The History of Instant Replay in the NFL – Benefit or Detriment??

Most people will agree that all tools at your disposal should be used to provide a positive outcome. Yet when do we cross the line in overusing said tool to compound issues it was supposed to address?? One of the interesting aspects of instant replay as an officiating tool has really boiled down to determining what is or isn’t a catch.

Does the NFL need all of this to figure out instant replay??

Oh sure you’ll see a replay concerning a kick returner stepping out of bounds, or if a runner’s knee/elbow touches the ground before a fumble, or even to check the ball spot before bringing out the chains for a 1st down. Its the catch that has been scrutinized to the point where we have to ask the question: When it comes to judging a catch in the NFL has instant replay outlasted it’s usefulness??

To understand the depth of the question we have to return to the growth from its genesis.

Back in the 1970s the NFL really sped up from the 3 yard and a cloud of dust days of the 1960’s as the game evolved into a speed game. With the advent of astroturf and the full fruition of the American Football League’s drafting speed at every position became commonplace. Televising the game became more sophisticated as additional and more creative camera angles brought the viewer a more immersed experience. The game had sped up but middle aged referees had not and there were spots on the football field they couldn’t get to where a well placed camera could capture the moment.

However those camera angles and instant replay could not be used to aid an official. Fans everywhere were becoming Monday Morning quarterbacks discussing blown calls the day after with their favorite teams. The talk of replay being used as an officiating tool really began during the 15 minute delay after The Immaculate Reception and the official ruling of a touchdown in the 1972 playoffs. Even the networks began to chime in showing replay after replay where the big eye in the sky told a different tale than what officials called on the field. Yet it took two huge blown calls in playoff competition that brought the issue to the rule makers.

The first occurred at the goal line in the 2nd quarter of the 1977 AFC Championship Game. The defending Super Bowl champion Raiders were down 7-3 and in need of a defensive play as Denver sat poised at the Raider 2 yard line…and then:

Denver seized the momentum on the very next play as you saw taking a 14-3 lead. They went on to dethrone the Raiders 20-17 and move on to Super Bowl XII. The buzz after the game centered on the cruel twist of fate dealt the Raiders on the blown call when Tatum hit Lytle. Grumbling from the Raider organization was met with sentiment by NBC broadcaster Dick Enberg repeating clearly the refs blew the call.

The talk hadn’t died down two years later when another play altered the course of NFL history. We had a new rivalry make it to the national level between the perennial champion Pittsburgh Steelers and the Houston Oilers. Pittsburgh beat them in the 1978 AFC Championship 34-5. It was not even close. However in the ’79 AFC Championship Game they were embroiled in a dogfight. With the Steelers up 17-10 and the Oilers driving late in the 3rd quarter, Dan Pastorini lofted a pass for Mike Renfro when…

The argument to institute replay as an officiating tool went into overdrive as this play cast a pall over most of the time leading up to Super Bowl XIV and beyond. Yet it took 6 years before the NFL would vote replay in as an officiating tool. So going into the 1986 season how long was it before it had an affect. Try just 3 plays!! The defending champion Chicago Bears were hosting the Cleveland Browns in the opener when the 1st instant replay touchdown happened:

So Browns Safety Al Gross was the 1st NFL player to score a touchdown based on a decision by instant replay. In this instance it worked. When replay is concerning the spot of the ball, or whether a player was in-bounds before sliding out of bounds recovering a fumble, or whether a receiver had 2 feet in, replay is a critical tool for officiating crews to get it right. Yet when it comes to the catch itself replay has now become the problem.

Fast forward to the catch/non catch of Dez Bryant in the 2014 playoff game between the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys. In the waning moments down 26-21 and facing a 4th down, Romo lofted a pass toward Dez Bryant when apparently he caught the ball and it would be 1st and goal. Once the Packers challenged the play the controversy began.

What we received was a poor carrying out of the rule as it was written. This rule was adjusted after the 1999 NFC Championship Game when Bert Emanuel caught an apparent pass late in the game and the tip of the ball touched the ground. This was a diving play and the ball hitting the ground in the middle of the catch. We didn’t see that on the play with Bryant.

During Bryant’s catch, had he been in the middle of the field caught the ball and been hit after two steps, it would be a catch and fumble meaning he had possession. So now he catches the ball, rotates his body, cradles the football with one hand, takes several steps and dives for the goal line and the explanation was he hadn’t made a football move. This was and should have been ruled a catch once he took the two steps with no bobble of the football. Not the diving catch that the rule was written for.

This event altered the course of NFL history and forever doomed the legacy of Tony Romo and a team that could have made the Super Bowl. Yet we have to move on…

We have to quit with the Zapruder Film reenactment every time we need to review a catch with instant replay. The Chancellor of Football says we need to interpret the rules as players, coaches, and refs always have and get away from the Bob Costas wannabe lawyer types who muck this up every time a reception is discussed.

