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Would Jimmy Johnson like this team?

November 21, 2012

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Last week I watched Jimmy Johnson’s “A Football Life” on the NFL Network. It was a fun trip down memory lane as I got to see the Cowboys when they were young, athletic, and well coached. They were at their best under Johnson and it was obvious to see why from the documentary as Jimmy put a fear into those players that just isn’t seen in the current Cowboys. Some blame it on Jerry Jones yet I would argue it’s more the coaching staff as both Jimmy Johnson and Bill Parcells put fear into players with Jerry as the owner and I think the Switzers, Gaileys, Campos, Phillips, and now Garretts of the world just use Jerry Jones as a crutch as to why they can’t have a disciplined team. Yet while I think being a disciplined team is important I found it interesting how much emphasis Jimmy Johnson put on intelligence and wonder if this could be the bigger issue with the current collection of Cowboys players. On the documentary Jimmy was talking with Bill Belichick about the type of player he wanted and he said, “Hit me over the head with a hammer the next time I draft a dumb player.” This really hit home with me as there is ample evidence that Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett have been stockpiling talented but flawed players and a lack of intelligence has been a consistent theme with the players they have drafted. One needs to only look as far as the past three first round picks of the Cowboys to see this trend as the Cowboys, when making their most important offseason addition, have continually gone with the player scouts considered dumb. This year the Cowboys took Morris Claiborne with the 6th Overall Pick. They had to trade up for the right to draft him so it’s obvious that he was their target and they loved his potential. I did as well as his game film at LSU, his long arms, and his elite ball skills were an intriguing combination yet there was one red flag about him: intelligence. Morris scored a 4 on the wonderlic, an IQ style test given at the NFL combine, which was the lowest score since 2000. Many dismissed the test as not applicable to football yet each time Claiborne stupidly holds a WR down the field, despite often having good coverage or the play being away from him, I’m reminded of that test score. Two years ago the Cowboys drafted Tyron Smith with their first round pick. He was an exceptional athlete yet a player who had only been starting for two years and there were quite a few rumors that Tyron was a slow learner who wasn’t very intelligent. Two years later he leads the NFL in false starts and has had countless “mental mistakes” that have hampered his play that otherwise has been very good. Three years ago the Cowboys drafted Dez Bryant in the first round. Just like with Claiborne the Cowboys moved up to select Dez so it was obvious that he was the player they had targeted and were coveting the most. Be careful what you wish for though as for 3 seasons the Cowboys have been on the Dez roller coaster which has been a combination of brilliance, stupidity, and inconsistency. Coming out of OklahomaState these traits were already known by scouts as there were reports that Dez had to line up at receiver on the side of the field nearest the coaching staff so they could tell him what route to run. This lack of intelligence was verified when he lied to the NCAA about not doing something that wasn’t against the rules in the first place and wouldn’t have caused him any trouble if he had just told the truth. It also showed up during the draft process when he showed up for a workout without his cleats and had to run using someone else’s. One high level scout said before the draft, “The top receivers aren’t inconsistent guys who do bonehead things,” another personnel director said. “His play is like his personality – flashes of brilliance and flashes of awfulness. Bad routes, dropped passes, headache both on and off the field.” Dez is now in his 3rd season with the Cowboys and the team still doesn’t know what it will be getting from him on a weekly basis. Players like that aren’t building blocks and I would argue that Dez has been more trouble than he’s worth. Your first round picks are the building blocks of your team and when the past 3 players drafted by the Cowboys all are lacking in the intelligence department it makes me question their ability to build a franchise. Jason Garrett graduated from Princeton, a fact that he loves to hang over the media, and he has regularly been quoted as wanting intelligent football players. Yet actions speak louder than words and unfortunately it’s very obvious that the Cowboys have a stupid team and are comfortable adding stupid players. It isn’t a recipe for success, just ask Jimmy Johnson.

 

Notes from the Cleveland Browns game:

Penalties: The penalties continue on both sides of the ball and there appears to be no end in sight. Last week against the Eagles the Cowboys committed 13 penalties and this week against the Browns they committed 9 penalties. It was the 5th time this season that the Cowboys had 9 penalties or more and the other 4 times they had 13 penalties so this problem just isn’t being fixed. In fact it’s likely to get worse as backup LT Jeremy Parnell had a false start (really two but got away with a blatant one somehow) and a hold in replacement of Tyron Smith and will likely be a regular offender if forced to be a starter going forward. The offensive line has been the most penalized unit so far this season yet once again the defense had their share of stupid penalties as Jay Ratliff was called for a taunting penalty and Orlando Scandrick was called for a hit to the head of the quarterback on a blitz. Neither penalty were of the “being aggressive” type and can be classified as undisciplined or stupid penalties. Jason Garrett does not have control of this team right now and the penalties are one of the most obvious examples.

