Thursday, June 27, 2013

NHL Draft Day Approaches

I take great pride in following the local NHL club in the offseason, as it is a personal passion of mine more than it is a job.  Now, I will tell you with great confidence that I am not qualified to give you much more than I usually do - which is a feel for the Top 15 or so spots in the draft.  Sadly, for the last several years, the Stars have been in that range so this has turned into a fair amount relevant discussion.

Last year, when doing this breakdown, we actually nailed Radek Faksa as the guy the Stars would get in this very blog entry.  I agree that this is a very unlikely scenario for someone who is as poor at predictions as I am (Bruins in 6), but we can't just give up our attempt to hit 2 in a row, right?

The Stars have a number of great spots in this very deep, highly-praised draft on Sunday.  They will select at #10, #29, #40, #54, and #68 in the 1st 3 rounds.  5 picks in the Top 68 is highly disproportionate, and makes the Stars one of the top holders of currency in the early going of a very strong draft.  Obviously, it is a rare opportunity to either grab the 5 best players at those spots and continue to populate the organization with heralded prospects, or they can gather some of those chips together and move on up for a bolder strike and a player with a more likely upside.

Last year, I thought the Stars were in the 3rd tier of the draft with their pick at #13.  This year, I actually would say they are at the tail end of tier #2.  It isn't that different, really, except for the idea that it does appear that if they just hold the pick and take whoever falls to them, they should really get an exceptional player.  But, of course, that is excruciating as you wait and hope that the apple of your eye does make it to you.  If they feel that the 2nd tier does not match their evaluations on a man-for-man basis, then obviously, you strongly consider a leap up the board if you can do it by packaging #10 and either #40, #54, or #68 to shoot up different distances on the board to somewhere between #6 and #8.

The price is heavy for moving up - especially when teams know you have so many picks - but, the reward might be substantial.  That said, a new regime might be more inclined to fill in organizational gaps by simply making sure they have selected many kids who can increase the big picture possibilities in a 5-year plan.

The organization has gone through plenty of trouble to accumulate 2 1st rounders and 2 2nd rounders, and now it is time to make the most of it.

Alright.  Let's try to narrow down things at #10.

Top Tier (These Players have no chance in falling to the Stars so let's not waste much time here):

There have been 3 players at the top of the board since Christmas, and while beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it seems that most experts will claim that all 3 of these guys are destined for some level of NHL stardom.  Nathan MacKinnon, Seth Jones, and Jonathan Drouin are all thought of as absolute studs.  Seth Jones is the franchise defenseman in the group and has a skill set that is absolutely jaw dropping in a league that labels Top D-men as the rarest of commodities.  However, it should be noted that it is often difficult to project players on the blue-line as "can't miss" through the years.  And in a draft this good, if Jones is only "really good" and you passed on an unbelievable forward like MacKinnon or Drouin, you might be kicking yourself for quite a while.  MacKinnon is highly regarded as a center with a fantastic offensive game and seems to have all-around center capabilities.  Also, he is 17 years old so many feel that he is simply scratching the surface of his talent.  Drouin set juniors on fire this year with a scoring pace that was mind-boggling, and the experts believe he can convert to any of the 3 forward positions you so desire.  Both MacKinnon and Drouin are celebrated for their competitive edges and high motor drive, clearly attributes everyone wants.  There is one more player that likely belongs in this tier, and might tempt someone (Tampa Bay at #3 or Nashville at #4) to grab him and that is Finnish center Alexsander Barkov.  He is another player that excelled at only 17, and he has size at the center position that is prototypical for dominance at 6'3, 209.  He is another player that it seems is widely agreed upon as a tick below the top 3, but a tick above the next group.

Next Tier (These are players who are closely grouped together.  The good news is that at least one will get to the Stars.  The bad news is that even they will only find out on Sunday.)

The next group has a number of European prospects, which of course makes things very fuzzy for evaluation purposes.  On the other hand, Jim Nill has worked in Detroit for long enough to know all of their secrets, and if anyone has consistently and properly evaluated European/Russian prospects, it is certainly our friends in Michigan.  That group is highlighted by the very impressive winger, Valeri Nichushkin.  He is massive and a freight train coming down the wing.  Of all of the players in this tier, he would be the one worth trading up to go get if all things were equal.  However, he does come with the considerable leverage of being comfortable and well paid in the KHL in Russia.  This is an issue and will always be a delicate item to be navigated for any team that selects him.  But, he sure looks like on his day he can be the best player on the ice.  He has absolutely jaw-dropping highlights that make you wonder how good he can really be.  But, he also has the KHL factor which has caused some to drop.  Don't count on it, but that is certainly in the back of the Stars' minds as a possibility.

There is also Elias Lindholm, a tenacious 2-way center from Finland who may not have offensive superstar capabilities, but there is a always going to be a place in this world for a Top 6 center who can fill all needs well.  Then, you might argue the 7th best player available is Canadian defenseman Darnell Nurse.  Nurse is another massive young man, 6'5, who has an edge to his game and can really skate.  He is famously the son of a professional CFL football player and nephew (through marriage) of Donovan McNabb.  Of all of the defensemen besides Seth Jones, Nurse is the one I am most smitten by.  He really looks like he could be a special player and capable of that top pairing spot that you always covet.

So, that is your top 7 by most people's thought process.  If any of them make it to #10, you will see dancing at the Stars table, but it isn't very likely.  I would be very delighted to walk away with Nichushkin or Nurse and might be tempted to give up a 3rd and #10 to make it happen, but I assume that might not be enough.  Also, I don't think the Stars necessarily value Nurse substantially the next tier of defensemen that includes another massive Russian, Nikita Zadorov (6'5, 230) who skates like he is 6'1, but also seems to be a bit docile and gentle.  Finnish product Rasmus Ristolainen is thought of as a sure thing with a lower ceiling, but a higher floor as NHL d-man, and then another giant who is just figuring out his game is Samuel Morin who stands at 6'7 and does seem to enjoy the physical side of the game.

There are also 2 more centers who are constantly named in this group and should be on your radar for Sunday.  Sean Monahan is the best of this group and has many supporters, despite a less than amazing skating ability.  He is another player that might turn heads if he dips to #10.  Max Domi, another famous son, has a fantastic offensive game even if his dad didn't, but seems to have that same competitive attitude Tie had.

So, there are 12 names to consider.  I don't think the Stars are in on all of them, but that is the landscape for the possible names on their list and the teams in front of them.  If someone not on this list breaks into the top 9, such as Curtis Lazar, Hunter Shinkaruk or even Ryan Pulock, figure that the Stars will be happy as names they like will get pushed down further.

So, from there, here is a little video on the Top 5 names for the Stars at #10.

#1 - Valeri Nichushkin

#2 - Darnell Nurse

#3 - Sean Monahan

#4 - Rasmus Ristolainen

#5 - Nikita Zadorov

This is a bit different than last year in that I think the Stars might be more aggressive for the right guy.  But, at #10, they cannot predict the dominoes in front of them.  I think the top 2 names Nichushkin and Nurse are long gone.  That leaves Monahan, Zadorov, and Ristolainen as the choice most likely.

