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 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. 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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Week 4 Regular Season: Tony Romo- Conundrum Personified

Tongue in Cheek Poster Placed on my facebook page due to Tony Romo's recent performances.

At some point an NFL team has to make a decision on it’s quarterback and it’s season. Are we going to win this year or are we building for next year?? Is this our quarterback for the future or do we look to draft someone new?? Well after four weeks, Dallas Cowboy fans are up in arms over the play of Tony Romo and the team is mired with a 2-2 start. The interesting thing is the Cowboys were well ahead in each of their four games and collapsed late punctuated by interceptions from Romo. Yesterday’s game squarely landed on Romo’s shoulders with 2 of the interceptions being returned for touchdowns. Yet this year Romo has had his moments. The win on Monday Night last week was one where he willed his team to win amidst injuries and having to play with second string players.

Yet what happened to a balanced attack?? Do you realize the 2011 Cowboys have run 40% of the time and passed 60%?? See for yourself: Show me when that was true during the Aikman era?? We looked surprise us. So which is the player in Dallas wearing #9?? Is he the leader that emerged in weeks 2 & 3, or the one Hollywood Henderson labeled a choke artist for throwing straight to Darelle Revis to end game one? That’s before we get to yesterday’s outing.

To be frank, he’s both. He has come back from his injured season more of the leader brass envisioned when they let Terrell Owens go several years back. He has to be the man by virtue of the contract they presented him. It’s his team and his late interceptions cannot be excused. Everyone of those throws he’d want back. Yet at this time we have to take a step back and figure if he is the quarterback of the future for the Dallas Cowboys. Now when this season began we were critical of Romo’s attitude and leadership ability and he’s grown in that realm. Now he has to work on not playing with nervous feet near the end of games. Is it all his fault?? He deserves alot of the blame.

Whatever happened to running  out the clock to end games?? Everyone is up in arms that he is no Troy Aikman, yet short sighted fans don’t remember that those 90’s teams weren’t throwing at that point of the game for Aikman to throw any late game interceptions! Case and point: Remember the famous drive in Super Bowl XXVIII when the Cowboys took the lead on the Buffalo Bills, and they ran 8 straight times and Aikman didn’t throw one pass?? You can still hear Brad Sham on the highlight film “Smith for 7, Smith for 3, Smith for 8, Smith for 9…etc”  Ask Jason Garrett because he was standing there signaling the calls in. Which brings us to the real issue…

Coach Garrett is the forgotten man when it comes to Cowboy losses. How much blame is his??

While it is true that a coach is to put his players in the best possible situation to be successful, it’s also his job to put you in a position to minimize your chance at making mistakes. What is the number one thing that Hall of Famer Bill Walsh was lauded for when it came to game plans?? He would pass the football early and run late on a tired defense. Not only did the 49ers base a dynasty off that premise, so too did the 80’s Redskins, 90’s Cowboys and 00’s Patriots with Corey Dillon. So that’s 14 Super Bowl wins by dynasties in the modern era. How about the 2000 Ravens who won with rushing the football and Trent Dilfer?? They threw vertical routes and hooks because Dilfer threw terrible down the middle and made poor decisions on out routes. So Brian Billick called plays that were his strengths and didn’t ask him to do what were known weaknesses.

Now let’s cycle this back to the present situation in Dallas. We warned you when the Cowboys drafted DeMarco Murray and were going to get rid of Marion Barber that they were going to be a true passing team only. Did we not? Where was the heft to blow the Lions off the ball when the score was closed down to 30-27?? You remember when Dallas was pinned to their own 3 yard line with 5:00 to go in the game. Funny, our CEO remembers the 1995 NFC Championship when the Packers had the Cowboys pinned to their own 1 and Emmitt romped them out of there. Yesterday?? Two paltry attempts that couldn’t gain 1 yard from Felix Jones. Critical time in the game to run out the clock and that’s all the Cowboys could muster?? This illustrates why on previous drives Romo was still passing when the team clearly needed to be running. Had they been running out the clock the game would have been over in Dallas. Continued passing stops the clock and allowed Detroit the chance to get back in the game. Albeit off of terrible throws by Romo, but he shouldn’t have been passing that late in the game. This was the death knell to the Run n Shoot as an offense over a decade and a half before!! Systemic factors that leave blame squarely on the shoulders of Coach Jason Garrett and Jerry Jones.