  • What is a catch? A forward pass thrown from one offensive player to another and the recipient possesses the ball.
  • A reception and possession of the ball takes place once the receiver secures it and takes two steps, goes out of bounds, or immediately tackled or touched down once their knee, elbow, or ass hits the ground.
  • Possession of the ball is securely controlling the ball with one hand or two.

That is it!! That is a catch and the rest should be left to the judgment of an official. Back during John Madden’s early years in the broadcast booth, NFL Director of Officiating Art McNally explained a Jerome Barkum touchdown by stating “One knee equals two feet.” Which translates to the play was over once the receiver was ruled down and in this instance he only had one knee in while sliding out of the endzone with a reception.

The NFL needs to get away from this stupid notion someone somewhere brought up about reviewing the receiver having possession after the play has already been called down or out of bounds. Possession the instant a play is whistled dead is over! Who cares if he bobbles it 11 feet out of bounds sliding into a table of gatorade?? Once we remove this excess from replay it will remain an effective tool. You don’t need a panel of 72″ screens and a committee to determine a catch!!

Dedicated to my late brother Michael Vincent Rojas if he were here we would still be arguing Bert Emanuel’s catch/no catch from the 1999 NFC Championship Game.

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2015 NFC East Predictions

One of the most perplexing aspect of picking the NFC East is what is going on with Jason Pierre Paul’s hand?? How damaged is it?? Is he really missing his thumb?? Today he showed up to the facilities and is about to sign his contract yet we haven’t been shown what his hand looks like. As the Giants “alpha dog” on defense, without him being what he had been could have a ripple effect on the Giants as a whole.

dez2015 NFC East

  1. Dallas Cowboys 9-7 *
  2. Philadelphia Eagles 8-8
  3. New York Giants 7-9
  4. Washington Redskins 4-12

The Dallas Cowboys will come down a peg now that they are running by committee. This is the first time since 1946 when the NFL’s leading rusher switched teams the following year. Here at Taylor Blitz Times we made mention of “The Great Wall II” and an offensive line is great for an era. We stand by that but we have to see how the often injured Darren McFadden and Joseph Randle will perform.

Cowboys brass has to have some reservations or they wouldn’t have traded for Christine Michael from Seattle. The penchant is there to revert back to the pass happy era we saw earlier in Tony Romo’s career. At least in a few games this can happen. The defense begins the season with Rolando McClain, Kevin Hardy and Orlando Scandrick beginning the season suspended and on the reserved injured list doesn’t bode well. Dallas will have a sloppy start to this season as they try to establish their running game and find defensive continuity.

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Sanchez will have to play for Bradford several times this season.

Interestingly the Eagles are coming into 2015 with something old and something new. The old?? Chip Kelly jettisoning off top shelf talent. Gone is RB LeSean McCoy to Buffalo and WR Jeremy Macklin to the Chiefs. The something new is swapping QBs Nick Foles for Sam Bradford from the Rams.

The often injured Bradford won’t remain on his feet for the entire season. We saw the hit Terrell Suggs put on Bradford in the pre-season. Chip Kelly’s offense will expose Bradford too additional hits and Sanchez will have to take his place several times this season. This kills offensive continuity and we know Kelly’s too arrogant to change his play calling.

Not only will the Eagles wear down but the Giants will remain too inconsistent to take the division. Eli Manning just inked a new contact extension and will play loose. However Victor Cruz is still rounding back into game shape and Odell Beckham is getting the business from defenders set to get after him in his sophomore season.

If Jason Pierre-Paul had showed up with 10 fingers the Giants win the division. With his being sent home without signing his contract something is definitely up. And without an index finger he’s rendered one of his hands to be useless to pull on jerseys in pass rush hand fighting techniques. Pierre-Paul won’t be the same player and the defense will take a big step back without it’s dominant pass rusher. Remember he was their franchise player… not any more.

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NFL Playoffs & Historically Bad Calls

For the second time in the 2014 post season, the NFL has everyone talking about what should not be. The games have been marred with questionable calls and bad officiating at the critical juncture of two games. It has overshadowed some very good football games and for all of us long term purists and historians, given us much to banter about for years to come.

Dez Bryant catchLast week on my social media things took off with the interference/ non interference call between Dallas LB Anthony Hitchens and Detroit’s Brandon Pettigrew. The controversy didn’t begin until the refs picked up the flag reversing their call. In truth the ref should have either explained the reason the flag was being picked up or not to have thrown the flag in the first place.

Now we fast forward to yesterday’s NFC Divisional between the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys. In the waning moments down 26-21 and facing a 4th down, Romo lofted a pass toward Dez Bryant when apparently he caught the ball and it would be 1st and goal. Once the Packers challenged the play the controversy began.