Rather than making a specific pick this year like I did on Faksa last year, I am just going to sit with my order of preference.  As unlikely as #1 and #2 are, I think aggressiveness might be the play.  Monahan is also doubtful to get there, but they would be very delighted.  Then, the fall back are the two defensemen.

But, this time around, all are highly thought of and exciting to add.  Very excited about Sunday and the 3-5 premium picks the Stars have in their pocket.

So, Bob, what is your actual prediction here for the 2013 Stars pick?

The guy I want them to get?  Darnell Nurse.
The guy who I hope against hope that he drops as a dream scenario?  Nichushkin.
The guy I think they likely end up with if they sit at #10?  Ristolainen.

That is the best I can do.

Go get em, Mr Nill.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Bag of Pucks - June 25

Last night, the Chicago Blackhawks won their 2nd Stanley Cup in 4 years (and in 52 years) in Boston in a fantastic conclusion to a playoffs that really delivered all the way to the Finals with 2 original 6 franchises slugging it out to the end.  Other than not getting a Game 7 on Wednesday night, I am not sure what more could have been asked by these terrific playoffs this season and this feeling that the league is doing very well as a product of great sporting entertainment.

That said, watching other teams participate in the playoffs will always feel just a little bit off.  Sure, it is a fun few months, and sure, it feel intense from the outside, but there is very little exhaustion, exhilaration, and ultimate elation if you don't have a horse in the race.

There is no question that the absence of the Dallas Stars in the playoffs is just enough to send you back into the malaise of wondering just how far away our hometown franchise is from ever returning to the glory of the good ol' days.  And when such discussions come up, it is easy to feel like those days are impossible to attain again.  5 years and counting.

And that is what faces this organization that seems determined to break out of the cycle that they are mired in.

Since we last talked on these topics, the Stars have hired a respected and experienced General Manager in Jim Nill from Detroit.  His credentials and respect level in the league are through the roof and he is regarded as just the guy who would have the overall vision to make this work.

Nill then conducted his own lengthy and thorough coaching search, eventually ending up with a new Head Coach in the form of Lindy Ruff, a man who is equally respected and experienced with a tenure in Buffalo that only Barry Trotz can look down upon in the modern NHL.  So, you have 2 guys who had not been in their same capacities in their same franchises since before the Dallas Stars acquired Brett Hull, are now combining their track records and attempting to continue to build this thing back up.

I think those 2 moves in particular should be enough to show us that the Stars are determined to figure this out, thanks to a new owner in Tom Gaglardi who seems tired of mediocrity already.  I am a big fan of Joe Nieuwendyk and was just starting to really admire Glen Gulatzan for their positive characteristics, but it is nearly impossible to shoot holes in the idea of 2 stable, committed, and successful men working together at the two most important spots in the hockey operations to figure this out.

Now, before we get carried away in this group's ability to convert everything into chicken salad overnight, we should remember that the Blackhawks and Bruins are not entirely in the spots they were last night because of fantastic management.  That helps, but it also helps to have Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews up front, with Duncan Keith behind them in Chicago - you know, with Marion Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Brent Seabrook, and on and on and on filling in the gaps.  In Boston, Zdeno Chara, Milan Lucic, and a host of parts that fit perfectly put the Bruins in a spot where they have won a Cup, lost another, and are in the hunt each year.  That isn't because the suits have bigger brains than the competition.  It is because their building took long years and wrong turns and finally they hit on something that could compete for it all.

And that requires elite talent at the top.  Something the Stars will ultimately need to hit on.  Ruff and Nill cannot win with a collection of ordinary talent.  They will need to find pieces that seem to be missing right now - players who are clear as the best the hockey world has to offer.  Like just about any sport, those teams, like the Blackhawks who can collect 3 of the top 20 players in the league or 6 of the top 75 or whatever disproportionate stack of dominant players to place together in this salary capped environment that has 30 franchises will have the distinct advantage.

Looking at the Stars cupboards, they have a wonderful collection of players that seem to be talented and capable of playing in the NHL between the ages of 18-24.  They seem rather stacked in "solid" NHL talent and youth, thanks to the way the Nieuwendyk regime was able to flip assets for futures in the last two years.

But, is there "elite" talent here?  Is there a Toews or a Kane or a Hossa or a Keith?

I believe Jamie Benn has a chance to be that player and on many nights is already there.

What else?  I am still holding out hope that Jamie Oleksiak can be a dominant top pairing defensemen when he has had enough time in the oven.  Brenden Dillon took such strides these last 3 years that I wonder if we are foolish to act like we know his ceiling.  Brett Ritchie has been described as a player with fantastic upside and there are other kids in the system that could be better than "solid".  But, as it stands, the bin marked "solid" appears to be full and in great shape.  But, the bin that allows a team to compete for Cups is marked "elite" and while there might be some potential in that bin, for the most part it is where much of the league sits normally - close to empty.

They know this.  They know that they have lots of 6's and 7's, but they need a 9 or a 10 to make this thing really sing.  Of course, that is like a football team saying that they are a Tom Brady away from being a great team.  That is both obvious and ridiculous - so is pretty much everyone.  But, it is often true.

Elite talent generally requires that you pick #1 or #2 or certainly in the Top 5 picks of a draft to get someone like that.  In Chicago's case, Kane was #1, Toews was #3 overall.  Like Crosby, Malkin, Ovechkin, and many of the best of the best, they are all gone very early at the top of the draft.  If you never pick up top, then, like many other sports, you have to either get lucky or try to win with a collection of solid pieces, but never have the very best players in the game.  In can be done, but it surely is not very likely.

Which leaves the Stars with some interesting questions in a year where they have lots of money, lots of picks, and lots of holes on their squad.  Do they combine these resources to go for a bold strike up the draft board?  

The 2013 NHL Draft looks really strong.  The Stars should have some great choices at #10 and a few I am very excited about.  However, the 3 "elite" talents at the top of the board are, as you would expect, going to be gone in before pick #4.

So, do they attempt to give up multiple picks to shoot up the board?  That doesn't really seem like Nill's style, but then, I do concede that I don't really know his style very well.  And that is the wildcard of this most important offseason.

We should expect that they are still short of centers and top-pairing defensemen.  But, they are also short of elite, and therefore, elite potential should trump any short term needs - thus giving the best player available.

I have names and a stacked board that I will try to get out later in the week for pick #10, but I think the bigger question remains on whether they are willing to shoot up the board or to use #10 to trade for a veteran who could put them right in the playoff mix for next season.

Sergei Gonchar is an interesting move that seems to indicate that others on the blue-line might be on their way out in a summer that could have a few aggressive trades ahead.  That puts the entire league in play and makes guessing seem even more impossible.  The Stars have trade chips to use and the league is their canvas to paint their new vision.

They have new men in charge, a new color scheme that is growing on me, and a team that has a group that can grow together.  They have no contracts that are millstones nor do they have any other resources that must be moved out who are blocking kids.  They have an almost alarmingly blank slate and an eager bunch who want to succeed.

I know it is late June and the Stars haven't been in the playoffs since 2008.  But, I am really excited about the next 2 weeks of moves and the season that lies ahead.

