Hello friends! It's been a while! I missed every single one of you... I promise! Even though I haven't written in quite some time, you best believe my mind has been churning out ideas. Most importantly, on the topic of psychological team building.
There are a lot of things we think about when considering what a championship team consists of. How many times have we seen these "super teams" built, not even just in football, and then you see them fall flat?
Most people would say you need all this great talent on your team, right? That is absolutely true.
You need a quarterback that can at least be a bus driver (I would have said you need great QB play until Peyton Manning won it all last year). Talent on both ends of the ball is a must. You need a part of your team that is unstoppable, whether that be a defensive line that can't be stopped, a secondary that is impenetrable, a running game that gashes, etc.
You can build a team filled with elite players, but that doesn't guarantee success. At the end of the day, a major piece of the puzzle that is missing is the psychological aspect to football, and sports in general.
As fans, we tend to separate the human aspect from the players we are watching. We are all guilty of this. It's hard to see these people as actual human beings, rather than football-playing robots. Do human beings get tired? Have they tried to cut corners? Do human beings get lazy? Are human beings capable of giving their all at all times?
For us to think that every single player has it in them to go max-effort every single play of a game is simply naive.
There are 22 players on the field at a given time. Fifty-three players fill up a locker room. Are we really thinking that every single one of them is a high motor, high energy, fiery spirited person that gives their all at all times?
Not to mention, people get tired and when they get tired, these characteristics show up even more.
Now let's get to how it relates to the Cowboys.
The Dallas Cowboys and Team Psychology
For example, let's think about Rolando McClain...
We all know there are plays where you can tell Rolando McClain is either gassed, injured or he is saving up/recuperating energy. You can see when this happens. (Disclaimer: I'm not trying to call out McClain, but he is a great example for this.)
Now, let's also think about Tyrone Crawford last season. Tyrone Crawford played a large portion of last season with a rotator cuff issue.
Now, if Tyrone Crawford chooses a play where he is going to give max effort and he helps clear Rolando McClain for an easy tackle, but McClain is not giving max effort, how does that affect the team as a whole?
Crawford thinks he just gave his all for nothing, despite the injury he is playing with. McClain knows he missed out on an opportunity. On the next play, McClain gives his all and Crawford is easing up a bit.
This is just an example to try to get people to humanize athletes a little more. It makes sense to think that this sort of thing happens. It's impossible to get everyone playing 100% for every snap of a game.
These things will happen, but it is a matter of minimizing them and making sure you have enough high energy players giving max effort as often as possible.
This is why I believe these super teams are never a slam dunk. When you combine top-tier athletes together, they may not all play at 100%, thinking someone else will make that huge play and they can relax a bit.
How can you counter natural human elements?
Having Orlando Scandrick back in 2016 will be HUGE.
This team plays differently when he is on the field. What Dez Bryant brings to the offense, Orlando Scandrick brings to the defense. This is a player who plays at such a high energy level that he makes everyone else around him play up to his level.
He talks a lot, he's flashy, and he flies around all over the field. It's hard to take plays off when you have that guy energizing you.
With all the youth that this team has, and all the players fighting for a place in the NFL, you get players that should be giving everything that they have. These players are trying to make themselves some money. There is a lot of hunger there.
When you combine youth, hunger, talent and energy, you get the most out of your team. When you hear the term "high motor," that is getting toward what I'm talking about.
If you're an NFL player, chances are there is talent there. Everyone has a particular skill that is very good, at a minimum. Get everyone playing as hard as they can and you're really harvesting something.
I think this is something that Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots do really well.
How many times have people counted out areas of the Patriots team only to feel stupid in the end?
I often question how a guy like Malcolm Butler goes from a nobody to their shutdown corner in no time. Well, it's because Belichick not only knows how to put his players in positions for them to succeed, but he makes every guy bring his all.
