Welcome to the first playoff edition of Martin's 5!
The Dallas Cowboys are probably a little bit relieved that they are playing the Green Bay Packers this week instead of the New York Giants. I'm not saying they were rooting for the Packers to win, but the Giants are the only team that have beaten them twice this season, whereas they have already beaten the Packers and relatively easily.
You can bet that there are plenty of Cowboys players that are anxiously waiting for kick off Sunday to try to revenge the controversial playoff loss they suffered at the hands of the Green Bay Packers back in 2014. Dez Bryant in particularly is likely leading the charge.
For the rookie and second year players like Byron Jones, Ezekiel Elliott, and Dak Prescott, they probably aren't as vengeful since they didn't play that game back in 2014, but I don't think for second they won't be ready for this matchup.
I don't know about you, but there is plenty of things I'm wondering about this week ahead of the Cowboys matchup with the Packers. Below are the five things I decide to share with you this week. I hope you enjoy.
One: The last time the Dallas Cowboys and the Green Bay Packers faced off against one another was earlier this season in Week 6. That matchup resulted in a victory for the Cowboys and that was in large part due to the performance of defensive lineman David Irving. Irving only played 19 defensive snaps, but sacked quarterback Aaron Rodgers once and forced three fumbles, one of which he recovered. That Week 6 performance earned him the NFC Defensive Player of the Week. I wonder if he can have a repeat performance this week with much more on the line for the Dallas Cowboys? I certainly think it's possible considering the way Irving closed out the 2016 regular season. He was arguably the best defensive lineman the Cowboys had and should receive more playing time because of his ability to get after the QB. The defense has to find some way to harass Aaron Rodgers and David Irving might just be the answer.
Two: Let's stick with David Irving here for a little bit longer. I wonder if defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli will game plan ways to create favorable matchups for Irving? Irving is probably at his best when he is playing inside as the 3-technique in the Cowboys 4-3 defensive scheme. His quickness and length create problems for offensive guards and if he can win some of those matchups, it could force Aaron Rodgers into making some uncharacteristic mistakes. It is really going to be interesting to see how much playing time Irving receives with a lot of their defensive lineman returning from injuries that limited them towards the end of the regular season. #95 has had a problem staying consistent, but the game changing plays he can make should earn him more playing time.
Three: In the previous match up with the Green Bay Packers, Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 157 yards on 28 carries and had two catches for 17 yards. I wonder if Elliott can come anywhere close to repeating that performance? The good news is if #21 is even remotely close to approaching 150 rushing yards, then that means the Cowboys are probably controlling the time of possession and keeping Aaron Rodgers and his high-powered offense off the field. This is probably the way Jason Garrett and the coaching staff would like things to play out. It worked for them earlier this season, so why not lay down the same blueprint and hope that everything turns out the same when the final seconds tick off the clock at the end of the game. Isn't that why it Ezekiel Elliott was pretty much drafted so highly in the first place?
Four: After having perhaps the best seven games of his entire professional career earlier this season, Morris Claiborne unfortunately missed the remainder of the year due to a groin injury. It looks as if he will be able to play this Sunday against the Green Bay Packers, but I'm wondering exactly where he fits into the secondary? Brandon Carr has been playing pretty well since moving to the right side and Anthony Brown has simply been outstanding, especially considering he was just a sixth round rookie. I don't think Claiborne unseats either one of them on the outside, and I certainly don't think he is better than Orlando Scandrick in the slot. That doesn't leave a lot of room for Claiborne to make his way back to the field, but as much as Green Bay likes to play in multiple receiver sets, #24 will still probably see plenty of playing time. Regardless of how much playing time he receives, his return to the lineup definitely makes the Cowboys secondary better.
Five: The Dallas Cowboys haven't beaten the Green Bay Packers yet, but I wonder who they would rather face out of the Atlanta Falcons and the Seattle Seahawks? I know I'm getting a little ahead of myself here, but I don't really see the harm of looking ahead. Of course, I don't want the Dallas Cowboys doing the same. I want their full attention on the Packers this week. Personally, I think I would rather see the Seattle Seahawks than the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship if the Cowboys take care business this week. The Falcons are the one team left in the NFC that scares me the most because of how many points they can put on the board on offense. They are a well-balanced offense and can really hurt the Cowboys defense in both the running and passing game. The Seahawks however don't have the same dominating defense we have seen in years past, and I don't think their offense can keep pace with the Cowboys'. I hope that's the way things turn out at least.
Is there anything you are wondering about this week?
Please feel free to use the comment section below to share with all of us anything you're wondering about this week.
Should Cowboys Reunite Shea McClellin With Rod Marinelli?