Like Charlie Brown running to a ball that Lucy holds, I am optimistic that this crew can accomplish the goals that we all have for them, if we give them a little time to make it all happen.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Cowboys By The Numbers: Offense

Over the next several weeks, I want to do what I attempt to do every summer, which is to take a good look back at the previous season.  There are enough people on the interweb speculating about what could happen in 2013 and what they learned from OTA's.  That is great sometimes, and I enjoy their work.  But, I usually have enough time for that at Training Camp and with the preseason games - especially this year with an elongated camp and an additional preseason game.

So, the bridge from OTA's until Oxnard is best filled by examining the previous season both from a macro view and a micro view.

First, the macro view.  The NFL keeps a few hundred different team statistics which are sorted from top to bottom for all 32 teams.  They are separated and averaged both by "All 32" and then by "playoff teams".  The second ranking is a good way to compare yourself to the 12 teams that made the NFL postseason.

So, today, I thought we could examine the offensive statistics from these files and pick out the best and worst stats from the Cowboys offense - relative to the rest of the league and to the playoff field.  Then, next time, we will give the same treatment to the Cowboys defense.

Here we go:

5 Great Stats from the Cowboys Offense in 2012

1st Down Efficiency:  Rated 2nd in NFL with 53.6% Success Rate.  NFL Average was 47.3% and Playoff Teams averaged 48.6%

3 and Out Drives:  3rd best in NFL with 17.2%.  NFL Average = 22.7%, Playoff Average = 20.6%

3rd Down Conversions:  43.9% was 5th in NFL.  NFL Average = 38.2%, Playoff Average = 40.2%

Net Passing Yards Per Game:  295.6 per game, ranked 3rd.  NFL Average = 231.3, Playoff Average = 237.1

1st Down Passing (4 yards or more):  2nd in NFL, 59.8%.  NFL = 50.9%, Playoffs = 53.2%

This group is certainly propped up with the fantastic accumulation of numbers that were the Cowboys calling card in the latter part of the season where they abandoned all hopes of balance and power and simply let their weapons do their work.  This is where Dez Bryant emerged as a dominant player and where Tony Romo unleashed his stable of weapons that will only improve this season.  Net passing yards are way above where they need to be (and are certainly not indicative of winning football), and 1st down efficiency combined with 3rd down conversions are all where you want to be.

3rd Down conversions don't say everything, but when the top teams are all playoff teams: New England, Atlanta, Denver and the bottom 3 teams are Jacksonville, Arizona, and Cleveland - you can at least see that there is some indicator of who has elite QBs and who doesn't by how 3rd Down goes.  So, it is nice to sit at #5 in that stat.

5 Good/Average Stats from the Cowboys Offense in 2012

Yards Per Play:  5.71, 11th in NFL.  NFL Average = 5.41, Playoff Teams Average = 5.62

Times Sacked:  36, 15th in the NFL.  NFL Average = 37, Playoff Teams = 35

Explosive Plays (Plays of 20 yards or more): 61, 16th in NFL.  NFL = 60, Playoffs = 64

Offensive Points Scored:  348, 15th in the NFL.  NFL Average = 333, Playoff Teams = 385

Time of Possession:  30:33 for 13th in NFL.  NFL Average = 30:00, Playoff Teams 30:37

The one that jumps out at you here is the issue we always discuss - 15th in points scored for all those big yardage stats above.  That is one characteristic of the Jason Garrett offense that seems to be consistent most years.  This team under performs on the scoreboard for all of the stats they put up.  This is why hearing that they have high yardage rankings doesn't mean much to people that suggest they can move the ball between the 20s all day long.  It is also interesting to see that they are only league average in explosive plays.  You would think that with Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray, this number should be way higher.  The Saints led the league with 77 and that is the neighborhood that you want to reside in soon with all of the weapons.

5 Poor Stats from the Cowboys Offense in 2012

10 Play Drives:  Cowboys had 21, 32nd best in NFL.  NFL Average = 27, Playoff Teams 29

Giveaways:  29, which ranked 25th.  NFL Average = 25, Playoffs = 19

Penalties Called:  117, ranked 30th.  NFL Average = 100, Playoff Teams Average = 100

Rush Plays Called:  33.8%, 31st.  NFL Average = 42.3%, Playoff teams = 45.2%

Yards Per Play in Red Zone:  2.43, 28th.  NFL Average = 2.86, Playoff Teams = 2.92

Ah, the killers.  The stats that must be focused on.  And you can argue that they have all been addressed with personnel changes and coaching initiatives in this offseason.  Their drives were too short, too penalized, too many turnovers, no runs, and inefficient in the red zone.

How many of these stats are connected?  You have to pass to move the ball, you can't hold linebackers or safeties with play action, therefore you are throwing into more coverage - more giveaways.

Also, when the field gets shorter, the gaps in the secondary get smaller, and it gets harder to move the ball.  And, of course, you cannot commit 17 more penalties a season than the field.  That is simply a self-inflicted wound that must be cleaned up.

Next time, we look at these same numbers from the defensive point of view.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Email Bag For Father's Day Weekend

I have been asked to show a little more diversity on occasion when rolling out email bags.  It seems, according to some, I respond to too many Cowboys-based emails, and far too few of any other sort of variety.  So, as proof that I give into demands made of me on a regular basis, here are several emails - with none of them being Cowboys-based.  Instead, we will make sure that we will touch all other Metroplex professional teams (within reason).

Here we go:

Bob- I consider myself a big Rangers fan who is starting to wonder if this team has just coming back to earth from the great start and playing more like a team that lost a number of key parts last winter without adding much.  Is this a little closer to the Rangers that conventional wisdom thought back in February? - Shawn

Great question to get us started.  I have to admit that I was one of those who really was bearish on the Rangers ability to play pennant-caliber baseball after saying goodbye to a large portion of their spine in Mike Young, Mike Napoli, Josh Hamilton, and a number of pieces in the bullpen all in the same winter.  Then, their acquisitions seemed a bit on the hopeful side trying to squeeze a bit more out of the careers of Lance Berkman and AJ Pierzynski and beyond that, pretty much just trusting those around them to step up and do more.  Not to mention, the looming discomfort of knowing Nelson Cruz could disappear for 2 months if this Biogenesis thing ever got serious which still threatens.

But, they got out of the gate with fantastic momentum and finished April 17-8, quieting any discussion of falling off and having a year with some regrouping necessary.  Guys were stepping up, and the future was bright with a rotation that looked formidable and of course, the exciting news of Profar being around the next corner.

Then, injuries have hit.  I would argue injuries have hit hard, with Matt Harrison, Alexi Ogando, and Martin Perez all going down with arm issues.  This has transitioned us to now, Justin Grimm and Nick Tepesch have been starting for so many turns in the rotation that it doesn't even seem that they aren't regulars anymore.  But, Grimm, in particular seems that the major leagues are catching up with him quickly.  It appears clear that they need rotation help soon, and while it could come in the form of getting guys back - including Colby Lewis - we should also understand that deals might need to happen soon to address that.

Meanwhile, it has been a month without Ian Kinsler and now 10 days without Mitch Moreland where the wheels have really come off the offense.  After another solid month in May (17-11), the beat up Rangers have just not been the same team in June, having now lost their first 3 series of the month to Boston, Toronto, and Cleveland.  Off to a 4-8 start as of the morning of June 15 means they will have to skate hard to keep from having their first losing month of the campaign.

