Watching the 2015 Dallas Cowboys was stressful.
I usually try not to tweet during Cowboys games. I don't like to overreact to things or have haste reactions. But this season, I couldn't stop. This team was particularly frustrating and I often times had to get out my frustrations by trying to figure things out with a community approach through Twitter.
My main problems were cosmetic. Just looking at the team, it didn't appear to be working. They were missing that "It" factor that made them so successful in 2014.
As the season went on I came to figure out what was different...
What went right for the Cowboys in 2014?
The 2014 Dallas Cowboys had a hunger unlike anything I've ever seen before, out of any sports team that I follow closely. That team played with determination. You could see the hunger in every single player, especially on the defense. They were a defensive unit that the mass-media was labeling as potentially a historically bad defense prior to the start of the season.
You could tell that the defense was motivated by this and what did we get? A defense that fought!
Any time there was a pass caught, you would see every defensive player flying to the ball. It didn't matter if you were a corner, defensive tackle, linebacker... EVERYONE flew to the ball. They hit hard and group tackled.
I remember, on Monday Night Football, Jon Gruden picked up on this and called the Cowboys defense "Unidentified Flying Objects." What he meant by this was that you didn't know the names of these players, but they flew to the ball.
Some of this defensive intensity that was missing comes from losing Orlando Scandrick's presence on the field.
Scandrick is without a doubt one of the most fiery players on the Cowboys defense. He likes to chirp and he leads the "fly to the ball" movement. Throw a screen in Scandrick's direction and forget about it.
What went wrong for the Cowboys in 2015?
This is where this article gets a little racy and debatable.
While I supported the Cowboys going out and getting Greg Hardy, and I thought it was a move that could potentially make the Cowboys a Super Bowl quality team, there were repercussions.
Disclaimer: I am not going to sit here and say Greg Hardy alone was the reason the Cowboys lost the group mentality as well as their fiery competitiveness. That would be completely unfair to Greg Hardy and to the Cowboys. There is no exact science to building a unit like the 2014 Cowboys had, or every team would be doing this. Cohesion is something that every successful team has and it is a key piece to successful football.
Now, when you add a big personality into a locker room, things change. This is just human nature. Even without Greg Hardy's baggage, he is an elite-level player and that changes things. Add to it the obvious baggage and its clear effects on team chemistry.
The bigger point that I am trying to make here is that when high quality players join a unit, you run the risk of other players getting even slightly more complacent.
There is a reason that the Cowboys have seen much more success with Sean Lee off the field rather than on the field. The Cowboys have done even worse when Lee and DeMarcus Ware were on the field, compared to off.
I'm not saying those players aren't good, because they are in fact great and elite players in the game today. The point is that the Cowboys have to carry that same intensity and level of effort with great players on the field that they do when they are off the field.
You can't expect Sean Lee's presence to mean you don't have to go 100 mph on every single play.
I get that players get tired. They are humans. It is human nature to try to find a break here and there. It seems pretty obvious to me that when elite players join this defense it makes other players think they now have protection.
No. Keep that intensity and work ethic and you reach even further heights.
How can Dallas replicate 2014's success?
Does this mean you should look away from players like Olivier Vernon or Mario Williams? I don't think it does. However, I want someone that is coming in hungry. The Cowboys need players that are going to motivate everyone around them. There can't be plays where anyone gives less than 100-percent.
This is the reason more and more teams are looking for youth movements. Young players are hungry. They haven't received their second contracts yet. The Cowboys defense still has a lot of these players on it and where they have players on second or third contracts, they have high work ethics.
I still prefer Olivier Vernon due to his age. Though I think Mario Williams would come in hungry. He would be returning to Texas only to join the other team there. He is coming off of a disappointing season in which he will have had to be cut in order to join the Cowboys in the first place. He would be returning to a scheme that makes him comfortable.
There also has to be more competition on the second level of the depth chart. If you don't want to give your all, it's okay, because someone behind you will and they will take your job from you.
Competition breeds success. The 2014 Cowboys defensive line was filled with players that didn't have name recognition and you could see these players fighting for playing time.
I am trying to build something new here.
While I think having great players is obviously important, I want to build a team filled with high motor players. A team filled with hungry players. A team of personalities that mesh well. A locker room that is a pleasure to enter into. I want a unit. I want a TEAM.
If that means I have to sign or draft a player with slightly less skill but a higher motor and is a better person, I will take that person every single time!
This is about team building. This is about assembling a group of men that are not just teammates, or people getting paid a lot of money, or people who want a Super Bowl... but a group of men that consider themselves brothers, and who want to share a Super Bowl with each other and fight for themselves and one another every single day of the week and on every single snap.
