Time for another 5 question game preview! This week we got together with the “Christmas Ape” over at DC Steeler Nation in order to get a Steelers point of view. Below are the questions we posed them and you can check out our answers to their questions here! While your their make sure you give those guys some love.
1. The Steelers have arguably the best defense in the NFL, who is the one player that makes their defense go?
DC Steeler Nation: You could make an argument for either James Harrison or Troy Polamalu for defensive leader. Both have been absolutely dominant all year and should be in consideration for Defensive Player of the Year. Polamalu has been plagued with injuries the last two years and has finally gotten to go a full year without missing time, so he's resumed being the best safety in the league. Harrison has benefited from the rise of LaMarr Woodley as the opposite end rushing linebacker, but he's the better of the tandem. Last week he absolutely embarrassed Pro Bowl tackle Matt Light, beating him twice off the end to force two Matt Cassel fumbles on successive drives.
2. Which would Ben Rothlesberger rather have, a good offensive line or a good motorcycle helmet?
DC Steeler Nation: Hey, at least it takes more than a pinkie injury to sideline our quarterback.
3. The last time the Steelers lost was 3 games ago (the same as the Cowboys) to the Colts. What did the Steelers learn in that game that will help them against the Cowboys?
DC Steeler Nation: The Steelers would have beaten the Colts except for a few costly turnovers on their own side of the field. The offensive play calling has improved dramatically, as has Roethlisberger's decision-making, since then and the offensive line, which has been pretty poor most of the season, is actually looking halfway decent.
4. Is it true that Neil O'Donnell will be at practice this week to help prepare Big Ben? The Cowboys understood this to be true so they went out and signed Larry Brown, he will start in place of Anthony Henry!
DC Steeler Nation: Sure, Neil's been talking to Big Ben, just like Jackie Smith has been coaching up Jason Witten on dropping passes wide open in the end zone.
5. If the Steelers have a weak spot it would be their secondary. How do they match up with Dallas's receiving corps?
DC Steeler Nation: I think a Cowboys fan calling the Steelers secondary a weak link is a bit like the pot calling the kettle black. The Steelers are the best D in the league against the pass, after all. Still, the Steelers defensive backs have been a bit banged up. One of the starting corners, Bryant McFadden, could finally return for this game after missing five weeks. T.O. and Roy Williams have a big size advantage over whoever will be covering them. It'll be interesting to see how Dick LeBeau deals with Jason Witten. Might be seeing Polamalu covering him, which should be fun.
Cowboys Sign Free Agent WR Deonte Thompson
The Dallas Cowboys added some speed to their receiver corps today by signing free agent Deonte Thompson. He played for both the Chicago Bears and Buffalo Bills last season.
Thompson, who turned 29 last month, went undrafted in 2012. He had a quiet to start to his career as a reserve and practice squad guy in Baltimore and Chicago, but finally got a chance to shine with seven starts last year for the Bills. He 27 catches for 430 yards and one touchdown in just 11 games.
The #Cowboys signed WR Deonte Thompson, per agent @davidcanter. He gets 1-year, $2.5M with a $1M signing bonus.
Deonte brings some much-needed speed to the Cowboys offense. He ran a 4.31 40-yard dash as a rookie, and while he's 29 now he still poses more of a vertical threat than the current Dallas receivers.
Given the low salary in this deal, Thompson may not be seen as much than a replacement for Brice Butler near the bottom of Dallas' depth chart. We also have to wait and see what happens with the draft and other moves this offseason to know where he fits into the bigger picture.
For now, though, Cowboys fans can take a little comfort in knowing the front office hasn't completely fallen asleep at the wheel.
Dallas Cowboys: How “Position-Flex” Has Handcuffed The 2015 Draft Class
Over the last few years the Dallas Cowboys have placed a high level of importance on "position flex." They've drafted Swiss-Army knife players which could be moved around to different positions on the field.
By drafting players like Chidobe Awuzie and Xavier Woods last year, as well as Byron Jones in 2015, the Cowboys have tried to find these versatile players who can be used in multiple ways.
While this seems great on paper, this strategy has handcuffed the majority of their 2015 Draft Class, and is a key reason why the Cowboys seem to be in such a tough spot.