So, is it all a manner of health and sample sizes that are routine downslides in a 162-game season?  Or, is part of this that the squad lost quite a bit of veteran pieces over the winter that need to be replenished in addition to returning to health?  Clearly, you will trust the judgement of the management team and allow them to make their decisions based on their track record of having a proper feel for the situation.  Oakland does have a 2 game lead, but there appears to be no other team in the race in the AL West who can get back in this.

I expect movement soon, in an effort to fix the rotation issues, but beyond that, I think any sort of panic is likely not trusting these guys - once Kinsler is back - to be able to start producing runs on a more regular basis than you are seeing.  It just looks pretty disjointed at the moment.

Hey Bob, give me your Stars summer wish list? David

I am happy to answer this, but I am sure I will disappoint with my answers.  If I read some supposed insider or expert on a topic like this one, I want answers with specifics.  But, I have almost none for you.  The free agent list - at the 2 primary positions of need for the Stars, center and defensemen - is so shallow and picked over that you are not going to want to do much there.  In fact, on some level of twisted comedy, you might be amused to know that 2 of the top 5 centers available, are most likely Derek Roy and Mike Ribeiro.  How crazy is that?  The 2 guys that you considered not be the answer for you at center are now the 2 pretty girls that everyone will be bidding on in July against the entire league?  That is just not going to solve anything here.

Meanwhile, the other spot of need is that big, physical, and versatile defensemen that can add some Duncan Keith/Zdeno Chara type fear to the group.  Again, that defensemen is not on the free agent market this year - or pretty much ever.

So, you have money, you have resources, and you have a front office that wants to "wow" the public with rebuilding a franchise that refuses to fade without a battle.  What are the plans?  The plans are to make sure there are no big mistakes made.  Slow build.  Tons of picks.  Stock that system even more full with 18-year olds who might be the next Jamie Benn or Brenden Dillon.  Can't have enough of either of them, so keep growing your own.  That requires patience and a fan-base with a stomach for it.

But, I don't expect that this will be the entire plan.  I really think that this year, the Stars will be on the prowl to find those buy-out guys and even take on someone else's contract burden.  The trouble is, given how little we know how Jim Nill values characteristics and types of hockey, I have no idea what the apple of his eye will be until he gives us hints.  And so far, the Sergei Gonchar hint is not helping me see his vision, yet.  Except, that the redundancy on his blue-line seems to indicate that a team that needs a competent defensemen can consider Trevor Daley or Stephane Robidas as part of a deal that might net the Stars a center that they covet.  Bottom line, lots of moving parts.

I expect an active summer, but I can't shine much light on specific targets.  Let's just hope that the target wasn't born before 1980 if we can help it.

Sports Sturm- Look, I know you realize FC Dallas is the top team in MLS right now.  I know you did a bunch of their games on TV this year.  I know you love soccer.  I know you go to their matches.  What exactly would it take for you to actually write or talk about them once in a while?  Kevin

I take the blame for this.  He is right.  I don't miss many of their matches (despite their having one of the more frustrating tv deals in sports history right now) and they are playing fantastic.  No team in the entire league has more points than FC Dallas and you can't say that it is early anymore.  Bottom line, as we reach the halfway point of the season, is that they are good and they are being ignored.

For the media that doesn't follow the sport, that is to be expected.  But, I can do better.  I am really hopeful they can keep up what they have done so far, and I think a big part is to find another player in the back 4 to fortify a thin defense.  They have quality 1-4, but one injury gives me pause that the hot summer might show that they will start conceding crucial goals against.  If there has been one particular item of concern, it is closing down games late in the match.  Figuring out how to park the bus in front of the goal and not concede is going to test their mettle down the stretch.  Offensively, FCD has plenty of goal scoring with Blas Perez, Kenny Cooper, and a host of speed to get on the end of David Ferreira's genius and now the left foot of Michel.

I think they have finally hit on a quality team that was put together in the offseason under the radar when they lost Brek Shea, but gained 3-4 players with his funds.  I think they are good, now we just need to figure out how good.  Long ways to go, but a fantastic start.

Bob, please tell me Chris Paul and Dwight Howard are coming to the Mavericks.  Please!  I beg of you!  Make it happen!  Theon Greyjoy

I don't think that is really you, Theon.  But, if it is, nobody deserves good news right now more than you do.

Anyway, I think Chris Paul coming here is the absolute maximum score for any activity this summer by Mark Cuban and friends.  This team lacks a star of the proper age, a point guard of proper quality, and hope for the post-Dirk era.  Chris and Cliff Paul would provide all of that in the form of one spectacular player.  But, is it realistic?

Of course, it barely is.  The Mavericks are staying ready and if it is true that D12 and CP3 want to play together, then there are a number of things that make that financially difficult to do it with Dirk still on his monster deal.  They would have to take less and the Mavs would have to make a number of creative maneuvers to pull it off - all while there are other places that might be better equipped to do it.

But, Cuban seems determined.  I don't know if that is his big splash, but he knows that he cannot have another Chris Kaman/Elton Brand/Darren Collison summer.

All is quiet on the Mavericks front, but we are down to about 2 weeks before operation powder is put into action.  I hate to get my hopes up, but this one is all about getting Dirk a good team before it is too late.  One final run for the big German might depend on how Cuban can work his magic in the next month.

And, I am told that he has put Shark Tank on notice about is schedule this time.

Good.  Very good.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Ask Sports Sturm: NBA Playoff Wins

I heard a statistic the other day that I could not believe.  And, if you are wired as I am wired, you have to know more.  It went something like this:
Tim Duncan has more playoff wins than 20 other NBA franchises.
Wow.  That is enough information to read, re-read, ponder, and repeat.

Of course, I am not made to simply read something and move on.  I want to know the answers to a number of questions.  The fact that you read my blogs might indicate you would be interested in these questions, too.

So let's do it.

1) - How many Playoff Wins does he have?

He has 130 wins as of right this moment.  This number could change as early as this evening, but through 1 win in the 2013 NBA Finals, he has broken the 130 barrier - something that has been done (by my calculations) only 7 times in NBA History.

2) - And 130 playoff wins is more than 20 of the 30 NBA Franchises have won?

Exactly.  The Charlotte Bobcats have 0 and a few other teams have fewer than 20 (all expansion teams) Minnesota (17), Toronto (11), and Memphis (18).  Several other teams come in under 60 playoff wins - like the Hornets, Clippers, Magic, and Nets.  The 60-80 all-time playoff win club includes: the Nuggets (61), Cavaliers (70), Washington (77), and Kings (80).  Then, a trio fall under 100 in a group that includes Indiana (99), Portland (97), and your Dallas Mavericks who have registered 86 all-time playoff wins.

The Miami Heat won their 100th playoff game on Sunday night in Game 2 of the Finals, Then, Milwaukee has 104, Golden State 110, Utah 114, and Houston 118.  And that rounds up the 20 franchises that have fewer playoff wins than Tim Duncan himself.

3) - So who is he still chasing?  Who are the Top 10 and can he catch any of them?

Perhaps a few more.  He could tie the Phoenix Suns (133) in these finals.  Oklahoma City/Seattle is at 136, and Atlanta (believe it or not) holds at 140.  Those are the few in range.  The Top 7 would seem highly unlikely.  Chicago is at 177.  He will never catch San Antonio (for obvious reasons) at 183.  The Knicks (186) and Detroit (189) are in the Top 5.  And then the 3 that are above all others and a large distance from the field and each other:  #3 all-time is Philadelphia (217), #2 all-time is Boston (344) and the #1 all-time franchise for playoff victories are those Los Angeles Lakers with an absurd 440 playoff wins.

