AFC Arms Race: Denver Broncos v New England Patriots

The NFL has become corporate in their thinking but have we had two off-seasons where the lead teams in a conference have gone after each other like this?? First, we had Seattle and San Francisco try to one up each other as they fortified their teams throughout the preseason last year. Now this year in the AFC, the Patriots and Broncos have completely raised the bar through the early free agent signing period.

Talib joined the Broncos after signing for $57 million.

Talib joined the Broncos after signing for $57 million.

The Broncos struck first when they snatched Pro Bowl corner Aquib Talib who starred last year for the Patriots. Ironically it was Bill Belichick who complained Denver intentionally tried to take him out of last year’s AFC Championship Game. Now they sign him for $57 million?? Go with that where you will but then they signed DE/LB DeMarcus Ware to fortify the pass rush.

If Ware can show half the skill from his 2008-2010 years, the Broncos could have the league's best pass rush.

If Ware can show half the skill from his 2008-2010 years, the Broncos could have the league’s best pass rush.

No question the Broncos jumped to the early lead in the AFC arms race. Couple these signings with the return and motivation of All Pro Von Miller and this isn’t the defense they sent to Super Bowl XLVIII in New York. The most important factor is Miller is a left side rusher where Ware comes in from the blindside. Neither has to learn to rush from a different stance than they’re used to. With a potent rush, Talib will be able to take away the opponents best receiver.

On the east coast the Patriots recovered from the loss of Talib with the signing of Darelle Revis. Why didn’t they just keep Talib?? Well they also struck gold with the signing of former Seahawk CB Brandon Browner. Knowing they eventually will have to stop the Broncos potent offense, these two signings go a long way in achieving that. Now that WR Eric Decker has signed with the Jets this will be easier to accomplish.

The key for Denver could be signing pro bowl safety TJ Ward.

The key for Denver could be signing pro bowl safety TJ Ward.

Up until these signings it seemed the Broncos had the leg up on their AFC counterparts. The Patriots are on the verge of signing wideout Brandon Lafell formerly of Carolina. The glaring weakness that the Patriots were forced to face in the AFC Championship Game is they need bigger receivers. If it weren’t for cap penalties the right thing to do is cut Amendola and sign another big receiver. Former Titan Kenny Britt is scheduled to visit New England today.

Now that RB Knowshon Moreno isn’t really getting the free agency attention he sought, he may come back into the fold. The one signing that has gone under the radar is Denver signing former Cleveland Brown SS TJ Ward. He can bring the thunder in the secondary and create a more aggressive culture within the defense.

The 6'4 Browner matches  well with Denver's big receivers.

The 6’4 Browner matches well with Denver’s big receivers.

We are being flashed back to the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys in the 1990s. These two know they are competing with each other while being head and shoulders above everyone else in the conference. The Bengals haven’t proved they can win the big game. Indy is coming on but might be a year away. Pittsburgh and Baltimore have fallen a few steps beneath these two and every move is to one up the other.

Now we look toward the draft to see where these two will go. Each lost a young linebacker as former Patriot Brandon Spikes signed with Buffalo. Wesley Woodyard signed with Tennessee. Time to watch who the Patriots get for Tom Brady the rest of this offseason. They need some size at receiver. As for Denver, they filled all of their defensive weaknesses. Barring injury this should be a better Bronco team than last year’s Super Bowl unit. However with one or two more moves there will be a Patriot team waiting for them in the AFC Championship Game.

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Cowboys Cut DeMarcus Ware

In a move we knew was going to happen, the Dallas Cowboys cut ties with DeMarcus Ware. His diminishing skills and injuries were mounting over the last two seasons. Of his 6 sacks, 4 came against the Kansas City Chiefs then the St Louis Rams in weeks 3 and 4. No way you can bring a guy back with a $16 million cap hit when he made only 2 sacks in the final 12 games. Cowboy fans can’t help but feel cheated.

One of the best pass rushers in the history of the Dallas Cowboys

One of the best pass rushers in the history of the Dallas Cowboys

Ware was everything Bill Parcells envisioned when he drafted him out of Troy. Why didn’t the Cowboys do everything to team him with another pass rusher?? No Cowboy fans, I’m not talking of Jason Hatcher or Anthony Spencer. I’m talking a bonafide blue chip player. Imagine Mario Williams, Julius Peppers or Jared Allen across from him with all that noise down in Dallas. Not only did he have 7 straight double digit sack seasons, he had one with 20 (2008) and 19.5 (2011).

