NFL’s Hot Stove: Chad Ochocinco, Steve Breaston, Namedi Asoumgha

Newest Patriot: Chad Ochocinco

So here we are at the tail end of a manic Thursday, day 2 of the NFL’s condensed offseason. The New England Patriots pulled their second coup of the day by trading for Chad Ochocinco just hours after acquiring Albert Haynesworth from the Redskins.  Now these were the moves we at Taylor Blitz Times had suspected Bill Belichick to make during the 2011 draft a few months back.  Right now he has to be sitting at Patriots headquarters with a cheshire cat grin from ear to ear.  As evidenced in last year’s playoff loss to the Jets, once you make it to the highest level in football, you need top shelf playmakers. With swirling talks about Namedi Asoumgha possibly going to the hated Jets, the Patriots come through with a brilliant counter move.

Newest Kansas City Chief: Steve Breaston

With all the noise being made in New England, the big winner could be the Kansas City Chiefs with the move to add Steve Breaston. Breaston rejoins Coach Todd Haley in Kansas City to team with DeWayne Bowe to give the Kansas City Chiefs a formidable set of receivers. Do you realize that Haley has a chance to go with some 3 receiver sets with Bowe, Breaston and draft pick Johnathon Baldwin out of Pitt.  Don’t look now but Haley is mimicking the 3 receiver set he had in 2008 when he was the Cardinals offensive coordinator with Fitzgerald, Boldin, and Breaston. In his last two years, Breaston’s catch total was down with only 55 and 47 catches as the Cardinals struggled at quarterback. Yet if you go back to the 2008 season when there were two other marquee receivers and defenses couldn’t concentrate on him, he had 77 catches for 1,006 yards and 7 TDs. Matt Cassel has to be doing cartwheels.

As for Bowe, he had an explosive year pulling in 72 receptions for 1,162 yards and 15 TDs.  A physical specimen at 6’2 221lbs with good speed, is only going into his 5th season and should be there for the Chiefs for years to come.  With a strong running game to force more 8 man fronts Bowe had a field day against undersized DBs. With the addition of 6’4 228 lbs Baldwin, the Chiefs will field one of football’s largest set of receivers.

Now mark this down!! This team led the NFL in rushing attempts (556), yards (2,627), nearly had two thousand yard rushers with Jamaal Charles’ 1,467 and Thomas Jones’ 896. We haven’t even brought up Matt Cassel yet. All he did was complete 69.9% of his passes for 27TDs and only 7 interceptions. Breaston can only get open with so much attention elsewhere. The AFC West belongs to Kansas City

The Jets have their eye on Namedi Asoumgha and closing in

Namedi, Namedi, Namedi. Right now it looks like a battle between the Jets and the 49ers for his services  after the Texans sign CB Jonathan Joseph from the Bengals.  Right now the best rivalry since the Dallas Cowboys and the San Francisco 49ers is heating up. With all the talk of adding the valued Raider corner to their roster, the Patriots countered that move by trading for a quality receiver in Chad Ochocinco.  So right now Namedi has two choices: Either play with a downtrodden franchise in San Francisco  and be out of the playoff race by the end of September. Or he can sign with a team that just played in the last two AFC Championship games and team with Darelle Revis, and become this generations version of Hanford Dixon/ Frank Minnifield. Help get them over the hump to Super Bowl XVLI. I have a feeling he’s going to choose the latter.  He could have stayed in Oakland if he wanted to lose. Yesterday, freshly anointed team captain Mark Sanchez said he would re-work his contract to make room for Asoumgha and they were already somewhere around $10 million under the cap.

We still think this is a Super Bowl caliber team and if they make this move to have the league’s top corner tandem, the road to Super Bowl XVLI will go through the Jersey Meadowlands.

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Everson Walls Belongs In the Hall of Fame

Walls on an interception return v. St. Louis Cardinals

In the history of football, one of the hardest positions to judge or gauge performance is cornerback. Many times they’re overlooked when we speak of their careers as a whole because they rarely have a lot of tackles or hard hits.  So we tend to think of defenisve linemen or linebackers first. However after the NFL instituted rule changes that favored the passing game in 1978.  A more fluid athlete was needed to turn and run with receivers who could no longer be hit beyond 5 yards of the scrimmage line. The day of the super physical Mel Blount type cornerback was over and a new type of player would emerge.

The Dallas Cowboys of 1980 saw a secondary in flux with many of their great ’70s players aging, and teams piled points on ’em  after years of abuse. They gave up 311 points or nearly 20 a game. Mel Renfro had retired a few years back and Cliff Harris’ left after the 1979 season and the secondary was having epic breakdowns.