4) - He surely is #1 for playoff wins as a player, right?

Negative.  Not even as an active player.  Most might guess that Kobe Bryant is above him - and he is at 135.  But, not even Kobe is #1.  That total would actually go to Derek Fisher with 151 career playoff wins.  He was next to Kobe Bryant for all those Lakers wins and then he added on an additional bunch in the last 2 years with the Thunder to put up a total that Duncan will have a hard time reaching.

Those 2, Duncan, and Tony Parker (104) are the only active players over 100, but Manu Ginobili can get there tonight as he sits at 99.  LeBron is at 85, with Ray Allen at 84, and Dwyane Wade at 79 - tied with Chauncey Billups and Jason Kidd.  In case you wonder, Dirk Nowitzki sits at 64, which is actually fewer playoff wins than Kendrick Perkins (64) and 2 more than Lamar Odom (62).

5) - What about all-time?

This is a difficult statistic to pin down, as the NBA records are still not where they need to be.  It takes hours to comb through box scores and somehow the basketball world treats things that are pre-1980 as more cumbersome than baseball handles pre World War 1 records.  So, what you are about to see is what I could do in 1 morning with a legal pad and coffee.  Also, we should let the young ones know that while it takes 16 wins to win the NBA title, it was 15 in the 1980s, 12 in the 1970s, and 8 in the 1960s.  Therefore, Bill Russell - with all 11 of his NBA titles - has only 108 playoff wins.  11 titles now days would require 176 playoff wins alone.

But, with the playoff format as it is, the #1 playoff victory man by my calculations is Robert Horry with 155.  Then, Kareem Abdul Jabbar at 154.  Interestingly enough, he would have had 155 if he did not miss the final game of the 1980 Finals (the game where a rookie Magic Johnson played center in his place).  Then Fisher, Scott Pippen 137, Kobe, Magic Johnson at 131, Duncan, Shaquille O'Neal, Danny Ainge 126, and Michael Jordan at 119 round out the top 10.  At least according to my morning legal pad.

So, Duncan is 7th, and could tie Magic Johnson for 6th tonight.

There.  One simple stat and the next thing you know, you know more than you wanted to know about it, right?

Monday, June 10, 2013

A Brief History of 12 Personnel

I was going through my notes to see when we really started talking about one of the latest trends to the NFL and you will be interested to know that not so long ago - as late 2008 - we as football fans associated 2 tight ends on the field as a running posture, formation, and personnel group.

This is because the NFL did, too.  The Cowboys had their elite #1 tight end in the form of the great Jason Witten, and that seemed to lock down that spot rather comfortably from the first draft of the new Bill Parcells regime. The premise of putting multiple tight ends on the field at the same time was a great way to cause mass confusion down on the goal-line when the defense adjusted to your personnel substitutions by sitting on the run, only to have your QB pull the ball back and then lob it to your blocking tight end who is standing all alone in the shadow of the goal post.  It was sound tactically to assume that a man who was a blocker was always going to block.  Remember, what is now basic football, was still being figured out in 2010 when the New England Patriots took Arizona's Rob Gronkowski in the 2nd round and Florida's Aaron Hernandez in the 5th round of that draft.

Before that, others had tried it, but nobody had married the idea as a major part of their attack that proved as effective as the design had hoped.

Locally, Jason Garrett had seen the future, and he tried to make it happen before the Patriots ever did.  As early as 2008, it was clear what he was thinking, and although it never fully was realized, looking back, his position as a bright offensive mind seems safe in the retelling of the evolution.

Dan Campbell made a living in Dallas (2003-2005 as one of Parcells' 1st signings) and the NFL for a decade, without ever catching more than 22 balls in a season.  He was there to provide you with what amounted to a 6th offensive lineman.  He could block and pass protect, and if you forgot about him, he could hurt you with a rare reception that would make you pay.

As far as receiving tight ends, if you drafted one, you were often doing it to either replace the one you have or just providing insurance because asking Dan Campbell to be Jason Witten for the year in the event of a big injury would be a very bad situation.  The Cowboys drafted Anthony Fasano in the 2nd round of the 2006 draft, but at the time, Fasano was simply seen as a more dynamic #2 behind Witten than Campbell, who was getting older and wasn't exactly cheap.  Campbell went to Detroit and Fasano started to learn behind Witten.

Fasano never exceeded anything Campbell did in Dallas statistically, as a 2nd round pick he never caught 15 passes in a season for the Cowboys in 2006-2007, and thus was traded to Miami (back to Parcells) before the 2008 draft for pennies on the dollar.  But, during his tenure with Dallas, it seemed that when Witten and Fasano were on the field together, there was nothing exotic going on tactically, that was intended to do anything more than what was being done back in 1995 with Jay Novecek and Eric Bjornson.  2 tight ends meant either a running play, a maximum protection situation, or a surprise attack in short yardage for a dink and dunk.  The same as it ever was - which is why many of us were confused with using resources like a 2nd round pick on a guy like Fasano who was never asked to do much that Campbell wasn't asked to do.  It really made little sense.

But, now, after admitting that Garrett had little plans for Fasano and trading him back to Parcells and new Dolphins coach Tony Sparano (who was in Dallas from 2003-2007), the Cowboys needed a 2nd tight end again.  This time, with yet another 2nd round pick investment, the Cowboys reeled in the very intriguing Martellus Bennett, a giant of a specimen, from Texas A and M.  At 6'7, over 250 lbs, and very interesting speed, he seemed like nothing that resembled a backup tight end.  He seemed destined to ultimately replace Jason Witten if he ever achieved his topside or if Witten started to decline over time - both reasonable possibilities by 2010.

However, what none of us saw was a rather new idea being discussed and conceived in the coaches meeting rooms where they were attempting to design an offense that deployed multiple tight ends who were weapons in their versatility.  They were not blocking tight ends or 6th OL men, they were dangerous matchup issues who would ultimately give defenses fits.  They could block, but they were receiving threats who played a style that if you dared to put a linebacker on them in coverage, they would run right past them.  But, if you decided to try a safety or a nickel corner, they would simply run a 10 yard route and then like a power forward boxing out for a rebound, they would turn and use their body to keep a smallish DB on their back, make the catch, and move the chains.  That was taking candy from a baby and a great alternative to a slot receiver who was a smaller target and a player you would never ask to block much.

This offense was not designed for simply short yardage spots.  If they could make this work, it would be all-purpose and all-situations, just as effective on 1st down as 3rd and goal.   It would hypothetically require the defense into a classic conflict situation where there was no correct remedy.  It would force the defense's hand in personnel, and whatever they choose, the offense would exploit the opposite.

If you loaded up to stop the run, Garrett could flex out Witten and Bennett as slot receivers and you would be undermanned to stop 2 TEs and 2 WRs outside.  But, if you switched to nickel or even dime (6 DBs), then, Garrett could motion both Witten and Bennett back next to the tackles and have what amounts to 7 "bigs" on offense (5 OL + 2 TEs) against 5 "bigs" on the defense and pound the rock with a Marion Barber-led power running game.  It is a beautiful grouping as you literally can go 50/50 in your play-calling from under center on 1st and 2nd down.

