Wednesday, January 29, 2014

2014 Cowboys Draft Weekly Notebook - Episode #2

I realize this is a slight departure from strict draft previewing and such activities, but surely the coaching developments at Valley Ranch all connect and relate to what we are attempting to do here in preparation for May.  That said, the Cowboys bringing in Scott Linehan to assist in the most confusing spiderweb of offensive coaches and philosophies in the NFL continues to take shape.  Meanwhile, of greater headlines and lesser impact, Rod Marinelli takes over as the defensive coordinator at the present, something this blog has been suggesting he was already doing.  And perhaps the most "Jerry" move of them all, Monte Kiffin and Bill Callahan appear to be still employed with the Cowboys and will continue to serve in some capacity that is certainly vague, which confounds all involved.

Now, rather than spending too much of this column with cynicism on why the Cowboys are hopelessly tangled in agendas, pride, and an overall refusal to organize in a proper and accepted manner in this profession that most resembles the military power structure in the majority of organizations, let's look at why this particular move of Linehan joining Garrett to attempt to sort out the offensive issues with play-calling, tactics, and utilizing the assets in the best possible ways (for instance, it is clear that the entire Gavin Escobar episode is a real chaffing issue).

Linehan is a coach who has his plusses and minuses of course.  Every coach - especially those who are easily available at this time of year - are not going to have such a glowing resume that we run to his arms in January and he comes in and fixes everything.  Rob Ryan had a list of doubters who said he had never won anything.  Monte Kiffin's doubts were based on his last several years of work.  Bill Callahan still had to answer for Super Bowl 37 and his very odd relation ship with players.  Rod Marinelli coached a team that went 0-16.  The list goes on and on.

Well, in Linehan's case, my initial concerns are based completely on my over-riding issues with the offense.  I have long thought that the Cowboys offense is too finesse and does not value the ability to (at times) bully the defense into submission with clock-controlling, demoralizing, and punishing football that shows the opponent that this is going to be a very long day.  I think that it seldom hurts to defend against the Cowboys and that they run only as an afterthought.

Now, I do not believe in the wishbone, the veer, or any ridiculous running to extreme that is sure to anger any advanced metrics folks.  In fact, I consider myself one of them.  But, we cannot lose sight of the fact that the sport of football is one of disposition and attitude at its core.  You cannot watch the Seahawks and 49ers take over the NFC with this bully-football and ignore it.  There has to be some recognition that physicality is still alive and well in the NFL and it is still a blocking and tackling league.

I am sorry, but dropping back into shotgun and pass protection play after play is like a boxer who is never allowed to attack.  He must simply accept punishment as an offensive lineman and never dish it out.  I don't like that and I never have.  I also don't believe that many great coaches believe in it either.  Yes, this is a passing league and the numbers have never been higher.  So, why then, did Seattle and San Francisco take over the conference without a QB who can throw for 200 yards on a regular basis?

Smash-Mouth-Football.  Offensively and Defensively.  They are going to make you cry.

Can the Cowboys mimic this?

Or should they do just the opposite?

Here is the run/pass balance for the last 5 season for Scott Linehan in Detroit, Jason Garrett in Dallas, and the NFL average for playoff teams.  We should obviously dig deeper on this topic, but here are just broad, general numbers based on the question, does this team run the ball?

Well, by rankings, many of them between 30th-32nd in the league, Linehan might be one of the few NFL coaches that values the run less than even Garrett.  Now, there, of course, are personnel considerations and you can see how Reggie Bush being brought into Detroit affected their conviction level substantially, but overall, you can see that these guys feel like the running game is an overall nuisance as it pertains to their ideal view of football.

Year Linehan - Det Garrett - Dal NFL Playoff Avg
2009 39.4% Run 42.7% Run 44.3% Run
2010 38.0% Run 41.4% Run 43.9% Run
2011 33.6% Run 40.1% Run 43.5% Run
2012 33.7% Run 33.8% Run 45.2% Run
2013 40.4% Run 35.1% Run 44.3% Run

My dreams of smash-mouth football with Travis Frederick, Tyron Smith, and even Doug Free capable of dishing out running game punishment looks unlikely, to be honest.  

On the other hand, if you consider the lack of creativity and insistence on getting the ball to Dez Bryant, we can look on the bright side and imagine Linehan bringing all of his tricks on how to use Megatron and his mates to create match ups around the field and get his monster the ball at any and all times.

Also, unlike Callahan, there is reason to believe that Garrett and Linehan consider themselves friends and share agendas and loyalty and even football philosophy.  So, from that standpoint, I can sell this idea to myself quite easily.

But, overall, if you, like me, consider the Cowboys finesse approach to offense to be one of the consistent weaknesses that you would like addressed, just know that Linehan wants to pass even more than Garrett and did not really harness Matthew Stafford's impulse throws very well.


As for fall-out from the Senior Bowl week and how it effects the Cowboys look at where they will head with that 1st Round pick, we surely were properly introduced to the first ideal target of their top pick.

In talking with NFL people yesterday, including CBS' Pat Kirwan, most agree that in the post Ratliff-Hatcher world of the Kiffin/Marinelli/Pete Caroll defense the Cowboys desire to run, their main issue is a proper 3-technique who can excel, penetrate, and cause issues upfield in a Warren Sapp mode and fill the spot for an extended period of time.

That is why just about everyone I have talked to after Mobile seem to agree that of those candidates at the Senior Bowl - and keep in mind most of the 1st round does not go to the Senior Bowl - has put the Cowboys as a likely destination for Aaron Donald from Pitt.  He is a 6'1, 288 Defensive Tackle who won the Outland Trophy and appears to be tailor made for that position on the field in this particular scheme.  I don't know what you consider a productive college career, but I might argue 28.5 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, and 4 forced fumbles is a fine college career.  Only with Donald, that was just his 2013 season.  

That is right, 28.5 TFLs and 11 sacks in 13 games!  39.5 explosives in 13 games?  In a major conference?  Where do I sign and how can he actually get to the Cowboys at 16/17?

His lone wart might be his size, but I bet he can get to 300 or 305 if you want to put him up there, but as we are seeing with Arizona State's Will Sutton, gaining weight is not always something you want to happen.  

Check out all of his work at draft's site and his player page there.  It is great to watch him play in space and he played some real strong opponents, too.  

Here is his game against Florida State to start with:

And then here he is against Georgia Tech:

He wears 97 and you can see his ability to deal with double teams and penetrate and generally cause havoc in the backfield.  He answered the questions I had for him with great ease on his film.

It is early, but with Louis Nix, Rashede Hageman, Timmy Jernigan, and Sutton also on many 1st round lists for defensive tackle, Donald laid down quite a claim to be that primary target as we leave January and head for combine month.

But, we all know our opinions change plenty between now and May 8.  

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Bag of Pucks - Jan 28 - Stars Clawing Back

One of the great things about writing about a team is that you can capture your feelings at a particular moment and remember how you felt during the journey - not just the simple narrative that your mind creates at the end to help you reconcile the events along the way.

That is also one of the horrible things about writing.  Because that means that you said things that seemed true and defendable at the time but as circumstances changed, you were unable to fully support your own views later, and kind of wished they vanished when they stopped being what you presently believe.

Take the 2014 Stars.

Ask me about them on New Year's Eve at the stroke of midnight and my optimism is overflowing.  This team just beat the mighty Kings (again) and despite injuries and issues and no power play to speak of, they appeared to be on the fast track to the playoffs with youth and optimism spilling over onto everything.  They had a long ways to go, but the sky was the limit.

Then, January hit.  Boy, did it hit.  Like right between the eyes, and the losses started mounting.  Montreal, Detroit, the Islanders, New Jersey, the Rangers, the Islanders again, the Bruins.  It was never going to stop.  At Minnesota and then maybe the low moment of the season in Nashville where things just were getting worse and worse.  That, now looking back, might have been where things bottomed out.  At least for that particular moment 8 nights back.

Because now, after 4 games at home where the Stars have looked like a power again, we are right back where they started after that 10 game slide from Hades.  Did the slide take them out of a realistic playoff position?  In truth, you would have to say most likely, because the pace they have to maintain the rest of the way argues that they are out of mulligans on the 11th hole and now have to play their own ball, mistake free for the rest of the round.