The hiring of Jason Garrett was one for us that wasn’t the best decision and it’s showing in the game plans he’s presenting and not masking team deficiencies well enough. In the first game against the Jets, it had been noted and discussed, how many injuries the Cowboys had to their defensive backfield. The Cowboys kept throwing and didn’t milk the clock to protect their struggling with fatigue defense. Don’t you realize it’s those injuries and tiring defenders that make up the punt block team that allowed the punt to be blocked in the first place?? Coaches do!! Or should we say coaches are supposed to!! Romo and the team were in a panic by the time he threw his interception yet look at what set that up??

Its Garrett’s job to put his team in the best possible position to win and also to get word to player personnel (Jones) that he needs a running back to close games. He has to sell that to Cowboys brass just as he has to sell the gameplan to his players. What’s worse is he knows better. He was standing right there watching Emmitt Smith close all those games for the Dallas Cowboys. Many times during that era, Aikman wouldn’t even attempt a pass under 8:00 to go. So quit the Aikman / Romo comparisions because it shows a lack of football knowledge to all aspects of the game. Furthermore, as we watched the Cowboys offensive line not be able to create a hole or a push when they had the ball at their goal line illustrates something further. They aren’t even practicing true running plays enough. We keep using that sequence in our analysis because the team knew they needed to run and couldn’t do it. Moment of truth and they were knocked on their ass.

Tony Romo has to start throwing the ball away when the play isn't there.

As for Romo, he has played better and will flirt with 5,000 yards passing this season because the Cowboys UNDER GARRETT will not run. Not in the traditional sense. Just tricky draws and screens and not enough power plays to weaken an opponents defense. Hence the Lions defense was still breathing fire in the 4th quarter… yet I digress: Romo has to take a sack or throw the ball away when the throw isn’t there. He is taking some chances and making some throws that have put the Cowboys well in front. He’s maturing into a leader yet has to stop short circuiting in the 4th quarter and it’s up to his coach and game plans to aid that. Some blame needs to be placed there. Cowboy fans want to scapegoat all of the losses to Tony Romo but forget he was the central reason they won games 2 and 3. So without him where would the Cowboys be?? They’d be 0-4. Throwing in a rookie next year isn’t saving the Cowboys either. We watched the demise of the run and shoot for these exact same factors. It’s systemic. Know your history. Our blame is landing on Garrett’s shoulders more than it lands on Romo’s. How much?? How about the 60/40 pass ratio from before…Garrett gets the 60%

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NFL Week 3 NFC East: Diminishing Returns


Week 3 in the NFC East had teams facing early season gut checks that a couple teams came through with flying colors and one team totally scratching it’s head. Alright, whenever our CEO sees a team that makes a high signing of free agents he always asks the same question: “Are they going to be the 1994 San Francisco 49ers or the 1995 Miami Dolphins?” The two teams contrasted by one becoming a powerful world champion and the other being a talented team with no chemistry, who exited the playoffs in an inglorious fashion. Well with the acquisition of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Namedi Asoumgha, and several others, this Philadelphia Eagles team was to be the team to beat in the NFC.

Right now they are a 1-2 football team that is struggling to score in the red zone and Michael Vick has taken a pounding. Vick, stay away from comments about the refs in press conferences please. Just not manly. To reach the promised land they have to show up better than with the 24th ranked defense in the NFL and they should be embarrassed by their inability to tackle. Did you see the 4 missed tackles on Victor Cruz’s (who) 70 yard touchdown reception against the Giants? In fact Cruz went for 3 rec. 110 yards and his second touchdown he out jumped two Eagle defenders for it. Cruz and the Giants played last weeks game like they wanted it. Teams seem to be ready to defend Michael Vick this year by blitzing and putting hits on him. It’s like they watched the old how to defense John Elway tapes where use of the delayed blitz is getting there just as he’s making the decision to scramble for more time to pass, or decide to run. Reid had better put Vick on some rollouts and fire deep passes to Jackson to back off defenses or he won’t last the season. Now with a hurt non throwing hand could possibly be out 4 weeks?? Vick can’t miss more than 1 more game or they’ll be relegated to winning a wildcard at best. They get a San Francisco team this week that is playing spirited football. A 1-3 record looms if they look past them. Careful Philadelphia.