In 2008, the Cowboys ran the offense a bit, but they were just stretching their legs.  In the offseason between 2008 and 2009, there was plenty of discussion about how this might be the next big thing - a proper replacement idea for Terrell Owens going away - getting Witten and Bennett both on the field at the same time and making up for lesser personnel at Wide Receiver with superior personnel at Tight End and accomplishing similar things but with a different method.

Of course, it looked good on paper when I spent time writing about it back in August of 2009 both here and then again here.  Here is what I said back on August 7, 2009:
I think that is the cat and mouse game that will be played. But, as we know, the defense only has to be wrong once and they pay dearly. With Bennett and Witten, I think they can load up the line, but if they get beat once, they will lose their nerve and play more conservative. You must bracket those TE's from running down the seams. If you do not, I think it will be an easy 20 or 25 yards.

If you guess right, you are golden. But that is the beauty of "12" over almost any other personnel grouping. There is no way to pre-snap read the tendencies of the offense. It is almost a perfect 50/50 group. With Deon Anderson out there, you lean run. But with Witten and Bennett, you honestly have no idea. And with 2 WR's also on the field, you better leave your safety high. If you do, then the Cowboys can run it. Also, we saw plenty of 80 and 82 at the "F" back last year, too. There are so many options that a defense has to respect.
Easy, right?  Well, not so much.  They did have success with "12" in 2009, but not in the traditional sense of Bennett being a huge receiving threat.  The team passed for 9 yards per attempt in this group, but it wasn't because Martellus was running for another touchdown.  It was more because they were a running dominant team in 2009 and much of it happened with 2 TEs on the field.

Below is a list of "12 Personnel" usage for the last 5 seasons.  This includes every single situation where they were in "12", including shotgun situations and it does not break down run versus pass.  It simply sets a baseline for this idea that "12" is going to be the base offense in 2013.  At its high water mark to this point, with a rather large amount of conviction, the most they ever ran "12" personnel was 31% of snaps back in 2011.

YearTotal Snaps -Yards12 Personnel Snaps -Yards% of Total Offense in 12 Snaps-Yards
2008979 - 5512201 - 100120% - 18%
20091146 - 6982320 - 222228% - 32%
20101026 - 5821201 - 96621% - 16%
20111007 - 6011317 - 217831% - 36%
2012   1042 - 5987185 - 102217% - 17%

We can break it down further, as you know I will.

First, let's look at 12 personnel from under center.  This defines any time there is 1 RB and 2 TE on the field, regardless of where they are in the formation.  We do this because it is all the information the defense has when they send in personnel.  Formation is deployed AFTER personnel is declared, and therefore there must be a distinction between the two.

This does not count "22" personnel (2 RB, 2 TE) a running look that is very difficult to do successfully, but the 2009 Cowboys did great at it.


YearTotal Snaps12 Personnel Run 12 Personnel Pass
2008170 77 - 396 (5.14 per)93 - 460 (4.94 per)
2009193 91 - 373 (4.09)102 - 918 (9.00)
201015377 - 308  (4.00)76 - 463 (6.09)
2011224 98 - 420 (4.28)126 - 1055 (8.37)
2012   14365 - 251 (3.86)78 - 516 (6.61)

Remember, there are some personnel variables to consider.  2010 was the Kitna year and John Phillips was gone throughout with his ACL injury.  2012 was the year Martellus Bennett was gone altogether.  You can see how the success in 2010 and 2012 was poor, and that when you try 65 runs and get nowhere, you aren't going to keep running your head against the wall.  Bennett was a fine blocker and therefore his absence hurt the offense, even if you have no fantasy football regret for cutting him loose.

But, look at the run/pass balance in snaps.  It often favors the pass, but not by a huge margin.  It should hurt the defense in both ways and that keep the linebackers and safeties guessing.  If you can do that, your play has a much higher possibility of success.


Here are their attempts at 12 personnel in shotgun over the last 5 seasons:

YearTotal Snaps12 Personnel Run 12 Personnel Pass
2008312 - 8  (4 per play)29 - 137 (4.72)
2009127 9 - 34 (3.77)118 - 897 (7.6)
2010485 - 24 (4.8)43 - 171 (3.97)
2011939 - 52 (5.77)84 - 651 (7.75)
2012   421 - -1 (-1.00)41 - 256 (6.24)

As you can see, this is not a very large part of the offensive attack, so we should assume that "12" as base will not mean "12" in shotgun very often unless Gavin Escobar is everything that Bennett wasn't.  He will never be the blocker that Martellus was, so their hope is that he is the receiver that every team is looking for in this package.  

In the end, as long as Jason Garrett is this team's offensive architect - and regardless of who is actually calling the plays, we are led to believe that it still will follow the blueprints that have been installed back in 2007 by Garrett, we should assume that they will always be rotating personnel groupings every snap.    Therefore, how much does the "base offense" play?  33%?  50%?  It is very difficult to conceive it being higher than that.  If it did, why would you spend a premium pick on a 3rd WR if he is not going to play?

Now, they are going back to the future.  It might seem that in 2013 they are 4 seasons behind the Patriots, but this seems to have been Garrett's idea all along.  If nothing else, the drafting of Gavin Escobar to try a 3rd tight end in the 2nd round of the last 8 drafts proves they are stubborn and determined to get it right in 2013.  

We will see how Bill Callahan and Escobar help make all of this happen.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Bill Callahan Is Now Calling The Plays - And Yes, It Matters

The delivery of the news is "uniquely Jerry" where communication skills seem forever stuck in reverse, and complete with comedy ensuing.  Think about the true joy of being a principle member (Say, Bill Callahan or Jason Garrett) of a rather significant news story and surrounded by the leering press and to be asked about questions where you are not sure whether or not your own boss has spilled the beans without warning moments ago.  You are tip-toeing through a mine field and are careful not to step on the toes of colleagues who have been demoted or promoted and wish to handle things with honesty (assuming that is how you naturally roll), but realize you have to amend your normal sensibilities to comply with the ol' "Way Things Are At Valley Ranch as Long As Jerry Is Running The Show."

It surely should also be understood to all involved that Jason Garrett, the mostly-nuetered head coach of this operation, knew what he was getting into many years ago when he elected to stay in this situation out of some loyalty to either Jerry Jones, the Cowboys brand, or both, rather than to start with a clean slate in either Baltimore or Atlanta.  He was made the highest-paid assistant coach in the league and the head coach-in-waiting to stay in Dallas and work his magic further.  But, with that would come this incredibly odd working situation that he must navigate through, despite looking rather helpless and powerless when it comes to many basic decisions that are often given to a head coach.  For all we know, it is possible that Garrett knew this needed to happen and blessed it, but the fact that he still argues for keeping the discussion in-house, when his boss has already decided to make sure the microphones knew the information, further reduces any perception of power that Garrett may hold.

But, let's not bury the lead here.  Yes, the way information is made public is both frustrating and unconventional, but it is the information itself that truly matters.  If we weren't sure before yesterday who was the de facto head coach, then we haven't been paying attention.

