are wrong, the gamble is much, much lower.  I get that people want to go buy great DBs, but that is almost impossible and the price for veteran corners is insane.  I think they are making a fine choice to draft four different DBs in 2017 and hope they hit on two regulars.  If they do, they will have to pay them next to nothing for four years.  
Enjoy the game and we talk again Monday Morning.

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