Even in Roger Staubach’s famous come from behind victory over the Redskins in the 1979 finale, the defense had given up 34 points at home in that game. So losing an All Decade performer in Cliff Harris and injuries to Randy Hughes magnified Cowboys problems.  By the time the 1980 playoffs began, the Cowboys couldn’t cover a child with a blanket. Cornerback Aaron Mitchell got lit up by Alfred Jenkins ( 4 rec. 155 yds, 1 TD) of the Atlanta Falcons in a playoff game known for being Danny White’s first great comeback. They prevailed 30-27 but a defensive back upgrade was top priority in the 1981 NFL Draft.

Enter Everson Walls, a lanky fast cornerback the Dallas Cowboys drafted out of Grambling in 1981.  He was a clearly brought in to be a cover man first and run supporter second.  He burst onto the scene in his rookie year when he led the NFL in interceptions with 11 while making the Pro Bowl as a rookie. Coming a year after Lester Hayes breakout 1980 campaign when he totaled 13 interceptions, Walls season was somewhat overlooked. While pundits duked it out over which cornerback was the best of the new breed, Walls interception totals didn’t drop over the ensuing years as Hayes did once stickum was outlawed.

After the strike shortened year of 1982 in which the NFL only played 9 regular season games, Walls led the NFL again in interceptions with 7.  Teams were avoiding throwing in his area and he gambled his way to a better season than his first.  Projected over a 16 game season, he would have equaled the 13 that Lester Hayes had in his near record breaking campaign in 1980.  After having 11 the year before?? Now that is an encore.

Everson Walls battling a rookie Jerry Rice in 1985

One of the reasons that Walls gets overlooked is he played for the Dallas Cowboys after their Super Bowl appearances of the late 70s.  This was the era in which the Dallas Cowboys lost three consecutive NFC Championship games, so the stars of this time weren’t lionized by NFL pundits like their 70’s counterparts. Much of this can be attributed to the 1981 NFC Championship Game in which Dwight Clark soared high to make “The Catch” and Walls was falsely treated as a goat for allowing it.

Yet many of those same pundits forget that earlier in the game Walls had made several key plays which included 2 interceptions to halt 49er drives. One of which in the endzone.  He had played an exceptional game even in that defeat.

The Cowboys were a playoff team in 1983 yet teams threw away from Everson Walls at all costs.  However in 1985 he re-emerged to lead the NFL again with 9 interceptions. By doing so he became the only player in league history to lead 3 times in interceptions. It was at this point there had to be a reason for this gambler from Grambling picking off so many passes.

In John Madden’s second book “One Knee Equals Two Feet”, John cited the reason for Walls high totals a byproduct for teams having to throw over 6 foot 9, Ed “Too Tall” Jones. Jones was the defensive end on Walls side but that isn’t true. If you look at the 1977 and 1978 seasons, the Doomsday Defense II and “Too Tall” were at their zenith. In ’77 the Cowboys were the last team to win the Super Bowl with a team that was #1 on offense and defense yet the highest interception total was 5 by Benny Barnes. In the ’78 season in which they returned to the Super Bowl the highest cornerback total was 3. Walls with 11, 7 (projected 13), and 9 interception totals dwarf those with an aging Jones in front of him.

What are we saying?  Its time to give credit where credit is due. When you think of impact at cornerback you think of interceptions and the ability to battle the league’s best. Walls faced Roy Green, Hall of Famer Art Monk, and Mike Quick who were the NFC’s best and came out on top in many battles. Walls would go on to finish with 57 interceptions over his 12 year career.  He was a 4 time Pro Bowler yet was a first team All Pro just once. How does that happen when he led the league in interceptions 3 times??

The Cowboys were penalized after losing the Battle of Champions to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XIII, and the fallout includes the early 80s Cowboys when it comes to Hall of Fame consideration. While most short sighted columnists would remind you that his Dallas Cowboys never won a Super Bowl as for reason for the snub.

Super Bowl XXV Cover Pic of Everson Walls

Yet one of the most important roles in his career was when he teamed with Mark Collins, and Perry Williams to give the New York Giants 3 excellent corners to shut down the Buffalo Bills 3 receivers in Super Bowl XXV. Early in that game it was Walls who caught James Lofton after a deflected pass gained Buffalo 61 yards and into Giant territory.  On a crucial 3rd down it was Walls who broke up a pass for Thurman Thomas that forced the Bills to settle for a field goal. Had he not caught Lofton or stopped the Bills from gaining a first and goal, how could that have affected a game in which the Giants won just 20-19??   So he was a Super Bowl champion, so scratch that off the list of why he doesn’t belong.

