A lot has been made of the upcoming matchup between the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings in the Divisional round of the playoffs, and it’s got me thinking about the tangibles for each defense.
I’m of the mind that numbers matter in any contest. To quote Winston Churchill, “The longer you can look back, the farther you can look forward.” While I doubt the intended significance toward such a triviality as football, it does have a very relevant meaning. And that’s why we keep stats—to look back and see what has been done.
I like statistics because I can look back and see what was done in order to better gauge what will be done.
I’m also of the mindset that a particular stat—the QB rating—is somewhat useless when it comes to gauging a quarterback’s play. It has become something we look at often to see how a QB did in a game, but it being high or low has never been correlated directly with winning football games.
For instance, look at week 13 between the Cowboys and Giants. The Giants won the game but Tony Romo had a QB rating of 112.1.
For those that do not know, the QB rating is calculated based on completions, attempts, yards, touchdowns, and interceptions. It’s essentially a measure of efficiency and nothing more.
But as I stated, I believe it to be rather useless for determining a quarterback’s level of play. It is, however, a viable stat when trying to figure out what a defense can do and has done.
Consider my logic—a few good ways of labeling a defense successful is to look at how many yards per game they allow, how many third down conversions, how many yards per play they give up, how many touchdowns they allow, and how many interceptions they take. Most of which is factored into a QB rating calculation.
So I like to look at a teams schedule and see what kind of QB ratings they’ve allowed opposing quarterbacks to have. The truth is that while an efficient QB is great, e.g., Brett Favre only throwing for seven interceptions this season, I’d much rather have an effective QB. And that’s what this method is based on.
In the 2009 season the Vikings defense has allowed an average opposing QB rating of 90.8. That’s six games of 16 allowing a QB rating of over 100.
The Cowboys, in contrast, have allowed an average opposing rating of 82.8. That’s only two games of 17, including the wild card round, in which they allowed a rating over 100.
Both defenses are highly ranked against the run (Vikings 2nd, Cowboys 4th ). Both offenses rank well running the ball (Vikings 13th, Cowboys 7th).
It basically shows me that the Vikings are going to be in a tough spot trying to run against Dallas more so than Dallas will be stuffed by Minnesota. It’s a fair conclusion even considering that Adrian Peterson is a future Hall of Fame running back.
Everyone likes to say how versatile he is and there’s been references made that the Cowboys have to have three backs to equal what Minnesota has in just one, but it’s overlooked what impact that really has on the players.
Sure, Peterson is allowed to find a rhythm and ride it out being the primary back and getting 20+ carries a game, but that kind of running takes its toll. By the end of a game he’s tired. Even if he’s in a rhythm, he’s worn down from either running up and down the field, or fighting a tough defense for every yard. He does lead the league in no gain and negative yard runs this year.
Meanwhile the Cowboys have a better ranked rushing attack. Perhaps lending credit to the fact they have three guys who stay fresher during the course of a game.
What does it mean? The Vikings are going to have to rely on Brett Favre long before the Cowboys will be relying on Tony Romo. And that is when Romo is at his best—as a game manager, as opposed to a game winner.
History has shown that Favre struggles against Dallas anyway. History has shown that the Vikings struggle in home playoff games against Dallas. History has shown that teams on a late season winning streak go farther than teams wrapping up regulation under .500. The Cowboys went 3-0 the final three games of the season while the Vikings only went 1-2.
And since I predict the game will come down to how the quarterbacks play I’ll let you know how each defense has done.
Minnesota allows a higher QB rating, completion percentage, and average yards per completion. The Cowboys’ defense has one less sack over an extra game, and one less interception over an extra game.
It’s a game of numbers that these men play, and the numbers show that the Vikings will have their work cut out for them.
And finally, consider this—the Vikings are 8-0 at home this year and definitely have an advantage at home. Obviously they play better at home, but the Cowboys, this year, have played better on the road.
Despite Late Push as Rookie, Will Taco Charlton Struggle to See Field in 2018?
It feels like ages ago that the Dallas Cowboys spent the 28th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft on Michigan Defensive End Taco Charlton. Perhaps this is a result of the constant distancing fans have made from this unpopular pick, or the corresponding moves the Cowboys have made at DE since drafting Charlton.
These moves include using the franchise tag on DeMarcus Lawrence after seeing him explode for 14.5 sacks, spending a fourth round pick this year on Kansas' Dorance Armstrong, and seeing Randy Gregory reinstated in time for training camp.
Across the entirety of the Cowboys roster, there will be plenty of "odd men out" that miss the cut down to 53 players. Defensive end remains one of the most cluttered spots on the current 90 man roster however.
Prior to establishing the depth the Cowboys now have up front on defense, they did Taco no favors by starting his career at right defensive end. While Gregory may still be a long way from earning the starting role here, similarly styled players like Armstrong have the edge here over Charlton.
This relegates Charlton to the strong side, where he always projected best out of college. By the time the Cowboys realized this a season ago, they also knew a franchise pass rusher was playing his way into the team's long-term plans.
Lawrence's stellar consistency off the edge reduced Charlton's role in the Cowboys rotation of pass rushers. An ideal spot for the rookie to develop with less pressure on him, Charlton's opportunities to continue playing left end may only be reduced this season.
The first-round pick is capable of kicking inside at defensive tackle, a position the Cowboys could certainly use help at. However, asking Charlton to go through another position shift would only halt the progress that took quite a bit of patience from Dallas to see.