The story itself is that after 6 years of interrupted control of the Cowboys offense, we are getting that fresh set of eyes that I petitioned for back in December and January:

Which now brings the conversation to the idea of play-calling and the coordination of the offense.  I think Jason Garrett is a bright offensive mind, but I also believe that he has had more than enough time to sort this offense better than he has.  You could make the case that he was sabotaged by a poor personnel offseason as it pertains to the offensive line, but 6 years is a long time. 
6 years for a play-caller and a QB to work together is a very rare luxury in the NFL, generally afforded to iconic offenses that are clearly not broken so there is no need to fix them.  This offense, on the other hand, is never confused for flawless, and looks more problematic every year, despite continuity at QB and near perfect health all season on the unit. 
This coordinator does not value the running game, and he never has.  In his 6 years running this offense, the team has never ranked higher than 15th in rushing attempts and has also become a team that almost never wins the battle at the line of scrimmage.  Physical play is not emphasized and therefore it is not received.  The Cowboys set a franchise low for rushing yards in a season in 2012 and instead put everything on the shoulders of their passing game and their QB.  When you consider the physical style of the offensive line in San Francisco, it in no way resembles what the Cowboys have built, but it demonstrates how you build a team that does not count on its Quarterback to accomplish everything.  The offensive lines in New Orleans or Green Bay do not scare anyone, but they seem to be happy to rely on their QB for everything.  If we have decided that Romo is not of the elite quality of Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees, then perhaps you cannot build your team like they do.  Perhaps, occasionally, you want to win a game with a physical brand of football.  But, Jason Garrett is not thinking that way.

Again, for those who are new to my thoughts on how offense works, a team doesn't run the ball because running is the only way to win (Emmitt getting 20 carries is usually the result of a Cowboys winning game-plan, not the root of it), it threatens to run the ball to make passing easier and blitzing harder.  A balanced offense is the most fundamentally efficient way for coaches to put the playmakers in advantageous positions on the field, rather than draped with coverage.  And if your playmakers are the beneficiaries of uncertainty in the defense of what is coming on this next play, then everyone wins.

If Garrett hasn't been able to exploit that, and if "12 Personnel" is the base offense, then perhaps there isn't a true fit with Garrett and the principles that are the whole point behind multiple tight ends to begin with.  12 Personnel, which we will elaborate on further very soon, is a grouping that is trying to make you pick your poison.  If you wish to keep base defense on the field, then 12 shreds you with mismatches of linebackers trying to run with tight ends.  If you switch to nickel or dime, then 12 destroys you with a running game that forces defensive backs to deal with much bigger run blockers.  You cannot "guess" correctly, because often 12 is based on how you decide to defend it with your personnel on defense.  There is almost no other grouping like this, as "11" is always going to draw nickel defense and "21" is always going to draw base (because teams don't mind linebackers on a true fullback).  But, "12" is that perfect combo - provided you have the tight ends to do it - where there is no right answer for the defense.

We do know that Bill Callahan has traditionally valued power running in his previous stops.  Oakland, in particular was a team that would balance things up pretty well, and sometimes err on the side of running too much.  However, we do wonder how all of this info balances with the narrative that Jerry has voiced for months now, that Tony Romo might be designing much of this offense, anyway.  So, will Callahan have the power to bully the gameplan to his liking? or is it Romo? or is it Garrett? or....

Anyway, back to the thoughts in January:

I am a big believer in the idea that Jason Garrett could use some help and a fresh set of eyes.  I don't think that he is great at always looking on top of every decision as he tries to handle play-calling and the multiple responsibilities of being a head coach and an offensive coordinator.  
So, if the changes at Valley Ranch mean that somebody new gets to try to make more sense of this offense, I am all for it.  I think it might be time for a new coach to have a chance to figure out how to blend Romo's ability with a running game and a more physical offensive line.  I am for that, and I am now wondering if it is going to happen.  
Change is good sometimes in the NFL.  Ramming your head against the same walls after coordinator and QB have been together since 2007 is too frustrating to go on.  I want to see what might happen if the Cowboys started getting the play in to Romo with enough time to comfortably get the snap off.  And to do so at a time where the defense cannot sit on the snap because of its proximity to :00.  
I'm just sure I don't want to see another year where the receiver looks confused on his hot route, Romo is yelling "kill, kill, kill!" with :02 left on the play-clock, and another record is set for lowest rushing yards. 
I am fine with trying something new. 
Many people are going to be citing statistics about 2012 that are just flat-out misleading.  Context means everything when you work with numbers, and since it is too complicated and time-consuming to apply context, most people will just google "total offense" for a year and assume all details cancel each-other out over a season.

But, in another study we did back in February that can be read here, we showed how numbers are empty when you are gaining them down 28-3:

I will concede that it is difficult to define "garbage time" sometimes.  Was it garbage time when the Cowboys were down 23-0 to the Giants at halftime?  Or, 28-3 to the Redskins at the half on Thanksgiving?  And if so, didn't the Cowboys almost win the Giants game and at least make the Redskins sweat a bit? 
I would say that arguing this, though, is missing the point of trying to identify the Cowboys offensive ability in 2012.
My point, would be this:  In 2012, the Cowboys' would spend all week designing a game plan that they thought would best work against their opponents.  Then, at game-time, they would find that their game plan was completely ineffective and scrap it.  This would happen at halftime sometimes, 3rd Quarter other times, and even sometimes well before halftime.  When they would scrap their game plan (a balanced attack with multiple personnel groupings and formations) and go exclusively to a 2-minute drill offense that was 100% shotgun and 100% 11 personnel, they would then find the ability to get yards and ultimately, points.  
The score in the game here is interesting, but not the trigger.  The trigger is that moment when Garrett and/or Romo says to the other, "this isn't working.  Let's do what we know works." 
And that happened over and over and over in 2012.  Especially at home.  The following is a look at the amount of time the Cowboys had the ball with the lead in their 8 home games.  The information is accurate and impossible to believe.

OpponentTime with the lead
Tampa Bay17:58
New York 1:08
New Orleans0:00

That is right.  36 minutes and 36 seconds the entire year.  This is a team that fell behind early almost every single home game.  Why?  Because their game-plan week after week was not working. 
Why?  I could offer 100 ideas.  But, the point is, they weren't working.  And, from there, when Romo and Garrett would take it and throw it in the trash, that is when the Cowboys were able to turn these games into competitive contests by going back to Shotgun-11 personnel.  Then, and only then, was this offense able to get anything done.  
Under center?  Rushing the ball?  Declaring run and getting a tough yard?  Under center and run play action and hit one over the top?  In all of these scenarios, 2012 was about as bad a year as Garrett has on record.

All this is being said without referencing the number of times in the 40 games as head coach where the Cowboys seemed to butcher a head coach decision.  Those issues with clock management, or challenge calls, or other high-leverage moments that seemed to add to Garrett's responsibilities in such a way where it all appeared to be too much for one guy to deal with.

Now, hypothetically, even though Jerry has told us all the reasons why Garrett should be calling plays in the past, this should allow further brain power and fresh perspective on what is usually 2 jobs that require every waking hour for 2 different smart football men.

Of course, the other, more cynical view is that now with 3 different former head coaches on the staff in Callahan, Rod Marinelli, and Derek Dooley (at the college level), along with Monte Kiffin, that the Cowboys are well equipped to replace Garrett in-season if they so choose, which is reminiscent of how he took over the duties at midseason in 2010 when Wade Phillips met a similar fate.