Since becoming the defensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys, Rod Marinelli hasn't had too many of his former players follow him to Dallas. In fact, I can only think of one… Henry Melton, and we all know how that turned out.
I don't know about you, but I found that a little strange. It's pretty common for coaches to try to bring some of their players with them when they accept a new job. Familiarity goes a long way in the NFL and former players can also help make the transition easier for everyone.
Strangely enough, Rod Marinelli hasn't really been afforded that luxury, whether it was his doing or not. But, there is a free agent who played under Marinelli's tutelage in Chicago who might make sense for the Dallas Cowboys, linebacker Shea McClellin.
Rod Marinelli was the defensive coordinator in Chicago when the Bears decided to draft Shea McClellin 19th overall in the 2012 NFL Draft. Marinelli likely had a big say in that decision, and if he still feels the same, a reunion could be in order.
Shea McClellin started his career in the NFL as a 4-3 left side defensive end playing opposite Julius Peppers, but was also viewed as a potential Brian Urlacher replacement. He showed flashes of becoming a solid defensive end his first few years in the league, but was eventually moved to linebacker, where he seemed to find a home for himself.
After his contract expired with the Bears, the New England Patriots decided to bring him aboard to help with their linebacker depth. He only ended up starting four games for them in 2016, but made some memorable plays to help the Patriots become the Super Bowl champions.
Unfortunately, the 2017 season wasn't very kind to him. His entire year was wiped out due to a concussion, which probably had a lot to do with why they recently released him.
This of course could be good news for the Dallas Cowboys. They currently need some depth at the linebacker position and Shea McClellin could provide that, if he's healthy. The healthy bit here is key, because he has had problems with concussions in the past.
If McClellin is indeed healthy, he could bring a versatile skill set to the Cowboys defense. His best spot is probably at strong side LB (SAM), but I think he could play middle linebacker (MIKE) as well. He also could provide depth at defensive end, the position he played to start his NFL career.
With the LB depth a concern, Shea McClellin makes quite a bit of sense for the Dallas Cowboys. Of course, his past history with concussions is a red flag, but it also drives down his asking price. I think he would definitely fall into that "bargain shopping" mentality the Cowboys have been using these last few offseasons.
He probably wouldn't be viewed as a very important signing, but you still need these types of players on your team in order to succeed in the NFL. Let's see if the Dallas Cowboys agree.
Do you think a Rod Marinelli and Shea McClellin reunion is in order?
Redskins Have Not Had Success With Former Cowboys
Now that he's signed with the Washington Redskins, cornerback Orlando Scandrick joins a lackluster list of former Cowboys players and coaches who have gone from Dallas to its historic rival. The history of these moves is ugly for Washington, going back over 40 years, and can't have their fans too excited anytime they sign an ex-Cowboy.
The most recent example was just last year with defensive tackle Terrell McClain. After a strong season as a 15-game starter in Dallas, McClain got a four-year, $21 million deal to join the Redskins. He missed four games with injuries and was only credited with two starts; hardly what the team wanted given the money they paid.
Before him it was Jason Hatcher, whose 11-sack season for the Cowboys in 2013 got him a four-year, $27.5 million deal from Washington. Hatcher would battle knee injuries for two season, getting only 7.5 sacks from 2014-2015. His early retirement in 2016 brought an abrupt end to a disappointing tenure.
Continuing the legacy of defensive linemen was Stephen Bowen, who Washington paid a shocking amount of money ($27.5 million over five years) to in 2011 to pick up in free agency. Bowen had a great first year for the Redskins with six sacks and 16 starts, but injuries would soon cost him 14 games from 2013-2014. He was eventually released after only one standout season in four with the team.
Going back even further, DT Brandon Noble joined Washington in 2003 after being a full-time starter for Dallas for over two seasons. He would miss all of 2003 with a knee injury, have an unimpressive year in 2004, and then missed all of 2005 with more health issues. He retired after being released by the Redskins in 2006.
Orlando Scandrick won't be the first cornerback to go from Dallas to Washington, or the best. At age 32, Deion Sanders was released in 2000 by the Cowboys and then got a huge seven-year, $56 million deal from the Redskins. This came less than a year after Daniel Snyder bought the franchise and was desperate to get them relevant again.
The Sanders move backfired horribly. Even after a solid season by his lofty standards, Primetime was disgruntled with both the coaching staff and his increasing struggles as an aging player. He suddenly retired after just one season of the seven-year contract.
Washington also tried to tap into the Cowboys' glory days when they signed receiver Alvin Harper in 1997. Harper had left Dallas in 1995 and spent two years with Tampa Bay, but had not carried over the same success he enjoyed playing in the Dallas offense.
