DVR saved my butt this week since I had to work and missed the live game, but checking it out last night was certainly worth staying up late.
The first team offense looked good. I was surprised at how good they looked actually, but before I get into that, I just have one thing to say – “False start, everyone but the center.” That was freaking hilarious!
Speaking of false starts and penalties in general, in the first half the Special Teams unit took the cake. First of all, wiping out that 78 yard kickoff return from Austin because of a penalty was just retarded; it’s the kind of mistakes we have got to cut down on. We finished the game with 11 penalties for 107 yards, but the first half, when the starters were playing, special teams had three for 35 yards, the defense had two for 20 yards, and the offense had two for 15 yards.
But it was nice to see our starters come out on offense and literally dominate the Titans defense, that is of course after they got the three and out over with to start the game.
They came back and orchestrated a 16 play drive that spanned 90 yards and netted the first touchdown of the game. The whole time I’m watching I’m thinking about what has changed since last year. It’s not just about the players either; even Jason Garrett was on my mind as I followed each snap.
Last year we all saw that Garrett had issues mixing up the run and pass, sometimes he didn’t do one enough and others he did one too much. That first drive started on the ground with Marion Barber pounding it out, and it was good too because he was gaining solid yards on each run. But once Tony Romo was cut loose the team started moving downfield.
It wasn’t a quick progression though; we didn’t just lob a deep pass into the endzone. Instead they took their time and consumed nearly 10 minutes off the clock. From then on my worries about how the starting offense and defense would do kind of faded away as I waited to see who’d kick the video board first.
By my count, the Cowboys were a little pass heavy the first half. They ran 13 times and threw the ball 19 times. But it was a good mix that kept the Titans defense working. Only on two plays did I see Romo under pressure early, and one of those times he threw the ball away, another time he completed a pass. He still had his dancing feet but the line gave him enough time to set up in the pocket, look over his receivers and pick the open guy.
What’s probably most impressive about that is Romo actually used the pocket when it held up for him. He didn’t at any point just start running around trying to make the play, he waited and let the plays develop, and then shot the ball out like a cannon. We all know he’s got a quick release, but it’s been a while since we’ve seen it that quick.
Another thing we saw that we haven’t seen from Dallas in a couple of years was an even coverage across the field on ball distribution. They didn’t just look left each play. They ran up the middle, to both sides, and threw the same way – there really was no predictability that the Titans could capitalize on.
I did see a couple of things that bothered me in the game, like the special teams either missing tackles, unnecessary penalties like Sensabaugh shoving the guy further out of bounds, or simply dumb choices by returners. Look at Kevin Ogletree’s first return, he was full steam ahead when he ran into the back of his own blocker, the first guy he reached on the field.
And what about Patrick Crayton dropping the punt … good thing he got back on it fast. But in general, the special teams unit allowed a little too much on just about every return by the Titans.
Just two more things for me, first is that Felix Jones is damn fast. You don’t even see him coming. Very elusive and hard to catch from any angle – he will certainly be trouble for any defense we face this year.
And last is Kevin Ogletree, he may have chosen a bad lane on that one return, but he got involved in the passing game late. He was the biggest factor on a late drive and displayed some good hands for his touchdown pass. You might already know that I’m not a big supporter of Isaiah Stanback with his injuries and un-astounding play even when healthy, but now I really think it’s time for him to go.
Our receiving corps should line up like so:
- Roy Williams
- Patrick Crayton
- Sam Hurd
- Miles Austin
- Kevin Ogletree
Too bad I’m not a coach or that’d be a done deal.
And a special mention to Mr. Fourth and Long – I suppose if you’re going to screw up and let a ball bounce off your facemask, it’s best if you at least end up with the ball. Maybe we could avoid letting a defender catch it, even if only for a moment, before actually securing it though. Just a thought.
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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