Dallas enters the stretch run with the NFC East there for the taking. Again. Fourth time’s a charm….?
It’s all so familiar. Cowboys fans have sat tied and blindfolded in darkness for much of the past decade, not knowing when, or how often, a two-by-four to the knees would strike. Football torture can be a cruel, cruel thing.
So forgive our Pavlovian flinch each time someone utters “playoffs” or implications involving January football. Such is the result of the constant hope and disappointment that regurgitated 8-8s brings. Season after season of flawed squads in win-or-go-home finales has calloused and conditioned this fan base to expect the worst. It’s just been too long.
(Good gosh what it must be like to be a Guantanamo Eagles fan.)
This certainly isn’t the first time Dallas has sat in decent shape heading into Thanksgiving, but it’s been an annual striptease that ends in a $300 bar tab. But this go at it should be from 8-3, rather than the 6-4, 5-5, and 6-5 in recent seasons.
Football logic, if there is such a thing, says that this time is different. The group is far more fundamentally sound, balanced, constructed, and focused for a stretch run. It’s not all Romo-or-else as it was before, with Murray running wild and a transformed defense that looks the part of a real NFL unit. And health, dare I say it, seems hauntingly on the Cowboys’ side.
But…..I don’t know. Squeamishness is setting in as we file into the shadows of December, where orcs and gremlins normally ruin the holidays. That damned Pavlov and his wicked ways.
Tony Romo’s back has to hold up for Thanksgiving, just a few hours after a Sunday nighter in New York. His health going forward is paramount, as the alternative against Arizona proved beyond doubt. True, the run game and defense make this a much more December-worthy team, and far less codependent on Romo, especially in the cold, wet, and wind that awaits. Winning low-scoring affairs is not laughable anymore because this is thankfully not like recent Dallas teams.
Over there in the far corner sits Philadelphia. The Eagles, too, have their demons to exorcise, despite the national fawning over Chip Kelly and his hocus-pocus offense. One game, they’re tearing through opponents like high schoolers, then another, they can’t score an offensive touchdown. Their running game is disappointing, as is their red zone offense. Mark Sanchez is apparently the next Joe Montana in this offense by all reports, butt fumble and years of prior failures conveniently pushed aside. They lead the league by a mile with nine defensive/special team scores, which isn’t sustainable.
So how will the NFC East end? Here’s my week-by-week take.
Week 11: The Packers drop the Eagles to 7-3 this weekend while the Cowboys heal. It’s a dead heat with both head-to-head matchups looming soon.
Week 12: A healthy Dallas squad rolls over a Giants team that is giving up massive rushing totals and is basically already in offseason mode. The Eagles pound Tennessee, also done for this season already. Both teams are 8-3 heading into the Thanksgiving showdown.
Week 13: Mark Sanchez is not one for the bright lights of the national stage. His history says so, and Dallas, thanks to an easy win in New York and quick exit for Romo, has a healthy quarterback despite short rest. Nothing is easy about this classic all-timer, but Dallas manages a 27-24 win to take a one game lead in the division.
Week 14: Dallas gets another team that’s imploding from within in Chicago the following Thursday. The coach and quarterback are on the hot seat, and Jay Cutler is in full pout mode. Dallas wins to put the pressure on Philadelphia to keep pace, and the Eagles have Seattle coming to town fighting for their own season. This is the critical game for Philadelphia because a loss here is devastating for them. Cowboys fans will be riveted to this game, but will be disappointed as the Eagles get this done at home. Dallas maintains a one-game lead.
Week 15: The rematch at Philly brings a few days extra rest for Dallas, thanks to back-to-back Thursday games, and that could bode well, as could nighttime temperatures that favor the better running team. However, a road gremlin bites Dallas, and they drop a close one to the Eagles, which brings the race back even at 10-4 each. Could have ended this there, but didn’t. Ouch.
Week 16: From here, the schedule appears to benefit Philadelphia. However, the Eagles get surprised by a feisty Redskins team that is under pressure by the home fans and owner, and the Eagles drop one unexpectedly to their bitter rival from just down the road. Unfortunately, the Cowboys home woes continue, and they drop a close one to Indianapolis and fail to take advantage again. Both are now 10-5.
Week 17: With the division hanging in the balance, both teams step forward and finish strong. The Eagles beat New York, and Dallas wins in Washington with a much better plan against Jim Haslett’s blitz scheme. Dallas and Philadelphia finish with identical 11-5 records.
So now what? This is where it gets really crazy as it takes the fourth tiebreaker to determine a winner.
Dallas and Philly split the head-to-head, both teams finish 4-2 in the division, and both teams are 10-4 against common opponents. Dallas wins the NFC East based on conference record with a one-game advantage (10-4) over Philly (9-5). Both teams are playoff bound, but Dallas doesn’t earn a bye.
All that is to say, whether I’ve pegged it or I’ve got it all out-of-order, we’re all still bound and blindfolded, hoping we don’t get another whack across our knees. Let’s hope Dr. Pavlov took December off this year.
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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