Now we have to point to Jerry Jones again. He believed the hype that his team was stocked with blue chip talent. Think of all the tandems in NFL history: Dexter Manley and Charles Mann, Richard Dent & Dan Hampton, Tony Tolbert & Charles Haley, Cornelius Bennett & Bruce Smith, Kevin Greene & Greg Lloyd, then Neil Smith & the late Derrick Thomas, or Clyde Simmons & the late Reggie White. Not once did the Cowboys make a move that could have masked several defensive deficiencies. Or wreaked havoc on opposing offenses and rank near the top in sacks.

The Dallas Cowboys did DeMarcus Ware two disservices. They should have teamed him with another pass rusher to better his chances of taking the Cowboys to the Super Bowl. Then they should have traded him to a team with a chance to win it all sometime in 2012 as well. Both parties would have benefited from such a move. Several Jerry Jones blunders later, Ware has to sell his wares around the NFL. What does he have left in the tank?? As a designated pass rusher he will have some serious suitors. What would happen if he took a small contract for a chance to win it all with Seattle, New England, or go to Denver to play across from a rejuvenated Von Miller?? Ware’s career isn’t over, his tenure in Dallas is left unfulfilled.

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The Chancellor Weighs In On Jerry Jones Comments on Cowboys Super Bowl Window Closing

Earlier this week there were musings from both Jerry Jones and his son Stephen as to the window closing on the Dallas Cowboys.  I thought “window to reach the Super Bowl?” What planet have these two been living on?? Don’t they know that more than half of Cowboy fans everywhere want to string up Tony Romo?? We’ll deal with Romo being the scapegoat in a minute but this team isn’t good enough to heap this type of pressure on it. Now of course every NFL owner has aspirations of his team hoisting the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the year but why add pressure to an already combustible mix??

First off your head coach is an unproven commodity.  Jason Garrett comes from a long line of coaches yet has shown he’ll mismanage ball games from time to time. Last year he inexplicably iced his own kicker in a mind numbing loss at mid-season. This would be more forgivable had it been the first game of the season, but systems should be well oiled at that point. Well it’s true that the NFL is more of a passing league now yet when you look at Garrett’s offense, all of his running plays are based on trickery. Draws and screens for the most part from pass formation looks. This emphasizes not only what they practice most, it shows the type of RBs they have acquired in the last 4 years. Tashard Choice, DeMarco Murray, and Felix Jones are all 3rd down type backs. Not one of these guys can break a tackle and go down at first contact.

Think back to the loss to the Detroit Lions last year. This team had a 17 point lead in the second half when the Lions began to roar back. Once the Lions closed to 30-24 with 9 minutes to go in the game, they punted and pinned the Cowboys to their own 3 yard line. It was at this exact same point in the 1995 NFC Championship Game that Emmitt Smith burst through a hole and arm tackle from George Koonce, and ran 35 yards to get the team breathing room. This finished with a game clinching 7 minute scoring drive. Yet in this game, with Romo having thrown 2 interceptions for touchdowns in the 3rd quarter, couldn’t turn to his running game to bail him out. All that could be mustered??http://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/201110020dal.htm  Two anemic runs for 2 yards, one each by Jones and Choice, then an incomplete pass and the rest is history. In both attempts these two went down at first contact.

The Dallas Cowboys can’t run the football and it stems from not getting their pad level low on the offensive line and making holes. They don’t practice it and they can’t push their way out of a bad smelling bathroom evidenced by only rushing for 5 touchdowns all season. Are you serious?? What Super Bowl quality rushing attack are the Jones’ talking about?? I know….some Cowboy zealot will bring up DeMarco Murray’s season and let’s take a look at it shall we?? He rushed 164 times for 897 yards and 2 touchdowns and a 5.5 yard average. Not bad until you take a closer look at the numbers. Take out his 25 carries for 253 yards and a 91 yard touchdown performance against the 31st ranked against the run St. Louis Rams and what do you have?? A modest 644 yards on 139 carries and only 1 touchdown. Not only does this team not have a running back to close ball games, Garrett’s play calling and practice habits lend to this team not being able to run for vital first downs or goal line touchdowns. Hence Romo is forced to throw in obvious running situations down near the goal line which leads to many field goals.