Speaking of the Giants….sigh Just when you count against Eli Manning he comes through with a 4TD passing day. Before we go onto the enigmatic Giants lets take a look at the standings.

Dallas 2 1 0 .667 1-0-0 0-0-0 0-0-0 1-0-0 0-1-0 0-0-0 0-0-0 0-0-0
Washington 2 1 0 .667 1-1-0 0-0-0 0-0-0 1-0-0 0-0-0 0-0-0 0-0-0 0-0-0
NY Giants 2 1 0 .667 1-1-0 0-0-0 0-0-0 1-0-0 0-0-0 0-0-0 0-0-0 0-0-0
Philadelphia 1 2 0 .333 0-1-0 0-0-0 0-1-0 1-0-0 0-0-0 0-0-0 0-0-0 0-0-0

The Giants seem to find their formula whenever they need it, in fact this was the best they looked this season. They were after Michael Vick from the word go and on offense they ran steady and kept the Eagle defense honest. So honest they slipped heavyweight Brandon Jacobs out for a surprising 40 yard touchdown pass. Taylor Blitz Times was unsure Jacobs could even run that far, but the big man snatched the pass and scooted into the endzone. Eagle Defensive Co-ordinator Juan Castillo is still steaming over that play. However the Giants secondary was active and picked off Eagle quarterbacks 3 times. Should bode well this week when they take on Kevin Kolb and the Arizona Cardinals out in the desert.

Felix Jones and the Cowboys rushing attack had over 120 yards for the game.

How ’bout them Cowboys?? After Dallas fans have roasted Tony Romo over the last couple of weeks they were silenced by a possibly career defining game. With a punctured lung and broken rib protected by a flak jacket he was hit several times by a Redskin pass rush that was averaging 3.5 sacks per game coming in. For the first time this season the Cowboys showed signs of life rushing the football with Felix Jones 1st 100 yard game of the season. Yet this game marked the first time Romo didn’t let his teammates ineptitude derail the Cowboys train. Due to injuries to Miles Austin and Dez Bryant for a period, he had to direct traffic just to get them to line up properly and know what they were doing. He had to get on receivers for running the wrong routes and even had to jump on his center’s ass for a 4th bad snap late in the 4th quarter. Instead of throwing an ill conceived pass, on 3rd and 21, he bought time and ad libbed a rollout, and threw to Dez Bryant for the first down. That wasn’t the Cowboy playbook, that was a quarterback NOT letting his team lose even though they tried for much of the night. This is the growth that we felt Romo needed to do and his locker room and huddle will be better for it. He’s earned league wide respect during these last two weeks and look who is in 1st place all of a sudden. Diminishing returns with Romo at the healm?? Not hardly, a leader is developing.

As for the Redskins, they just came up short in a defensive struggle. Hightower ran well and Rex Grossman performed admirably. Grossman was just a victim of a Cowboy pass rush that fed off the crowd and that last drive was swamped.They lost a tough, tough divisional game 18-16 and they sure we saw some Grossman throws that reminded us of his Chicago days but for the night he was 22 of 37 for a modest 233 yards. He kept his mistakes to a modest 1 interception and didn’t have that nervous Rex look until the final drive. Yet he was draped by a DeMarcus Ware coat for much of it. So modest diminishing returns for the Redskins this week.  However if you told a Redskin fan three weeks ago that they would be a solid 2-1 after 3 weeks, trust me they would have said we’ll take it. So this week they get the St. Louis Rams and if they make it to 3-1, this could prove to be a season of vindication for Coach Shanahan.

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NFL Week 2: NFC East: Where Are We??

