2011 Cowboys: Pro Football Focus Preview

Pro Football Focus put up its preview for this year's edition of the Dallas Cowboys.  It's always interesting to see what someone else thinks about our team, and PFF has a good reputation for balance and good analysis.

One of the hardest things for me to do is maintain my objectivity.  As you may be aware, I do have a bit of an addiction problem with Kool Aid.  But writing for BTB means I have to work around that and try to present things with an eye towards what is truth versus what I want to happen.  Looking at the evaluation of someone outside our community is a great way to get a reality check.

A lot of us have speculated that the Cowboys may be able to contend for the division.  This has generated a lot of controversy.  The more cautious warn that this kind of talk is very premature.  They point to us having the same core that started 1-7 last year, which is usually countered with the argument that it is not that much different from the team that took the NFC East in 2009.

PFF seems to come down on the positive side.

Dallas was clearly better than the six wins they amassed last year when the loss of Tony Romo was the prime reason for their fall. Their franchise signal caller is back, however, and the team looks ready for a run at the NFC East under now-official head coach Jason Garrett.

Nice to know we aren't the only ones who don't automatically concede the East to the Eagles.  It is interesting that PFF doesn't put the blame on Tony for the horrendous start when he only won one game.  I think they may have missed the fact that the fall was likely a combination of bad coaching and bad play almost everywhere but the quarterback position.  However, I still think the point that having Tony back is going to help the team is valid.

Read more about PFF's preview after the jump

PFF doesn't anoint us Super Bowl contenders, just states that we should have a better season this year.  They list their top five reasons for both confidence and concern.  The first point they make is about the retention of key players, particularly Doug Free:

Doug Free, while perhaps better suited to the right side, was by far the best run blocker among tackles last season (+17.0). He may not compare well with some of the best blindside protectors, but he’s no slouch in that department either.

They also mention Kyle Kosier and Gerald Sensabaugh as important players the team resigned, which are points that are mostly but not wholeheartedly agreed to around here.  

The writer, John Breitenbach, feels both the inside and outside linebacking units are big pluses for the team.  DeMarcus Ware gets the expected praise, he considers Anthony Spencer to be better than his reviews, and looks forward to Victor Butler getting more time.   On the inside, this note about Sean Lee caught my eye.

It’s just that Lee may well have won our rookie of the year race if not for a distinct lack of snaps (just 169); his +9.4 grade in such limited action is remarkable.

Really makes me eager to see what he can do starting the season healthy.

The last two confidence builders are the receivers and the return of Tony Romo.  The article notes that Jason Witten is the number one target, and that Felix Jones will be almost as important in the passing game as Miles Austin and Dez Bryant, a point that most of you will understand.  With Tony back and healthy, the aerial attack seems potent.

The negatives are much more intriguing reading for me.  Not surprisingly the first two concerns are about the safeties and the cornerbacks.  John is not sold on the signing of Abram Elam, citing his inconsistency.  He also echos a very familiar point.

Needless to say, settling for Elam instead of a player like Michael Huff or Quintin Mikell was a gamble.

There's not much reason to quote his criticisms of the cornerbacks.  Most of you could probably write his paragraph about Terrence Newman, Mike Jenkins, Orlando Scandrick, and Bryan McCann, and I don't think anyone really expects more out of Josh Thomas this year than he does.

One of the things that was a headturner for rabblerousr as well as me (hey, when someone smart says something to me, I listen) is the point about the way rookie tackles tend to struggle.  I think the whole paragraph is worth quoting here.

Tyron Smith might be great as a rookie but let’s just say there’s not much of a precedent for it. Russell Okung (31st overall), Rodger Saffold (49th), Zane Beadles (53rd), Trent Williams (65th), Jared Veldheer (68th), Bryan Bulaga (69th) and Anthony Davis (71st) all had trouble making a consistent positive impact as they transitioned to the pros last season. Not one rookie offensive tackle who played at least 25% of snaps had a positive overall grade and most of them made our bottom 15 list for pass blocking efficiency. Considering the fact Smith was thought to be raw coming out of college, it’ll surely be a surprise if gets up to speed quickly.

We have a lot of hope invested in Smith being a big part of the solution at right tackle, but this is sobering.  I will admit that the breakdowns and camp reports have indicated that he has progressed remarkably for someone "thought to be raw", but we better be ready for some rough moments when the real games start.

The next to last point is about the lack of WR depth once you get past Miles and Dez, something a lot of us are quite aware of and already watching with a little nervousness.

Finally, he discusses the fact that Rob Ryan is new.  This was the only thing he brought up that really shows how different his perspective is.  Where we all look at Rob as a breath of fresh air - well, looking at and listening to him, he might be more like a gale - John only seems to consider the fact Rob is new and may not have the right tools.

some of the talent might not fit his two-gap scheme. I’m talking specifically about nose tackle Jay Ratliff.

He does go on to talk about moving Rat around, but clearly he does not have the same excitement about it that is permeating our posts.  In his eyes, Ratliff is a square peg in a round hole; we see as a talented star being unleashed in an innovative and flexible scheme.  That is one point on which I sincerely hope we are right and he is wrong.  Otherwise, it might be a rough time for the defensive line.

So, how close do you think PFF got it?

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