What is also left out of the equation is you fielded a defense that ranked 14th overall and a paltry 23rd against the pass. This was with All World LB DeMarcus Ware who had 19.5 sacks, which ranked second in the NFL. What would have happened had Ware not been this productive?? Did you also know that along with last year’s Minnesota Vikings, this is the only time in NFL history that a defense fielding a defender with 19 or more sacks played on a team ranked 20th or below in pass defense for that year?? In other words where are your other defenders?? Your safety position is still in disarray and 1st round draft pick CB Morris Claiborne had better hit the ground running. Especially with Terrence Newman having departed via free agency.

For most teams that did field expert pass rushers they had other defensive stalwarts to offset him. Whether it was Keith Millard 19 sacks to Chris Doleman’s 21 sacks in 1989 for the Vikings, Lamar Lathon’s 13.5 sacks to Kevin Greene’s 14 in 1996 in Carolina, Leonard Marshall’s 15.5 sacks to Lawrence Taylor’s 20.5 for New York in 1986, to Otis Wilson’s 10.5 sacks to Richard Dent’s 17 for the ’85 Bears, Ware needs help. Only one of those teams didn’t make it to the conference championship with two of them winning Super Bowls. Now Anthony Spencer played well in the second half of the season and came up with 6 sacks but aside from Ware there are no playmakers on defense. Sean Lee is showing flashes but not yet has he put it together for an entire season.  I’m definitely not seeing a Super Bowl caliber defense here…not until a true superstar emerges to help Ware.

Which leads us to Tony Romo. Now it’s been noted that I have said he is a good quarterback and statistics bear that out. However something is amiss with his fight or flight mechanism. In critical late game scenarios his decision making has cost the Cowboys several games. It’s been a systemic issue since the team can’t run out the clock which forces him to pass at times he shouldn’t be. Yet it’s a reciprocating issue. Last year, Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson blasted Romo for throwing a late game interception to Darrelle Revis in the loss to the Jets on opening night. The argument went on for days on Facebook, yet I tried to point out the blocked punt for a touchdown the special teams gave up and the collapsing of the defense on a long drive. Both also came in the fourth quarter.

“Hollywood” was right he shouldn’t have thrown that pass but who get’s the blame?? The defense that gave up 335 yards passing to Mark Sanchez?? Head Coach Garrett who when leading just 24-23 on the road with 1:10 to go in the game, calls for a passing play in the first place which was the Romo interception?? Did Garrett make that decision based on the fact the Cowboys could only run for 64 yards in the first place?? This in microcosm epitomizes the Cowboys as a Super Bowl team. Add these up and you’ll come up with the conclusion that I have as The Chancellor of Football… The Cowboys are nowhere close to a Super Bowl window in terms of talent nor coaching and especially not in temprament. Jerry Jones is like many rich men with total control in their lives… often are delusional and think they can buy their way to what they want. Yet when it comes to football, that approach is just misappropriated spending. Just ask Daniel Snyder in Washington.

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NFL Week 12 Thanksgiving Edition II: Leon Lett Bowl

Murray breaks a 95 yarder a few weeks back.

Now how many of you saw the Miami Dolphins vs the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving and had flashbacks to the famous Thanksgiving game in 1993?? It hit me immediately and I know NFL.com had a vote to redeem Leon on their site with a snickers campaign. While that is a fun look at a past encounter between these two teams, it was nowhere near as surprising as to wake up Monday morning with Dallas first in the NFC East. Are you kidding me?? Cowboy fans were ready to hang Tony Romo in effigy and still are dissatisfied with his performance.  The Eagles shocked the Giants in the New Meadowlands on Sunday night to quiet Cowboy detractors.

However when you look at this team something is missing. You want to call this an elite team yet you can’t because they don’t pass the eyeball test. Yes even though they are 6-4 and have won 4 of their last 5 games. First you have the 4th quarter interceptions that have caused every Cowboy fan concern. Deion Sanders, and Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson to name a few, have been critical of throws that were not only poor in judgment but should have been thrown away. It cost the Cowboys games against the Jets and the Lions directly yet his numbers aren’t all that bad. For the year Romo has completed 64.5% of his passes for exactly 2800 yards, 19TDs and only 7 interceptions. Its just when the interceptions come in the fourth quarter or rather being thrown right at Darelle Revis, huh Hollywood. Alright we’ll leave it alone but he is well on his way to throwing for nearly 5,000 yards as we explained he would do in our PreSeason spectacular. https://taylorblitztimes.wordpress.com/2011/06/08/2011-dallas-cowboys-preview/ Passing records will fall in Dallas as they are more of a pure pas.sing team than a pure running team.