But, a 4-game home stand where they outscore their opponents 17-5, and out-Corsi the same opponents by 68 is just stunning.  Stunning in that they were all reasonable opponents that were in form and the Stars did a great job of smothering Minnesota, Toronto, Pittsburgh, and then horribly out-played but did not get a result against the Avalanche.

The Colorado result doesn't feel very good, but I am pretty sure that if you continue to out-shoot opponents 44-21, you will do very well in the big scheme.  They are playing great hockey again, and behold, the Power Play exists!

Since January 14th, the Stars lead the NHL in Power Play goals with 10 and Power Play Percentage finds them running 2nd to New Jersey.  Now, a 14-day trend isn't much, but just when we have pondered how the Stars were being dealt with tactically by their opponents, we see the only counter punch that can be counted on consistently - special teams.  Back 10 days ago, I detailed the issues with the team's slump that you can read here, but know that it is all equalizing back into place with the ability to stick a sword in your opponent with a power play goal.

So, what have I seen that suggests this meaningful improvement can sustain?

Well, first, it is really difficult for anyone who watches this team to ignore the clear impact that is being made by Cody Eakin with Antoine Roussel and Ryan Garbutt.  This is what development in your organization is all about.  I am not sure any of them had huge regard, although Eakin has always been a guy that has stood out when you watch him nightly.  Garbutt and Roussel are the identity of this roster to me.  Speed and tenacity is what they both have and they also are characterized with that wonderful trait of playing like it is their last game if they don't play hard enough.  Every roster needs those guys and the Stars have them with Eakin on a line that pesters Sidney Crosby and also generates chances on a regular basis.  They are an ideal #3 line on a winner and when this thing fully develops, I can see that combination being great in the playoffs.

Next, I really believe the insertion of Aaron Rome stabilizes the blue-line a bit.  Now, that is crazy to consider, because Aaron Rome is really not the type of player your roster should depend upon.  In fact, he is a good soldier who is at risk of being over-exposed if you lean too heavily on him.  Yet, on this team, with the exception of Brenden Dillon, he is a proper stay-at-home option who allows someone like Sergei Gonchar to do his thing without the worst possible scenario leading to trouble on defense.  The truth remains that this defense group has parts that are talented but poorly fit together and with all of the left shots and smallish-types can only be so good.  I really wish there was a place for Kevin Connauton in this group, but if I have to choose between Rome's skill set and Connauton's, it really isn't difficult for me.

It seems that the young promising Connauton is a proper understudy for Alex Goligoski, Trevor Daley, or Gonchar.  And if he replaces one of them, great.  But, I can't fit him into the lineup with them or we have 4 skating, puck movers and nobody clearing the crease with Dillon and perhaps even Jordie Benn.

It is clear that this group still needs massive renovations, but for now, Rome in the lineup is having clear effects on other players.

Beyond that, the uptick of Sergei Gonchar, Erik Cole, and the effects of moving Shawn Horcoff back to center is clear and as they head to the Olympic break, everything that is wrong is starting to turn around.

The Stars have a very talented duo with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin and the show they put on in the last several games has been captivating to say the least.  But, having a few fine players is not the key to winning.  Rather, building a sustainable roster that has ability regardless of which 5 go over the boards in the roles that they are given is what allows you to over take good teams and creep back into the mix.

I hope it is not too late for 2014 and maybe this run is a sign of what is to come.  But, if January has taught us anything, it is that we have no idea what is around the next turn.

And now, a few emails:

I just don't see this Alex Goligoski situation ending like we all hope it does.  He is just a mess back there and it appears to get worse the more pressure he puts on himself.  Talk me out of it.  
I could do a mailbag every week with just Alex Goligoski questions if I wanted to, but who would want to?  Don't look now, but Goligoski has 7 points in the last 4 games, so using that arbitrary sample sizes, he has more points than any player in the NHL over the last 4 games besides Jamie Benn and Kyle Okposo who each have 8.  And yet, watch a game at the American Airlines Center, and you cannot debate that 1) he melts down way too often and 2) he is the default punching bag for anyone who cares to yell at the home team for not getting it done.

I have said this several times, but let me say it again; he is the Stars defenseman with the highest ceiling and can do things that the others cannot.  He also has been overexposed and not handled with an ideal situation including a partner who would allow him to flourish.  If the Stars had a well built blue-line and he had a partner like Brooks Orpik (as Kris Letang enjoys), you wouldn't believe how great he might be.  But, he doesn't.  He has different partners all of the time and none of them seem to contrast his styles very well.  So, he steps up on a play to do what he does best and there is a problem behind him.  He will never be a great player behind his own goal-line, but that doesn't set him apart from many guys with his skills.

Nobody is happy with the issues in his own end.  But, I cannot think of a more silly solution than dumping him out with the trash.  This is what pro sports is all about.  Salvaging guys and finding a proper place to put them.  That is why they must find a respectable partner who is the stay-at-home guy that they can match him up with and move forward.  They need more help, but getting rid of your limited talent on the blue-line will only make the situation worse.  Sorry.  I keep figuring this thing out and I am convinced it is up to Jim Nill to find the solution, not demanding Goligoski becomes Derian Hatcher.
Shoot straight, Sturm.  Tell me what the Stars' chances are at the post-season.  Guess!
I am horrible at this game, but let's look.  Dallas has 56 points in 53 games which puts them on a pace for 87 points.  The last time we played a full season, Los Angeles was the 8 seed on 95 points.  Minnesota is the current 8 seed and they are on pace for 94 points.

So, given that, the Stars have to play on a 107-point pace for the final 29 games, which is usually a Top 3 pace in the entire league.   They would need 19 wins in the final 29 games to get to 94, and that might be enough, but also still might not be.  They have played 27 home games and 26 road games so far, so that leaves 15 of the final 29 on the road.

6 more games until the Olympic break and then 23 on the other side.  Can they do it?  Sure!  Would I have the slightest clue on whether they will?  I would likely not bet on it.  They are building, but the structure might not be ready for April of 2014.

I hope I am wrong.  And maybe, we can also hope the trade deadline will do them some favors.  Right?

A wise man once said that "hope is not a strategy."

Monday, January 27, 2014

Watching Super Bowl 28 - 20 years later

Last year, for the 20th anniversary of the Cowboys 1992 Super Bowl appearance in Pasadena in Jan 1993, I wanted to pop in the DVDs - that I have with the expressed written consent of the NFL and the Dallas Cowboys - and view Super Bowl 27 again.  Linked is my running diary of the experience.

Well, we all appeared to have such a great time doing that, so, let's do it again.  This week is the 20th anniversary of the Cowboys 1993 Super Bowl appearance in Atlanta in Jan 1994.  So, here are the DVDs again, and here is my running diary of Super Bowl 28.  Enjoy.


Offensive starters are introduced and run out of the giant Cowboys helmet.  The Cowboys are wearing white and range from Erik Williams sprinting out of the helmet to Michael Irvin just putting his arm in the air and walking out in that Michael Irvin way of his.  It ends with Troy Aikman and Jimmy Johnson and the special teams guys tearing out of there like they were covering a very crucial kick.

The Bills of course are trying not to lose their 4th straight Super Bowl.  It had almost reached comical proportions over the years from 1990-1993 where each season was great and then ended the same maddening way.  Marv Levy looks like he would love to avoid losing yet another one, but in some ways appears aware of how this is likely going to end.

Here is our extremely tricked-up national anthem featuring 7-time grammy award winner Natalie Cole with the some Atlanta choir or other that appears to be pretty pleased to be on the field.  There is no way the cynics that just want the anthem to be sung on its normal merits and arrangements enjoyed the license that was taken there.  

Now, the coin toss with Eddie Murray, Bill Bates, Jim Jeffcoat, Ken Norton, Kevin Gogan, and Michael Irvin.  Buffalo has Jim Kelly, Kent Hull, Andre Reed, Steve Tasker, Mark Kelso, and maybe someone else I missed.  And, of course, flipping for us will be 25th anniversary MVP of SB 3, Joe Namath.  Captain Bill Bates will call it in the air, he calls tails, and tails it is.  He starts screaming that "we want it, we want the ball!"  Very excited for a coin flip.  Steve Tasker had said they hoped they lose the flip because he can't wait to cover the first kick and get a tackle, so he gets his wish.