Anthony Spencer: Anthony has been in my doghouse for quite awhile now as the guy somehow has been unable to have more than 6 sacks in any season of his career yet somehow has wormed his way into a 1 year $8.86 million franchise contract. The decision to franchise Spencer is Jerry Jones’ fault not his yet the fact that he can’t even have one season with double digits sacks despite playing his entire career across from the best pass rusher of his generation is nothing less than a travesty. So it was a pleasant surprise to see Spencer show up so much on tape this week against the Browns. He had a big hit on RB Trent Richardson from the backside-hardest hit I’ve seen Richardson take all year to this point, he had a great pass break up (PBU) that should have been an interception when he dropped in coverage, he had great coverage on Richardson in the flat forcing a throw away, and then had the play of the game with a sack and forced fumble. The poor play of the offense after that turnover (more on that to come) caused the play to quickly be forgotten but at the time it looked like the nail in the coffin for the Browns and was a huge play for a player I’m not accustomed to seeing make too many plays. I still think Spencer should be replaced as he doesn’t consistently generate a pass rush (and the 2013 NFL Draft could be loaded with pass rushers as Jarvis Jones, Barkevious Mingo, DeMontre Moore, and Bjoern Werner could all be available) yet for one game Spencer was very impressive and it was a huge boost for the defense.

Doug Free: At the other end of the spectrum was Doug Free’s performance as he allowed a sack and numerous pressures to DE Jabaal Sheard, a sack to a blitzing linebacker, and a sack on a stunt by the DT as he had poor communication with newly implanted starting RG Derrick Dockery. Going into the season I saw 3-4 OLB (Spencer’s position), RG (Mackenzie Bernadeux), FS (Barry Church), and C (Phil Costa) as the positions/players most needing to be addressed. Yet at this point in time of the season I would say that RT has been the biggest issue with the Cowboys this season. That’s saying a lot considering Doug Free is in year 2 of a 4 year $32 million deal that was supposed to cement one of Dallas’ tackle spots for quite awhile yet the tape shows a player that not only isn’t quick enough but isn’t strong enough either. Usually a player can be helped if it’s one or the other but when it’s both it usually means the player lacks the talent to succeed at this level and just has to be replaced. It’s confusing to watch Free this season and realize that it was just 2 years ago that he was the team’s best offensive lineman but the reality is that he’s struggling in every game and often against very average players. The Browns were averaging 2 sacks per game this year coming into Sunday’s game yet left with 9 as Free, Parnell, and Dockery regularly lost their one on one matchups. Parnell and Dockery are both backups making less than $1 million a year so their poor play is understandable but Free’s is not and puts the Cowboys in a difficult position. If Free was playing well the Cowboys could use their early round picks on a top level guard such as Jonathan Cooper from North Carolina or Chance Warmack from Alabama as well as draft a replacement for Anthony Spencer. Yet with Free continuing to struggle they could be forced to take an offensive tackle which would leave one less early round pick to replace a Spencer and Bernadeux. When expected long term building block type players struggle it forces teams to reorganize their off-season priorities and often leads to holes in other spots on the roster. Unfortunately that will likely be the scenario this off-season as Doug Free is struggling so much right now that he has to be replaced and it will probably lead to continued poor play at RG and mediocre play at 3-4 OLB across from Ware.

Poor Starts: The Cowboys have to be one of the worst starting teams in the NFL this season. Their offense is pretty poor in all 4 quarters yet it is noticeably worse earlier in the game and actually becomes somewhat potent by the end. In the first quarter the Cowboys are averaging a measly 2.7 points per game and have 6 times this season not ended the first quarter with 0 points. In the second quarter the Cowboys are averaging 4.3 pts per game and 6 times this season they have ended the first half with 10 points or fewer. In the third quarter the Cowboys pick it up a little with an average of 5.7 pts per game yet this quarter is very feast or famine as there have been 3 games where they scored 0 points and 5 games where they scored 3 points or less yet 4 games in which they’ve scored 10 points or more. Finally there is the 4th quarter where the Cowboys actually become a potent team averaging 8.1 pts per game and are averaging 15 pts in the 4th quarter the past 3 games. Part of that can be attributed to the clutchness of Romo as he’s always had a great QB Rating in the 4th quarter, something his critics love to overlook when bashing him, yet part of that is because the Cowboys always find themselves behind with the game on the line. It amazes me that 60% of the games they’ve been in they head into the 2nd quarter having scored 0 points and I think these slow starts are a huge reason why the Cowboys keep having these thrilling comebacks come up short. Yes the Browns game ended in victory but whether it’s the 2nd Giants game, the Ravens game, or the Falcons game the Cowboys always found themselves behind in the 4th quarter and were unable to comeback to win despite impressive 4th quarters. The Cowboys need to start games better and get themselves a lead so they won’t have to be perfect in the final quarter to secure a victory. Hopefully that changes against a Redskins team that has had it’s defense decimated by injury. 

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