Of course there has been a few strides in the running game with DeMarco Murray for the last 4 games he’s started. Get this?? Of the 747 yards he’s rushed for he’s only made it into the endzone twice. As a team the Cowboys have only rushed for 4 touchdowns in ten games which isn’t acceptable. Sure Murray has run with a little thunder as of late but he really is a 3rd down back in the Steve Sewell mode for the 80’s Broncos. He along with Felix Jones should be breaking touchdowns yet can’t finish off big plays. These are the reasons Cowboy fans don’t trust their team, even with a surprise vault into 1st place in the NFC East.  How will they fare tomorrow??

After 7 straight losses and looking as though there was no life left in them, the Miami Dolphins have awakened. It’s not that they have won a few games, they have played with a reckless abandon as though the game means something to them. Do you realize the Dolphins in this 3-0 rebound has held each team to under 10 points and two of those three to under 247 yards total for the game?? This is the same team that gave up 517 passing yards to Tom Brady in week 1?? Well last week they shut down Buffalo’s Ryan Fitzpatrick to the tune of 2 sacks while intercepting him twice. However it is also due to committing to the run. In the last two games they have averaged 32 rushes to rest their defense and the game against Kansas City had 24.

Reggie Bush

The other factor for this resurgence is Matt Moore. He’s outperformed Chad Henne and not turned the ball over as much. Do you realize that in the four games Moore has played he’s thrown 5 ints to Henne’s 4 although he’s thrown 75 more passes?? This has translated to his throwing 7 TDs to Henne’s 4 and the impetus for the 3 game winning streak. Look they’re not beating themselves like when Henne was in there. In their first 7 games, this Dolphins team was -8 in the turnover department as compared to being +2 in the last 3 games. This team would play well, fall behind from a careless turnover and press to get back into the game and turn it over some more.  Now the punt is they’re friend and playing a ball control game. In fact Reggie Bush has a chance quietly to rush for 1,000 yards this season.

Much like the Oakland Raiders once they lost JaMarcus Russell, they aren’t demoralizing themselves and have found a new spirit. One of the true reasons for the turnaround is they have vaulted from #31 in defense after two weeks to a respectable #16. Although they are still only 25th against the pass they are 7th against the run and 5th in rushing average allowed at just 3.4 yards per carry. Watch for #91 Cameron Wake to come off the corner and harass Tony Romo. Can they hold the Cowboys pass offense down enough to force Dallas to run the football on draws and bubble screens?

One thing that’s missing in this four game winning streak is the Cowboys defense has slid a little statistically. Going into week 8, this defense was #6 overall and #1 against the run and then came the 34-7 loss to the rival Philadelphia Eagles. Now they are ranked #11 overall and are 10th against the run. Right now they are being aided by a more stout running game as of late. They have forced 8 turnovers in the last three games and that opportunism was showcased in the 44-7 rout of Buffalo. Yet who is this team?? The one who clobbered Buffalo or was sodomized in Philadelphia??

Well this game will answer several questions and has two teams coming in on 3 game winning streaks. We don’t think the Dolphins DBs will be able to handle Jason Witten, Miles Austin and especially Dez Bryant. The Dolphins have some fire power but it’s going to be hard to slow DeMarcus Ware who has been terrorizing with 14 sacks so far. He should star in this game and sack Moore 3 times. Our crystal ball tells us Dallas wins a close game and Snickers will have a Leon Lett redemption commercial. He was just hungry and thought the football was a Snickers!! Honestly!!

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2011 Dallas Cowboys Preview

For the Dallas Cowboys, 2009 began with the optimistic view of becoming the first team in NFL history to play in the Super Bowl on their own home field. The reality was that their roster wasn’t dynamic enough to fulfill these expectations and they hadn’t adequately replaced Flozell Adams who had departed at Left Tackle.  Subsequently Tony Romo ran for his life until an injury finished his season. Although the Cowboys won 5 of 8 games to finish the season, it makes you wonder how close are they really?  Are they a few players away as Jerry Jones and company would like to make us think?  Was the improvement shown toward the end of the season a product of Jason Garrett’s coaching or from the fire lit under everyone’s ass when they learned they were all expendable??