One other pre game note worth noting that had not occurred to me until viewing this again, Emmitt Smith had on his earring before the game for the anthem, but right before kickoff, you can spot an equipment guy actually removing his earring, so we can only assume the key objective was to be seen wearing said diamond earring by the tv cameras during the anthem.  Weird.  

Dick Enberg on the call, and he uses the moments before the opening kick to alert us to the Super Bowl oddity that this will feature a Super Bowl with 2 kickers from Canada, Steve Christie and Eddie Murray, so there you go.  

1st Quarter:

Kevin Williams will return the kickoff all the way out over midfield as Tasker did not keep his word and missed on a tackle attempt and the Cowboys nearly broke it all the way.  Dallas starts its first drive at the Buffalo 48.

First play of the first possession is the dig to Michael Irvin out of 21 Personnel (which is pretty much all they will run) and they gain a quick 20.  Bruce Smith crunches Emmitt on a run left behind Mark Tuinei.  3rd and 6 is an incomplete pass to Kevin Williams on a out right and maybe a missed pass by Aikman forces a field goal.  It looked like Aikman missed an uncovered Alvin Harper as the safety busted his coverage.  Murray nails the field goal, and Dallas leads 3-0 with 12:41 to go.

Buffalo gets the kick return out to the 21 where they start their first possession.  2nd and 9 is a cross to Andre Reed for 12 yards and a first down and he is popped by James Washington.  They discuss their 4-5 defense which employs Darren Woodson as a linebacker.  Thurman Thomas gains 24 on a bit of a screen pass.  Then, Kenneth Davis of TCU and Temple, Texas gets some work after a strong Super Bowl 27.  Don Beebe is nailed by Thomas Everett over the middle on an incomplete pass, setting up 3rd and 7 and a first down pass is dropped by Bill Brooks.  Poor job by Brooks and Steve Christie for a Super Bowl record long field goal 54-yarder which is good.  We are locked up at 3-3, with 10:19 left in 1st.

Next kickoff is a touchback and Dallas starts their 2nd possession at the 20.   Emmitt with a middle run is met again by big Bruce Smith after Smith tosses Tuinei aside.  3rd and 1 is converted, but a hold to John Gesek brings it back and it will now be 3rd and 11.  Gesek is the 3rd center of the season after injuries took Mark Stepnoski and Frank Cornish out.  3rd and long is a disaster, too, as Aikman's foot is stepped on by Gesek again and the punt team must come on.  And Steve Tasker almost got home to block another punt (like he did in SB 27) but Woodson got away with a hold.  

Buffalo with the ball at the 41 starts with a shovel pass to Thurman Thomas that was then fumbled to Dallas on the first snap.  After 9 giveaways last year, James Washington strips Thomas and Woodson recovers.  Dallas ball at midfield.  

Bob Trumpy shows us the graphic to demonstrate that the 4 worst turnover games in the history of the Super Bowl are all AFC teams and then we wonder why they do so poorly in this game.  A run for Emmitt and then a pass to Emmitt for a first down.  Play action dart from Aikman to Alvin Harper on another dig with great protection down to the 15.  Reverse to Kevin Williams with big Nate Newton out on the right for 5 yards and the Cowboys are down in Touchdown range.  3rd and 5 is a draw play to Emmitt and he is corralled down short by Darryl Talley and it is field goal time again.  6-3, Cowboys, with 3:55 to play and Thurman breathes a sigh of relief.  

On Buffalo's next possession, Trumpy says the Cowboys front 4 gets off blocks faster than any defensive line he has ever seen.  Ever!  3rd down catch by Pete Metzelaars for a first down.  Kelly is now finding a rhythm with the K-gun hurry up, but Bill Brooks drops another one with Larry Brown on his back.  Kelly is angry and the Bills must punt.  Dave Thomas for the Cowboys rolls up on the punter and gives the Bills a free 1st Down on the penalty and Jimmy is not pleased.  Kelly then finds Beebe at the Dallas 43 on Larry Brown.  Jim Jeffcoat with a giant TFL against Thurman Thomas and the counter does not work against Dallas.  Middle pass to Andre Reed to the 34 ends the 1st Quarter and he is hurt as he gets popped by James Washington.  

2nd Quarter:

Reed is limping so Russell Copeland is replacing him on a 3rd and 1.  Kenneth Davis had to make Ken Norton miss to get the yard, because he was dead if Norton gets his man.  The tv cameras show Norton's dad in the crowd rocking a White Sox hat, and he is watching his son play without invitation as Enberg tells us about their family feud.  Awkward.  No huddle again and Davis with another run that eats up plenty of yardage down to the 18.  Another conversion on 3rd down to the 5 with a quick out to Beebe.  On the very next play, Thurman makes a man miss nicely (Leon Lett) and walks in for a touchdown for the Bills and the rarest of leads.  80 yards on 17 plays with the help on the punt penalty.  12:26 to go in the half, Buffalo 10, Dallas 6.  What a move by Thomas.

Dallas has the ball back and we have play-action with the DIG behind it for Irvin.  This play is so easy and routine for Dallas over and over again.  First down.  Next play is Emmitt in the middle for 13 yards with almost nobody touching him.  Trumpy points out that Emmitt will only carry the ball in his left hand.   Aikman scrambles despite a concussion last week, and is hit hard by Cornelius Bennett.  Trumpy then indicates that Aikman told him that he is not sleeping well and cannot function since his concussion in the 49ers championship game but has not told anyone from the team because he wants to play.  Bizarre audio by today's standards.  Next play is a near interception as Henry Jones almost picks off a pass to Irvin.  Punt time for the Cowboys.  The punt is downed at the 1 by Matt Vanderbeek.  

Buffalo must start at their 1 after Russell Copeland fell asleep on the punt return as the ball bounced at the 14.  But Kelly and Reed get them out of the mess with a quick 19 yarder.  Here the NBC guys start pointing out how little effect Charles Haley has had and that he has a bulging disc that requires surgery when this game is over.  Kelly looks in control and is driving them down the field with calm and composure.  Long shot down field to the goal-line misses Beebe.  But, the pass is too far and a real missed opportunity for the Bills.  3rd and long for Buffalo has Kelly throw one up against 7 defensive backs and 8 men in coverage and it is nearly picked off, but the INT is dropped by the Cowboys and Kevin Smith.  Punt for the Bills and of course, Steve Tasker of Northwestern downs it at the 1.  He really is amazing on special teams.  6:15 to go in the half.

So, now, Dallas starts it at the 1.  Slant to Irvin to the 15 gets things rolling for a first down.  Bruce Smith just about gets to Aikman again as Tuinei barely avoids disaster.  Play action in the flat to Moose Johnston converts another first down.  Then, a 3rd and 2 to Jay Novacek moves the chains with a real physical play.  Aikman 12-15 as he hits Emmitt for a 3rd down conversion again.  Aikman can hurt you in many ways.  Jinx.  Next play, Aikman throws a deeper pass and Nate Odomes is there on an under thrown pass to Alvin Harper.  Odomes is again the beneficiary of Bruce Smith getting around Tuinei again.

Buffalo ball with about a minute to go and the ball at midfield, so they hurry to Thomas for 12 yards inside the 40 with 0:44 to go.  Halftime is promoted and the Rockin Country Sunday is straight ahead.  Oh, boy!

Andre Reed is open at the 12 and beats coverage but stays in bounds, so Buffalo must use timeout #2 with 0:27 and a 1st down.  Kelly is 17-23-123 yards today and has 0 interceptions in the post-season.  3rd and 7 is a safe shovel pass to Thurman, and Buffalo is just happy to get another field goal and have a halftime lead.  

Christie's kick is good.  Buffalo 13, Dallas 6 at the half.


Trumpy points out that Kelly is 12-12 under 10 yards and that the Bills are showing all sorts of patience.  Also, working from a lead position in the 2nd half is a rare treat for them.  Total yards are 216-170, Buffalo.  The Bills are also all over the time of possession and total snaps with the hurry-up offense.