What we received was a poor carrying out of the rule was as it was written. This rule was adjusted after the 1999 NFC Championship Game when Bert Emanuel caught an apparent pass late in the game and the tip of the ball touched the ground. This was a diving play and the ball hitting the ground in the middle of the catch. We didn’t see that on the play with Bryant.

During Bryant’s catch, had he been in the middle of the field caught the ball and been hit after two steps, it would be a catch and fumble meaning he had possession. So now he catches the ball, rotates his body, cradles the football with one hand, takes several steps and dives for the goal line and the explanation is he hadn’t made a football move. This was and should have been ruled a catch once he took the two steps with no bobble of the football. Not the diving catch that the rule was written for.

As The Chancellor of Football I said it at the time… this was the worst call in NFL playoff history and changes are coming. Yet you do realize the instant replay that robbed Dallas of this game was borne from bad referee calls in playoff games prior. The first comes from 1972 when the Steelers faced the Raiders when the nonexplainable happened to the naked eye with :22 to go.

Since it was such a bang – bang play the officials had to confer and did so for more than 5 minutes before they signaled touchdown. Don’t tell me feelings don’t linger. John Madden refused to be interviewed for A Football Life – The Immaculate Reception citing for years the Raiders were cheated in that playoff game. At the time a ball couldn’t bounce from an offensive player to another without a defender in between. A hail mary could not be thrown back then…but had the ball hit Fuqua or Tatum of the Raiders??

“Why can’t the referee watch the replay on television?” became a cry from fans at the time. It seemed blasphemous to NFL rule makers to aid the officials in getting it right. It would be taking it out of the refs hands…the human element would be removed from officiating was the sentiment maintained by the league.

Those same Oakland Raiders found themselves in the same position in the 1977 AFC Championship in Denver. With the Broncos maintaining a 7-3 lead, they were poised to take a commanding lead over the defending Super Bowl champions. From the 1 they had a 1st and goal when Craig Morton turned and handed the ball to the late Rob Lytle when

Sentiment started to lean toward fans who clearly saw Lytle fumble. Just because the referee didn’t see it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Talk after the game centered on the nun fumble call from the Raider locker room to fans across the country. The Raiders would have seized the momentum.

This touched off a brutal rivalry that lasted for most of the 70s where Pittsburgh became Team of the Decade. As the rivalry began to subside with Oakland, a new one emerged with division rival Houston. Pittsburgh beat them in the 1978 AFC Championship 34-5. It was not even close. However in the ’79 AFC Championship Game they were embroiled in a dogfight. With the Steelers up 17-10 and the Oilers driving late in the 3rd quarter, Dan Pastorini lofted a pass for Mike Renfro when…

Sentiment finally came full circle when the refs admitted to the blown call in private but the company line was towed publicly. So the same as they can parade out the official’s brass to explain a terrible interpretation of the rules, I know better. Six years later instant replay was instituted in the NFL.

Just like “The Tuck” rule in 2001 and the Bennie Barnes “incidental contact interference call in Super Bowl XIII, the referee would have been better served calling it to the spirit of what he saw. Deal with the rule book interpretation later. The ref knew Brady wasn’t throwing that football…call it that way. The ref knew that Bennie Barnes and Lynn Swann tripped over each other looking for the football…call it that way.

However several seasons had been ruined by terrible calls that instant replay could have helped but in this instance it worked against. Had I been the referee I would have called it in the spirit of the play. I keep hearing folks talk about the letter of the law as though it’s black and white. Once you leave the field its too late, stick to the spirit of the game and what you saw.

The Oakland Raiders and Dallas Cowboys could have become back to back champions. The Steeler dynasty may never have taken off totally and or it could have ended with 3 Super Bowl victories had the Oilers seized the momentum. Now we don’t get to see if the Cowboys could go up and dethrone the Seattle Seahawks as we have argued on social media for weeks.

The other elephant in the room is the NFL not only needs to move to full time referees, they need to have complete officiating crews work these games. Not all star crews. If the best teams make the playoffs have the best team of officials calling it.  We wouldn’t have had the nonsense of refs not explaining their actions in Dallas and yesterday could have been different as well. Dez Bryant’s catch was nothing like Bert Emanuel’s diving catch in the ’99 NFC Title Game.

Get ready for more change…

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Overcoaching: Take Two

There are multiple ways NFL teams overcoach. Some are merely lined up in formations that doesn’t suit their personnel. Others fail to include their best players often enough in their game to make a difference. Still others get away from their game plan too quickly in a knee jerk reaction to what is happening in a given game.

The Dez Bryant eruption on the sideline with fellow Cowboy Jason Witten.

The Dez Bryant eruption on the sideline with fellow Cowboy Jason Witten.

