The Dallas Cowboys enter their bye week with a lot of uncertainty circling around the team. Many are doubting whether the Cowboys can find a way to solve the problems they are having, so this may be the perfect time for the team to have their bye week. The layoff should give the coaching staff and players adequate time in order to prepare for their game against the Baltimore Ravens.
When the Cowboys head to Baltimore next Sunday, they will be entering the game with a few more players on the defensive side of the football. The return of Jay Ratliff, Kenyon Coleman and Matt Johnson will give the defense a boost on the defensive line and at safety.
Nose tackle Josh Brent has done a fantastic job in replacing Ratliff on the defensive line. While Brent has played very good football, he isn't in the same league as Ratliff when it comes to pressuring the quarterback. What Brent does offer is a larger body (6'2", 320) in the middle of the defense, but Ratliff offers the Cowboys more in terms of being a disruptive force instead of a space eater.
Jason Garrett has been very pleased with the play of Brent, but he also talked about the importance of getting Ratliff back in the lineup.
"He’s done a good job,’’ head coach Jason Garrett said. "Obviously Jay Ratliff is one of the best players at his position in the league and has been for a number of years. We certainly miss him."
"But it’s great to see a guy like Josh step up."
Currently the Cowboys rank 17th overall against the run, allowing 108 yards per game. The stats look a little out of whack right now because of the way the Seahawks ran the ball against us, but since that game the Cowboys have done a much better job against the run. The pass rush could always use another weapon, and Ratliff is that weapon because he will open up more plays for the players around him.
Rob Ryan has been without his starting nose tackle and one of his key defensive lineman on defense. With the return of Ratliff and Coleman, Ryan now has the depth and versatility to become even more creative with the formations he runs with on the defensive line. While Coleman will never be mistaken for a great pass rusher, he is great against the run and his veteran presence will be an added benefit.
With Ratliff back in the lineup, the Cowboys are more dangerous up front. Ryan can mix in Brent, Coleman and Spears to stuff the run, but a combination of Ratliff, Sean Lissemore and Tyrone Crawford brings another dimension to the pass rushing element of the defensive line.
Ratliff looked great against the St. Louis Rams in the pre-season before he suffered the dreaded high ankle sprain. I love what Josh Brent has done for us, but a healthy Ratliff is a huge addition to the team. The Cowboys have been strong on the defensive line, and now they get even stronger.
The real question is whether rookie safety Matt Johnson can offer the Cowboys anything in terms of production. Johnson has missed so much time that it's really hard expecting to see anything from him in 2012, but the Cowboys are hurting at safety right now. They loved Johnson in the draft, so why would that change just a few months later?
Jason Garrett talked about the return of Johnson, but Garrett sounds like he wants to take it slow with the rookie safety so he doesn't suffer another setback.
"I don’t think there’s hesitancy," Garrett said. "We just have to see where he is. He hasn’t practiced a lot for us. We want to make sure he’s healthy and getting acclimated. I think there are different roles that he can step into, special teams guy then work his way up to a role on defense. More than anything we just have to see what his health is like and how he practices and make the necessary decisions from there."
The Cowboys took a huge blow when safety Barry Church was forced to miss the rest of the season after suffering a torn Achilles tendon. Church wasn't a ballhawk or overly athletic, but he was making huge strides in his third season. The Cowboys lost their leader in the secondary, and I don't know how they can replace Church.
Danny McCray has been filling in for Church, but teams haven't really attacked him yet. McCray is a solid option at safety for the Cowboys, but Johnson has the athleticism and ball skills that this defense needs. I have my doubts to whether Johnson can come in and take away the job from McCray, but Rob Ryan may try to work him in at certain packages so he gets a better feel for what the rookie can do. It may be a similar situation to what we saw from Sean Lee and Bruce Carter during their rookie campaigns.
Johnson may have missed a lot of time, but he is ready to come in and make an impact for the Cowboys' defense.
"As quick as I can," Johnson said how long it will take before he can help. "I kept in the playbook. I’m up on it there. Just have to knock the rust off and get ready to go."
One more injured player to keep in mind is Anthony Spencer. I have given him a very hard time the past few years, but Spencer has been playing very good football in 2012. Spencer tried to play on Monday night, but a strained pectoral muscle kept him out of the game, and his presence was definitely missed. Hopefully Spencer is able to use the time off to heal up and get back on the field when we take on the Ravens.
Injuries are unfortunate, but they are a part of the game. The defense may be the least of our concerns right now, but this team can use any added advantage it can get.