Tony Romo

Quarterback: Going into his fifth season as the starter, the Cowboys have a good quarterback in Tony Romo.  So much is made of what he does off the field that many Cowboys fans don’t recognize he owns all the significant passing records in team history. He’s thrown for twice as many 300 yard passing games as Troy Aikman.  Get this: In 2009 he threw for 4,483 yards and 29 TDs, had he not thrown for 36TDs in 2007, those would have both been Cowboy records as well.  He has a good arm and can deliver the football from the pocket or on the run.  His dropback is fluid and he moves effortlessly when he escapes the pocket.  Also he needs to show more daring, when its 3rd and 10, throw to the second level and get the first down and not some 3 yard dump off that achieves nothing. Physically he has the tools to be a great quarterback.

Psychologically, Romo hasn’t shown to be the inspirational leader that the Cowboys hoped he’d be once they released Terrell Owens.  He hasn’t dropped his “aw shucks” persona and taken on that of a field general. The type of generalship that Jon “Cockroach” Kitna showed in those last 8 games. You saw him pleading, cajoling and getting in teammates faces, especially after dumb penalties, and played ball from his gut. Last year he completed 209 of 318 passes for 2,365 yards, 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Kitna’s 65.7% completion rating was the best of his 14 year career.  Project those numbers over a year and thats a Pro Bowl season. The best he’s ever played and a solid backup.

The best way to get to Romo is to come with delayed blitzes. When he senses the outside rush coming, he’s quick to step up through the gaps looking for space to run or throw. In self scouting you can see the Cowboys are aware of this and they run a lot of draws and delays to the running backs to make it all look the same.  Keep defensive ends from coming up the field too quick and opening those gaps between themselves and the inside rushers. Another thing is to keep putting hits on him, there are times Romo will look down at the rush if hit or sacked early. Its yet to be seen if his game changes any coming back from a broken clavicle. Will he be willing to take those hits??However, Dallas is very good at quarterback.

Offensive Backfield: Dallas has the best set of 3rd down backs in the league in Tashard Choice and Felix Jones. The problem is what to do on 1st and 2nd down. Early last year an astute Cowboy fan, Gary Bumgarner, suggested that Marion Barber had really slowed down.  The eyeball test didn’t lie. Amazingly over the last 3 years Barber has only averaged over 4.0 yards per rush (league avg.) in only one season. Last season he ran for a paltry 374 yards while scoring 4 TDs.  Surprisingly he has not run for more than 1,000 yards at any point of his career.  He has run hard, with heart and great determination, but he seems to be this generations Wilbert Montgomery and has beaten the ability from his body early.  Along with his high salary and the drafting of DeMarco Murray, we at Taylor Blitz Times think he will be cut before the season.

Felix Jones had his best season while taking over for Barber.  He rushed for 800 yards on 185 carries but only scored 1 touchdown.  His average per carry was good (4.3 yrd avg) but his touchdown total tells the story.  He and Choice are space players, neither have the heft to knuckle up and get that 3rd and 2 or power in from the two like Barber could.  Since Felix Jones is supposed to be a homerun hitter, he should have been able to break an arm tackle and take it the distance 4 or 5 times last year wouldn’t you think? Or at least in space, right? Well, out of the backfield Jones had 48 rec. for 450 yards and again only 1 TD.  Thats 233 touches of the football and only 2 TDs for a breakaway threat?

Choice seemed like the odd man out last year, carrying the ball only 66 times for 243 yards and 3 TDs. At 5’11 and 212 lbs, Choice should be the starter with Jones as the 3rd down back. Can Choice take the pounding? He did run for 100 yards in a week 13 win over the Colts in a 38-35 overtime thriller. Yet between Choice, Jones or 3rd round pick DeMarco Murray none seem to thrive running between the tackles. So if Marion “The Barbarian” gets released who is going to run the football in goal line and closing situations? Running back is below average for the Cowboys until someone emerges and the pick of Murray was a puzzling one for us.