He was forever immortalized on the cover of Sports Illustrated after that game. Two weeks ago, Everson Walls was inducted into the Grambling Hall of Fame.  In recent years this consummate teammate made headlines by donating a kidney to former Cowboy Ron Springs in a gesture that says more about the man than his playing ability. He is an excellent ambassador to the game of football, signing autographs and constantly meets and communicates with fans through social media and Cowboys engagements. However it was his exploits as one of “Thurman’s Thieves” that made it all possible.

For induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I present to you Everson Walls

2011 Oakland Raiders Preview

Oakland Raiders Pre Kickoff

At some point the Oakland Raiders are going to make a few football moves that I’ll agree with although firing Tom Cable was not one of them. Many have attributed their newfound offensive success to Hue Jackson, who succeeded Cable as Head Coach. They did put the NFL on notice last year with a powerful rushing attack that kept them in games. Last year at midseason they were 5-4 and had just defeated the Chiefs, the eventual division winner, and looked to be headed to the playoffs. That stumble in Indianapolis in week 16 (31-26 loss) kept them from the postseason and they finished 8-8.

Last year the Raiders went undefeated in the AFC West, sweeping the division champion Chiefs in the process.  Can they duplicate that feat and win a few more games and get to the playoffs??  Well in football there is a saying that in order to be good you have to run the football and stop the run. They were 2nd in the NFL averaging 155 yards per game and a stout 4.9 yards per carry average. However there are two sides to that equation and where their numerator was good, their low common denominator of being 29th against the run, allowing 2,138 yards rushing was atrocious. They don’t fix this they have to watch the playoffs again.  As for Jason Campbell, pull the trigger and don’t play so overly cautious.  His team will need him to make more plays with defenses creeping up to stop the run.  So how will they fare this year?

Campbell needs to pull the trigger in 2011. Too often held the ball and took sacks or threw too quickly to his running backs.  Has to learn to let the passing windows develop to deliver the intermediate throws.

Quarterback: Face it, Jason Campbell is a serious upgrade from JaMarcus Russell.  Yet that’s not saying much when you’re replacing the biggest draft bust in NFL history. This was addition by subtraction in the team felt like it could win without seeing Russell in the lineup. Where in years past they looked defeated walking onto the field. The first thing asked of Campbell was to minimize the turnovers and he did that. However there were plays where Campbell was too apprehensive. He has to realize its his team and play with some abandon.  In 2010 he was 7-5 as a starter, completed 59% of his passes for 2,387 yds, 13 TDs, and only 8 interceptions. Statistically thats not bad yet many times he would check down to the running back without letting his downfield options develop. Then there were a few chances when Jacoby Ford broke into the open and Campbell would overthrow his target.  Maybe he’ll be more settled in his second season as the starter. They need him to make all the throws if they are to become a playoff team. Going into his 6th season its time for him to put it together and he has the tools. Will he??

Then you have his backup in scrappy Bruce Gradkowski. This guy plays from his gut and plays with a reckless abandon that Campbell should.  He passes further up the passing tree and will take a few more chances.  Some came out good and some bad.  He threw for 5 touchdowns and 7 interceptions with his 157 attempts last year. Naturally his completion percentage was only 52.9% yet again he took more chances and inspires his teammates when he’s in there.  If there were a way to fuse these two into a single player, the Raiders would be set at quarterback.  Its like this “Have your read, know your defense, when you see the defense take their first steps, know where you’re going with the football and let it fly Jason Campbell.” Don’t be overly cautious! Remember when the Raiders won Super Bowl XVIII? In that season Jim Plunkett threw for 20 TDs and 18 interceptions so sometimes it can go against you but you can’t win most of your games throwing sideways passes.  Silver and black is below average. Campbell has to take charge and not go through the motions.

Darren McFadden ran like a beast in 2010. Has he finally arrived or was this an aberration??

Offensive Backfield: Did you see that??  Darren McFadden finally showed up! Yeah the guy from Arkansas who was the do everything back coming out of college.  Something happened last year and McFadden played motivated and ran with authority. His 1,157 yards were a career high and he ran with power between the tackles along with Michael Bush. Bush complemented McFadden with 655 yards of his own and ran for a team high 8 TDs to 7 for McFadden.  By the time you throw in Marcel Reece, no Raider running back averaged less than 4.1 yards.  Gaudy numbers when the league average is 4.0. As for McFadden he stopped going down with the first point of contact like he had in his previous 2 seasons.  He ran like the DMC we expected out of college.  He complemented his first 1,000 yard rushing year with 47 receptions out of the backfield for another 3 TDs.  He was the driving force behind the resurgent running game and Oakland had him for 13 of a possible 16 games last year v. the 12 combined starts over 2 seasons being nagged by injuries. He runs with abandon like he did last year and a 1,400 – 1,500 yard season is not out of the question.