3rd Quarter:

Cowboys CB Kevin Smith is hurt on the opening kickoff return for Buffalo but seems like he could possibly return.  Dave Thomas takes over for Smith, but only for a moment.

The Bills take the kickoff and begin to build a possession with a conversion to Bill Brooks.  But, on a 1st Down carry, Leon Lett strips Thurman Thomas and James Washington executes the scoop and score for 46 yards and the touchdown.  Washington has been annoyed to not start recently, but this Super Bowl has been all about his work.  Meanwhile, this is the 2nd crucial fumble for Thomas in this game as Lett destroyed Kent Hull and then Washington with a fantastic runback puts the Cowboys tied after that difficult 1st half.  Cowboys 13, Bills 13.  

On the next possession, Charles Haley takes over on a 3rd Down and finally shows his presence and joins Jeffcoat at the QB for a big team sack and a forced punt.  

Dallas gets the ball as Thurman Thomas is featured frequently on the sideline shaking his head and mentally beating himself up.  Emmitt starts taking over this drive with several nice runs and then Enberg tells the story of Emmitt's dad playing semi-pro ball in his mid 40s.  Jimmy has unleashed 22 on a huge ground and pound drive here.  Darryl Talley checks out with a hurt shoulder and Emmitt took the ball on 6 straight carries right down the field.  Then, a screen to Moose where Bruce Smith looks hurt and then they give the ball to Emmitt again.  This time, he breaks a tackle behind the line by Jeff Wright and runs 15 yards behind a pulling Nate Newton for a Touchdown.  Total domination by the OL and Emmitt Smith and another hurt Bills defender with Phil Hansen being run over by Kevin Gogan and Erik Williams.  Cowboys jump right on Buffalo to start the 2nd half and the Cowboys are up 20-13 within 6 minutes.

Buffalo just looks demoralized on the bench with players limping and the game going in the wrong direction fast.  And then, the Bills roll out the quick screen to Kenneth Davis that is destroyed by Tony Tolbert.  Thurman Thomas is on the bench looking defeated.  3rd and long is a direct snap to Davis and he gained the yardage to move the chains and then the Bills start mounting a drive.  If they just hang on to the ball... Davis tries to reverse field on a ground and the superior speed of the Cowboys front is absurd.  3rd down and the Cowboys go with 4 DL/7 DB with Bill Bates and Woodson as LBs.  The rush gets there and Davis is stopped short.  Punt time for Buffalo.  6:01 to go in the quarter.

Dallas takes over at the 25.  14 yards on the out to Irvin for a first down.  But, a busted run and a few errant passes from Aikman on short plays stalls the drive.  John Jett, who was selling copiers last year, is on to punt.  Again, Copeland lets the ball bounce and gives up fine field position again for no discernible reason.

Kelly and Buffalo take over and speaking of confusing, another short screen is blown up, this time Darren Woodson destroys the play.  Butch Davis smiles.  Word is that cramps are keeping Thurman Thomas on the sideline and that joke wrote itself.  Another direct snap to Davis is fumbled and here comes the punt team again.  Yikes.  Kind of like the block thrown by Ken Norton on Carwell Gardner.  Earholed.  

No Emmitt Smith in this drive as they are looking at his back and Lincoln Coleman with a carry from the former garbage man.  3rd and long and Aikman is under pressure and throws it behind Novacek.  Both offenses are now officially out of sorts.  Michael Jordan is shown in the crowd in a nice red suit.

Buffalo's next effort included a near interception as Kevin Smith tried to jump a route to Andre Reed. And with Thurman still on the bench, the 3rd Quarter expires.  

4th Quarter:

And on the first play of the 4th Quarter, there is your dagger.  James Washington jumps the route in the middle to Beebe and the man who wears Lester Hayes' 37 turns the ball over again.  Huge day for Washington and surely enough for the MVP, right?  I kid.  

The Cowboys start the drive at the Bills 35, and, Emmitt takes over.  On the ground and then through the air.  Enberg points out the fun fact that this Georgia Dome is where Emory Smith won the Peach Bowl MVP recently, too.  They love the Georgia Dome.  Aikman takes a sack by running out of bounds rather than risk a throw at this point and has gone into win mode.  3rd and 8 and the Bills want a blitz and here Aikman reads it wonderfully and finds Harper out wide for an easy 1st Down.  Well done.  Emmitt inside the 5 with a few carries, and then, on 3rd and goal, Emmitt down to the goal-line.  4th and Goal?  Pitch left and Smith gets in for the Touchdown.  It made you nervous for a moment to see a play that goes laterally to the line, but it was well executed and outflanked Buffalo who were worried about the middle dive.   Cowboys 27, Bills 13.  9:50 to play.

Every Buffalo turnover has been cashed in with Field Goal, Touchdown, Touchdown.  

The Bills are now in desperation mode with Kelly scrambling and then Jimmie Jones takes over a drive with a blown up run play and then a beautiful cave in sack of Kelly.  Time for a Buffalo punt and then only thing left with 7:00 is the academics of running it out.  

Will Emmitt fumble?  Well, in 340 touches, he fumbled one time.  So, not bloody likely.  Enberg and Trumpy now try to wrap their heads around a team losing in the final championship game of a sport 4 straight years.  It is impossible.  And yet it is happening.  

During a Cowboys timeout, we see Jason Garrett, Bernie Kosar, and Jimmy Johnson offering Troy Aikman thoughts on life.  Out of the timeout, the Cowboys go for the bomb to Irvin and just miss.  And, then in the very next play they go again deep to Harper and connect to the 1 yard line.  

Then, the discussion turns to 3 Rings - Jimmy's boat - and then, the talk of how surely a dynasty is happening and that Jimmy and Jerry have many years ahead to take over the league.  Oh my.  

Despite trying to punch it in from the 1, the Cowboys settle for Eddie Murray's 3rd Field Goal and take a 30-13 lead with less than 3 minutes to go.  The Bill Bates story about his knee rehab, triplets, and how Tuinei, Jeffcoat, and Bates are the only 3 left from the Landry years.  

One last desperation drive for Buffalo allows us to ponder Jerry Jones' new world of free agency where he will surely be active.  Jim Jeffcoat just about ends Jim Kelly's life with a blindside hit as Leon Lett and Jimmie Jones guard the Gatorade bucket.  
The actual execution of the Gatorade dump was poorly done as they end up just throwing the jug at Johnson's head and nearly knock him out.  On the field, Tony Tolbert hammers Kelly again and on the sideline, Emmitt plays with Johnson's hair.  

Don Beebe thought he was making a great decision to run out of bounds, but did so on 4th Down to turn the ball over and that gives Bernie Kosar a Super Bowl snap!

As time expires, Aikman is taken down by the cameramen.  It is all so bizarre.

Cowboys 30, Bills 13

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Morning After: NFC Championship Game Edition

With the hype and buildup before games like this, we seldom have a delivery of what we all desire.  The idea that two teams - in this case, both division rivals that are built in largely similar fashions - would slug it out at the expense of each other's well-being for 3 hours of nationally televised entertainment is often too much to expect on the big stages.  The hype outweighs the reality.

However, quite clearly to me, on this occasion, both Seattle and San Francisco left it completely on the field in a classic game that won't be forgotten by its witnesses anytime soon.  I know that the human body could not sustain the punishment of my proposal, but if they wanted to switch these to a Best of 7 series between the two teams, I would be all for it.

In the end, Seattle survived.  Barely.  It was the ability to turn the ball over 3 times in the final 15 minutes that helped the #1 seed and home team to advance to Super Bowl 48 in 2 weeks.  The +2 turnover margin is hard enough to overcome, but to place all 3 of your giveaways in the final quarter with the Super Bowl on the line was a bridge too far for the road team to overcome.

But, this game was not just about turnovers.  It was about physical play that made viewers cringe.  It was about flying around the ball and almost nobody protecting themselves to make a play.  It was about brutal hits and guys being helped off the field.  I don't know that it made anyone more comfortable with the long-term effects of seeing these guys treat their bodies with such disregard, but the spectacle of it all is impossible to resist if you love this game.  The pack mentality of both teams playing with a unified spirit of how they believe the game should be played could have had no other outcome.  When these two teams, who most Sundays are the clear bullies to their opponents, square off against each other, you knew that there would be a square-off that could not be missed.