Receivers: This is where the Cowboys are in the best shape of any unit. Once the Cowboys were out of contention they started to put Dez Bryant in different situations to see what he could do. Bryant came in as a rookie and played with fire and flair, who knew at 6’2 225lbs he would be a good kick returner? He averaged 24.4 yards on 12 kickoff returns and a whopping 14.3 on punt returns, taking 2 back for touchdowns on only 15 attempts. Do you realize projected over a complete season those would be NFL leading numbers in both categories? Throw in his 45 receptions for 561 yards and 6 touchdowns and what do you have? The bench for a certain Roy E. Williams. Look some players just have the it factor and this kid is it.  He plays like he wants it and if I were Jason Garrett I’d sick him on defenses 15 times per game. He’s tall, muscular, fast and can jump. The first of many Pro Bowls should come this year with his first 1,000 yard season. Don’t be surprised if he goes over 80 catches for 1,300 yards and 12-15TDs. Terrell Owens has finally been replaced.

How can we be so high on Bryant? Well the first part of that equation is his skill set and the second is he’s teamed with Pro Bowlers Jason Witten (94 rec. 1,002 yds 9 TDs), and Miles Austin (69 rec. 1,041 yds 7TDs). Yikes! This is not going to be easy for anybody to defend. Witten is the best tight end in football. A solid blocker who at TE has the heft to muscle safeties and the speed to get over back pedaling linebackers.  Thats two straight years with 94 receptions and with another season like that will have crossed 715 receptions in his career. Guess what? The all time reception record for tight ends is within reach. He was a Pro Bowler for the 7th time and was first team All Pro for the second.

Which brings us to little Miles Austin. Of course we’re kidding here but at 6’3, 215lbs. he is the smallest of the two receivers. So coming up and jamming these guys is going to be difficult. Austin didn’t have quite the year he had in his breakout 2009 campaign but he had to deal with teams really game planning and paying attention to him and had to work with backup Jon Kitna at quarterback. Still he crossed 1,000 yards and made the Pro Bowl a second time. Reminds me of Andre Reed the way he runs after the catch and unlike many receivers you can’t arm tackle him. With Austin, the hope is he keeps playing with that chip on his shoulder. The practice squad guy who finally made good and not fall into that celebrity dating nonsense to get his mind off of football.

What? Oh Roy Williams with an “E” could work out as a really good third receiver to help stretch for first downs.  Are you seeing what we’re seeing? This is shaping up to be one of the best receiving corps since the 2007 Patriots. We already told you the Cowboys have a good quarterback who owns the 2 highest touchdown marks passing in Cowboys history at 36 and 29. If Romo comes back healthy… Lets just say that at WR & TE, this is a Super Bowl caliber group.

Offensive Line: Where the Cowboys did their best work on draft day.  They brought in T Tyron Smith out of USC with their 1st round selection, then snagged G David Arkin of Missouri St. This offensive line did benefit early on with Tony Romo scrambling. That kept the sack totals down yet they did surrender 31 which was 11th best.  It was the 73 hits, 17th allowed, that is unacceptable and sidelined their quarterback for the year. Although they were 16th in rushing with a 1,786 yards in 2010, the Cowboys struggled to push when they needed to.  Critical 3rd and 2 power plays saw the marginal success of 59  1st downs up the middle and only 44 times to the strong side which ranked 23rd and 25th respectively. Terrible.  What is surprising is that C Andre Gurode was a Pro Bowl selection in 2010.

The Cowboys drafted Smith #1 for him to go into the lineup. They may have finally replaced Flozell Adams if he can beat out incumbent Doug Free at LT. Arkin or 7th round pick  C Bill Nagy should push to make both guard spots. Too much improvement is needed at the guard spot for at least one of these rookies to get into the starting lineup. Most likely would be Larkin.  By addressing their offensive line in the draft and watching the Packers win the Super Bowl with several young linemen, they should be influenced to go young and live with the consequences.  They worked their way up to average with a chance to be good on the offensive front.

Defensive Line: This team needs to pick up a few free agents to solidify themselves on the defensive front. Defensive ends Igor Olshansky, Marcus Spears, and Stephen Bowen combined for 1.5 sacks in 2010. Before you say ‘well they are there to tie up blockers and not give ground in the Cowboy 3-4’, they were 12th in the NFL against the run and gave up over 4.3 yards per rush, which ranked 17th.  Thank goodness Jay Ratliff had a Pro Bowl year by not giving up too much ground in the middle or this defense could have finished dead last in all of football. Seriously. Ratliff provided the only push from this unit recording 3.5 sacks where opposing lines could concentrate on him. He needs help. Not signing any defensive help yet, we have tho give the Cowboys a below average grade here.