I was quite confused as to why this news item was so difficult to release, but in the end, I think it could be a great new way for the Cowboys offense to function.

Either way, I think 6 years is enough information to conclude that it would be difficult to argue that Garrett should have retained his authority in the offense.  A change has been long overdue.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Cat in my backyard

This unidentified large cat was prowling in my backyard.  So, hide your kids and hide your wife:

Cowboys Mailbag - June 3

It seems like a very poor idea to go 4 weeks between mailbags, but for some reason it happened.  In the meantime, I did game-film breakdowns of the 7 new Cowboys draft picks, and if you haven't read all of them, here are the links for each one while we proceed with your actual emails.

Just click on any name from above, and you will be taken directly to his profile and you will get the full breakdown of each player.  It is something I like to do far more than looking at guys in OTA's, because I have certainly learned over the years that there is no greater deceiver in this game than the abilities of a player in shorts and no contact.  Only when the bullets are truly flying will we know what these guys can do.  And that won't be revealed until September, unless we look backward to the games that they have already starred in.

Now, with that project done, it is time to move on to strategic studies of the squad as we review 2012 in depth and prepare for 2013 and the new things we will see this fall.  That will begin later this week with a long discussion about "12 Personnel" by the numbers in a few days.

But, for now, let's get some email discussions covered for today:


How did you like the Cowboys draft board going public again?  Are they serious?  2 times it happens in 4 drafts?  What is more Jerry Jones Cowboys than that?

Thanks, Devin.  Hopefully, by now, everyone has had a chance to study the great work that Blogging the Boys did late last week as they took pictures released by the Cowboys themselves of Jerry standing in front of his own draft board and piecing the entire board together.  It is almost something that seems like fiction - unless you realize they did this exact same thing back in April of 2010 when released photos of, you guessed it, Jerry Jones and Wade Phillips standing in front of their draft board in the war room.  

Now, understand that this is a big deal to the people that spend all year building these files on each player.  I am not sure what you or I can do with this information, but when the NFL has 32 teams that are running fully classified intelligence departments so that they can outwit each-other in pursuit of the best 53 players each team can assemble, it becomes a rather large obstacle if the competition knows your secrets, but you don't know theirs.

Think about the last week of camp when teams are shuffling and trying to fill out their lineups and a team wants to trade with the Cowboys a player they would otherwise cut.  Now, they know if the Cowboys really liked the player on draft day and can demand a higher price from Dallas than from another team because they have seen the information.  Again, this isn't the biggest issue ever, but if a trade costs you a 6th rounder, instead of a 7th rounder because of this act of carelessness and silliness, then it is too much.

Someone asked me this week what we are missing here.  As in, there is no way this "accidentally" happens twice in 4 drafts when we are hard pressed to find any of the other 31 teams making this same mistake even once.  His premise was that maybe Jerry is doing this on purpose.  As in, Jerry wants to prove that he followed his board and had a great draft as he nailed 3 2nd round picks.  If someone had told me that the Cowboys were going to trade back and get 3 2nd rounders in this draft, I would have said that is a great idea and that this is how you build your roster quickly and effectively.  But, is public validation really his goal these days?  He almost seems like he feels quite the opposite; that it is his team and he will do whatever he wants.

Another person asked me if this is part of his feud with his scouts.  It is clear that some in the scouting department are tired of working for 12 months to stack the players as they firmly believe, only to be over-ruled at the alter by a new assistant coach, an old friend of Jerry's, or Jerry himself.  Now, they seem to be much more likely to speak up (off the record) and defend the idea that the #5 pick on their entire board fell right to them at #18 and they still wouldn't take him.  When that is the case, you can see the scouts feel that they are filling out their reports with thorough dedication for no reason whatsoever.  

In the end, I guess I have no idea how this could have happened twice.  Could the website staff be that unaware of the pictures they are making public have important proprietary information that should be protected for the betterment of the organization?  If you don't think this is a big deal, ask someone in the personnel department and watch their pulse race.  I also have no idea what the ramifications are other than people all over the league now examining the Cowboys thinking on each player and running stories like, "Do the Cowboys think we had a good draft?"  By the way, those stories are everywhere because it is rather uncommon for this to happen - let alone, twice.

But, to answer Devin's question: What is more Jerry Jones-Cowboys than that?  Sadly, nothing.


How much cap room do we have now in 2013 and what are we planning to do with it?

Basically, according to the guys at, the Cowboys presently sit at almost $10m under the cap in 2013 with the Marcus Spears money now moved (since we are after June 1).  

Once you get the rookies squared away and signed - which could be done for half of that amount or less, than there is actually enough money to get one more significant piece of business done.  However, to those who dream of going to get another veteran player on the street who can really help this thing this season, we must remind you that there are some significant players coming due very soon who are going to need to get paid a lot of money.  The most imposing bills that are coming quickly will be the Dez Bryant and Tyron Smith extensions, although those can be put off for at least 1 more season.  

I don't know if you have thought those 2 deals out, but trust me, both of them will be staggering, unless something unforeseen happens.  Dez is appearing to be nearing superstar status and Tyron will be a UFA left tackle at the age of 24 who has started every game of his career and has played very well.  I don't think you need to be convinced the going rate for those types of players.  

Not on the same level of "insane cash" will be DeMarco Murray (most likely) and Sean Lee who is finishing his rookie contract for $600k this fall.  And he is the one who most expect will have a deal before training camp in August.

I will grant you that it would first be nice to see that Lee can play 16 games in a season with his style and his body, given his inability to make it through a year in Dallas so far and frankly, less than perfect health at Penn State, too.  But, his quality and his overall total package is that of a player that the Cowboys want right in the center of their plans through his prime.  

So, what would it cost to get Lee done for the next 5 or 6 years if that deal is being worked on right now?

Well, there are a few easy comparable from that same 2010 draft that netted the Cowboys Sean Lee.  At pick #47, Arizona took Daryl Washington from TCU to play linebacker out in the desert.  And, before the 2012 season, they signed Washington to a 6-year, $32 million extension that included a bonus of $5 million up front and another bonus of $10 million after 2013 that is not guaranteed, but virtually guaranteed (barring another suspension).

Then, a player that lined up next to Sean Lee at Penn State, but slid to #91 was San Francisco's Navarro Bowman.  He is also noted as another 1st round grade by the Cowboys if you go back to that leaked board from above, and has played right to the Pro Bowl.  Bowman also signed a deal before the 2012 season that dwarfed the Washington deal in guaranteed money, when he signed a 7-year, $46.3 million deal - with over $25m guaranteed.

Why is there such a difference in those two deals?  I am not positive, other than Bowman had already broken out before he signed and that Washington could have made more if he hadn't signed before his 2012 season where he was spectacular.  

So, does Sean Lee fit between those two?  That isn't actually the question.  The question is that if he put up a big 2013, how much would he make on the open market (which he would likely never get to as the Cowboys still have the protection of the franchise tag).  But, with all of the deals on the horizon for this new generation of young players, they would be wise to get Lee done to a cap friendly deal as soon as they can so they can put a little of this surplus in 2013 to work for them against the future.

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