The Cowboys' first round pick in 2015, Byron Jones, quickly became a favorite of mine during his rookie season. Incredibly athletic, long, and skilled in coverage, Jones was able to be both a fantastic cover cornerback and a solid middle-of-the-field safety due to his range.
Due to both injuries to his teammates, and Jones' own versatility, the Cowboys coaching staff couldn't keep Jones in just one spot. Once they discovered how great he was in man coverage against tight ends, they became enamored with trying to play him in the box.
Once in the box, Jones' struggles as a run defender were highlighted, and both the organization and the fans soured on him quickly.
Now it is rumored that Byron Jones will be moving back to cornerback full time. And while I do hope this is the case, the fact that he is in year four, and the Cowboys haven't been able to find their first round pick a permanent home is a huge indictment on their ability to evaluate and develop talent.
Okay, hear me out.
The former third round pick of the 2015 Draft was brought in to be the swing tackle for the Cowboys his rookie year. Mainly due to injuries, Green did not see the field for much of his first two seasons. When he did fill in for Tyron Smith at left tackle in 2016, however, Green was very effective.
Of course, Chaz Green's last appearance with the Cowboys was ugly, giving up a plethora of sacks against the Atlanta Falcons. But Dallas might've made their own bed with Green during the beginning of the 2017 season, when they attempted to move him to left guard full time.
Instead of getting the increased work at tackle, and continuing to work as the swing tackle for the team in case of injury, Dallas started Green at left guard early on in the year. He struggled trying to move positions, and looked even worse when trying to move back to tackle.
Once again, the position flex bit the Cowboys right in the backside.
It's 2018 and we are still talking about what position to play La'el Collins on the offensive line. And that is solely on the coaching staff and front office, not Collins.
Collins was brought in as an undrafted free agent in 2015, but was widely regarded as a first round pick heading into that draft. Though he started at left tackle at LSU, Dallas shifted Collins inside to left guard in 2015. After taking over for Ronald Leary as the starter, Collins produced highlight blocks week after week.
Injuries shortened his 2016 campaign, but heading into 2017 the Cowboys decided to shift him back out to right tackle. Despite some early struggles, Collins progressed nicely throughout the year and became a solid starting right tackle. Plus, he has the upside to become one of the top right tackles in the league.
Instead, it is now being rumored the Cowboys might move him back to guard for 2018. And with that news, I continue to pull my hair out over the position-flex decisions this coaching staff and front office like to make.
If the Cowboys want to get the most out of each draft class, and effectively develop their talent, they need to let those players actually develop, rather than move them around each season. Hopefully they now understand this, and allow both Byron Jones and La'el Collins to reach their full potential.
Dallas Cowboys Sign LB Joe Thomas to 2 Year Deal
At long last, the Dallas Cowboys have their first free agent addition of this offseason. Having lost starters Jonathan Cooper and Anthony Hitchens at left guard and linebacker respectively, the team has added depth at LB with Joe Thomas signing a two-year deal.
The 2018 season will actually mark Joe Thomas' second stint with the Dallas Cowboys, as he was signed to their practice squad in 2015. The team that signed Thomas out of South Carolina State following the 2014 draft, the Green Bay Packers, added Thomas back to their active roster for the 2015 season.
Source: Cowboys have agreed to a 2-year deal with free agent LB Joe Thomas. He visited the Cowboys today. Thomas has played in 42 games over the last three seasons with the Packers. He had a career-high 70 tackles in 2016.
Thomas has spent the last three seasons starting eight games for the Packers, recording 70 tackles and an interception in 2016.
A contingency plan of Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith carrying the Cowboys for 16 games at LB requires adequate depth, which is exactly what the Cowboys are typically in the market for come free agency. Waiting longer than usual to make their first splash, the Cowboys absolutely need an addition like Thomas to perform better than last year's FA class.
Used in sub packages by the Packers while also playing special teams - where the Cowboys have lost core players in Keith Smith and Kyle Wilber - Thomas will have a great chance to impress two new Dallas coaches in Ben Bloom and Keith O'Quinn.
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