As a viewer who was unaffiliated with the teams involved, it makes you consider a number of things with a far more league-wide application.  Such as, do we think that the local team can ever assemble enough bullies to stand up to this sort of treatment, or like the Saints last week or the Packers the week before, do you attempt to survive it for 60 minutes by trying to adapt your style to theirs?  It would be more sustainable to simply understand that although Hal Mumme, Art Briles, Mike Leach, and Chip Kelly have all aided the evolution of football to something that isn't just a trench fight, it still is the best plan to build a roster that cannot be pushed around from top to bottom and from little to big.  Those two rosters, as I wrote about last week, have built their entire organizations around the plan of never being the weaker side in a fight.  Now, the skills on each player vary as they always do, but they are looking for a certain type of player and that is the type of guy who is not going to back down when challenged.

Yes, they still want speed and skills, but they are clearly placing a premium on disposition and guys who aren't allergic to the occasional personal foul or barking match.  I know this leads to many shades of gray and perhaps a discussion that includes contradictions throughout, but if you don't think those teams are playing a modified style from the NFC powers of 2009-2010 when New Orleans and Green Bay were winning their Super Bowls which included limited helpings of physical intimidation, then I believe we aren't watching the same thing.

Further, the QB play is very interesting and this I am more skeptical about the sustainability of being able to win while asking your QB to carefully navigate a game and make plays at selected times without being the focal part of the team for the entire game.  Teams with Brady, Manning, Rodgers or Brees (and teams without titles who have a guy like Romo) often echo the sentiments of going as far as the extremely highly compensated QB takes them.

I think Russell Wilson is a better QB than Colin Kaepernick, but I also believe that both are fascinating studies of young QBs who will need premium money soon and their clubs will have to decide whether or not to back up the truck for $15-$20m per season when the extensions are due.

Both possess a fantastic ability to defy the Xs and Os and make something out of a play that is breaking down, and both had moments yesterday and throughout these playoffs where they pulled it off again with awesome improv skills.  But, we have seen a few QBs in the last few years who have had a great season or two and then disappeared.  You may recall Vince Young and Tim Tebow who were the next big thing, and before we allow 5 highlight plays to overshadow the role of a QB for 60 plays over the entire game and 16 games over the course of a season, we all should be willing to ask whether we are allowing winning to replace scrutiny about the down to down skills of a QB.

Wilson, like I said, is a more balanced QB and seems to be far better at a number of important skills that teams look for.  If he was 4 inches taller, he would have almost no doubters.  In fact, he is clearly a player being asked to win without premium WRs or a premium TE at his disposal.  If I am Seattle, I feel good about Wilson and increasing his workload so that down the road when I have some proper weapons for him it won't seem out of character to try to get 20-24 completions out of him once in a while as opposed to the 15 that they presently get.

As for Kaepernick, he is a real mystery to me.  In this day and age of "Youtube scouting" he should likely be the internet consensus as the best player alive.  Youtube scouting, of course, is the habit of evaluating a player based on his 10 best highlights of his career.  And Colin is absurd by that standard and again yesterday with his 58 yard run and his ridiculous TD jump-throw to Anquan Boldin demonstrated his unreal upside.  He makes the most difficult throws and of course can seemingly convert a 3rd and 10 with about 4 strides when he decides to run.

But, in that 4th Quarter, he showed his warts again and they weren't pretty.  At 10:17 to go, when rolling left on a 3rd and 6, he tried to throw against his body and did not feel the rush and put the ball in harm's way for Cliff Avril to strip from the backside.  Michael Bennett recovered and ran the ball back to the San Francisco 6.

Then, with 7:44 to play, Kaepernick played right into the Seahawks hand by throwing the out route that Seattle had been trying to undercut all day.  This time, big Kam Chancellor intercepted the pass intended for Boldin and down 20-17 at the time, this set up the Seahawks for a possible kill shot.  The worst part about the play was that it was the dreaded 1st down interception which, of course, is a horrible outcome of a play that has no reason to risk the possession.

Of course, the 49ers then were able to force another FG and were still only down 23-17 and were going to get the ball back with their full allotment of time-outs and plenty of time (3:37).

By this time the stadium is rocking and the Seahawks pass rush is not helping the situation for Kaepernick.  He converts a 4th and 2 on another roll left, throw across the body pass to Frank Gore who had a very limited impact on the contest to convert.  Then, Kaepernick barely eluded another interception on the same out route that was picked off earlier as Walter Thurmond was on the scene but a few inches below the pass.

16 yards to Crabtree on that pass, but Crabtree heads back inbounds rather than stepping out forcing the 49ers to use their first timeout with 0:55.  Next play, right down the middle to Davis for 11 more to the Seahawks 18.  Now, the 49ers show no urgency and walk to the line and snap the ball with 0:29 and still have all of their timeouts.  It is 1st down and Kaepernick sees Michael Crabtree man up against Richard Sherman and goes for the fade.  As you know, Sherman got his hand on the ball and tipped it to the arms of the waiting LB Malcolm Smith and the game ended on yet another 1st Down interception and the 3rd turnover of the 4th Quarter.  They had timeouts and downs in reserve and put the game on beating one of the best corners in the game.  It certainly made you question the lack of a timeout being used by Jim Harbaugh and the decision of the QB when the drive was in a great spot.  If they used the timeout, they have 0:50 and just 18 yards to go.  There was no reason to hurry.

And that was the margin for the game.  For San Francisco, a team thought of as having as stacked a deck as you could have, it is another season without the Lombardi Trophy despite making the Final 4 three straight years.  In all 3 of those years, they appeared right there and ready to win it all.  Would they have done better or worse with Alex Smith?  Decisions made along the way are always fun to consider for those of us who love to ponder such things.

Meanwhile, now Seattle must take on Denver for the Super Bowl.  This will be a very enjoyable game to discuss, but it will be a bit before I get to that.

As for the other lasting memories from the game, Navorro Bowman's injury, the odd rule application of that very play, Marshawn Lynch's touchdown run, and of course Sherman with Erin Andrews will all be high on the list.

An instant classic that put the #1 seed of the NFC for the regular season in the Super Bowl for the first time since New Orleans in 2009.  Great stuff and a very high bar for the rest of the conference to pursue.

Friday, January 17, 2014

2013 BaD Radio Podcasts

Our Latest Weekly Podcast: 

Weekly Pod for 12/20/13 - Episode #240 - The Cowboys meltdown against Green Bay, the Jason Witten Show, Kids Are Paying $20 For One Pair Of Socks These Days, the Longhorn coaching rumor mill, Homer Call Of The Week, Sports Movie Of The Month: Christmas Vacation.

The Full Archive From 2013:

Weekly Pod for 1/5/13 - Episode #192 - Cowboys come up short in D.C., the final Jason Witten show of the season, goodbye to a few interns, hello to a few others, Chris Kaman, Ghetto Jeopardy.

Weekly Pod for 1/12/13 - Episode #193 - Monte Kiffin hired as Cowboys defensive coordinator, Best Funeral Ever reviewed, JFF crushes it in the Cotton Bowl, Big Game Brent, Friday Game Show.

Weekly Pod for 1/19/13 - Episode #194 - Initial reaction to the Manti Te'O story, Jaromir "Puff Nuts" Jagr , Chris Kaman show, John Beckwith of the show "Best Funeral Ever", Monkey News, Friday Game Show.

Weekly Pod for 1/26/13 - Episode #195 - Will Bill Callahan be calling plays for the Cowboys, "Waterboy" reviewed, MLK tribute, Chris Kaman's talk is real, GAMESHOW!

Weekly Pod for 2/2/13 - Episode #196 - Super Bowl 27 review, a trip to the 9th Ward, Bobby Hebert, the cast of The League on Radio Row, Super Bowl week bits.

Weekly Pod for 2/9/13 - Episode #197 - Super Bowl Talk complete with Phil Simms AND power outage e-brake audio, Rangers off-season issues, Chris Kaman, PED talk, and a gameshow courtesy of Kevin Turner.

Weekly Pod for 2/16/13 - Episode #198 - Jason Garrett is sounding like Miley Cyrus on salvia in press conferences, Gary Edwards of the "Carter Boys", classic audio from Bob's first time, Shawn Marion in studio, Grapevine Fugitive talk, Chris Kaman show.