The Redskins hoped that reuniting him with Norv Turner, who had been Harper's offensive coordinator and was now their head coach, would help Alvin get back to form. But between ongoing injuries and the absence of Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin, and Emmitt Smith as teammates, Alvin Harper was never the same guy as when he won two Super Bowls in Dallas.
The failed poaching attempts go back many more decades, another one being running back Calvin Hill. The fourth-leading rusher in Cowboys history and a four-time Pro Bowler while in Dallas, Hill joined Washington in 1976. He served as a backup only, averaging only 3.8 yards-per-carry as he played behind the likes of Mike Thomas and John Riggins.
The bad history doesn't stop with players. The aforementioned Norv Turner, who was one of the hottest assistant coaches in history after the Cowboys first two Super Bowl wins in the 90s, was hired as the Redskins' head coach in 1994.
Turner's run started with a whimper, drafting quarterback Heath Shuler third overall in that first year. Shuler would go down as one of the biggest QB busts in NFL history
Norv's Redskins never seemed to recover from that blunder. He only had two winning seasons and one playoff appearance from 1994-1999, and was fired midway through the 2000 season.
Far more recently, Cowboys offensive line coach Bill Callahan left the team in 2015 and took the same job in Washington. He didn't get to bring the offensive line or DeMarco Murray with him, though. As such, the Redskins have remained one of the league's worst rushing teams for the last three seasons. They fell to a new low of 28th in the NFL in 2017.
~ ~ ~
Of course, none of this means that Orlando Scandrick won't have success in Washington. But with the Redskins generally the most mismanaged team in the NFC East, all of the Dallas players and coaches who've gone there have not walked into good situations. For all that Cowboys fans love to complain about Jerry Jones, he handles the owner and GM roles better than any pair Washington's had in almost 30 years.
Given the nature of the rivalries, we naturally can't wish success for Scandrick or anyone else who leaves Dallas for a division opponent. With the track record we just discussed for Washington, it's not something I'll be losing any sleep over.
Xavier Woods, the Real Reason Cowboys Didn’t Pursue Tyrann Mathieu?
It's not uncommon for Dallas Cowboys fans to zero in on certain free agents in hopes that they will bring their talents to America's Team. In fact, just about any "big name" player to hit the open market is often linked to the Cowboys in some way or another. That was the case when the Arizona Cardinals decided to move on from Tyrann Mathieu.
Once Tyrann Mathieu became available, Cowboys fans immediately wanted to see him with a star on his helmet. But, despite the fans petitioning, the Cowboys brass seemed to show almost zero interest in the former Cardinal.
The decision to not pursue Tyrann Mathieu certainly didn't sit well with a lot of Cowboys Nation, but I think it was the right decision.
Despite Mathieu's perceived talents and youth (he's just 25), the Cowboys weren't interested in paying the price to bring him to Dallas, especially since they already have a similar player on their roster.
It may sound crazy, but I think the real reason the Dallas Cowboys didn't show much interest in Tyrann Mathieu is because of Xavier Woods.
I honestly believe Xavier Woods and Tyrann Mathieu have a similar skill set. Both players are little undersized to be a full-time safety in the NFL, but each of them have the versatility to play several different roles in the secondary.
Mathieu may have been listed as a safety on the Arizona Cardinals roster, and now the Houston Texans, but the truth is he played mostly out of the nickel/slot in his professional and collegiate career. That is where he is at his best, and the same can be said about Xavier Woods.
As a rookie, Xavier Woods showed his versatility with the Dallas Cowboys by playing a variety of different roles in the secondary. His versatility was one of the reasons the Cowboys decided to trade up in last year's draft to acquire his services.
His name might not carry the same kind of weight as Tyrann Mathieu right now around the league or amongst NFL fans, but I don't think Xavier Woods is that much of a drop off talent wise.
Personally, I believe Mathieu is starting to decline a little as a player. I think injuries are starting to take a toll on his play, although it may be minimal. I actually prefer Xavier Woods' upside, especially when you take into account the difference in salaries between the two.
Surprisingly enough, Xavier Woods might just have been more productive in 2017 then Mathieu. Woods started just four games and finished the season with 42 tackles, three passes defensed, and one interception. Mathieu on the other hand started all 16 games and accumulated 78 tackles, one quarterback sack, one forced fumble, and two interceptions.
As you can see, Xavier Woods was almost just as productive as Mathieu in nearly a third of the playing time. What's even more impressive about this is that Woods accomplish this as a rookie.
Of course, all of this is speculation, but I for one am not all that upset the Dallas Cowboys missed out on Tyrann Mathieu. I'm willing to bet on Xavier Woods being able to do everything Mathieu can and at a fraction of the cost.
Were the Cowboys right not to pursue Tyrann Mathieu?
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