Something was definitely in the gatorade last year for the Raiders.  Bush was the complimentary back who had an excellent year where he ran for nearly 700 yards, he caught 18 passes for nearly 200 more.  These two were giving defenses absolutely no rest as the 210 lb.s McFadden hit them first, then the 243 lbs. Bush would help tire them further and holes opened up later in games for McFadden to hit the big one on opponents.  Was this a fluke? Absolutely not. The Raiders ran with thunder and did so all year constantly knocking opponents back. This is the best 1-2 punch next to Kansas City at running back, so this team is Super Bowl quality at running back. What remains to be seen is how 4th round draft pick Taiwan Jones fits into the equation. http://www.nfl.com/draft/2011/profiles/taiwan-jones?id=2495467  If he’s a special team player or comes in as a supplemental 3rd down back this team stays Super Bowl quality at running back

2010 Pro Bowl TE Zach Miller

Receivers: Well everyone chides and teases about Al Davis and his penchant for the vertical passing game yet consequently he should have it. From a football strategist standpoint, they will lure teams into 7 and 8 man fronts to stop the run opening lanes for seam routes, verticals, digs, and deep corner patterns. As soon as that SS comes up these guys have to get open.    Here is where the Raiders may need to see improvement to become a playoff team. Darius Heyward Bey and Jacoby Ford have shown flashes that they can get deep, but can they learn to set up rival cornerbacks and not telegraph what they are running? Can they sell the first half of the play action pass to get free releases into the intermediate (10-15 yard) area of the passing tree? Right now they have some more learning to do but these are young players.

Going into his 3rd year, this is where Darrius Heyward-Bey needs to have his breakout year to justify his lofty 1st round selection and 7th pick overall status. Last year he caught 25 passes for 366 yards and only 1 touchdown, yet was overthrown on multiple times when he did get deep. Campbell hits him on those and he could possibly have his first 1,000 yard season or close to it. Right now Heyward-Bey is inconsistent with his set up moves to get deep on veteran corners. Jacoby Ford actually flashed more as a rookie than his 1st round counterpart. He only started 9 games yet went on to grab 25 passes for 470 yards and 2 TDs. He’s a quicker, more explosive receiver with more of an upside because he can get in and out of routes a little quicker to get himself open. They’re going to have to trust Campbell and Campbell has to trust them by throwing catchable passes they’re way. When in doubt, Campbell has Pro Bowl TE Zach Miller who had a stellar 2010 with 60 receptions for 685 yards and 5 touchdowns.  He led the Raiders in all 3 receiving categories yet that has to change for this team to see the postseason.  At receiver the Raiders are growing but right now we have to give them a below average rating.

Offensive Line: This group was given a bum rap by many for their sack totals given up last year.  Its true they gave up 44 sacks yet Raider quarterbacks were hit on only 77 plays all told.  For every team that ranked in the bottom half of the league for sacks their quarterbacks were usually hit double or even triple the amount of times they were sacked.  Much of this can be attributed Campbell holding onto the ball to long rather than consistent poor pass blocking.  Yet the Raiders went after OLine talent in the draft, first taking Stefen Wisniewski in the second round from Penn St, then Joseph Barksdale in the 3rd from LSU.  Incumbent RT Langston Walker may have a hard time fighting off Barksdale for the starting position. Wisniewski is fighting for one of the guard spots.

Not exactly sure we agree with tinkering with this line when you dissect last year’s numbers. They’re adding this talent to a line that mashed its way to 2,494 yards and a 4.9 yards per carry average.  Both those numbers ranked second in the NFL but the Eagles (yards per carry) numbers were distorted because of Michael Vick, so the Raiders were really the league’s best ground team.  Those are some tremendous numbers for an offensive line that didn’t have 1 pro bowler on it. In fact when it came to 3rd or 4th and 2 or shorter, the Raiders gained a first down or touchdown 67 times running to the left and 79 times running right up the gut.  They weren’t that successful running right with only 25 successes. So you can see where those two draft picks will be fighting for playing time. This line is playoff caliber and with improved quarterback play could be Super Bowl caliber.

Kelly and Shaughnessy welcoming Tim Tebow to Oakland

Defensive Line: What defensive line?? As we mentioned before, the ranking of 29th against the run and giving up over 2,100 yards on the ground starts right here. They also allowed 14 rushing touchdowns which negated the advantage the offense gave them anyway.  How bad are these numbers?? If the totals that Oakland gave up on the ground were attributed to a 33rd NFL team, they would have finished seventh in rushing. Yikes!! Tackle somebody! How did Richard Seymour make the Pro Bowl again?? Why wasn’t a draft pick spent here??