Weekly Pod for 2/23/13 - Episode #199 - Josh Hamilton is now trolling the Rangers fan, Ticketstock songs, Monkey News, Meme of the Month: Harlem Shake, Tweetgrubes/Anthony Andro/Kittenface.

Weekly Pod for 3/2/13 - Episode #200 - Tony Romo contract extension talk, Oscars reviews, Jon Daniels, "Die Hard" review, Jere Lehtinen in studio, Craig Ludwig in studio, Homer Call of the Year Winner Brian Snow.

Weekly Pod for 3/9/13 - Episode #201 - Rangers power struggle, Britney Griner in studio, Dan Birthday Fun, Alamo Quiz with Jeremy Lin and Kevin McHale, Last Week's Gameshow.

Weekly Pod for 3/16/13 - Episode #202 - Bill Guerin in studio, An Ode To Cumulus for the sales department from Tom Gribble, John McCaa gets a hotplate from Donovan, Gordon Jago, Game Show featuring Mavs dancers.

Weekly Pod for 3/23/13 - Episode #203 - Marshall Henderson talk, Lance Berkman, Behind The Bit: The Upper Decker, Chris Kaman, young Dan with Mel Hall audio, Monkey News.

Weekly Pod for 3/30/13 - Episode #204 - Brendan Morrow traded, Chris Kaman in studio, Lunchpails from the NCAA tournament, Stars assistant GM Frank Provenzano talks analytics, Walt Goggins, a KT Game Show.

Weekly Pod for 4/6/13 - Episode #205 - Romo extension, Tick Talk, Darvish near perfect, Bobcat Goldthwaite, Bob joins Farrell On The Bench, Rangers Opening Day song.

Weekly Pod for 4/13/13 - Episode #206 - Josh Hamilton's return to Arlington, Scoops Callahan and Johnny Football, Derian Hatcher, Bob with Brett Favre, Screenless.

Weekly Pod for 4/20/13 - Episode #207 - Initial reaction to the bombings at the Boston Marathon, director of "Primer" and "Upstream Color" Shane Carruth, Dirk in studio, Monkey News, Uncle Ruslan audio.

Weekly Pod for 4/27/13 - Episode #208 - Review of Cowboys moves in Round 1 of the NFL Draft, 1st Round Pick Travis Frederick, "Eddie" reviewed, an update on The Year of Dan, Dan's Name Game, Evan gets engaged.

Weekly Pod for 5/4/13 - Episode #209 - A complete NFL Draft 2013 review including analysis, audio, and a call from Computer, Josh Hamilton is not a patient hitter so say the "advanced metrics", The Future of Horse Racing, Derek Holland.

 Weekly Pod for 5/11/13 - Episode #210 - We laugh at the Angels and Josh Hamilton, we celebrate Elvis Andrus by interviewing him, Cleveland News, the Mavs D12 and CP3 dreams, and some Mother's Day Fun.

Weekly Pod for 5/18/13 - Episode #211 - Darvish vs. Verlander, News teases during sweeps, Sean Lee, Donovan meets Ludacris, What Are Atheletes Using Twitter For?, Urban Family Feud.

Weekly Pod for 5/25/13 - Episode #212 - Jon Daniels, Murder  News from Southlake, Dave Cameron of, Dan Game Show with P1 Contestants, Tony Hale (Buster Bluth).

Weekly Pod for 6/1/13 - Episode #213 - Rangers audio, the Tom Grieve show, "Sandlot" reviewed, Dan's trip to Six Flags, Anthony Jeselnik in studio, Donovan and Scoops Callahan meet Seth Rogen, the 2013 GBL Draft.

Weekly Pod for 6/8/13 - Episode #214 - The Tom Grieve show, Bob has a bobcat in his backyard, Monkey News,  Joe Nathan talks pitching and "Ted," the annual BaD Radio Spelling Bee.

Weekly Pod for 6/15/13 - Episode #215 - Trip to the ballpark brings us interviews with Ron Washington and Jurickson Profar, a GBL interview with writer Drew Magary, there is a snake problem in Coppell, we reveal our Summer Bash guest, and Tom has a newsy gameshow.

Weekly Pod for 6/29/13 - Episode #217 - Bob and Dan aren't going anywhere, Bob's birthday celebration including Craig Hodges and Ask Bob Anything, and Vacation Talk.

Weekly Pod for 7/12/13 - Episode #218 - Donovan talks about his vacation in Greece and has a Friday game show. The guys talk to Danny Trejo, Tyler Seguin, and Gabe Kapler. Finally the fellas talk about the amazing cinematic masterpiece Sharknado!

Weekly Pod for 7/20/13 - Episode #219 - Daryl Hannah, former co-host of the Tom Green Show Glenn Humplik, Sweet Brown, EuroTrip, Trey's Bad B Movie Game Show.

Weekly Pod for 7/27/13 - Episode #220 - Jason Witten live in the tent, Do NFL Rookies know the divisions in their own league, Gabe Kapler rips the tent apart, the show takes a trip to Anthony Jeselnik's studio show, Anthony Weiner is in trouble again.

Weekly Pod for 8/3/13 - Episode #221 - Kidd Kraddick's passing, Johnny Football talk, Riley Cooper is "in the news," Dan Cortese, Dan's World (Hey Did You Hear About Piolin?), George St. Pierre, a wedding at Cowboys Stadium.

Weekly Pod for 8/10/13 - Episode #222 - Johnny Manziel investigation and NCAA injustice, Alex Rios acquired by TEX, Ask Donovan Anything, Ask Tom Grieve Anything, Tecmo Trivia Bowl, Danny McCray Interviewed by Drops, Jason Garrett visits the tent.

Weekly Pod for 8/17/13 - Episode #223 - Mickey audio from The Blue Star Network, Jason Garrett or Good Brody or Bad Brody?, Breaking Bad talk, Antonio Vargas, Jerry word vomits about the move to Frisco, Remember The Titans reviewed, Urban Family Feud.

Weekly Pod for 8/31/13 - Episode #224 - The Cowboys "Secret Sauce" will not involve Jay Ratliff for the first six games, Bob trolls Newy masterfully, NFL Films 2012 Cowboys Season In Review, Dan's trip to The New Stajium, Breaking Bad Talk.

Weekly Pod for 9/7/13 - Episode #225 - Babe Laufenberg in studio talking Cowboys and Johnny Football, Homer Call Week 0, Gabe Kapler, Jamie Hector (Marlo), Tom's Gameshow, Breaking Bad Talk Ep. 4

Weekly Pod for 9/14/13 - Episode #226 - Cowboys beat the Giants in Week 1, Christopher "Kid" Reid, Donovan's song for Bob and Dan, Sinbad, Tom Grieve Hitting Challenge, Breaking Bad talk (Episode 5).

Weekly Pod for 9/21/13 - Episode #227 - Cowboys offense falls flat in Kansas City, Johnny Football can't beam 'Bama by himself, Homer Call featuring Copperas Cove, Dallas Stars Head Coach Lindy Ruff, Prank Calls Made With Drops, Breaking Bad Talk (Episode 6.)

Weekly Pod for 9/28/13 - Episode #228 - Cowboys beat up on the Rams, Big Game Brent was down Austin way, "The Program" reviewed, Homer Call Of The Week, James Marshall, Breaking Bad Talk (Ep. 7).

Weekly Pod for 10/05/13 - Episode #229 -Cowboys VS Chargers, Rangers season over, Breaking Bad Series Finale (Episode 8), Return of Fartman, Homer Call, Monta Ellis, Lunch Pails, and Kid from Kid n Play in studio.

Weekly Pod for 10/12/13 - Episode #230 - GBL Payoff Carwash Day, Cowboys come up short in Week 5 against Denver, Michael from The Wire (Tristan Wilds), Frontline: League Of Denial discussed, Rosie Perez, Scoops Callahan reunited with Peyton Manning and Alex Ovechkin.

Weekly Pod for 10/25/13 - Episode #232 - The Ticket debuts a shiny new FM signal, Cowboys come out of Philly with a win over the Eagles, High School football news featuring Aledo, "Gravity" review, Gabe Kapler, NBA/Mavs preview and a Jake game show.