All Pro OLB DeMarcus Ware

Linebacker: This defense begins and ends with DeMarcus Ware, NFL sack champion for 2010.  His 15.5 sacks was the only consistent element on the defensive side of the football for the Cowboys. He’s simply a beast and its imperative that they get some pressure generated elsewhere and he may have a shot at the single season sack record.  However at times it seems that he can disappear in games yet its a misnomer. Teams game plan for him and are sometimes successful.  Imagine what he could do with a bookend to relieve him of some of the double and triple teams? With all this attention he still has been the All Pro (3 times) and Pro Bowl (5 times) performer out of Troy that Bill Parcells envisioned. He’s the best outside linebacker in the NFC.

Toward the end of the season Anthony Spencer started making some plays and was the most improved defender on the team. He amassed 63 total tackles, had 5 sacks and forced 2 fumbles. Bradie James and Keith Brooking  manned the inside linebacking spots. James led the Cowboys with 118 tackles, had 2 forced fumbles and 1 interception. A solid performance.  Brooking has proven to be the team’s inspirational leader and was second on the team with 97 tackles and had 1 interception. A player that made a splash in 2010 was linebacker Sean Lee, especially against the Colts and Peyton Manning.  He picked him off twice and had a pick six in that game while making several splash plays against the pass and the run.  He finished the season with 25 total tackles in a relief role and those 2 interceptions with 1 forced fumble.  If James or Brooking go down during the season this kid can fill in without a drop off. The linebacker play in Dallas is well above average.  They need the line to keep blockers off of them better.

Secondary: At first glance you want to lambast this secondary for the dismal 26th ranking against the pass yet this is a two fold issue. If the secondary was so bad why did they snatch 17 of the team’s 20 interceptions?? Sure there is some improvement needed at the corner position where Mike Jenkins has regressed from his play a few seasons back and tallied only1 interception. He has to improve, no make that he better improve http://bleacherreport.com/articles/686084-dallas-cowboys-2011-draft-report-card-grades-for-all-eight-draft-picks has high regard for 5th round draft pick Josh Thomas from the University of Buffalo. He will push both Jenkins and Newman (whom Cowboy fans have wanted replaced for 100 years now) for a starting spot.  We say that because its going to be hard to move Orlando Scandrick.  He was very effective as a blitzer and a nickel back.  He made 2.5 sacks, 45 total tackles with 8 passes defensed, nearly matching  Jenkins production of 55 tackles, 9 passes defensed with a single interception.

At safety Gerald Sensabaugh led the team with 5 interceptions, tied with Newman for the team lead.  He seems a little stiff in his backpedal but that is normally the case with most strong safeties.  Free safety is where we and other pundits feel the Cowboys can improve their secondary’s skill set.  Watch out for possibly a Darren Sharper signing to put more moxie into their secondary if he comes available.  Incumbent starter Alan Ball only defensed 4 passes and had just 1 interception.  He had plenty of opportunities while team’s racked up 3,894 yards passing last year.  A little more pass rush and this secondary would be decent.  Without it and we have to say slightly below average.  If Ball starts playing with instinct and can be more of a factor against the pass they can rate as good.  Right now have to stay with the present ranking.

Overall: Upon further review, the Cowboys don’t really want to run. Not in the traditional sense and the drafting of another space back is evidence of this.  They are going to throw the football and run off of draws and screens. What rugged NFC East?? With the New York Giants and definitely with the Philadelphia Eagles taking more to the air, Dallas is going to be throwing out of 3 receiver sets heavily.  Expect every passing record in team history to fall in Dallas this year. Romo should throw for nearly 40 TDs this year if they stay as they are with the running back personnel. The problem is: Did they do enough on defense to improve on their overall ranking of 17th??  Taylor Blitz Times doesn’t think so and Dallas is going to be involved in shootouts and will win most of them.  The best they can expect is a 10-6 season where they will be fighting for a wildcard playoff berth.  They are too deficient on the defensive line to improve dramatically against the run and in goal line. Garrett is going to take to the air and Jerry World will look like the Transworld Dome of the Rams in ’99. Ask yourself this one fundamental question… You are the defensive co-ordinator facing Dallas on a 3rd and 7. They come out with a three receiver set: an explosive Antonio Bryant, a Pro Bowl Miles Austin who excels after the catch, an All Pro TE in Witten, with a 6’4 Roy E. Williams next to him, and Choice in the backfield. Who are you going to gear toward??  Points will ring up in Dallas…count on it.  Playoffs?? Hmmmm??