Is this easy to accomplish? It is the hardest thing to do in the NFL. People like Greg Hardy will always intrigue you. People like Noah Spence and Randy Gregory will intrigue you. Quite frankly, I can see a way you can add these types of players and still make my vision work. If you have a player who you truly think made a mistake and uses that as fuel to become the type of player and person I am looking for... then I'm all for it.
While I have no power and I don't want to pretend like I do, I think this is exactly what Jason Garrett is looking for and is why I admire him so much. Jason Garrett gets it. Few coaches in the league do. Jason Garrett understands that it takes a group effort to attain success and he understands what it takes to build that type of group effort.
If the Cowboys can combine my philosophy for the defense and the philosophy I prescribed for the running attack yesterday, that gives the Cowboys an offensive and defensive identity. That is what leads teams to succeed.
I'm ready for 2014 on steroids (Not literally).
Cowboys Trade For DT Jihad Ward Already Paying Off?
The Dallas Cowboys uncharacteristically made several offseason trades this year and it has yet to be seen how or if these players can be impactful in 2018. One such trade was met with quite a bit of skepticism and actually angered a lot of Cowboys fans. Sending wide receiver Ryan Switzer to the Oakland Raiders in exchange for Jihad Ward was somewhat puzzling, but it looks as if the trade might already be paying off.
Unfortunately, one of the Dallas Cowboys best defensive players will once again have to sit out of the first four games of the 2018 season while serving his suspension for violating the substance abuse policy. David Irving was expected to pick up where he left off last season as one of the best defensive tackles in the league, but will have to wait until Week 5 to find out what he can do.
I don't know if the Dallas Cowboys suspected something like this would happen with Irving once again, but suddenly the trade for Jihad Ward is looking like a brilliant under the radar offseason move.
I know a lot of Cowboys fans were excited to see what Ryan Switzer could do for the offense this season, but the coaching staff never really had a plan in place for him or knew exactly how to use him. There is no question as to how the coaching staff will use Ward. He could end up being one of the better defensive lineman this season.
Jihad Ward has already caught the attention of the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff in organized team activities (OTA's) and mandatory minicamp. Coincidentally, he's been playing in place of David Irving at the under tackle position or the three-technique. It's a role he may not relinquish heading into the 2018 season, and quite possibly even when Irving returns from his suspension.
I know it's a little bit early to anoint Jihad Ward, but the fact that as a new addition he's already starting ahead of the likes of Tyrone Crawford and other 3-tech candidates is pretty telling, at least for me.
Once training camp opens up there will be several things I will be paying close attention to, and how Jihad Ward performs will be one of them. He was after all highly thought of by defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli a few years ago in the 2016 NFL Draft. Maybe that infatuation will pay off.
I know it still stings a little that Ryan Switzer is no longer with the Cowboys, but Jihad Ward could prove to be the more impactful player this season and beyond.
Do you think the Jihad Ward trade is already paying off for the Cowboys?
How Will Safeties Xavier Woods, Kavon Frazier Fit Kris Richard’s Secondary?
Unfortunately, David Irving's most recent four game suspension is the main story for a Dallas Cowboys team finished with OTAs and mini camp, left only to wait for training camp now. I've chosen to focus on the players that were on the field for the offseason program, that will continue to contend for starting jobs in Oxnard. Standing out from a lackluster group of safeties, for a Kris Richard led secondary that is off to a fast start, are safeties Xavier Woods and Kavon Frazier.
Joined by Jeff Heath, Tyree Robinson, Jameill Showers, and Marqueston Huff, the Cowboys are lacking a dominant force at safety to pair with their young and talented group of cornerbacks. With the likes of Chidobe Awuzie, Byron Jones (the former safety), and Anthony Brown already improving under Richard, the Cowboys hope is that the same will apply to this group of safeties.
It's still entirely too early to know how the Cowboys want to deploy their safeties this season, but the only players that have shown their strengths and weaknesses over any period of time are Heath, Frazier, and Woods. This is sure to cause an uphill battle for the fringe players looking to push this trio of versatile safeties.
Jeff Heath has appeared in 77 games over five seasons with the Cowboys. Frazier and Woods combined? Just 24 games, with 16 of them making up Woods' rookie season a year ago. This makes finding a potential role for both players vital to the Cowboys.
Safety Kavon Frazier
Working mostly as a special teams player through two seasons in Dallas, Kavon Frazier has patiently awaited his opportunity to spark the Cowboys defense as a sixth round pick of 2016. Doing so in a memorable week 13 win over the Washington Redskins, Frazier earned an increased role as an enforcer on defense.
This is a player whose straight line burst and power is ideal for a ST starter, and when Frazier connects coming downhill on defense, the results can be catastrophic for an opposing offense. Surely these are traits that will remind Kris Richard even slightly of his Super Bowl winning "Legion of Boom" defenses.
