JAG. Not just a member of the NFL franchise in Jacksonville. Not only the antonym of "JIG." And more than simply the title of the military justice television show starring the stunning Catherine Bell.
JAG. J-A-G. In NFL player personnel evaluation parlance, it's the scouting acronym for "Just Another Guy." JAG. It is not generally considered a compliment. "The Cowboys have the most talent in the NFL," is the mantra chanted by the media and by many if not most of us fans. We say it reflexively. As if it's a given.
The truth is the Cowboys have more JAGs than anyone wants to believe. Many of the JAGs fill important positions (not that there's such a thing as an unimportant position), and the JAGs are plentiful enough to offset the team's cadre of elite players. Sure, the Cowboys have talent. But head and shoulders, "The most talent in the NFL"? Hardly. For every DeMarcus Ware on the Dallas roster, there are twice as many JAGs.
Elite Cowboy players? Ware, Ratliff, Spencer and maybe still Newman on defense. That's it. Offensively, Romo (absolutely, as any objective observer would have to agree), Witten, Austin, and--in the very near future--Bryant. Done. To be sure, there is a second tier of good players. But there are awful lot of JAGs as well, enough JAGs to make me certain we generally over-rate the Cowboys' overall talent level. Cowboy safeties--JAGs. (No picks, plenty of big plays given up.) Cowboy DEs--a notch ahead of JAGs, perhaps, but only a notch. And, if we can be honest, the Dallas inside linebackers, at least the way they're playing now, are JAGs. Sorry, Bradie and Keith. I do not give out lifetime achievement awards in evaluating current performances.
On the other side of the ball, the only Dallas starting offensive lineman who is not a JAG is, perhaps, Doug Free. And he still has a lot to prove longterm. At one time, each of the other four first-team O-linemen were something other than JAGs. Not anymore. Argue with me at your own peril.
Here's the upshot: Dallas will continue to have trouble running the ball and protecting Romo. The vaunted Cowboy defense (currently ranked 21st) will continue to give up an alarming number of double-digit yardage running plays, and will continue to have problems getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks without committing five, six or even seven rushers. That means the current versions of Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick will be frequently locked up in man coverage. Feeling good about that? And right now the Dallas back seven is incapable--incapable--of playing NFL caliber zone coverage. Nothing wrong with being primarily a man coverage team, as the Cowboys are. But there's plenty wrong with not being able to play zone when you have to or want to. Remember that the 'Boys are going to face Favre, Eli, Rodgers, Brees, Peyton, and McNabb (again). You want to have to man up all the time against any of those guys? And heaven forbid the Cowboys see Michael Vick. If you can't zone him, you can't contain him. And, for the most part in the NFL, no zone, no interceptions. Picks are generated by zone defenses.
One more thing is stuck in my craw. Last week's excessive celebration penalty has been cussed, discussed, sliced and diced ad nauseam. Mistake. Bad mistake. Yes, I know that forced a Dallas kickoff from the 15. But how does that in any way explain or excuse giving up a 73-yard return to set up the winning Tennessee touchdown? It doesn't. Lotta Dallas special teamers are playing like JAGs.
Talented? Relative to a lot of teams, sure. But The Most Talented Team in the NFL? At outside linebacker, certainly, and maybe at wide receiver. Perhaps collectively at running back, although that is debatable. That's it. The remaining offensive, defensive and special teams position groups have just enough JAGs to ensure at least another three losses. That's 10-6. And that's best case, in fact probably unrealistically optimistic. Good thing the 'Boys play in the NFC East. Each of the three divisional opponents also emply JAGs aplenty.