An absolute question to ask as the NFL season is trying to get it’s sea legs as many teams are at early season crossroads. Alright raise your hand if you thought going into week 3, the Washington Redskins would be 1st in the NFC East?? Last night’s 28-16 win by the New York Giants was more a byproduct of the Rams ineptitude as a young team in the redzone, than it was a crisp Giant performance. Seriously, the mistake by Cadillac Williams not going after the lateral Giant Michael Boley scored with was the play of the game.  It took pressure off of Eli Manning, and allowed themselves to run Brandon Jacobs right at the Rams and control the flow of the game. However this week they get another crack at the Philadelphia Eagles. Who knocked them out of the playoffs after the “Miracle in the Meadowlands II” punt return by DeSean Jackson.

Right now the Giants look shaky on pass defense as well as passing the ball. Eli Manning looks at times as though he is unsure of where he wants to go with the football. He doesn’t pass the eyeball test and needs his receivers to catch the football so they gel as a unit over the course of the season. Manning is staring down some of his receivers which could swell his interception totals again. Careful Eli, old habits are east to  slip into.

National Football Conference
Washington 2 0 0 1.000 2-0-0 0-0-0 1-0-0 2-0-0 50 35 +15 Won 2
Philadelphia 1 1 0 .500 0-0-0 1-1-0 0-0-0 1-1-0 62 48 +14 Lost 1
Dallas 1 1 0 .500 0-0-0 1-1-0 0-0-0 1-0-0 51 51 0 Won 1
NY Giants 1 1 0 .500 1-0-0 0-1-0 0-1-0 1-1-0 42 44 -2 Won 1

Speaking of the Eagles, they are still smarting from the 35-31 last second loss to the Atlanta Falcons that dropped their record to 1-1. Also smarting is that of one Michael Vick, who was sandwiched between a Falcon player and one of his own linemen. For all his scrambling, he was knocked from the game with a concussion while in the pocket. We await the decision if Mike Kafka or Vince Young should start this game for the Eagles. It was Kafka’s play last year that made Kevin Kolb trade bait once he was succeeded by Vick. Each had played better during the pre season. Kafka, from Northwestern, showed moxie getting into his firs regular season play and Andy Reid should have enough confidence to play him. Vince Young couldn’t learn Tennessee’s playbook and should know one as complicated as Reid’s?? We don’t think so.

Speaking of thinking, isn’t it time Cowboy fans gave Tony Romo the benefit of the doubt?? Right, we know, after he’s won a Super Bowl. However that is beyond unfair. One week where we were considered to be Romo apologists for citing the team’s system wide meltdown while losing 31-24 to the New York Jets. We remind you he needs to grow as a leader of men as we expressed in our preseason magazine . All he did was comeback from an early game hit where he broke a rib and punctured a lung and pass the Cowboys to an overtime win over San Francisco. One week after a bonehead late interception sealed his team’s fate, he marched his team to a win completing 13 for 17 down the stretch including overtime. Although the Cowboys are 1-1 on the season, those were giant steps taken by Romo in terms of maturing as a quarterback and a leader. Understand the Cowboys are a team that passes the ball 3-1. Right now Tony Romo is on pace for 5,496 yards, 32Tds and only 8 interceptions. He won’t be able to keep up that pace but he’ll be real close. The Cowboys need to take solace in the fact that they’re defense could be rounding into some shape.  After 2 weeks, new inside linebacker Sean Lee leads the NFL in tackles with 24 while DeMarcus Ware is leading the NFL in sacks with 4.  They need another defensive front member to help get after the quarterback along with Ware.

Rushing the passer would seriously be of some interest now that they have to take on the surprising 2-0 Washington Redskins and Rex Grossman. Who?? Yes the same Rex Grossman that was run out of town shortly after Super Bowl XLI for leading such an anemic offense is trying to be this season’s Kurt Warner. While not throwing for spectacular numbers, he has infused his team with some added zest while throwing for 596 yards, 4TDs and 2 picks. Not bad after the Donovan McNabb debacle and named the starter over John Beck as the week one starter. The acquisition for former Cardinals running back Tim Hightower is paying off. He’s a steady runner who has 168 yards and 1 touchdown on the young season. Steady play has come from Rocky McIntosh and the Redskins defense which has recorded 7 sacks so far. Can they keep  up this play when they take on Dallas this Monday Night??

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 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??