The distinction between Frazier being a part-time player or one maximizing his potential to start deep in the Cowboys secondary is an important one. Limited in coverage, Frazier may be at his best when conceding snaps to another safety on the Cowboys roster with more of an all-around game -- which the Cowboys can only hope Xavier Woods continues to be.
Safety Xavier Woods
Xavier Woods may not have the pure stopping power that Kavon Frazier possesses, but as a fellow sixth-round pick there is more than enough to like about what Woods brought to the Cowboys in 2017 out of Louisiana Tech. With 14 interceptions and six forced fumbles out of college, Woods slid in the draft enough for the Cowboys to trade up for his services.
The team wasn't cheated out of their investment in Woods last season, giving him the "Byron Jones treatment" as Woods lined up all over the field. It was Richard that came to Dallas and almost immediately moved Byron Jones down to cornerback, seeing a better use of his natural size and skills there.
Doing the same for Woods -- while keeping the natural FS free to react -- should be next up on Richard's offseason to-do list. This is a player with sideline to sideline range, enough athleticism to cover down in the slot, and the functional strength to compete in the box.
Amidst this uncertainty for both Frazier and Woods, early reports out of the Cowboys practices thus far have Jeff Heath specifically matching up against the tight end. This is an ideal role for Heath, and one that could compliment Woods very well.
Regardless of where Heath is on the field, Woods should be able to coexist with him as a similarly instinctive safety.
There is also the possibility that both Heath and Woods struggle to handle these "starting" responsibilities, leaving the Cowboys with very little trusted depth at safety. If there is an area Woods needs the most improvement in, it is the angles he takes against the run to consistently make stops, a weakness also potentially mitigated by the Cowboys improved linebacker play (investing the 19th overall pick at the position).
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
Between Frazier and Woods, it feels safe to say the Cowboys must find a starter for a secondary that could still achieve great things in 2018. The Cowboys are entering this season with a loaded group of cornerbacks, all capable of making a safety's job relatively easy, especially while learning under Richard.
Such can be the hope for a raw player like Frazier and, in a sense, Xavier Woods. The second-year player in Woods is a great unknown for the Cowboys right now, as he'll remain that way for some time before next month's training camp.
With this, we'll have much more time to sit around and continue pondering what certain position groups will look like once meaningful Cowboys football graciously returns. I've written before that I'm paying close attention to this team's group of wide receivers, and you can add in the secondary players they'll be competing against too.
No, Cowboys Shouldn’t Cut David Irving
For the past five years, Dallas Cowboys fans have gone through painful offseason stories regarding upcoming suspensions for defensive players. It doesn't matter how much talent the front office is able to find through the Draft, there's always one player that ruins what feels like a successful offseason. This time, for the second consecutive year, David Irving is the player to let Cowboys Nation down.
On Friday it was announced that Irving will serve a four-game suspension after violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.
Understandably, a lot of Cowboys' fans want to see Irving released by the franchise that has preached the "Right Kind of Guy" philosophy while failing to establish such a thing. It's disappointing to see such a talented player limiting himself by not "wanting it" bad enough and by making mistakes like this repeatedly.
However, even if it's a very frustrating situation, the Cowboys shouldn't cut David Irving.
First of all, Irving's hit against the cap space is pretty minimum and nothing to be concerned at all. After being handed a second-round tender earlier in the year, #95 was set to earn $2.91M during the season. With a four-game suspension ahead of him, that number will be even lower.
We're talking about a guy who in eight games managed to get to the quarterback seven times in 2017 and consistently pressured opposing signal callers. Not to mention he's going to be just 25 years old when the season begins.
For the Cowboys, David Irving has the talent needed to average one sack per game. All of this for less than three million.
Irving has proven by now that he's not worth a long-term extension. That much is clear. In order to get one of those, a player must prove his availability.
Talking specifically about 2018, though, I'm sure the Cowboys will be better off if they count on Irving for the final 12 games of the season. The team counts with pretty decent depth at the position with Maliek Collins, Datone Jones and Jihad Ward, but Irving has the potential to end the season with double-digit sacks.
The team gains nothing by releasing Irving. The team will not even be "sending a message" if they were to release #95. Maybe if the team had consistently sent this kind of "messages" over the years it would make sense.
However, we know this team sticks with their players and supports them in moments like this. They have done just that with Randy Gregory and it seems like it will pay off soon.
Whether we're mad at Irving's actions or not, the truth is letting him go wouldn't be wise at all. The Cowboys are not paying him big-time money, he's young and he'll be productive on the field when the defense needs him to.
We're talking about a football team that wants to make a run for the Lombardi Trophy. They can't be letting starting-caliber players go just like that. They need all the help they can get and even though his situation is far from ideal, David Irving will play a big role on defense.
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