2014 Dallas Cowboys: A Perfect Example
The 2014 Dallas Cowboys were a phenomenal example of what energy and effort can do.
Everyone thought that defense would be historically bad. But, they weren't nearly as bad as everyone expected, despite having practically no big-name talent on it.
What they had were a bunch of young nobodies that were playing as hard as they could together as a unit. Jon Gruden called them the "UFO" defense. A bunch of unidentified flying objects, because they were nobodies who just flew all over the field.
The 2016 team is clearly going for the same identity. They need the offense to control the clock and put up points like it has for the duration of Tony Romo's existence.
The defense... well, they will be a bunch of guys looking to make names for themselves, prove people wrong, and make themselves some serious money.
Did DC Rod Marinelli Have Increased Role in Cowboys Loss at Rams?
The Dallas Cowboys Divisional Round loss at the Los Angeles Rams is still fresh on the minds of their players, staff, and front office. So much so that the team had to fan the flames on a Jason Garrett comment expecting Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan to return. Garrett himself walked back this "report" once Stephen Jones noted it's still too early for any coaching staff changes. The focus will remain on Linehan's post until it's removed or the Cowboys OC is retained, but one coordinator the Cowboys now expect to keep is Rod Marinelli on defense.
Marinelli himself disputed the season-long belief that this was likely his last as the Cowboys defensive coordinator. With Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard not taking any of the three HC positions he interviewed for, Marinelli doesn't have to worry about shuffling his title to accommodate Richard - who called the plays from week one this season anyway.
Rod's title does include his specialty as defensive line coach though, a unit that the Rams dominated with their offensive line to a historic degree. The Rams' season-high 273 rushing yards was provided by both Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson surpassing 100 yards on the ground, the first time in team history they've had two backs reach this mark in a single playoff game.
Rams HC Sean McVay hardly had to reach into his vaunted 'bag of tricks' to expose the Cowboys defense in a way they hadn't been all year, but there was still an element of brilliance in his offensive game plan. It came out after the game that the Rams picked up on the keys the Dallas defensive linemen used to signal stunts and twists before the snap. While this is nothing more than just great scouting yielding an unforeseen advantage, it's left the Cowboys with more than enough time to ponder what went wrong in the Coliseum.
The Rams offensive line knew what the Cowboys defensive line was going to do before the snap on Saturday. https://t.co/oGo6Eiz4av
The answer to this may be nothing other than the coaching questions the Cowboys are already considering. With Richard's interviews in Tampa Bay, Miami, and New York coming at the beginning of the week leading up to game day, it's possible Marinelli had a larger say in the Cowboys preparation on defense.
It was Marinelli's defense that conceded 412 yards to the Rams in 2017 in a loss at AT&T Stadium. Matching him up with McVay leaves a lot to be desired, while Richard helps bridge this gap - something he was seen desperately trying to do on the sideline with a battered Cowboys defense.
As each day of the offseason passes, a change at either coordinator position becomes less likely in Dallas. On offense, the play caller has more than a season's worth of evidence showing the deficiencies of the Cowboys attack. In a league fueled by recency bias however, Marinelli certainly didn't leave his best performance on the field in Los Angeles.
Somewhere in the middle of this is Jason Garrett, safely in place as the head coach that should be personally trying to upgrade his top two assistants however possible. Marinelli signing up for another year makes this hard on defense, though Richard should resume play calling duties next season.
Again, this leaves the onus of the Cowboys improvements for 2019 on the offensive side of the ball, something that'll be realized when the shock of their defense letting them down in the biggest game of the season is gone.
Cowboys Getting Over $30 Million Cap Space from Expiring Dead Money
You may have already heard that the Dallas Cowboys will be flush with salary cap space in 2019, and that's very accurate. A huge portion of it comes from over $30 million in expiring cap penalties, otherwise known as "dead money."
