Will the Dallas defense expand its attack this year? In one sense it is hard to believe that the NFL’s leading sack team could become more of a force this year than last. However do not be surprised if that is not exactly what happens.
How could a team that lost a starting corner, Defensive End, and Inside Linebacker be better without those three guys? Pretty easy actually! And it has less to do with their replacements than you might think.
During the 2009 off season the Cowboys have upgraded in several areas, they have accomplished this through both free agency, and in the draft. While the outcome of all these moves has yet to be determined, on paper this defensive unit has gotten better.
The additions of Gerald Sensabaugh, Michael Hamlin, Mike Mickens, and DeAngelo Smith have given this team something that has been sorely lacking. Depth in the secondary! Not the kind of depth that we are accustomed to, you know mediocre players backing up mediocre starters. No, we actually have a quality starter being backed up by energetic, athletic, young, quality back ups.
Wade Phillips on third down no longer has to send the NFL’s best pass rusher into coverage. The Dallas Cowboys with a few under the radar moves have catapulted this sack happy defense into a new stratosphere!
The Cowboys did not add an Ed Reed type, but what they did add was a few safeties that can cover! Think about it, what has been the defenses biggest downfall the last few years? The secondary has not been able to give their rushers an extra split second. How many times last year did we see a rusher break free, and just before making the sack the ball would get out, only to find an uncovered receiver?
There are many opinions about Wade Phillips. Some are good and some are not so nice. In all of these though there is a commonality, and that is that he is a defensive genius. He is a master at moving people around and blitzing from angles that Offensive Coordinators would never dream of.
This is one aspect that we have not seen a ton of in his time in Dallas. Not because he forgot how to do it, but because he could not afford to do it! This team has not had the personnel to allow him the freedom to jail break.
The 34 that Phillips runs is different than the 34 most others play. In most 34 schemes it is predicated on a big nasty Nose Tackle, taking up major space, but the 34 that Phillips runs this is not necessary. The reason why is because of alignment. For instance in the Parcells 34 Jason Ferguson would line up directly over top of the center and go for a more straight ahead push, thus forcing one of the guards to slip over and help out. In the Phillips 34, Jay Ratliff lines up at an angle over the center, and tries to get his push between the Center, and Guard. This change of angle causes the O-Lineman to make a decision.
Now if this was the only decision the Center or Guard had to make this would not be a very good scheme, but while the Tackle is forcing the play Wade many times will send a slightly delayed Blitzer through that same spot. This is what causes severe question marks!
In the second half of last season we saw more of this than usual but not near as much as Wade wants. So what does all this talk about the Nose Tackle have to do with Safeties, and Corners? Everything!
Wade Phillips is looking for two things out of his Safeties. One, be able to cover a Tight End or Running Back. Two, be able to help out in the run game (be able to tackle). This is all Wade needs!
By having Safeties that can perform the duties that Wade requires it allows him to get very creative with his blitz schemes. Demarcus Ware, Bradie James, Anthony Spencer, and Keith Brooking will be coming from so many different angles your head will spin.
Everyone that played the Cowboys knew that on third down if they moved the Tight End over to where Demarcus was that it would force him into coverage, allowing themselves the luxury of not having to deal with blocking him. This is no longer a forgone conclusion, so now whether he rushes or drops it causes confusion!
I have never been big on making predictions, but this year I feel compelled to do so! Barring any major injuries, I am confident in saying that this unit will be in the top 3 in defense this year. There are only two other teams who I feel will have a better defense, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore.
How confident are you in this year’s defense?
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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