Most of us Dallas fans are very frustrated with our defensive line, which according to ESPN's positional series here had a paltry 10.5 sacks. Anthony Spencer has also been criticized for not getting to the QB more. In the first game versus the Giants, Dallas didn't hit Eli Manning once in 50 drop backs. That is bad.
But you don't get hit when you just chuck the ball to who ever is covered by a bad corner back as soon as you drop back.
Dallas is tied for the 7th most sacks in the NFL in 2011.
This chart is thanks to NFL.com.
The NFL leader in Sacks, Minnesota, only had 8 more sacks than Dallas. This is telling me that the pass rush is not the essential flaw in the defense and puts even more focus on the problematic secondary. You might claim Dallas puffed up it's sack total, but all these teams compete VS the NFL.
Dallas was #7 vs the run, and #7 in sacks acquired; one would argue that with such a bad secondary, why would anyone run against Dallas. The reality of NFL football is that any team that can run first will do so, and every team that faces you will first test your run defense (ala Philly) before risking passes even against a depleted secondary.
Anthony Spencer got 6 sacks this year and fans are down on him. He got 6 sacks in 2009 and SI's writers put him on their All-NFL team. Timing is quite funny. Many of us have fond memories of Spencer and Ware vs New Orleans in 2009. New Orleans doesn't tend towards 3 step drops for one; and in 2009 both Mike Jenkins and Terrance Newman were in the Pro Bowl.
Every NFL team needs a constant stream of young players in to every group on the roster; if Anthony Spencer leaves Dallas will have very little choice in selecting an OLB prospect in the draft; an OLB in round 1 will be virtually required. I believe retaining Spencer is in the best interests of the Dallas Cowboys. I'm hoping he resigns at a reasonable price but I am growing used to the idea of franchising him, because his role is essential, Mario Williams is too expensive, and there are no other comparable FA players who'd be a real improvement over Spencer.
On the other hand there is the Pittsburgh Steelers way. They often draft OLBs in the 4th round, develop them slowly, let their OLBs walk in contract years and bring up the young guy. Perhaps this is the destiny of Victor Butler, but rumors of a Spencer Franchise Tag lead me to doubt the club's faith in Butler as an every down player.
All of this post adds up to thus: if Dallas does not put serious resources towards fixing the secondary, nothing else on Defense will matter. Letting the OLB roster spot hold Dallas' player acquisition resources hostage by letting Spencer walk is a bad move when Adequate Anthony can transmogrify in to Awesome Anthony when combined with good pass coverage.
You cannot deny that the 2009 Saints were a great team with a great offense. They won the Super Bowl that year. I'm hoping Spencer resigns at a value that's doesn't hogtie the team, because the real flaws are behind him.
This debate about Routt is at the heart of the matter. No Dallas fan doubts Dallas needs FA CB walk in starter; and no one doubts Dallas will have to pay for that CB. For most of us fans the question is whether Routt, Finnegan or another CB is the right one. I suspect Dallas is looking for someone like Anthony Henry, who was signed when he was 29 and played 4 good years for Dallas.
It is still essential to be good against the run. Dallas was no good against Philly's run and look what Philly did to Dallas. Dallas still gets the sacks, believe it or not. Here are some funny notes:
- in 2007 Dallas was #3 in Sacks with 46, 4 more than this year's
- Dallas had 35 sacks in 2010, 2011 showed a +7 improvement
- Dallas was #7 in sacks in 2009 with 42 sacks, overall 2009 was our best Defensive performance since going to a 3-4
42 sacks - the 2011 total - is typical of the better defensive years Dallas has. If you were to look at the statistical performance of the front 7 in Dallas in 2011 alone, you'd of thought Dallas had a good year.
My conclusions are that Anthony Spencer is good (enough). To fix the defense, fix the secondary. Anything less than that will accomplish nothing.
The Hanging Questions
- can Victor Butler emerge?
- will BPA be too enticing, thus selecting virtually any player at any position but not one of need?
- the Front 7 always needs new players, when does Dallas start adding to it? The secondary needs more new players... more than the offensive line?
The Springer Moment
There are positions that are harder than others to draft for as the draft progresses. Typically among the hardest combine elite athleticism with elite size. Great defensive tackles and offensive tackles are the bell cows of this trend. If Dallas skips over a DB in the 1st, and skips over a Guard (a guard in the first sounds unlikely doesn't it?), I'm looking towards the largest defenders -- not OLBs that weigh 250lbs, but the 310lbs type dudes. Ware's ratio of speed to size is freakish demanding his high pick. I doubt any OLB comes out this year that can do what he does. Super freaks like him are hard to find and a great commodity. The hardest to find commodity that is usually only at the top of the draft is the enormous guy with good speed -- so if Dallas skips CB, I'd still expect a 5tech or NT more than a OLB.