Quick explanation; dead money occurs when a player is released or retires prior to the expiration of their contract. Any guaranteed money, such as the original signing bonus or money converted in a restructuring, that has not yet been paid out according to the contract schedule is accelerated.
For example, when Tony Romo retired after 2016, he still had $19.6 million in guaranteed money owed to him. Dallas chose to split this dead money over two years, and thus had a $10.7 cap penalty in 2017 and $8.9 million last season.
But now Romo's dead money, along with Dez Bryant's and several other players, is coming off the Cowboys' books. The result is a roughly $30 million infusion of salary cap space for 2019.
Here were the major culprits for last year's dead money:
(All cap figures are taken from Spotrac.com)
- QB Tony Romo - $8.9 million
- WR Dez Bryant - $8 million
- DT Cedric Thornton - $2.5 million
- CB Orlando Scandrick - $2.3 million
- CB Nolan Carroll - $2 million
- WR Deonte Thompson - $1.8 million
- DE Benson Mayowa - $1.1 million
- K Dan Bailey - $800 thousand
- TE James Hanna - $750 thousand
Those players alone make up a little over $28 million. Another $4 million or so came from over 30 players with lesser penalties that still added up.
Right now, the Cowboys have only $1.76 million in dead money on their 2019 salary cap. Nearly all of that is the $1.6 million still owed to Orlando Scandrick.
That difference is where the cap space comes from, and it will be of tremendous help to Dallas as they have major financial moves coming. They need to re-sign DeMarcus Lawrence, deal with a major salary bump for Amari Cooper, and consider a contract extension for Dak Prescott.
The 2019 number will change, of course, as the offseason rolls on. If Dallas elects to release players like Sean Lee, Tyrone Crawford, or others, some dead money will appear. But that will be offset by whatever cap savings motivated the move in the first place.
This is a good reminder of why the Cowboys' new era of fiscal conservatism is a good thing. After years of what felt like perpetual "salary cap hell," they are finally getting out from under those penalties and have complete flexibility this offseason. They may not even need to cut a guy like Crawford, who they almost would have been forced to in past seasons.
We'll be talking a lot more about individual players and their contracts in the weeks ahead, but this summary helps us see that Dallas isn't nearly up against the financial wall as they have been. We still miss guys like Romo and Dez, but we won't miss that awful dead money in 2019.
Cowboys Expect C Travis Frederick Back for Offseason Program
Lost in yesterday's hoopla over Scott Linehan's return was a positive report about Center Travis Frederick. In his comments to the media, Jason Garrett said that Frederick's recovery timetable should allow him to a full participant in the team's offseason program.
After never missing a start in his first five years, Travis missed all of 2018 dealing with the effects of Guillain-Barré Syndrome. The disease attacked his neurological system and required immediate and intensive treatment.
Jason Garrett says the team anticipates Travis Frederick being involved in the offseason program right from the start this spring if he continues on the same positive track in recovery from Guillain-Barré syndrome. #cowboyswire
While Joe Looney performed admirably in Frederick's absence, he's not an elite talent. Travis has been arguably the best center in the NFL since entering the league in 2013.
It's hard to qualify what effect not having Frederick had on the Cowboys offense in 2018. Ezekiel Elliott still led the league in rushing, but short-yardage plays weren't as automatic as we've seen in past years. A 4th-and-1 stuff was part of what led to the Cowboys' loss this past Saturday.
Dak Prescott was the second-most sacked QB in the NFL in 2018. After being sacked just 25 and 32 times in his first two seasons, the number skyrocketed to 56 sacks.
That's not all on Frederick, of course. Tyron Smith had some health issues and there were was turnover at left guard.
But having your All-Pro veteran center out there to help with the pre-snap reads, and help the rookie guard on his left, might have helped avoid some of those issues.
Indeed, Travis Frederick's return is just one of many reasons for optimism with the 2019 season. One of the best players on the team, he was sorely missed this year and can only help as Dallas looks to build on their division title and playoff appearance.
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