Weekly Pod for 11/1/13 - Episode #233 - Cowboys lose a heartbreaker in Detroit, World Series audio featuring the ghost of Tim McCarver, Varsity Blues reviewed, Mark Cuban in studio.

Weekly Pod for 11/8/13 - Episode #234 - Cowboys hang on for win over the Vikings, Jonah Keri visits BaD Radio in studio to talk Rangers and all things MLB, Sex in Sports a.k.a. The Mavs Dancer Debate, Richie Incognito Talk, Nick Florence live from George's in Waco, Talker Magazine's Heavy 100 snubs Bob and Dan, Waco Fun.

Weekly Pod for 11/15/13 - Episode #235 - Cowboys suffer an embarrassing beatdown in the Big Easy, Lavell Crawford in studio, Jake's trip to New Orleans, Sam Hurd sentencing, BaD Radio Reports: Teens With Broken iPhones, a standout episode of Homer Call Of The Week, and a look at Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.

Weekly Pod for 11/22/13 - Episode #236 - Gus Johnson enjoying himself on the Tech/Baylor call, Jake gets engaged, Donovan witnesses some hood rat stuff in New Orleans, a review of the winner of The Most Interesting Sports Talk Challenge, Johnny Hendricks, Tyler Seguin, the Rangers trade Ian Kinsler for Prince Fielder, Homer Call, Gerald Posner, "JFK" reviewed.

Weekly Pod for 11/29/13 - Episode #237 - Cowboys grind out a Thanksgiving Day victory over the Raiders, the story of Whitey Bulger's capture, Prince Fielder talk, Kobe Bryant's extension debated, Stars GM Jim Nill in studio.

Weekly Pod for 12/6/13 - Episode #238 - Iron Bowl talk complete with radio calls of the Kick Siz, Black Friday stories, Dan's Trip to Cleveland, an epic Homer Call of the Week, NFL Talk, and Donnie fun.

Weekly Pod for 12/13/13 - Episode #239 - Dan shaves his head on television, the Cowboys get throttled in Chicago, Bob's trip to Guatemala, Ladies Be Trippin', Homer Call of the Week, Corby's criminal history. - A Tactical Look At the Slump

2014 has been quite unpleasant and the brief uptick when Edmonton visited is not enough to clear the issues out.  Boston picked up where the Islanders, Rangers, Devils, Islanders, Red Wings, and Canadians left off as 7 games against the Eastern Conference in the new year has resulted in exactly 0 wins or even "loser points" that can help move them up the Western Conference standings.

This is clearly crisis time and not in any way, shape, or mode what Lindy Ruff and company surely had in mind after finishing 2013 in a fantastic way.  As the clock struck midnight on December 31, all was great and there were smiles all around about what could be the optimistic future of this side and a strong run at rejoining those playoffs.

But, as it always does, adversity came smashing down in these last 17 days and has hit Dallas right between the eyes.  After leaving the old year on the very edge of the playoffs (for a few hours, they actually held the 8 seed), they have now tumbled to 10th, a full 8 points off the pace, and more importantly, chasing 3 teams for the final 2 spots with Minnesota, Vancouver, and Phoenix.  Meanwhile, Nashville has pulled even and even Winnipeg is just 2 points behind the Stars for the 12th spot in the West.

When a great stretch to end 2013 happens, you allow yourself to imagine that your team has made tremendous strides forward.  But, when a horrid stretch to start 2014 happens, then you fear that you have actually taken steps back.  Of course, the truth is in the middle - with fortunate bounces of the puck put a bunch of wins together, and now, the same is true in the other direction.  Things are "evening" out and in the end you have a 14 or 15 games sample that likely suggests the quality of this team at the present:  6-7-2 over the last 15 and 21-19-7 for the season.

The Stars, for now, are good enough to be in most games, but not good enough to impose their will on opponents of great quality over the long haul.  Yet.

Boston is a great test.  In fact, in terms of the Top 5 in goals against defense, the NHL offers Los Angeles, Boston, St Louis, New Jersey, and Montreal.  I believe if you review the last month of hockey, you will see all of those teams accounted for on the Stars schedule, and that may have as much to do with what we are seeing as anything.

Because from the eyeball test, it looks like the Stars are going through a stretch that would show you the personnel deficiencies that presently exist.  When you play who the Stars have been playing (with the exception of the Islanders games which I have no great explanation for - especially the Sunday home loss) then you will quickly see that teams are attempting to counter the Stars strengths by making them face their weaknesses.

In a way, we should all be flattered.  The Stars turned heads in November and December so much that teams had to closely monitor how Dallas was getting results.  They broke them down and looked carefully.  The speed and transition game was running opponents ragged and the opponents had to address this and study how to play Dallas in a way that made sense for most opponents.

And, how do you stop speed?  With power, size, and more than anything, responsible defensive coverage and play.  And without Toe Blake's ability to explain the concepts of the sport, allow me to suggest how I see it right now.

Opponents are now playing the Stars with the intent of respecting the speed.  What this often means is that whether or not these teams generally have defensemen that would join the offensive attack, when they play the Stars speed lines (Seguin-Benn-whoever, Eakin-Roussel-Garbutt) then they are keeping both defensive men high in the Stars' defensive zone.  This, makes the Stars have to string several passes together to get the puck to the other end and then when it comes time for a zone entry, the opponents are now making sure that the Stars are tempted to carry the puck over the line, rather than dumping the puck in.

They do this by basically inviting the Stars to dump the puck in, knowing that although they are fast, they are generally smaller than their opponent.  If you dump it in, unless you have a lot of conviction, muscle, and purpose as a 3 man forward line, then you likely not win the puck back.  This is basically a demoralizing and sometimes passive turnover.  Conversely, if you can make the Stars' zone entries rather 1-dimensional with the "carry in", now your 5-man unit is standing at the blue-line and making you either dump it in and lose it, or attempt to carry it through the 5-man wall.  And both of those choices are difficult when you clearly prefer only one.  When the Stars play well, they are getting a ton of transition chances and open ice and now that is being taken away with this blue-line dilemma which all starts because they are keeping both defensemen from leaving their posts on the other end to try to pinch down.

Now, the next aspect that is coming into focus for the Stars and their opponents:  If you can turn the transition game off, then you force the smaller Stars to win in tight spaces in the opponent's zone in what amounts to "half court offense" in basketball.  Just like there, turn off the fast breaks and make them beat your set defense and now we can see together that this is not the Stars forte.  In fact, with many of their lines, it seems to demonstrate that the amount of secondary scoring on the Stars is incredibly limited once you proceed past Seguin and Benn.  Who else is able to score?  Well, usually, it is whoever plays on their wing (Nichushkin and Cole) and as far as other lines giving them consistent scoring....It is not happening at the present.

So, slowing the Stars down is leading to making them win in the half-court game, and there you see that several of the Stars lines are not going to do that because of a number of reasons - with quality being the biggest.  Too many guys are unable to create their own offense in tight quarters, so now, to generate any offense once the opponent decides to match up their best players against Benn and Seguin, the Stars must cheat down a defenseman.  In fact, you can argue that they are doing it a lot and likely too often, because when you cheat down defensemen against a well positioned team, for every positive play you create, it seems that you risk several odd man rushes the other direction.

And tell me if this isn't a familiar trait in these 8 games in the new year:  Very little offensive production, even fewer golden scoring opportunities, and way too many odd man rushes at Kari Lehtonen.  It seems clear that he is keeping them in these games, but with a power play that cannot be the great equalizer, then it appears that in many of these games, it is a matter of time before the levy breaks and the game is lost in the late stages.

See how it is all connected?  The opponent stays home on offense and seems to understand that to deal with the Stars you must respect the wheels and take them away.  Then, you clog the ability for Dallas to get in the offensive zone with the puck on their stick, and you would rather they dump it in which they clearly don't prefer.  Then, you stay home again on defense and make the Stars throw more men forward to try to find scoring opportunities, and when they do, you are ready to pounce with a counter-attack 2-on-1 or 3-on-2 break the other way.