Several of those manifested themselves in the Dez Bryant outburst toward the end of Dallas 31-30 loss to the Detroit Lions. We have often said “When you have a talent like this, you sick him on the defense 15-20 times per game.” Every great receiver has been selfish and wanted the football and at what point does “We’re trying to get you the ball.” fall on deaf ears??

On the week he proclaimed to be as good as Calvin “Megatron” Johnson. Bryant had to watch in disbelief as the Lions fed his nemesis 14 times for a club record 329 yards and a touchdown. We’re not talking about the game where Terrell Owens set the reception record of 20 on 5 yard passes. “Megatron” averaged 23.9 yards per catch!! Seam routes, bombs, deep in routes, every single play designed to get him in winnable situations. When it called for it, put the ball up where he at 6’5 can get it.

Well the 6’2 Bryant who said earlier in the week he could do what Johnson can do, made a circus catch on one of his two touchdowns. However it was his 3 catches and something said after a pass thrown behind him in the third quarter that set him off. Yet across the field he watched the Lions move Johnson from the “X”, to the “Z” when he caught the bomb, to the “Slot” where he ran several corner routes. To the final seam route from the “Y” position that put the ball in place for the game winner by Stafford. The Lions game plan called to do what was possible to get him the ball. All the while Bryant played decoy on 59 of 64 offensive plays for Dallas.

The volatile Dez Bryant erupted on the Cowboys sideline eliciting multiple reactions from observers.

The volatile Dez Bryant erupted on the Cowboys sideline eliciting multiple reactions from observers.

If Bryant is the top gun in your offense, why are you only targeting him 5 times?? You need to have your main player be at the heart of the offense in the waning moments. Not watching Romo throw erratically over the head of Cole Beasley with 2:38 to go. Yet here he stood on the backdrop of personally challenging himself after calling out Johnson and had to stand and watch rookie Terrence Williams targeted 10 times during the contest.

Come on are you serious??

Now listen it’s easy to point out there was a better way for Dez Bryant to channel his emotions. However football is an emotional game played by men who do wear their passion on their sleeve. No one seemed to mind just two weeks ago when a livid Tom Brady berated his young receivers on the sideline for running the wrong routes and dropping passes against the Saints. In fact, the game’s announcers speculated why he was upset and justified it all at the same time. It could have gone for as long as Dez’s situation but the camera panned away after a few moments.

Bryan Cox had the same thing happen to him in 1995 when they caught him upset during a Monday Night game against Pittsburgh. Now he cited racial bias and asked why it wasn’t a concern when Dan Marino went off on the sideline. Remember the blow-up about Troy Aikman supposedly yelling at all African American players back in 1998?? What about the sideline blow-up of Ken Norton Jr & Thomas Everett during the 1992 NFC Championship Game against San Francisco??

This is football and you’ll have some of that and then you move on from it. There are fights during pre-season and some harsh things that are said on the sideline. Yet when the final minutes were ticking down in Norton, and Everett’s case, they were kissing cousins joking about their first Super Bowl visit sided by side. Norton with the football he intercepted Steve Young with under his arm to seal the win. This will blow over also but masked the big reason it happened and we’re speculating. Why was he upset in the first place??

He watched the Detroit Lion feed the ultimate competitor in Calvin Johnson the football. They were committed to getting him the football. In this instance, Bryant didn’t see that same commitment on the Cowboys part. Don’t even begin to bring up Cris Carter, Jerry Rice, Sterling Sharpe, and Michael Irvin from a generation ago being different. They were the exact same way. Taylor Blitz Times readers know I have the footage to back up exactly what I’m saying too. Yet overcoaching brought this on, trying to show how diverse the Cowboys attack can be rather than get the best players the football.

It was a good thing Bryant did go off instead of watching his teammates wander listlessly through the final plays of another 4th quarter meltdown. This team has anointed Tony Romo the leader when the defacto on the field, in the trenches “follow me” ass kicking player hasn’t been seen in Dallas since Marion Barber and Terrell Owens. Did he go overboard?? Come on every incident we glamorize about football is about extreme emotion on the sideline. We joke about it in the Jim Harbaugh commercial when he’s over the top coaching little kids. We joke about it when the black coach replaces Robin Williams after biting a snicker candy bar yelling “Now let’s go for it!!” at the top of his lungs.

Did you know that once upon a time the Baltimore Colts weren’t playing up to their ability in 1970?? They were in a team meeting when Mike Curtis lit into his team when he told them “We have three games plus the (postseason) . I’m going to play the same way I always play. And you’re going to go full speed in practice and in those games or I’m going to kick your ass, myself. Remember I said that.”  The Colts won all six and won Super Bowl V ironically against the Dallas Cowboys.

Someone needed to light a fire down in Dallas. Maybe they won’t coach past their strengths again leading to another meltdown. Fire can’t come from Jerry Jones, only fear. Fire comes from passionate teammates who are in the trenches with you. Dallas you’re 4-4 what are you going to do with this??

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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??