It's far from unheard of for the Cowboys to do this with their young players, but for now Charlton remains a defensive end looking to make his impact. The Cowboys are in much better position now than they were at this time a year ago when it comes to setting expectations for him to do so.
Given everything he showed on tape at Michigan as well as in his pre-draft interviews, Charlton is a player that needs to succeed at the task at hand. When this plan is altered, the 6'6" pass rusher is much less effective -- without even considering any athletic struggles that Charlton has compared to other prototypes at defensive end.
As a unit, the Cowboys defensive line has all the pieces to be very effective this season. Taco Charlton is a piece to this puzzle, a backup left end that must find a way to flourish in this role.
For most former 28th overall picks, doing so would be considered a fall from grace. For the Cowboys, it's simply an example of strong roster building that's forced life to come at Charlton quickly. How he responds with a full season under his belt will make or break the hype this deep Cowboys defensive line has garnered, lead of course by the starter at Charlton's position in DeMarcus Lawrence.
Cowboys OT La’el Collins Could Become Major Bargain
When you talk Cowboys offensive line, you always think of Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin first. Right Tackle La'el Collins still has to prove he belongs in the same sentence with his elite teammates. If he does that in 2018, Collins could become one of the best bargains on the roster.
Making the move from left guard to right tackle last year, Collins improved with time and was playing his best football at the end of the year. This was despite ongoing back issues that had him on the injury report most weeks.
La'el started all 16 games at right tackle and did enough that the Cowboys committed to keeping him there in 2018, even despite a big hole back at left guard. They are hoping consistency and stability will allow Collins to really blossom this season, building on the strong progress shown last year.
For 2018, Collins has a $5.76 million cap hit. According to Spotrac, that makes him the 13th-most expensive right tackle in the NFL this year.
That middle-of-the-pack expense is consistent with where La'el currently rates among NFL right tackles. Bleacher Report ranked Collins as the 16th-best RT in football last year.
But that ranking was based on the season as a whole. If La'el plays all of 2018 the way he was playing towards the end of last year, he will have emerged as one of the better right tackles in the game.
If Collins develops as we hope, that salary suddenly becomes a major bargain. The most expensive right tackles in the NFL are making $7-$9 million this season.
But this can go a couple of ways. With his 2019 cap hit rising to $7.9 million, La'el needs to next step forward.
If Collins were to struggle this year, it could make him a potential cap casualty next offseason. Dallas can save $6.5 million in cap space if Collins is released or traded in 2019.
Dallas could elect to give Connor Williams, their second-round pick this year, a look at right tackle next season. It's the position he played in college.
They could also consider veteran backup Cameron Fleming, who will still be just 26-year-old. Fleming has two Super Bowl rings and several starts, including in the postseason, from his time with the Patriots.
While we think of La'el Collins as a first-round talent, it's important to remember that he was ultimately an undrafted free agent. Dallas did not have to invest anything to acquire him, and ultimately that makes it easier to let him go.
Naturally, we prefer the other side of this coin. If Collins builds on 2017, he will join the upper echelon of right tackles in the league. And if the Cowboys' offensive line isn't already the best in the NFL, that would only cement them as the best unit in football.
If La'el makes the leap, it could mean huge things for the Cowboys' offense and team success this year.
How Cowboys Could Benefit From Randy Gregory’s Suspension
Randy Gregory is back! His suspension is officially over and he will be able to join the Dallas Cowboys in Oxnard, California when training camp gets underway less than a week from now.
Speculation has already started as to what this could mean for the Dallas Cowboys defense this season, and shockingly expectations are rather high for a player who hasn't stepped foot on the field in over a year. But, that's not what I want to talk about today. Today I want to focus on Gregory's mess of a contract, because it is rather interesting.
Randy Gregory was signed to a four-year contract after being drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the second-round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Gregory's rookie deal was set to expire at the conclusion of the 2018 season, but his multiple suspensions have now changed that expiration date.
You see, Gregory has only played in a total of 14 games in his career, 12 as a rookie and two in Year 2. His third year in the NFL was completely wiped out due to his year-long suspension. If you were to add that all up, it equates to just one accured season in the NFL. Remember that, because it could have a huge impact on his contract down the road.
What all of this means is that the Cowboys can pretty much stretch out Gregory's contract now that they are three years in on the deal and have only gotten one accured season out of the agreement. That basically means they can push his contract back a year, meaning his 2017 salary ($731,813) gets pushed back to 2018, his 2018 salary ($955,217) gets pushed to 2019. That would essentially make him a Restricted Free Agent (RFA) in 2020.
Or does it?
Depending on how the Dallas Cowboys handled paying Randy Gregory during his suspension could actually make him an Exclusive Rights Free Agent (EFA). This is a similar situation in which David Irving found himself in after the 2017 season. The Cowboys placed a second-round tender on him in order to secure his services for another season, albeit at a $2.91 million price tag.
As you can see, the Dallas Cowboys pretty much hold all the cards when it comes to Randy Gregory's contract situation. It's all a little confusing, but that's what makes it such a unique and interesting situation.
Of course, the Cowboys could decide to extend Gregory early if he completely dominates upon his return this season. It's highly doubtful though considering his past suspensions, but still technically a possibility. If it does happen, you can go ahead and ignore everything I've written previously.
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