What are remedies?  Well, the clock has struck midnight on the ability for this team to win without the power play helping.  There is but one team in the league with a worse power play goal differential than the Stars at -10.  Again, the Stars at equal strength have done a nice job this season - although they are going to have to find a counter punch to their preferred habits that are being taken away, but now they need the aid of special teams because the well is running dry.

Beyond that, we need to remember that we are early in this rebuild.  Nobody wants to hear patience again around here, but to ask Jim Nill and Lindy Ruff to fix this in 6 months is just not a realistic plan.  Rebuilds take a while.  The Cowboys added Michael Irvin in 1988, Troy Aikman in 1989, and Emmitt Smith in 1990.  To get Seguin and Nichushkin so quickly might have given us a false sense of how difficult this project is, but clearly, this all starts with adding more quality along the blue-line and on the secondary lines by any and all means necessary.

Great teams can play any style you want, but the rest of the league finds out what they can do well and tries to do it a lot.  Unfortunately, there are brilliant minds on every NHL bench and they see what you like and take it away and make you find success elsewhere.  The Stars are in the middle of this right now in their evolution and I am interested in seeing how they bust out of it.

The trouble is, that the clock is really ticking down in 2013-14.  They must make a pre-Olympics push to get the margin down to 4 points or so before the break to have any chance.  And they are running out of games to do so.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

2014 Cowboys Draft Notebook Weekly - Episode #1

If you follow this blog or what I care about in the sports world, there is a very good chance you know what to expect by Jan 15th each year.  With the Cowboys out of the playoffs, the seasons are clear.  July-December is Cowboys' season and January-May is NFL Draft season.  And in June, we rest.

So, just to build habits, I will tell you that about mid-week of every week from now until May, you can expect this column which will consist of a number of components, but it will all relate back to what most of us who follow this sport think is the lifeblood of the sport.  Those teams who do well in the draft are at a distinct advantage over those who don't, and it is our goal to provide information from a Cowboys perspective, but also give opinions on players which will be available years down the road when we discuss what people thought before the draft on a particular player.

Like past years, I have no intention of going deeper than the Top 100 prospects, and even that will be difficult.  I try to do all my own homework and not simply read someone else's reviews, and honestly, the top 3 rounds is tough to get a handle on.  So, here I try to have opinions on players in the Top 100 and leave the rest to the people that apparently have more time than I do.

The best way to start is with some simple house-cleaning.  Here are the current spots for the Cowboys picks, of which they have 8.  The coin flip in February will determine where they slot with Baltimore, another 8-8 team with identical strength of schedule.

From that, we will know if they will pick #16 or #17 in every round, and they have their normal allotment of picks until Round 6.  That pick has disappeared to KC in the famous Edgar Jones trade, while they have 3 picks in the 7th from that same deal and the Dante Rosario deal with Chicago.  I am sure they will take that surplus and jump right back into the 6th because that is what NFL teams always seem determined to do.  They don't like not having a pick for an entire round, and they usually do whatever they can to fix that.

Rd 1#16/#17Coin Flip Will determine with Balt
Rd 2#16/#17
Rd 3#16/#17
Rd 4#16/#17
Rd 5#16/#17
Rd 6TradedEdgar Jones Trade with KC
Rd 7#14 (Chi)From Dante Rosario Trade
Rd 7#16/#17
Rd 7#23 (KC)From Edgar Jones Trade

Now, some over-riding views of the Cowboys as we enter draft season that I assume we can all find a near consensus on:

- The Cowboys must attempt to fix their defense in the draft at the expense of almost everything else on the agenda.

It has been said a number of times already in this short off-season from a number of people that although everyone seems to agree that the best player available is a great starting point, this team needs to really emphasize defense in its selections.  As one friend suggested, "I don't care who they take, as long as he tackles well."  I think that says it pretty well.  

I would never argue with this point, in fact, this is only a slight variation from last year at this point when the consensus was that this team needs to draft offensive and defensive lineman only when they had 4 picks in the top 80.  Of course, they did not, opting for a center, followed by tight end, wide receiver, and safety which in many regards did not really address positions of need after center and I suppose, another developmental safety.  Either way, you could argue that when they selected 3 offensive players with their first 3 picks and really did not seem terribly worried about their defense that we should just stop trying to figure out "what they need" and "what they should do on draft day." It seems that they do what they want and when they want and to try to sniff out what Jerry/Stephen are going to do next is not a way to look smart very often.

But, again, you have two very strong debate points at work here.  One is that the Cowboys have a historically bad defense that needs help at nearly every spot except the one that they overloaded on (cornerback), but the other is that they have had a historically bad defense for the last few years and in most off seasons have done almost nothing to fix it.  Think about it - with the exception of the 2012 offseason of Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, they really have not done much of anything after the 2010, 2011, or 2012 seasons except coordinator changes and some very ill-fated scheme alterations.  They have never addressed safety with any conviction and it has certainly been said over and over that they haven't spent a top 80 pick on a defensive lineman since Marcus Spears in 2005.  Compare that with the New York Giants who take one up there almost every year, and you can see which franchise values which path.  

- There is also a real feeling that for the first time in a bit, the Cowboys are thought to be shopping for a QB in this draft if it falls properly.  

Now, this is a column of its own, and we have time to visit plenty of this topic before the time arrives, but you should at least have in the back of your mind the idea that things have happened in the past 12 months that would have the Cowboys thinking quarterback as early as their top pick in the draft.  Clearly, this would be a difficult pill for many to swallow, but there is no way that the Cowboys can feel great anymore about the long-term situation with Tony Romo.  They have to believe that he will recover and could be their QB until 2016, but the idea of pushing off the next young prospect at the position may be over.  They have to know with the back issue and the age and the contract, that the time is now to figure out what the plan may be in the next chapter of their franchise.  

I would never argue that this is a sure thing, but you can believe that when I look at QBs available in the first and second round, I am looking for the first time in years at their potential fits in Dallas.  Nobody wants to take a player that high in the draft who may not play for 2-3 years, but that is likely the best way to proceed because you will not have any clarity on Tony Romo in this offseason.  You will surely be fed reports of his fantastic recovery and workouts, but only when he is getting planted in the turf next September will we truly know if he is right or on his way to retirement.  

- The list of pressing, immediate needs is manageable, but the list of general needs is quite long.

Here is the overall theme of Cowboys football in the 7 seasons since Parcells.  They have a pretty strong and suitable roster from 1-20.  They are not bad in a lot of spots and presently, if the season started in April, you have a feeling that you would be ok at just about every starting position but Defensive Tackle, Defensive End, and Safety.  You might like another LB who can start and I am not willing to say that Ron Leary is my left guard or Mackenzy Bernadeau is my right guard if I have a better idea, but for now, they are not horrible.

But, from 21-53 on the roster, the issues are still not where they need to be.  I might argue that organizational depth is better in 2013 than it was in 2011 or 2012, but we are only talking shades of gray.  They need to continue to grow their depth so that injuries do not mean finding couches and looking on them for replacements.  Good teams have understudies in constant training for the injuries that are guaranteed to hit, and clearly from the fact that the Cowboys employed 20 different defensive linemen in 2013's regular season they are not a good team yet.  Sometimes the waiver wire can be helpful, but it cannot be your primary source of personnel.  That has to be your draft and development side and the Cowboys have been running to stand still for years.

All of this says that we should slant our research for the top 3 rounds to offensive line and defensive front 7 (unless a premium QB or safety drops), but after that, pick a guy at any position and add him to this team.  There are almost no spots on the squad that cannot be supplemented with a talent young college star who is ready to contribute.  


This coming weekend, we have the East-West Shrine Game (3pm, Saturday, NFL Network) and then the big week in Mobile that starts on Monday and the NFL Network provides fantastic coverage of the week each day.  If you want to start to get a feel for the players on the board that is being put together, you really need to spend sometime looking over the Senior Bowl activities and getting familiar with everyone who is there.  Each season the Senior Bowl roster is loaded with Top 100 prospects and we learn plenty from just watching who is there and who is performing well.  

I am starting to put a notebook together of what I like and don't like from various players and we will start diving into names and position groups next week.  Until then, know that there is never a better time to become a draft nerd as hundreds of college games in their entirety are loaded up on youtube.  Watch your targeted player carefully and get to know what he does well and not so well, and this can be one place to share thoughts on those players as we proceed.

Draft season!