Well one thing they did do really well last year was get to the quarterback.  The Raiders tallied 47 sacks and 27.5 came from their front line. Matt Shaughnessy (who?) and Tommy Kelly led the line with 7 sacks each followed by Semour’s 5.5, and Lamar Houston’s (#99) 5 quarterback take downs. They may not want to tear up the field after the quarterback and disregard the run so much. Richard Seymour did see a ton of  double teams which freed up Shaughnessy and Kelly to garner 56 & 59 tackles respectively.  They may need to play at home more and become solid at stopping the run. However with 3 defensive linemen over 30 there is a chance they’ll wear down by the end of the season.  Again, why wasn’t there a draft pick spent here?  Defensive line is below average in the Bay Area.

McClain is the real deal!

Linebackers: Quite simply, the heart and soul of this defense. The Raiders have found their MLB for years to come in Rolando McClain out of Alabama. He didn’t disappoint in his rookie season, producing 85 tackles, half a sack and had an interception.  The years of a stopgap free agent filling this spot has ended. This kid is the real deal. He has range and at 6’3, 254 lbs arrives with thunder once he gets there.  This is Oakland’s version of Patrick Willis. Will soon be a Pro Bowler once Ray Lewis and a few veterans retire or play slacks off.

Speaking of Pro Bowls, we think Kamerion Wimbley was cheated of going to one last year.  He didn’t make a tremendous amount of splash plays but he was consistent.  He led the Raiders with 9 sacks, and tallied 57 tackles with 1 forced fumble from his outside linebacker spot. Those numbers on a higher ranked defense and he may have been in Hawai’i.  These 2 men were 3rd and 4th in tackles for the silver and black in 2010 and should be around for years to come.  Before the lockout, the Raiders re-signed Wimbley, formerly of the Cleveland Browns, to a one year deal designating him a franchise player for 2011. Expect a big year from him because he knows a multi-million dollar deal awaits with another performance like 2010.  These two are stellar yet need some help.  Teams have been able to get offensive linemen on them because of the leaks up front. Better play by the DTs up front and their numbers could go way up.  Raiders are playoff ready at linebacker.

Secondary: With the impending free agent loss of Namedi Asougmha looming, the Raiders quickly moved to pick up CB DeMarcus VanDyke and Chimdi Chekwa as possible replacements. VanDyke, from the U, is similar in build to Namedi, at 6-1, 180 lbs.  He has long arms and should prove to be disruptive in jamming receivers.  Along with special teamer Chris Johnson #37, they should have a succession in place.  Johnson started 4 games last year and had 16 tackles, defended 9 passes and had 2 interceptions. So this isn’t a stab in the dark. If the rookies aren’t ready don’t be surprised or disappointed if #37 is starting at one of the corner spots.  The other corner is Stanford Routt #26 who quietly had a good season with 54 tackles, 13 passes defensed, and 2 interceptions. They’ll be fine at the corner.

At safety they might be too beat up to pick off any passes.  SS Tyvon Branch and FS Michael Huff led the team in tackles with 101 and 84 tackles respectively.  That is far too many plays getting past the front seven.  These two were active and were effective blitzers with each tallying 4 sacks. Some have been disappointed with Huff from a fan’s perspective but he seems to make enough plays for me.  Last year he defensed 7 passes and had 3 interceptions. If the defensive front keeps opposing ball carriers from running at him full speed, he can concentrate on the pass where is numbers there will improve.  As a defensive foursome this group is going to get an above average ranking even with the loss of the aforementioned #21. They have 3 corners to replace him and Johnson is a cousin to former Raider’s running back Kenny King, so he has family ties within the organization.

Violator and the crazies in the Black Hole

Overall: The Raiders should be improved from 2010 and the next step is at quarterback. Campbell has to be told that he’s the starter so he can play without fear.  All those groans from long balls that don’t connect needs to go away for you can’t hide your quarterback.  The question is can he move from being a quarterback playing not to make a mistake, to one thats trying to win the game? Will he improve with his downfield reads and let fly? If he does this the Raiders challenge the Chiefs for the AFC West crown with 10 or 11 wins.  If he doesn’t the Raiders will know what to draft first starting the 2012 season and a 7-9 or 8-8 season awaits.  The other factor is if they use the money they didn’t pay Namedi to get some defensive line help.  They have to improve against the run for the aforementioned development of Campbell to get them to the playoffs. Can they?? Will they??

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??